Tag Archives: Venkys

Uncle Jack’s Legacy could be our Saviour

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As the dust settles on Blackburn Rovers relegation from the SkyBet Championship to League 1, the enormity of the situation becomes greater almost with each passing day – not just the task of getting back to the Championship first, and then the Premier League; but also just balancing the books and remaining in existence.

Rovers relegation on the the final day of the season at Griffin Park made them the first former Premier League Champions to be relegated to the third tier of English football and the first time the Lancashire club had been in the old third division since 1979, when Rovers finished bottom of the old second division. In 1979, the hiatus from the second tier lasted only one season, with Rovers promoted at the first attempt, finished second in the division to Grimsby.

The landscape has changed somewhat since the last visit to the depths of the Third Division; not only is it now regarded as League 1, but the financial gap has never been greater. Back in 1979, a footballers wage would have more akin to the regular man’s and in the third division many players would probably have a second job to supplement the income from football, a trade they would more than likely continue at the end of their playing career. In 1979 Peter Shilton became the highest paid player by signing a new contract with Nottingham Forest for £1,200 a week – putting this in perspective, the majority of the Blackburn side relegated at Brentford would have been on at least that, and that is playing for a second tier side. The Clubs themselves were worth a lot less financially then than they are now, and there was no lucrative TV deal to support clubs – they relied on gate receipts, sponsorships and generous owners; but the days of Jack Walker’s investment were still some 12 long years away. In the same year, the first million pound transfer took place with Trevor Francis moving from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest for £1m – in 2012, Championship club Leicester City paid £1m for non-league Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy.

Fast-forward 38 years and Blackburn Rovers find themselves back in the third division staring at a completely different prospect to that which would have been seen by then player-manager Howard Kendall and his team consisting of Jim Arnold, Stuart Parker and Kevin Stonehouse. For a start, the club are already in dire straits financially with debt already spiralling before the relegation (at the beginning of the 1978-79 relegation season, Rovers reported a profit of over £110,000 enabling the club to reduce its debts by about a third) – the impact of relegation financially will most importantly mean they will only receive £1m in television money for the 2017-18, compared to the £6m they would have received in the Championship. Even if Rovers could get 10,000 through the gate at Ewood every week, this would only make up £3m of the difference, and it is likely this money has already been allocated elsewhere – so it is safe to assume the £5m shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere. Most likely this will be wages and transfers (the club only spent £250,000 the previous summer).

The problem Rovers have is that the goal for the season has to be promotion at the first attempt, the cost of failing to achieve this could be catastrophic. But the books also need to be balanced. In 2012 when the club were relegated from the Premier League to the Championship a massive gamble was taken using the parachute money to bring in the likes of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Leon Best and Nuno Gomes to name a few, all on high wages for the division – the gamble did not pay off and is, in my opinion, why we are in the football and financial situation we currently find ourselves in. Obviously the transfer budget is not there this time around for a spending spree (probably for the best), so the club need to be careful with wages. The wages paid in the Championship are going to be too high to sustain, especially for a club on the edge of the financial precipice already – so the club need to balance the release of those on high wages at the end of their contracts, with the retaining of the quality of those who remain under contract with, whilst also bringing in funds from the sale of assets to help to continue to balance the books. Mowbray has said the same since relegation, that we need to ensure we are competitive both on the field and financially. It truly is a massive balancing act.

The first action came the day after relegation with Paul Senior resigning from his role as Director of Football and Operations – he was the man thought to be responsible for bringing Tony Mowbray in, but given the lack of funds, is there much need for the role at League 1 level when you are hamstrung in the market looking only at loanees and free transfers. My opinion is that I would rather his wage be spent on someone who can improve out chances of promotion, ie a striker.

 Ten days later, news was announced of who was being retained and released by the club at the end of the season (those who are out of contract and either being offered a contract or not). The list of those released: Jason Lowe, Adam Henley, Hope Akpan, Danny Guthrie, Gordon Greer, Wes Brown, Joshua Askew and Ramirez Howarth. Those who were offered a new deal were just Connor Mahoney and Lewis Travis – it is worth pointing out that although they have been re-engaged, it does not mean they have to sign for the club. In addition to the above list, a number of the scholars at the club (8 to be precise) have also not been retained. It is also worth pointing out that according to the Clubs website we do not currently have a goalkeeping coach.  So were does this leave the squad?

 The remaining playing squad consists of:

Goalkeepers: Jason Steele, David Raya, Andy Fisher (3) 

Defenders: Derrick Williams, Charlie Mulgrew, Elliot Ward, Ryan Nyambe, Scott Wharton, Jack Doyle, Lewis Travis, Matthew Platt, Lewis Hardcastle (9) 

Midfielder: Liam Feeny, Darragh Lenihan, Willem Tomlinson, Connor Mahoney, Corey Evans, Elliot Bennett, Craig Conway, Connor Thomson, Joe Grayson, Joe Rankin-Costello, Tyler Magloire (11)

Forwards: Anthony Stokes, Danny Graham, Lewis Mansell (3)

On paper this is not a bad squad, but I would expect there to be further departures – before the start of the season I would expect the club to receive offers for the likes of Graham, Mulgrew, Evans, Bennett and maybe Conway. It will be interesting to see how the club responds to these offers, as I would imagine these will also be the highest earners at the club. Do they sell and save the money, or do they try and keep hold of them in the hope they can get promoted at the first attempt? In many ways, these decisions could mould the future of the club – do they take another massive financial hit for the year and gamble on an immediate promotion? Or do they cut their losses and almost start from scratch, putting trust in the academy and youth development players? If history is anything to go by, the latter may be the more sensible option. The fans won’t be happy with this as they will want to see a team that runs away with the division, but in the long term this decision is more sensible financially, and could secure the long term future of the club.

One way to look at it is if Rovers had stayed up on the final day of the season, yes they would have received more money, and yes they have a good experienced manager in Mowbray, but would that additional money be spent on keeping the club competitive in the division or to pay off existing debts? Neither of which is a long term solution – like putting a plaster on and amputated arm. Would it not make more sense to take the hit and get relegated; accept that financially we can’t compete and ‘start again’. Release those players who the club have no obligation to retain freeing up money from wages; wait and see what offers come in for those players who have a saleable value (and as such also the higher wages) and bring funds in from their sale, and save money from their wages; and then promote from within, utilising the youth development squad complimented with sensible free transfers and loanees to provide the experience?

When Jack Walker bought the club back in 1991 he wanted to make it self-financing in the long term, developing youth who could go on to play in the first team, reducing the amount of money which would have to be spent on transfers. In 1996 an official youth structure was put in place and in 2001 Brockhall Village Academy – during and since this period, the Blackburn Rovers youth teams have been one of the most successful in the country, and players who have emerged from it have included the likes of Neil Danns, Joe Garner, Paul Gallagher, Alan Judge and Phil Jones. Others have come through the Academy and been sold or released and have gone on to have successful careers. The academy at Brockhall is still widely regarded as one of the best in the Country.

academy4x3195-495529_478x359Upon relegation a lot of media outlets jumped on the band-wagon of “Jack Walker turning in his grave” at what the Venkys have done to his football club; and they would not be wrong. However, at this eleventh hour, Jack Walker could once again provide the saviour and hero of the club. His foresight to build the academy back in 1990’s may have produced some talented gems over the years who the club have reaped the rewards of financially and on the pitch, but in the clubs darkest hour, the Academy could be the shining light that not only rescues the club financially, but allows them a second chance on the pitch. What is clear is that under absolutely no circumstances should the idea of selling the academy and/or the land it is built on be considered. During the last campaign the likes of Mahoney, Raya, Wharton and Tomlinson all made appearences for the first team and none of them looked out of their depth – yes they are only a small percentage of the players available, but it is a sign that even without the ‘big names’ we could still be competitive in League 1. Like all Rovers fans, I want a quick return to the Championship (and hopefully eventually the Premier League) but not at the cost of the club going out of business. If it takes a few years, but it means we are on a level footing financially as a result, I’d take that.

You never know, financial stability may make the club more attractive to local businesses who want to invest and tempt the Venkys to part with the club, I’m not a marketing guru but I can’t imagine they will get much positivity publicity globally from owning a club in the old third division.

 

Final Thought – similarities between 1979 and 2017:

The 1978-79 season started disastrously and there was unrest from the supporters and local press, and despite signings, the manager Jim Iley was sacked at the end of September after only 172 days. The club was by now embroiled in a relegation battle and Caretaker-Manager John Pickering was appointed, and then given the job until the end of the season in February 1979. A number of players where signed and this brought an upturn in results, but the damage had already been done and the club where relegated, but there was support for Pickering who had done a good job in his time at the helm – not too dissimilar to the support shown for Mowbray in 2017. Back in 1979 however the board decided not to renew Pickering’s contract and instead brought in Howard Kendall as a player-manager, despite him never having managed before. Despite his inexperience, Kendall’s Rovers finished second in the league which largely owed to an unbeaten 15 game run which consisted of 14 victories and draw. If Mowbray was to leave Ewood during the summer, could there be some symmetry with what Kendall achieved in his first role, and what David Dunn could potentially achieve if given the nod?

 

Note: Facts and content from the 1978-79 season taken form the book “Blackburn Rovers: The Complete Record” by Mike Jackman – well worth a read for any Rovers fan.

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Seven Down Eight To Go

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I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t overly enamoured at the appointment of Tony Mowbray 3 weeks ago but as I said in my last post, he may be the best we could hope for and maybe a sensible choice given our predicament. Seven unbeaten games later and we have a fighting chance.

I had previously said that if we didn’t win at Burton in Mowbray’s first game we would almost definitely go down. However, the way we played in the first half of that game was enough to give me hope we had a chance, and having seen Burton hit the inside of both posts and the ball fall in to Steele’s hands in the last minute, I thought “you know what, we might have half a chance”. We absolutely battered Burton in that first half, keeping and passing the ball well, and unlikely to go in only one in front at half time. I wasn’t sure whether we had been really good, or they had been really bad. The second half was less of a walkover and in the end, a point was probably a fair result for both teams.

What was telling that night at the Pirelli was not only the performance of the eleven men on the pitch, but also the reaction of the crowd to the change in manager. From well before the game started, the Rovers at the Pirelli Stadium were in full voice, behind the team and the manager – something that has not been seen often this season with Owen Coyle at the helm. From the day of his appointment it would be very difficult to argue that Coyle had the full backing of the Rovers supporters given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and his recent track record. It was seen as yet another a stupid Venkys decision. Whenever the team went behind or conceded late on, the fans would turn on Coyle. Given Rovers predicament at the bottom of the table and the lack of anything to suggest Coyle could turn things around, things were only going to get more negative from the crowd which would not have a positive impact upon the players, their performances and the results on the pitch. A telling moment was that all through the warm up and the first half the singing and chanting had been positive about the team, players and manager; then, just before the half time whistle, one fan tried to start a chorus of “Venkys Out” – it was met with moans and groans from the rest of the crowd and never got off the ground, and has not been heard since. I don’t think it is coincidence that since the negative “Venkys Out” chants disappeared and were replaced with positivity the results have picked up and the team have either held on to wins or draws late on, or managed to get a goal to equalise late on. Yes, it is not just down to that fact, but the knock on effects of removing one negative from the club (Coyle) and replacing him with someone in no-way related to the Venkys or previous villains at the club, has had a massive positive difference. The fans realise now is not the time to moan about the owners and voice opinions and protests at them, what is more important is that the club avoids relegation and the doom which comes with it. What should be said though, is that whoever made the call on sacking Coyle may just potentially have saved the club.

Looking back, the timing of the sacking of Coyle may have been pivotal. I had previously said that he should have been kept on to try and use the positivity of the performance against Manchester United to try and get the 3 points against Burton; however, in hindsight, the timing may have been perfect: we had previously lost to Sheffield Wednesday and drawn to almost relegated Rotherham; the game against United was a freebie, it would have been stupid to appoint Mowbray to lose his first game, an almost impossible task against United, whereas, sacking Coyle after the United game and giving Mowbray a clean slate against Burton, Derby and Wigan for starters gives him a chance to have immediate impact – something he has done and continues to do.

Mowbray’s appointment has been followed with 7 games unbeaten (2 wins and 5 draws) resulting in ten more points on the board – at the time of writing Rovers sit in the final relegation place (22nd) just one point off safety with the three teams above on just 41 points. We are well in truly in the think of it now with a fighting chance. It’s a fair assumption to make that under Coyle we would not have beaten the likes of Derby and even Wigan, and picked up late points against Cardiff and Fulham.

The game against Preston at the weekend saw an attendance of 18,435 (albeit 6000 PNE fans) and although it was for the most local derby of the season, it was also one of the first times Rovers supporters came to Ewood with a sense of  realistic optimism that we might just win and secure another 3 points.

On the face of it, a draw against a local rival flying high in the upper echelons of the league and on a good run should be seen as a positive results; especially for a team in the relegation zone. However, I can’t help but wonder whether the two points dropped may come back to haunt us come May. We started the game poorly and probably deserved to be a goal down, but the team rallied (something they would not have done under Coyle) and managed to get an equaliser before half time, and then take the lead just after half time – and few could argue that it was deserved. As has been the problem on so many occasions this year, a one goal lead is not enough to guarantee all three points (or even a point in some scenarios). Throughout the second half we were the better team and should have doubled our lead on numerous occasions; Preston where offering nothing in response. But the third goal never came, and that gives the opposition hope that if they can get one opportunity and take it, they can get something out of the game. The frustrating this is that we gifted them the opportunity. In classic Matt Derbyshire style, as the clocked ticked down past the 90 minute mark and towards the magical 95 allocated for injuries, substitutions and goals etc, Gallagher took the ball to the corner of the Blackburn End and Walkers Steel stand, and with the occupants of the home end screaming to keep it in the corner, he crossed it. A low and hard speculative drive towards the penalty spot; the only problem was, the rest of the Rovers team were behind him ready to support keeping the ball in the corner. Football is a cruel game – Preston took the ball almost immediately down the other end and equalised. Gallagher knew what he had done, but that doesn’t make it any easier to digest. The decision to cross the ball was without doubt the worst one he could’ve made. Had he played for a corner or a throw, if we had won it, we could run the clock down some more; if we had lost it we could have got back in to shape and position and re-organised. He could even have kicked it out for a goal kick and it would have been a better option, at least then it would waste some time whilst the ball was retrieved and give us chance to get back in to position. Young Sam Gallagher will most definitely learn from his mistake, but it may be to the detriment of the survival of Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.

Rovers away form this season has been dreadful – picking up just 12 points all season, meaning that if we stay up it will almost certainly be down to our form at Ewood Park, which although hasn’t been all too impressive, we have picked up an additional 28 points on home turf. Looking ahead to upcoming fixtures, it is again evident that we can’t rely on picking up points away from home – our next two away games: Brighton and Reading. Those two points dropped are looking massive already.

After the March international break (during which Charlie Mulgrew will no doubt pick up a knock whilst playing for Scotland) Rovers fixtures read as follows: Brighton (A); Reading (A); Barnsley (H); Nottingham Forest (A); Bristol City (H); Wolves (A); Aston Villa (H) and Brentford (A). Picking up not just points, but wins, at home is going to be crucial; with any points picked up away from Ewood a bonus.

Our fate is in our own hands though. Bristol City, Wolves and Nottingham Forest are all in this relegation battle and these are key games where a win is massive. If we can somehow muster wins in these 3 games, it is almost like getting 6 points for the victory as it stops them pulling away and brings us closer to them. A point from the games against Brighton and Reading would be a great return, and I like to think that we would have enough to beat Barnsley on our own patch, and if it came to it, enough to beat Brentford away on the last day of the season. Villa are a bit of a bogey side for us at home, so I’ve written off us getting anything from that game.

Usually, a points tally of mid-40s would be enough to see you home and dry in the Championship (last season Rotherham stayed up with 49 points, but Charlton who occupied the last relegation spot, where relegated with 40; the year before 42 points would have meant safety), but with only one team (Rotherham) being cut adrift this season, and the sides currently in positions 22nd to 15th only being covered by 5 points, arguably you could hit the 50 point mark and still get relegated. So those three home wins between now and the end of the season look even more important, and the 2 dropped against Preston even more costly.

If we were still under the leadership of Coyle, we would not have the points we have and the fighting chance we have – we would be more like Wigan who are being cut-a-drift in 23rd on 34 points. At least Mowbray has come in and got us fighting for points and given us a chance. We may have dropped 2 points in the last minute last weekend, but we were probably due it considering the late goals we have scored. We have 7 cup finals between now and the end of the season – let’s give it a go and get behind the team.

Tony Mowbray’s Blue and White Army!!!!!

 

 

 

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3 Days is a Long Time in Football

article-1192782-02cc1a0800000578-56_468x286There is a saying that a week is a long time in football. Whoever coined that phrase has obviously never been involved with Blackburn Rovers at any time in the last 5 years. Just seven days ago, Blackburn lost 2-1 at Hillsborough in a game were Rovers were controversially denied a point by the officials on no fewer than two instances. Following that, the Championship strugglers took on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United juggernaut in the FA Cup at Ewood Park, narrowly losing 2-1 despite putting in arguably the best performance of the season. Fast-forward less than 48 hours and Owen Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club. Fast-forward less than another 24 hours and Tony Mowbray has been appointed on an 18 month contract. There may not be much to write about on transfer deadline day, but when it comes to the running of the club when changes are a-foot there isn’t time for the ink to dry on the last article when the next breaking news is hitting the headlines. This post was supposed to be a review of the defeat to Manchester United and the frustrations of the performances so often being below the level seen on Sunday. Then it was going to be about Owen Coyle’s departure and the poor timing given the game at Burton this coming Friday. Now it is about all three and what the future holds under Tony Mowbray.

 Leaving Ewood Park on Sunday I had a sense of surprise optimism, that maybe that game would have given the players a kick up the backside or at least the confidence to go in to the final 15 games of the season and get the results needed to stay in the division. In the first half we looked like the Rovers of old – good attacking football by a team battling above its weight; there was an atmosphere at Ewood and there was banter between the Rovers and United fans – it was like a step back in time to 20 years ago. It was good to see the ground with over 20,000 inside – maybe if the support like that had been there all season, we may be higher up the table. Ultimately, efforts where in vain and United won the tie, but it was somewhat gratifying to know that Mourinho had to turn to superstars Pogba and Ibrahimovic to get the win (against a team second to bottom in the division below) (I’m also not going to lie, seeing Ibrahimovic live is one thing ticked off the bucket list!).

 What was frustrating about the game was the effort and intensity of the Rovers team – where has that been all season? Yes, as a Championship team you don’t get to play against the likes of Manchester United every week and against the likes of Zlatan, Pogba, Martial and Mkhitaryan – but surely that any supporter can expect is that the players give 100% every week to try and achieve the clubs goals; whether they be to beat Manchester United in the cup, push for promotion, or battle against relegation. What the defeat on Sunday did show is that the ability, grit and determination, and want to win is there, somewhere. If Mowbray can get Emnes dictating play like that behind Graham for the rest of the season we will score goals. Coupled with that, Mahoney needs to be given more starts – when he came on in the second half, United didn’t know what to do, beating Darmian and even drawing a cynical foul out of Pogba. Mahoney could provide that unknown quantity and spark that not only gets us goals and points, but also gets the crowd behind the team. What is evident is that we can’t defend; we haven’t been able to all season – so maybe the answer is all out attack. Another shining light was the cameo from Tomlinson when he came on – he gives us another option in the middle and deserves more game time.

 So this post was going to be about how we can take so many positives from the United defeat and use them to push us on for the remainder of the season, starting with Burton – then the news broke on Tuesday afternoon that Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club by “mutual agreement”, stating that the decision had been made to “give the club the best possible chance of climbing to a position of safety in the Championship” – starting with Burton away on Friday.

 Now don’t get me wrong, Coyle was never the right man for the job and was never going to get fans on side given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and with SEM, and performances on the pitch had done nothing to change that opinion. However, following arguably the best performance of the season, praise from pundits across the nation, and ahead of the arguably the biggest game in the last 30 years, surely the sensible option would be to ride the crest of that wave and let Coyle at least attempt to get a similar performance out of the players to try and beat Burton? Coyle and his staff left the club on Tuesday – you would expect without taking training – so who took training on Tuesday? If no-body did, even if someone did, surely that is a massive dent in the preparations for Friday crunch game? All the while, Burton where gaining another important point against Derby County. Coyle was never the “outstanding candidate” in any Rovers fans eyes, and his points return has been shocking – to an extent which should have seen him out of a job weeks ago; yes we have lost a lot of games by the odd goal, and haven’t been thumped by anyone, but consistently losing a game by the odd goal in 5 highlights there is a problem somewhere. Coyle should have gone – after the Sheffield Wednesday game, not just before the most important game of the season. If Rovers don’t win the game on Friday, the blame has to lie solely at the door of Paul Senior and his employers.

 So, Tony Mowbray. He probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, and to be honest I’d forgotten he was even around. A quick Google-search shows he was last at Coventry City in 2016, a role which he resigned from after 18 months in charge, after spells at Middlesbrough, Celtic and his most successful and well known spell as a manager at West Bromwich Albion in 2006-2009. He has a win percentage of 41.98% (and a loss rate of 35.3%).

 When the market was first available the usual names where mentioned: Sherwood and Dunn; in addition to recent job seekers Warburton and Rowett. My own thought’s were “god knows who we’ll get” and I had expected the option of Dunn as caretaker until the end of the season, and then the position to be reviewed depending what division we were in. If I’m being totally honest, I would have loved Rowett or Warburton. When the appointment was announced around lunch today, I was disappointed, maybe even annoyed. We had yet again gone for the cheap option – someone with a CV which had no recent success, but did have a shining light in the past that we could point to (think Coyle with Burnley; Lambert with Norwich; Berg with, oh wait…). I turned the notifications off on my phone as I awaited the onslaught of fellow football fan friend taking the mick.

 By the time I looked back at my phone and on-line I had come to my senses a little. Is it really a bad appointment? Mowbray has something to prove and this is his way back in to a division which he knows; as a minimum he may bring tighten up the defence and stop us leaking goals – that would be a start. Blackburn announced the current debt as being £106m today – and having almost halved their wage bill, there is evidently no money available for a big name, or to attract someone on a short term basis for big money, with the lure of further investment should they keep the club afloat. Looking back at those other choices: David Dunn is a club legend I have no doubt that if he keeps learning at the club he will one day be in the hot-seat, but the time is not now, now we need experience and know-how; Gary Rowett has proved he can work on a shoestring at Burton and Birmingham but he has always been looking for something bigger and better and with that in mind, is his heart set on a relegation? Mark Warburton is for me the more suitable candidate having worked a moneyball method at Brentford with success – I have said on this blog before that given our financial situation, moneyball may be the answer – but at Brentford he had owners and a board who were also invested in that theory and willing to let Warburton play it out (in the end he was too successful for his own good); at Ewood, if we get relegated I fear he would have been the first out of the door, either by sacking or by jumping at another offer. The only other candidate I could put in the frame was Mike Phelan – but even he has no experience of getting a side out of a relegation battle and the, optimistically, promoted.  

 So, the more I think about it, the more Mowbray looks like he good be a good fit. The proof will be in the pudding, and that pudding is due to be served Friday night at the Pirelli Stadium – if we lose that game, that could spell the end of Blackburn’s reign in the top two flights of English football for the first time since 1980 – if we go down this year I fear it will not be as short-lived as back then.

 On a slightly separate note, the release of the current financial situation at Blackburn today do not make for good reading. A pre-tax loss of £1.5m (a reduction of £15.8m on the previous year) but still with a net liability of over £106m show just how in the mire the club is. The wage bill has been almost halved since relegation from the top flight in 2012 when it stood at around £50m/year – it now stands at just over £25m/year. The sales of Gestede, Rhodes and Hanley have no doubt helped reduce the losses off the field, but their absences have been evident in the losses on the pitch. The team which was relegated in 2012 had some established stars on presumably big wages, such as Formica, Petrovic, N’Zonzi, Dann, Rochina, Yakubu, Vukcevic and Samba. In comparison, the current squad has been assembled with loans and free transfers and bolstered with youth team players – I would expect this to be less than 50% of that squad which was relegated. The reason for the current dire straits lies at the door of bad decisions made when we were relegated – the signings we made were not bad signings, the problem was the man picking the team. I stand by my point, that had Kean been sacked in that summer before the season started, and a more experienced manager brought in, we would have bounced right back. The announcement again shows that the Venkys have put Blackburn Rovers in a Catch 22 situation: without them, we go bust and probably drop out of existence; with them, we drop down the divisions due to their poor management and understanding of the club and game of football. The Venky’s won’t leave until they have seen a return on their investment (including the loans etc they have pumped in to the club) and the only way that will happen is if the club gets back to the Premiership and manages to survive for a few seasons – in the current light, this is a long way off happening, so don’t expect the Venkys to be leaving anytime soon.

 For now, let’s get behind Mowbray and the players, lets give them a fresh start to deliver results for the next 15 games……

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Blackburn Texans – Another False Hope

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In what has become regular Blackburn Rovers fashion, the week began with a Saturday defeat, 3-2, again. Although the week started in a usual fashion, by the middle of the week there was something in the air that has been in short supply for a number of months, maybe years – hope, maybe even optimism.

The reason for this new found excitement – rumours that Robert C McNair was rumoured to be interested in buying Blackburn Rovers Football Club.

Who is Robert C McNair? ‘Bob’ McNair is the current owner of the Houston Texans NFL team. A man worth an estimated $3.3bn. And a man rumoured to be interested in buying a English Football Team – and after being put off buying Reading and Birmingham, he was looking at Blackburn Rovers as a new sports project. A man with a significant amount of money and a history of working with and owning sports team; and a history of making a sports team profitable and competitive.

The rumours started on Tuesday and although they had been reasonably quashed by Friday – it had given Rovers fans some hope, and also raised some interesting points about how far they have come in their unsatisfaction with the current running of the club.

For those of you not familiar with the American NFL, Bob McNair’s Texans play in the AFC South Division, formed in 2002 as an expansion team after Houston’s previous franchise, the Houston Oilers, moved to Nashville to become the Tenessee Titans. They have not won the Super Bowl to date, but they have won the AFC Division four times in the last five years, but have yet to play in an AFC Confence Championship game. In the 2016 off season, McNair splashed the cash and signed Brock Osweiler, the Denver Broncos back up quarter back the previous season, for a lucrative 4 year $72m deal. For reference, you cannot get relegated in the NFL.

In a nutshell then, on the face of things McNair has spent an awful amount of money on a team to obtain relatively little success. So why does this bring hope and optimism to Blackburn fans? Especially given that the Venkys have done pretty much the same – spent a lot of money on a team which has since had no success, and failed repeatedly.

  1. Probably the main reason for the optimism is that Bob McNair is not the Venkys. He could be Ronald McDonald and the Rovers fans would probably get behind a takeover deal. In the early days, opinions were split between the Rovers fans as to whether the Venkys were poorly advised, massively naive, or just plain unlucky; and those that were against them from the off. Fast-forward to today and I would estimate around 99% of supporters are against their ownership and running of the club; with the other 1% employees of the club and bound by the gagging order to say how good and committed the Venkys are that evidently seems to be in place.
  2. The money behind the man is not a myth. McNair already owns a sports team so his worth is almost public knowledge – there would be no questions and rumours about his actual financial backing and the size of his empire like we have had with the Venkys.
  3. McNair has experience of owning and running a sports team. When the Venkys took over at Ewood they were very much wet behind the ears and jumped in at the relative deep end with rumours that they didn’t realise you could be relegated and with press releases stating the club would be back in the Champions League within 5 years and signings would include David Beckham and Ronaldinho. With McNair having experience of running a sports team you would hope/think he would know all the finer details, including competition rules, or at least surround himself with those who did.
  4. Although the Texans have not win the Super Bowl or competed in an AFC Conference game, they have been more than competitive and have won their Division some four times in the last 5 years – it’s not exactly the relegation fodder Rovers fans have had to get used to, and the fact they are winning divisions and competing in the play offs shows they are heading in the right direction, especially given they are a relatively young franchise.
  5. The NFL is big money and as it takes place for only a relatively short amount of time (in comparison to the English football league) team must capitalise on the period to get as many people in the stadium as possible and as many people buying merchandise as possible. If the same approach could be applied to Balckburn Rovers, there is definitely the potential to make the club more marketable, and as a result, more profitable. Attendances at Ewood this year are the lowest they have been for the last 30 years, so may be the razzmatazz of American sports is what is needed to get fans back engaged with the club.
  6. Bob McNair is a billionaire for a reason and will not invest if he does not believe there is a significant opportunity to make money. In football, the main way you make money is to be successful; at Blackburn Rovers this means promotion. If a new owners aim is to make money and will look to sell the club after achieving promotion and receiving the ludicrous TV money that the Premier League offers, so be it. If this is the case we will be out of the depressing rut we are in at the minute, back in the Premier League, and a far more attractive business for future suitors.

Although the takeover never got any further than the rumour stage it would have been interesting to see what the Venkys response would have been to any bids on the table – would they have finally seen this as the opportunity to sell up and get some of their money back? Or would they have stuck to their long standing “committed to the future of the club” stance the supporters are growing exceedingly frustrated at?

Possibly more interestingly, what would the input and review of the takeover have been from the FA and EFL?

Given the impact the Venkys have had on the club and the backlash from the fans questioning the FAs fit and proper rules and their lack of concern over the purchase and running of the club despite obvious flaws, Blackburn Rovers fans (and fans in general) will be scrutinising their involvement. I would expect that as a minimum their would be a larger degree of due diligence undertaken by the FA on prospective buyers, and a more thorough background check in to the credibitility and backing of anyone wanting to complete a takeover. The best option for both parties would be for the fans and FA to sit and discuss their concerns and come up with an action plan to ensure the Venkys mess does not happen again.

The takeover bid was a false dawn on this occasion – but here’s to hoping there’s another credible one soon. Whether the Venkys treat it as serious and give it due thought and consideration remains to be seen. More than likely they would again reiterate their commitment to run the club further in to the ground.

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How do the Venky’s keep getting it so wrong?

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Currently lying 22nd in the Championship, it is a miracle Blackburn Rovers are only 2 points from safety. With a record this season of just 20 points from 23 games (won 5, drawn 5, lost 13 and with 27 goals for and 39 goals against) arguably we should be a greater distance from safety. After the latest defeat to Barnsley Owen Coyle said that the strikers have to take their chances – that is correct but it is a bit naïve of the ex-Bolton manager considering that the previous 3 games had all seen 3-2 defeats; had the defence done their jobs, we should have at least got points out of each of the games – Sheffield Wednesday have scored 27 goals thus far and find themselves in a play-off spot in 6th place, but have only conceded 23 goals.

Going in to the game at Newcastle United at the end of November you would have said that this was a home banker, but somehow Blackburn managed to get a one nil win with a resolute defensive performance – this was the last time we had one. The Rovers have now gone 5 games without a win, following an unbeaten run of three – if it was not for this run, we would likely be firmly rooted to the bottom of the division.

So what is going wrong? Firstly, the owners, the Venky’s, are so out of touch with the club, the supporters and the sport in general, they don’t see how they are hurting the supporters and how the decisions they make are so frustrating and poor. For example, take the hiring of Owen Coyle:

His only real success in football management has been the one season in which he got Burnley promoted in 2009 – the following season he left for Bolton and saw them relegated in 2012. He was then sacked from Bolton in October 2012, and joined recently relegated Wigan in June 2013 – his tenure at the DW lasted just short of 6 months as he was sacked again in December 2013. Coyle then joined MLS side Houston Dynamo in December 2014 where he lasted until May 2016 when Coyle said he was keen to move back to the UK to be with his family, whilst the Dynamo’s were not satisfied with the results on the pitch. And that brings us to the following month, June 2016 when he was appointed as the new Manager of Blackburn Rovers as he was “the outstanding candidate” during interviews.

A look back at his CV shows that he was relatively successful in Scotland and at Burnley, but that’s where his success stops – 2009, 8 years ago. Added to his poor performances as a manager over the last few years, Coyle has managed at Burnley, Bolton and Wigan – all local rivals of Blackburn Rovers. Even if he had only managed Burnley, and been relatively successful, he should never have even been considered for the Rovers job. This is yet another thing that the Venky’s have got wrong. The worrying this is, I highly doubt that they even know that they have got it wrong, or what they have gotten wrong.

A festive period record of 4 defeats in 4 games does not bode well, and for any other club in the relegation zone at this stage and with this record, this would more than likely spell the end for the manager – but not at Ewood Park. When the fans talk of Coyle being given the boot, frustrations are met  by the same question: “But who is actually going to sack him?”.

The Venky’s haven’t been seen at Ewood for a game since January 2013 when Blackburn were defeated by Charlton. A look at the “Who’s Who” page on the clubs website provides little insight in to who actually runs the club day to day and who would be responsible for pulling the trigger:

Directors: Robert Coar and Gandhi Babu

Finance Director: Mike Cheston

Club President: KC Lee

A little Google research doesn’t bring up very much information on any of these people but the silence that is deafening is that none of these people have the knowledge, experience or background to make them the right person to hire and fire a manager – there is next to no footballing experiencing amongst them, other than managing (or mismanaging the books of football clubs). This leaves me to believe that it is these people who put us in the position we are now by hiring the wrong man, based on a whim that he may be able to repeat one successful season. That, and given that Coyle’s reputation is so low, his salary would probably match.

At the time of the managerial search in May 2016, there were allegedly 4 candidates: Alex McLeish, Neil Warnock, Warren Joyce and David Dunn.

The romantic amongst us would have loved Dunny to have taken the job but realistically it would be a baptism of fire that would have likely only gone badly. For a man with as great a reputation in Blackburn, the sensible thing would be for him to get more experience elsewhere or work his way up inside the club.

So that leaves, McLeish, Warnock and Joyce – the latter is/was very much an unknown quantity but you don’t work at Manchester United for 8 years, the majority of which under Alex Ferguson without knowing a thing or two about the game – in comparison to Coyle, he was a risk worth taking; not to mention his contacts within the game and at Manchester United which could’ve proved vital with regards to loan signings given the limited budget at Ewood.

Warnock would have been the sensible option. It is a sign of how bad things have become that I would have liked Warnock to manage the club I support. In my eyes he is a bit of a dinosaur but when it comes to the Championship he knows what he is doing, and given a summer with the squad and being allowed to bring in his own players, we would be mid-table at worst in the league. Yes, he is struggling at Cardiff at the minute but I fully expect him to guide them to safety and have a challenge for promotion next season – the January window will see a transformation in their fortunes.

So that leaves McLeish – a man currently managing Egypt following a stint in Belgium with Genk, and following relative success at Birmingham, Rangers and Scotland. Sure this man had more experience of getting teams out of the Championship, and had a far better track record.

Yet, given the viable alternatives, Venky’s plumped for Coyle, a man who’s reputation was in tatters; a man who had managed Burnley; a man who had been relegated with Bolton and had struggled to make an impact with a largely talented Wigan side, and failed with MLS side Houston Dynamos – and here we find ourselves at the turn of the year, mid-way through the season on 20 points from 23 games, sat 3rd from bottom.

If whoever it is that makes the hiring and firing decisions doesn’t take action soon, it will be too late, and once we drop to the 3rd tier, the road back is even longer and harder, with the threat of administration beginning to loom overhead.

So what actions need to be taken?:

  1. Sack Coyle – he is evidently out of his depth, and his appearance on Sky Sports News knocking the confidence out of one of our strikers shows that he doesn’t appreciated the enormity of the situation – either that, or he just doesn’t care.
  2. Appoint Gary Rowett – the best man available at the minute. Rowett is a young manager who has shown he can be successful with little money (Burton) and can manage at clubs in crisis (Birmingham).
  3. Get rid of the dead-wood – there are players who seem to be the first name on the team sheet at Ewood who are seemingly not giving there all and would rather be somewhere else (I won’t name names but all Rovers fans know who they are). We shouldn’t be paying their wages if they aren’t interested in getting us out of trouble so it would be best to get rid.
  4. Blood in the youngsters – the likes of Connor Mahoney, Scott Wharton and Ryan Nyambe have all done well when given the chance, but as always they then disappear and are never seen again. At times this season we have played with one recognised defender in the back four whilst the youngsters haven’t been given a chance.
  5. Decide what you want to do with the club – when they took over at Ewood the Venky’s said they wanted success and wanted Rovers to be in the Champions League; we have never been further away from achieving this than we are now since they took over the club. If their intentions are still honest, they need to communicate with the supporters and establish a worthwhile and workable management structure at the club; and ideally go in to partnership with someone who supports the club or has a history with the club so that they can do the day to day running of the club. The Venky’s don’t want to lose all the money they have put in to the club, but the only way for this to happen is to provide the finances and allow someone who knows the club and knows football to run the club; and they must be left to get on with it. This won’t be a 6 months fix, more like a 6 year fix, but they need to be left to get on with it.

 

 

 

 

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The Aston Villa Gamble

Relegated as one of the worst sides in Premier League history, despite being a league member since its inception, many believed at the end of the 2015-16 season that Villa were destined to jump on the Pompey highway and tumble down the divisions.

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Their relegation came following the initial optimism of management under the enthusiastic Tim Sherwood, which quickly turned to realisation that his management skills were limited to jumping around the touchline wearing a fashionable club gilet and trying to motivate his players to perform – a task he failed somewhat miserably at. Sherwood was replaced by Remi Garde, a man linked with every vacant job in the Premier League since his successful stint on the coaching staff at Lyon with Paul Le Guen during which they won the title. Garde brought with him a sense of optimism that they could get out of the struggle they found themselves in and potentially aim higher with a bright young manager in future seasons. How wrong they were – the rot continued under Garde, at arguably a worse rate as they failed to muster any sort of fight to stay up; if only Villa’s performances had been as impressive as Joleon Lescott’s ability to unlock his phone and post a picture of his Mercedez all whilst being in his back pocket. By mid-April their fate was sealed, following the sacking of Garde who won only 3 out of 23 games he took charge of, with Eric Black taking charge until the end of the season.

So Villa tumbled through the trap door and in to the Championship, manager less and with a mixture of experienced players on high wages, and youngsters who had looked somewhat out of their depth in the top flight. A worrying time for Villa fans as the scaremonger’s circled and hinted at a bigger demise. Villa turned to Roberto Di Matteo to get them back to the Premiership or at least stop the rot – a Champions League winning manager and manager who had previously got local rivals out of the Championship (remember the last time they appointed a local rivals’ manager?).

Since appointing Di Matteo Villa have spent approximately £38m on the signings of McCormack, Chester, Jedinak, Elphick and others; whilst selling £15m-worth of players in Gueye, Clark and Sinclair – a net spend of £23m; not a lot, but a significant amount in the second tier.

Thus begins a cautionary tale:

In 2012 Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premier League with a relatively good squad and decided that in order to get back to the big time, and fast, they had to invest in players. That summer before the 2012-13 season they spent roughly £14.4m (a considerable amount in the pre-mega TV deal days) on transfers and a hefty amount in wages to free transfers like Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu, all in an attempt to jump straight back up using the money left over from the Premier League and the money to come from parachute payments. The gamble didn’t pay off and by the turn of the year the club was facing a double relegation following 3 managers and a court case. They didn’t get back that season, the following season, nor the season after that, and they now find themselves propping up the Championship in +£100m debt.

So are Villa walking a tight rope and is their spending reckless? On first glances you would say it is a massive gamble which is heavily reliant on the managerial expertise of a man who most recently guided a talented team the Champions League trophy, getting the most out of a relatively average squad of players, bolstered by some big money signings. Dig a little deeper though and this is a different scenario all together to the one at Ewood in 2012.

When Blackburn were relegated they stuck with the man who took them down, Steve Kean, a man who fans had turned on many months earier and a man who defiantly insisted he was the best man for the job despite evidence to the contrary and a man who argued he still had the support of the fans (which he definitely did not). At Villa they have brought in a manager who has experience of the division and of English football in general, who has successfully gained promotion before – he is a gamble, but a measured one given his experience.

Aston Villa followed relegation by being sold to a new owner with enthusiasm to take the club back to the top, and who has backed-up his enthusiasm with finances to potentially achieve this. At Blackburn, the Venkys were already well established for not really ‘getting’ football, the realism of transfers or the fact that relegation can happen (we’re still awaiting the arrival of Beckham and Ronaldhino), and in the summer following relegation it is rumoured that they put the future of the club in the hands of others to agree transfers. It might have looked like ambition and promise at the time, but it soon became clear the problems at the club were far more deep-rooted than the playing staff. At a time when the supporters wanted dialogue and communications with those running the club there was a deafening silence from Pune, which only soured relations further. At Villa they now have an owner in Tony Xia who tweets and interviews and tells of his ambition for the club. At Blackburn we struggle to get a press release from the owners when a viable, fan backed, takeover bid is put forward.

The investment in players and the appointment of an experienced manager at Villa won’t guarantee success in terms of promotion or stability in terms of survival but they are making the right steps, and by keeping the fans on board the new owner has given the club a chance – whether they have the players, talent or mental capacity to achieve either of these is still to be seen.

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Europe to the brink of League 1 in 10 years

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Ten years ago this weekend, Blackburn took on Portsmouth in the first game of the 2006-07 Premier League season. Their sixth season in the top tier following promotion from the Football League First Division, after only a two year stay in the second tier. Although the opening day of the season saw a 3-0 defeat away at (ironically) Portsmouth, there was a sense of optimism at the club following the summer signings of South Africa’s leading all-time goal scorer Benni McCarthy, former Champions League finalist Shabani Nonda, and the Dutch defender Andre Ooijer. The previous season Blackburn had finished the previous season in 6th place behind only Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.

Fast forward 10 years and in the same weekend, Blackburn lie bottom of the Championship, drawing 2-2 with newly promoted Burton Albion (a team who ten years ago where in the Football Conference), following three defeats to Norwich, newly promoted local rivals Wigan, and Cardiff – the only team on 1 point in the division.

Back in 2006-07 there was a sense of excitement around the football team – throughout the summer months I would keep a close eye on Skysports and the local and national media to see who potential comings and goings would be, prophesising about who would be a good fit or who could be the biggest name we could attract. That summer we signed Benni McCarthy of the best European striker of the previous 5 years, a Champions League winner. As well as looking at who we could bring in, there was always the worry that key players could be snapped up by the bigger clubs – the previous season had seen brilliant performances from the likes of David ‘the new Beckham’ Bentley, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Brett Emerton, all players who had been linked with moves away – but we had managed to hold on to them.

In 2016-17 times have changed somewhat. The attendance against Burton yesterday was 10,356 – the lowest league attendance at Ewood Park since the month after Kenny Dalglish took charge in October 1991 when Rovers were in the old Division Two; this includes the period when Ewood Park was being redeveloped. Of those 10,356 it could be argued that only around 10-20% showed any sort of emotion when Burton twice equalised. Rather than the anger, disappointment and want to apportion blame that has followed many a goal conceded, there was a sense of inevitability and acceptance. A sense that it was bound to happen and that the supporters half expected it. You could call it a lack of passion, but these supporters have been through a lot in the last 5 years, never mind the last ten. In the space of 5 years, Blackburn Rovers have gone from being a mid-to-top-table Premiership club, well run, regularly attracting crowds of 20,000+ and contending in Europe – to a side who in allegedly hundreds of millions of pounds of debt; attendances struggling to break the 13,000 mark; hunting for free transfers; and on their 6th manager in 5 years (that including a two and a half year stint from Gary Bowyer).

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Attendances have shrunk significantly over the past 5 years

In the early 2000’s Blackburn were seen as the shining light of how to run a top division team in a small town without building up masses and masses of debt. They never spent beyond their means yet always outperformed where there spending on transfers and wages should have placed them. This was in no small part down to the Chairman/Chief Executive John Williams.

Now instead of spending the summer exciting/worrying about potential new players in and stars leaving, there is no checking of websites or media outlets, only the hope that we have a squad of players come the first day of the season with the ability to compete. All hopes are placed in finding a player on a free transfer who has dropped down the leagues but has the talent to get back to the top, or in loan deals bringing in players of higher quality looking to show their ability to their parent clubs. The turnover of players in five years has been incredible; even from the starting line up from the first game of the season the defence featured only one player, the captain Jason Lowe. Even when players leave the club now there is a sense of acceptance that we probably need the money to pay off debt or to reduce the wage bill; but we have been saying this for a number of years now, yet we are still a selling club who has to balance the books and pay off the debt – surely there can’t be many players left at the club on Premier League wages, or who could potentially generate a big transfer fee (by big I mean more than £2.5m).

In the last five years Blackburn have sold (reported fees):

  • Phil Jones (£22m)
  • Nikola Kalinic (£7m)
  • Yakubu (£1m)
  • Junior Hoilett (£4m)
  • Steven Nzonzi (£4m)
  • Martin Olsson (£2m)
  • Mauro Formica (£0.6m)
  • Alan Judge (£0.35m)
  • Tom Cairney (£3.5m)
  • Josh King (£2m)
  • Rudy Gestede (£6m)
  • Marcus Olsson (£1m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£9m)
  • Grant Hanley (£6m)

Total Monies raised: £68.45m

And signed (reported fees):

  • David Goodwillie (£2.8m)
  • Radosav Petrovic (£2.7m)
  • Simon Vukcevic (£2m)
  • Yakubu (£1.5m)
  • Scott Dann (£8m)
  • Jordan Slew (£1m)
  • Leon Best (£3m)
  • Dickson Etuhu (£1.5m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£8m)
  • Corry Evans (£0.6m)
  • Ben Marshall (£1m)
  • Shane Duffy (£0.4m)

Total monies out/spent = £32.5m

‘The Venkys’ bought a 99.9% stake in Blackburn Rovers in November 2010 spending £23m on the deal and taking on around £20m of the clubs debt. In its most simplistic form, they spend £43m on buying the club and debt; then have spent £32.5m on transfers (total spending = £75.5m) and raised £68.45m from transfers – the visible profit and loss from this stands at -£7.05m, arguably they could have more than halved the debt they took on board. However, as I say, this is only looking at the simple figures of transfers, and only those which we know the value of – what this doesn’t take in to account is the money spent on players wages, staff and operating costs, and agents fees. As of June this year (2016), the Lancashire Telegraph reported that although losses had improved by almost £25m, the debt still stood at £104.2m (these are the figures for the 2014-15 season). So this begs the question, where has the other £97m debt come from? A relatively large percentage of this will have arisen from wages and operating costs which aren’t covered by ticket sales, especially given the decrease in attendances – but the question needs to be asked, why are players on wages which aren’t aligned to a sustainable model for income against expenditure (i.e. keeping the amount which isn’t covered by season tickets as low as possible), especially given that the club are in the second tier and haven’t mounted a serious promotion challenge since relegation? Are they overpaid for their level of performances? If this is the case, who has agreed these deals? This brings us on to two key points in the demise of Blackburn Rovers – who is actually running the club day to day and approving transfers and wages for players who clearly aren’t of the standard required (the same could be said of >80% of the previous 6 managers)? And why have such astronomical amounts been paid to footballers’ agents in these deals?

I said earlier that there was arguably a lack of passion at Ewood Park when the opposition scores – let me clarify this: there is no lack of passion. What has happened at Ewood is that from the months after the Venkys bought the club, the supporters have known something wasn’t quite right. The sacking of Sam Allardyce was the start of this; followed by the appointment of a little known coach as manager; followed by the new improved contracts offered to key players who then mysteriously became injured and released/sold, only to make a Lazarus-like recovery; followed by the resignation of senior members of the clubs hierarchy (John Williams et al) as they didn’t feel they were being consulted or used appropriately given their previous experience and successes. This all culminated in a number of protests at Ewood before, during and after games mainly aimed at the frustrations and lack of confidence in the Manager – this gained national press for a while, but soon it became old news, and many of the supporters were criticised for wanting an inexperienced manager out before the club was relegated – eventually, the inevitable happened and Blackburn were relegated, with a game to spare. Again the fans called for the Manager to go, but unbelievably he kept his job, and was given vast amounts of money to spend (which evidently the club couldn’t afford).  Eventually Kean resigned and so commenced a further period of uncertainty and backroom hi-jinks as Blackburn got through two managers in the space of four and a half months as backroom staff wrestled for control and authority – eventually resulting in a £2.25m pay-off to Berg. When Michael Appleton was sacked in March 2013, a second relegation in as many seasons looked a likely outcome to the season, fortunately reserve team coach Gary Bowyer stepped up and ensured survival, and was then given the job for a further 2 full seasons. During Bowyer’s time in charge he was forced to hunt for free transfers and loan signings whilst having to sell his best players, and maintain a team capable of challenging for the top 6 – there were times during this period that players would appear on the pitch and supporter’s would have no idea who they, were they came from or what to expect, only for them to be released or called back to parent clubs shortly afterwards, there seemed to be an ever-revolving door of players coming in and out. Bowyer was sacked part way through the 2015-16 season as the club sat in mid-table despite having sold key squad members. Paul Lambert was given the job and promptly advised that Jordan Rhodes would be sold. Performances towards the end of the season were lacklustre and poor, and at times relegation was again a possibility – at the end of the season Lambert advised he would be leaving in the summer, rumoured due to be because of unfulfilled promises. Blackburn started the 2016-17 season with former Burnley, Bolton, Wigan and Houston Dynamo’s manager Owen Coyle in charge – much to the disappointment of fans. Never has a former Burnley manager then managed Blackburn.

Blackburn fans aren’t a wanting or overly expectant bunch. They are under no illusions that they should be battling for the top 6 of the Premier League at the minute, or arguably the top 6 of the Championship. All they are looking for is some hope. Hope that maybe things will get better; maybe it will be a long journey to get back to where they were 10 years ago and maybe it will take twice as long as that to do it, but they would be happy to know that there was a journey and not just the constant disappointment and farce that is the running of the club at the minute. The owners, Venkys, haven’t been seen at the club for years and very rarely speak to the media about the club or to calm fans fears. I am a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder and I couldn’t even tell you who our Chairman or Chief Executive is, or if we even have one. I don’t know what the owners expectations are for the season, next season or if they even have a 5 year plan. What I do know is that if I had invested £43m in to a football club, I would at least go and watch them in person every once in a while, and try to keep the fans on board and get bums on seats to raise much-needed money. But there is nothing comes from them other than the occasional press release saying they are 100% committed to the club and share the fans frustrations – this isn’t good enough. This summer they proved that they know nothing about English football, fandom or even the local area. To appoint a man who has previously managed the clubs bitterest rivals shows a complete ignorance of the clubs history and a lack of interest in what the fans wanted or definitely didn’t want. This decision will have cost season ticket sales. To further frustrations, after the club lost 4-1 at home on the opening day of the season they decided to jokingly muse that club stalwart Morten Gamst Pedersen may be re-signing, only to then announce that it was a joke and that he was only visiting. Let’s not forget that Pedersen scored some 35 goals in 288 games for the club and stuck with them during times of intense transfer speculation; when the club were relegated to the Championship it was rumoured that some people high up in the club had said he was too old to play at this level – at the time he was one of the best technical players in the squad. In the end he was shown the back door Karabukspor after having been forced to train with the youth development squad for a number of weeks. His bond with the Blackburn fans was shown when he came over to the supporters after a game he hadn’t played in shortly before his move and received rapturous applause. He could definitely still do a job in the side today, 3 years after leaving. For the club to joke that he may be re-signing is absolutely unbelievable and again shows that there is no awareness from the owners/club as to what the supporters are going through.

If I could ask the Blackburn Rovers owners one question, it would be: “What is your end game for the club?” If it was because they loved football, they would be at more games (or at least some games). If it was for the love of the club, they would again be in attendance at games, and they would not have let it get in to its current state. If it was to make money, they have had ample opportunities to sell either upon relegation or upon receipt of the parachute payments before the club was plunged in to debt. Further still, offers have been made which would allow them an exit from the club without it costing them a fortune, or offers which would allow them to be part owners without putting any more money in – but they have rejected both. Is it for the marketing potential for their chicken meat processing business? If so, why isn’t Ewood Park plastered in signs and logos and why isn’t their product sold in the stadium and local vicinity? Surely there is no marketing potential in the Championship to reach an international audience as you can’t buy the product in this country. So what exactly do they want from the club?

There has been a lot of activity from supporters of the club this past week to raise awareness of the current plight of the club and raise questions about previous dealings. In an ideal world this will bring back the national media attention and at least force the Venkys to answer questions about their dealings and intentions, in an ideal world it might start the process of the sale of the club to more competent and interested hands. What I fear is that the same old story will be played out again: the Venkys will release a statement saying they are fully committed to the club and getting back to the Premier League and they are not interested in selling, but will welcome discussions with fans, which will never happen.

If things don’t change, the club is only going one way, further down the ladder to League 1.

At least we have a big screen they can advertise on in League 1.

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The Impacts of Financial Fair Play

This week Tom Cairney became the most high profile sale of the summer so far for Blackburn Rovers as he completed his move to Fulham, making him the sixth player to leave the Lancashire club so far this summer – and it is only June still. Rumours are still abound that both Rhodes and Gestede will be following him out of the door this summer as the club look to claw back money to pay off dates and comply with Financial Fair Play. Considering that earlier this year the total net debt of the club was believed to be up at £79.8m, and with FFP permitting clubs to make a total operating loss of £8m (2013/14), the club will still be some way off that target even if all saleable and profitable assets are sold for large sums – arguably, selling the first choice 11 would not make much a dent into this figures. The result, Blackburn will continue to be a club in debt and with a transfer embargo. It is a catch 22 situation – unable to buy players, so our best players will have to be sold to pay the debts, but then the goal of promotion (and the pay packet it brings) disappears further and further in to the distance. For Blackburn, arguably the only way back up, is to drop down, create a sustainable financial foundation and with it a business model which allows the club to only operate within its means, and then start a crusade back up the table, or potentially, leagues.

Blackburn aren’t the only team to fall foul of the FFP rules, last season Leeds United and Nottingham Forest joined them in the no-buy club. Had QPR not gained promotion the season before last they would be in the same situation, possibly with greater debt, however, by getting out of the Championship they exempted them from their FFP rules and the fines which would have followed – but now they are back in the Championship, and with a heavy fine to pay. Only they are not paying it, they are refusing to acknowledge that they owe the money back to the league, and the sucker punch: they are even looking to bring players in. Which raises the question: what is the point of FFP if not everyone is going to abide by it? By ignoring the rules and fine QPR have an unfair advantage over the other clubs in the league who have slaved to comply, most likely taking a heavy blow to their ambition. Why should QPR be any different? Look at the Premier League and Champions League: for almost a decade Arsenal went trophy less as they sought to move in to their new ground and balance the books without going massively in debt. So they didn’t spend huge amounts on transfer’s season on season, and instead paid of their stadium. Now they’ve paid back the majority of the monies owed for the stadium they are able to pay high values in transfers and wages, without falling foul of FFP. Look across London to Chelsea and it has been apparent that over the previous few seasons they have not been the free-spending club they were in previous years under Abromovich – the outcome, last year they posted a profit. Now, look to the North West to the Etihad, and similar to QPR, Manchester City have completely ignored the impending doom of FFP, and continued their endless spending to ensure they make the top four every season and challenge for the title. Across the channel PSG have done pretty much the same. So when UEFA and their FFP campaign came knocking, what was the heavy penalty they paid – reduced Champions League squad numbers. Is this a crime fitting of the punishment, of un-levelling the playing field? I don’t think so. If UEFA were serious about FFP large fines and bans would follow the breaking of the rules, acting as a lesson to keep within the guidelines and operate more sustainably. Funny how two of the richest clubs in Europe spent their way in to the UEFA Champions League, contravening all the rules, only to be hampered by a couple less players in their tournament squads. FFP isn’t hitting the big clubs competing in Europe, who, let’s face it, can probably manage the debt they are in; but it is crippling other smaller clubs who have never had, or who no longer have, sugar daddies to finance them. I’m not saying the likes of Blackburn, Leeds and Nottingham should be given a free reign – but the punishment currently imposed is not only hampering clubs who are already in trouble, but driving them down the leagues down a path they may not be able to recover from.

Looking specifically at Blackburn Rovers, a review of recent seasons performance on and off the pitch shows that the event that started the demise of the club was not the buying of the club by the Venkys; it wasn’t the sacking of Sam Allardyce; it probably wasn’t even the hiring and retaining of Steve Kean; or the clubs relegation; the biggest impact on Blackburn financially was the attempt to get back up to the top division at the first go. Before relegation, Blackburn had maintained a wage to turnover ratio of less than 100% – the highest being 93% the season prior to being relegated, and the highest before that being 90.6% the season Paul Ince started as manager and was eventually replaced by Sam Allardyce (arguably the high percentage here could be attributable to the fact that this was the first season in a few the club was not in the Europa League so would have had reduced revenue and also the cost of firing and hiring). Similarly, before relegation, the clubs net debt had been £21m and below – apart from the season the Venkys bought the club when it increased to £26.3m. Following relegation the net debt of the club has spiralled from £30m to £70m in the space of just 3 years.

Blackburn Rovers Performance 2009-15

It could be argued that if you are going to get promoted back to the Premier League the time to do it is in your first season down, retaining the bulk of the Premier League squad and using the parachute payments wisely. When they were relegated it can be assumed that Blackburn had a reasonably high wage bill – this is a problem in itself. The second problem was the additions the club made to the squad. Despite this only being 3 years ago, only two players from that summers spending spree still remain at the club: Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best. That summer crippled the club in three ways: the owners stuck with the manager who got them relegated, Steve Kean; then they offered high wages to bring relatively big names with Premier League experience to the club to try and get them back up; and finally, they searched Europe for good young cheap talent and then allegedly paid agents a small fortune to bring them to the club – the summer of 2012 saw no fewer than four Portuguese youngsters join the club.

Of the points raised above, points one and two link in to one almost. The club should never have kept Steve Kean. Regardless of whether he was a good coach and was ultimately the man to get the club promoted, he had lost the fans. No matter what he did that summer, or who he signed, they would always be his signings and signings that he should never have been in a position to make. From the minute those players he signed (I’m thinking of Murphy and Etuhu) put a foot wrong they were Steve Kean’s players and unlikely to win the hearts of the fans (similar to when Paul Ince signed Keith Andrews who never grew out of that shadow). Giving Steve Kean money to spend was a poor decision, an even worse decision was giving him the power to offer them ludicrously high wages in the hope of getting the team straight back up – they were on a hiding to nothing. By all reports, Leon Best was offered a decent wage and he is still at the club despite there being little to no chance of him playing again (not that he has played much anyway). Point 3 links somewhat to this as well – all the Portuguese players bought were again linked to Steve Kean and the time he spent earlier in his career in Portugal at Academica, it is not surprising to see that since Kean departed playing time has been somewhat rare for these players.

There is a lesson to be learnt here: if you get relegated don’t throw all your eggs in to the basket of aiming for an immediate return – if you don’t achieve it, that one summers decisions could take decades to recover from, as is being seen now at Ewood, were ironically Blackburn cannot even buy players for a penny to get them out of the situation they are in. Bide your time, trust in your youth and look to build a squad on a sensible footing, letting them grow in to a team capable of challenging for promotion rather than forcing square pegs in to round holes in the hope that experience (and money) shines through. Look at Bournemouth rather than QPR.

So what is the solution? I believe there whilst under transfer embargo Blackburn have two options:

  1. Trust the academy. Blackburn have one of the best academies around and produce a great number of quality youngsters, some of whom have gone on to represent their country and win titles. However, in recent years there has been very little to shout about from the academy at Brockhall, with any seemingly bright sparks being shipped out on loan never to be seen again. At a time when the club has no money to spend on transfers, a good youth policy is a sensible option. The hope is that the previous few seasons of sending players out on loan has been to get them the experience they need to cut it in the first time if, and more likely, when, required. At Championship level, there is no reason a player cannot come in to the team between the age of 18 and 20 and be able to handle the pressure and demands of the league. It would be nice to see more appearances from the likes of Mahony, O’Sullivan, Raya and, fingers crossed, a bright young striker.
  2. The ‘Moneyball’ alternative. In the book (and film) ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis, the plucky Oakland A’s go from season to season with little money but still managing to compete with the likes of the New York Yankees, under the control of General Manager Billy Beane. Although he doesn’t spend anywhere near the likes of the Yankees or the Red Sox, each year he competes, and at the end of each season has to sell off his best players. He does this by finding value in the market and finding players who help him achieve what he needs. He doesn’t look to superstars, he looks at players with attributes which help him score runs (“get on base”) – in most cases these are players who have been overlooked for one reason or another, but who statistically are good enough to make it in the big leagues, which Beane proves in their 20 game unbeaten run. Another aspect of this is the American draft system and the potential to exchange players for players in addition to sums of money – selling a star player for money and a player the buying party doesn’t see as key. Blackburn can look to this model as a way out of the mire. Search the lower leagues and the academies and find these players who aren’t superstars, or who don’t have all the boxes ticked; they may only be good at one thing, let’s say crossing, but as long as they deliver on that one attribute and contribute to the rest of the team, they are an asset. The second stage is exchanges: Blackburn cannot buy anybody, but what they can do is ask for players as part of transfers – get money for an asset and get a player as well. If this method is managed well, very good players, and players eager to prove they shouldn’t have been shipped out of their last club can be snapped up for nothing – potentially filling the gap left by the outgoing player.

In my eyes a mixture of the above two methods needs to be employed – keep the core of the team if possible, sprinkle some youth in there and use the transfer of assets to your advantage. The battle to keep Blackburn Rovers alive and competitive may ultimately be won on the pitch, but a lot of the work to make this possible will be done in the stands scouting, on the training ground integrating youth, and in the boardroom thrashing out deals which ensure the club doesn’t suffer too greatly when assets are sold on. Let’s see what happens in July/August…….

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Go Big or Go Bust

Following Blackburn Rovers poor showing last week at home against Wolves, with the game ending in a one nil defeat for the Rovers; a one all draw at Wigan a week later – a team nearing the bottom of the Championship and with a manager with only one win since taking charge – will have done little to get the naysayers off Gary Bowyers back.

Towards to the end of the Wolves game shouts of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang from certain sections of the crowd, and the team were booed off at the final whistle. It was reminiscent of the Steve Kean era – although this manager has without question been much more of a success. After the game, there was unrest amongst fans, with utterings of Bowyer having run his course, and questions of whether he was really the man to take the club forward, and to take us back to the Premier League. A look at the fixture list reveals that Rovers haven’t won in the league since the 20th December, and before that not since the 22nd November – that’s just two league wins in eight. Yet, Blackburn still sit 10th in the league table, just 8 points off the Play-Offs with 20 games still to play and 60 points still on offer. They said that every team that gets promoted has a bad run, if we have had ours through November-January, we are still well placed to make a push for the top 6. Looking at the teams above us, there are only really Derby and Bournemouth who have been a cut above us, and possibly Sheffield Wednesday – a team who we were unlucky to lose against, but whose forward line of May and Nuhiu are probably the best attacking force in terms of movement and work-rate I have seen at Ewood this year. To put it simply, we have been poor for the last ten or so games, but despite that, there is no reason for drastic measures, we are still well placed for the play-offs, although an extra 3 points would have helped.

A common argument for the changing of the guard at Ewood has been that we have a squad good enough for promotion, but not the manager. I will admit that we do have a far better squad, and a squad with far more potential ability that that which we got relegated with, and at times Bowyer does seem to select strange teams and make seemingly random substitutions – but that is his prerogative. He sees these players every day in training, and to be fair to him, on the subject of substitutions, he has numerous times made changes which have seen us grab a late point, or all three. Whether the squad is good enough and he is holding the team back is separate debate. There have been times this season that we have looked very good, and at other times, we have looked very poor – the players have been the same. Some players have blown hot and cold too much – Marshall for instance, will be unplayable one week, then mediocre the next; Hanley will look like a solid centre back one week, but the following week he will look a liability – to name just two. Bowyer cannot be to blame for such swings in form and game impact.

Looking at other teams in the Championship and the football played in the Premiership, what Blackburn do lack is pace. Too often we will win the ball back from the oppositions attack but then stumble in to an attack rather than implement a full-blown counter – by the time we get to the oppositions penalty box they have recovered with numbers back. We lack someone to take players on at full-speed, opting for getting to the half-way line, stopping and going sideways, and losing all the impetus. Marshall has at times looked capable of this, as has King, but too often the end product has been missing, or the know-how to pass at the right moment has been lost. Olsson on the other-hand has undoubtable pace, but seems to hit an imaginary wall when he reaches the half-way line. With a defensive midfielder on the pitch in either Lowe or Williamson, there should be no fear of bombing on and attacking, safe in the knowledge that someone is there to cover any potential counter-counter attack from the opposition. Perhaps the biggest criticism of Bowyer is that he is too wary of losing games, rather than intent on winning them. If this is the case, his mind set evidently isn’t working as we have lost numerous games over the last 3 months, without taking the game to our opponents. The last few games have shown that even if we do take a lead, we do not have the quality and solidness at the back to hold on to a lead, or keep it tight and push for a win late on. Defensively, unfortunately, it has to be said, that we cannot rely on not conceding; but attacking-wise we have two of the most prolific strikers in the league, undoubted quality in Cairney and Marshall, and pace in King and Conway – surely, if we cannot defend, the solution should be to outscore the opposition? At Bolton away on Boxing Day we had chances to close the game out before half-time but we couldn’t take them – on another day the attacking philosophy could have been a success, maybe if it was, we would’ve continued it.

The January window is often seen as the critical point at which changes can last be made to achieve season objectives – whether that be promotion or relegation, or solidarity – but would a change at Ewood be a good idea? Look at it this way: when Bowyer took charge we were plummeting to League One; he steadied the ship and in his first full season, missed out on the Play-Offs on goal difference; during this time he has slashed the wage bill, got rid of players who were not willing to fight for the shirt and the cause, and rebuilt his squad on a shoestring with promising young players, whilst still remaining competitive; he has since been hit with a transfer embargo, told the club is losing £30+m every year, and forced to content with rumours about his best players every transfer window. With all this is mind, to be sat 10th in the league and still with a shout of play-offs and promotion is fantastic in my eyes. If Bowyer was to be shown the door, who would he be replaced with? It is hardly likely that experienced managers and managers with experience of promotion from the Championship would be queuing around the block to take over at a club with less than no money, a transfer embargo, top players rumoured to be leaving, and seemingly overly expectant fans, especially with the history of the Venkys issuing P45’s. So if you can’t get an experienced manager in, you would have to look to someone young like a Sherwood who would undoubtedly want money, and who has no experience of the Championship and little experience of management in general. Similarly, murmurs of Tugay should listen to their head and not their heart – he has minimal managerial experience, has not managed in England, and would be expected to hit the ground running. Another alternative, the return of Souness is a potential fit, but would he leave his cushty job with Sky? Would he want a return to a club he was successful with, but left when his success ran its course? And would he want a job with no money? In summary, what Blackburn require is a manager with a particular set of skills – whether that person exists is questionable. At least with Bowyer we have the stability and the potential for Play-Offs – a change to the manager may rock the boat with players, board and potentially most importantly, finances.

This moment in time is a critical one for Blackburn Rovers and their future. Bad decisions at this moment could be irreparable. Every time the finances are announced, the situation looks bleaker and bleaker for the Rovers. If it is decided that the solution to the problem is Promotion, at all costs, it is a massive gamble. If we put all our resources in to that basket: sacking Bowyer and holding on to players with saleable assets, if it goes wrong, the damage may not be able to be undone and a tumble down the leagues may be the best we can hope for, ahead of administration and what other dire consequences could await us. Yes, I would love for us to get promoted, but if it took five years of mid-table, top ten football, for use to achieve in the seventh year, with a sound financial footing, a sensible wage structure, a sustainable business model, I would take that option over the mid-season gamble any day – the Premier League is not going anywhere, but if we make bad decisions, Blackburn Rovers could very well disappear, sinking to the trap door of the football league. There is too much short-term thinking at amongst Blackburn Rovers fans at the minute and too many recent memories of success which make them believe we should be higher up the league/divisions than we are. In truth, we are a team relegated from the Premier League, all our best players having left following relegation, massively in debt, and with a transfer embargo in place – realistically, I ask, were should we be positioned? Before you claim Bowyer “doesn’t know what his doing” and start calling for his sack, just think where such decisions could leave the club, and where the club would be without him.

As a final thought – think of Portsmouth and Leeds. I bet if you asked them whether they would change history and swap their challenges for success for five years of mediocrity, rather than seasons spent in the lower leagues on a shoestring, not knowing whether their club would survive, I bet they would take the mediocrity. The drop through the leagues can feel almost instant, but the journey back to the top can feel as though it is never ending. I say stick with Bowyer, he may not be a Mourinho, a Rodgers or a Warnock, but he has given the club a fighting chance, and for that he deserves the right to play this out. For me, he has done, and is still doing, a fantastic job – in the modern day football is not just played on the pitch; in the long-run it may be that Bowyer’s fight off the pitch to keep the club competitive, is just as important, if not more important, than the form on the pitch.

*End Note: Until the Play-Off final was moved from Saturday 23rd May to Monday 25th, Blackburn looked a shoe-in for the Play-Offs, much to my annoyance as this is the day I would be flying to Greece to get married, and would be at 35,000 feet whilst the game was being played. Since the Play-Off date was moved to the Monday, when I would be able to watch the game, results have gone pear-shaped. I would take the sacrifice of missing the Play-Off final if it meant promotion!

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Don’t sell my Rhodes

Since Blackburn Rovers signed Jordan Rhodes in the summer of 2012, not a transfer window has passed without rumour of his imminent departure to bigger and better things, and this most recent window was no different – except in the fact that an actual bid was lodged, by Hull City.

Thankfully, the club knocked the offer back and where quick to issue a press release on the club website stating that he was not for sale (or words to that degree). For once this showed that the owners do understand the fans and what they want for the club, and perhaps more importantly, that they also see him as the future of the club, and a key figure if Blackburn are to push for the play-offs and back to the big time. This is yet another example of how the Venkys have changed over the last 12-18 months, and how they are making an effort to turn the club around, and they deserve some praise for this.

The offer from Hull was thought to be in the £12m region, a figure which I believed would force Venkys hands and sell him to, a) gain profit on what they paid for him, and b) get him off the wage bill and help satisfy the Financial Fair Play vultures hovering over Ewood Park. However, rumour has it that of the £8m Rovers spent on the Scot, £4m of this is still owed to Huddersfield, and they also have a 25% sell on clause – meaning that Blackburn would receive somewhere in the region of £5m for him – I don’t think anyone would argue that the club deserve more than that for their star asset seeing as he has made the step up from League One to Championship seamlessly – although they made their bed with the sell on clause and ultimately still owe the outstanding amount.

Perhaps what is more positive in the wider footballing world is that Rhodes only signed a new contract last month, and upon hearing of Hull’s interest, and the opportunity to play in the top flight as well as Europe (at time of going to press!), he did not force the clubs hand by putting in a transfer request. This, I believe, is a measure of the man. Since signing for Blackburn in 2012 he has picked up only 2 yellow cards; you will never see him moaning at officials or team mates; you will never see him get the hump with not being picked for Scotland; and, you will never hear about him in the news or on the front page of the paper. According to all accounts, he is more than happy at Ewood and would like to play in the Premier League with them having helped them get there. He is a rarity – a twenty-plus goal a season striker who has consistently delivered season on season, is in demand, commands a relatively high wage, but never brags about any of these things or uses them as a tool to bargain with. That said, if he was to make the step up to the Premier League away from Blackburn, Hull would probably be ideal – none of the big City lights and he would be able to go about his business continuing to keep his own council.

You could say that Jordan Rhodes is an ideal role model for any up and coming young strikers – at the age of 24 he has had no fewer than 6 clubs (including loan spells) and at the tender age of 22 he was released by Roy Keane from boyhood club Ipswich without even an explanation, but instead of feeling sorry for himself and fading away, he used it to make him stronger, saying in 2013 that in hindsight Keane had “done him a favour”.

Another reason for the collective sigh of relief in Blackburn when Bruce said he had abandoned hope of signing him, is because Blackburn are somewhat short of strikers at the minute. The current roster includes only Rudy Gestede, Chris Brown and Luke Varney, in addition to Rhodes. Gestede has started the season well, but the others remain somewhat untested at the club. The worrying thing for me is the youth development aspect of the position. At most clubs up and down the country, fans will be aware of a youngster playing in the reserves or the development squad, who they are excited about making a push for a place in the first team – this is not the case at Ewood, and has not been for some time.

Blackburn have always produced good young defenders, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things. A case in point is Phil Jones – he was outstanding for Blackburn and was rightly given his chance at the top top level with Manchester United. When asked who would replace him at the back, a number of the senior players said Grant Hanley was the man for the job – at first this was laughed off as he had yet to hold down a position in the starting eleven, let alone a place. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now he is the club captain and, when fit, one of the first names on the team sheet. The same cannot be said for the development of youngsters in the attacking positions.

Looking back over the past 15 years, how many young strikers could you name who originated at Blackburn and went on to do have successful careers, not just at Ewood? It is a difficult question – many will quote Matt Derbyshire, who went on to play Champions League football for Olympiakos, but he was signed at the age of 17, arguably when a lot of the development had been done. The only other player I can think of, is Jonathon Walters, currently at Stoke, who joined the club at 16. For a club the size of Blackburn Rovers with the fantastic academy facilities available and the relative success at this level, surely they should be producing more promising young forwards worthy, at least, of a place on the bench? This would not only help with the limited number of strikers currently at the club, but it would also create a buzz with the supporters, it would be a lower salary option, and it would be a wildcard (to start with) which other teams would not be 100% familiar with. When a youngster comes through the ranks it excites the supports and creates a bit of belief – something that can only help with a promotion push. And at a time when we are all too aware of the impacts of over spending on wages, this could be a brilliant solution – the question is: is there anyone in the youth development team ready to make the step up? (If you can think of any other successful striker who came through the ranks at Blackburn – answers on a post card!)

Moving back to the topic of Jordan Rhodes – Steve Bruce may have publically stated that he will be looking elsewhere for a striker, but not before a slight dig at the club, claiming that they had initially mused that they would be willing to sell Rhodes for the right price, but then went back on this. Bruce may have walked away, but he could potentially have unsettled the player – first of all by showing an interest and placing a bid, and secondly, by saying that there is someone at the club who believes Rhodes is a saleable asset. It will be interested how the developed towards the end of this window, and perhaps more so in the next window. It would not surprise me if the new contract signed by Rhodes last month contains a clause containing something about him being allowed to talk to clubs next summer, if Blackburn do not achieve promotion. To be honest, I think this is only fair. He has been the best player at the club for the last two years and without his goals in his first term we would have been relegated, and last season, his goals all but got us in to the play-offs; let’s hope this time we can go one better.

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