Blackburn Rovers: A Tough Summer Ahead
This week marks the 20th anniversary of Blackburn Rovers Premier League title win. Thanks to Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at West Ham, Rovers lifted the title, despite losing 2-1 to Liverpool at Anfield.
It was a truly remarkable rise from the bottom of the old second division to the Premier League title in less than five years. Hull and Swansea City have climbed impressively through the league pyramid, but try to imagine Bournemouth finishing in the Champions League spots next season, and that’s the scale of what Rovers managed to achieve.
It was made possible through the investment of Jack Walker, a lifelong Blackburn fan and a native of the North West town. He filled the Ewood coffers to the tune of £25 million, a huge investment at the time.
Alan Shearer was a snip at just £3.4 million and under Kenny Dalglish’s stewardship scored 134 goals, and became one of the most feared strikers in England. Of the first 11 that won the title, 10 were British, something that may never happen again.
After Jack Walker’s death, the job of running the club fell to people he felt could continue his legacy. When it was time for the club to be sold this legacy was entrusted to chicken magnates Venky’s, who upon completing their takeover of the club stated that, ’’We will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remain one of the best-run clubs within the Premier League.’’ Sadly this was a promise they would soon break and they soon set about trying to put their own stamp on the club. Outlandish statements followed and the new owners from Pune were bold in their very public attempts to attract superstars such as Ronaldinho and Raul to Blackburn. They also claimed that as little as £5million would be enough of an investment to secure Champions League football.
This incredible lack of understanding began the slide into chaos.
Sam Allardyce was the first to go, replaced by relative unknown Steve Kean, who Allardyce believed was the reason for him being relieved of his duties, amidst allegations of secret meetings with the new owners. Big Sam is often chastised for his teams playing styles, but he managed to keep Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League on a modest budget, something that Kean failed to do.
The fall from grace was spectacular. Fans looked on as Kean’s ineptitude and terrible media presence began to throw the club into disarray. He constantly worked as a smokescreen for the Indian owners, and it led to an extremely toxic environment at Ewood Park. Fans were unable to vent their frustration and turned on Kean, who did little to help the situation and often appeared to simply be a ‘yes man’ or a puppet for the absent owners who clearly were not interested in the toxic protests being aimed at them, and never publically came to the defence of their beleaguered manager.
After Blackburn’s relegation from the Premier League several managers came and went. Former crowd favourite Henning Berg only lasted only 57 days. His successor Michael Appleton was also only afforded two months at the Ewood helm. The owners knee jerk reactions to both managerial sackings was astonishing given the amount of time Steve Kean was given, despite the poor results and constant calls for his head.
Thankfully things in the dugout are far less turbulent, manager Gary Bowyer has settled the mood around Ewood. However Rovers are facing a tricky summer thanks to huge debts, a transfer embargo and their players being eyed up by several Premier League suitors.
Having to pay off players like Danny Murphy as well the club still paying Paul Robinson Premier League wages has led to eye watering debts, reported to be in the region of £80million.
The club does boast the most potent strike force in the Championship. Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede scored 41 goals between them in the league this year, and keeping the partnership in tact will be vital for any playoff push.
Keeping hold of these players will be the next big test. Gestede was subject to a bid from Crystal Palace at the end of the January transfer window, and is drawing attention from Swansea and West Ham. Rhodes was also the subject of a bid from Hull City last summer.
Despite the calmness Bowyers has brought to the club, questions remain over his ability to lead this team into the playoffs. Having narrowly missed out last year on goal difference, they fell 11 points short this time around although this wasn’t helped by the transfer ban as well as injuries to key personnel.
The days of Champions League hyperbole are over; replaced by a stark realisation as the gravity of the situation they find themselves in sets in. If they sell Rhodes and Gestede and bring the debt down a tricky season will await them next. With the transfer embargo hanging over Ewood there is very little possibility of making a serious Premier league push without the Championships most potent strike force.
The celebrations on May 14th 1995 feel as far away as ever and there is a feeling that this summer could be a defining one for the club. It is vital that the owners understand that the actions that they take during this window could have major implications for this famous old club.
The club that Jack built.