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.
Jaap Stam dismissal could be too little too late for Reading
Jaap Stam was dismissed by the Royals earlier this week.
Reading were one penalty shootout away from the Premier League at the end of last season and it was hoped that they would go one step better to clinch promotion during this campaign.
However, it has been a disastrous season for the Royals and they currently find themselves three points above the relegation zone with eight matches to go.
Jaap Stam had retained faith from the board for his overachievement during his first year as manager, but with their position looking more and more precarious, it became untenable.
The club announced his dismissal on Wednesday in an online statement that featured the following:
“Jaap has not wavered in the time, effort and sheer determination he has put in to try to steer the team away from the position we find ourselves in. However, after careful consideration, the decision has been made that a change is now necessary.”
The Dutchman can’t complain that he wasn’t given a fair chance.
There are only eight matches remaining in the season and it has become obvious that he was no longer the right man for the job.
It was inconceivable at the start of the campaign that Reading would be battling relegation. They were a team with promotion ambitions, but 2018 has been terrible for them.
The Royals have won only one Championship match during this calendar year.
A number of draws have kept the club stuttering along, but now they are only three points above the bottom three, a decision had to be made.
Stam will look back at his time with Reading as a positive one.
He managed to surprise a lot of pundits by taking them to third position in his first season and was unlucky not to be promoted, but there are a lot of people still scratching their head at how the Royals managed to finish as high as they did.
The likes of Fulham, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday were all seen as better teams, but something clicked for Reading and it is difficult to explain what.
Mark Taylor made an observation on Twitter using expected goals. Stam’s team massively overachieved based on that metric, which projected them as finishing 19th.
This season, the model projects them in 17th. In short, this decline in league position was predictable.
Although there are problems with expected goals, it does provide a good explanation for Reading’s decline this season.
Their results have simply returned to the mean and they are now getting the points to match their performance level.
It isn’t that they have got worse under Stam’s management, but rather that last season was the outlier.
If Reading, as a club, want to be competing for promotion, Stam wasn’t the right manager to deliver that. The underlying numbers throughout his tenure highlight that.
His side scored 112 goals and conceded 121 in the Championship during the Dutchman’s time as manager.
That isn’t a record that suggests he is good enough to lead the club back to the Premier League.
The time for dissecting Stam’s tenure and his failures isn’t now. Reading must concentrate on making the right appointment to secure their place in the Championship.
It would be a huge blow if they were to fall to the third tier for the first time since the 2001/2 season.
With only eight matches left, there is little room for error for any incoming manager. The club must hope that this decision wasn’t too little too late.
One-time Leeds United talent Chris Dawson joins Scarborough Athletic
The midfielder has struggled with injuries since leaving Leeds United.
Leeds United fans probably don’t bother themselves with the news at non-league Scarborough Athletic, but one development at the club from yesterday might have caught the eye.
Chris Dawson signed for the club earlier this week, along with former Sheffield United youngster Jorome Slew.
Speaking to the Scarborough News about the move, Dawson explained he was just happy to be playing football again:
“There were quite a few clubs (interested). But I know the manager here and I know one of the lads here and I am not really bothered about what level I play at.
“I just want to be playing football again and want consistent game time.”
Leeds United fans will, of course, remember Dawson well.
The Welsh under-21 international was a highly rated youngster at Thorp Arch when he signed his professional contract in 2012.
He made his original Leeds breakthrough to the first team in 2013, starting in a 2-1 loss against Derby County in April of the same year.
Nonetheless, he struggled with a shoulder injury and other ailments after that period.
He next played for Leeds in November 2014 and after featuring just two more times for the club, he was released in January 2016.
Two days later Dawson headed to Rotherham United, then managed by his former Leeds academy boss Neil Redfearn.
Dawson, however, has had an unlucky career. By the time he had returned to full fitness, Redfearn had been sacked and he never went on to feature for the Millers.
After joining former Leeds coach Ian Burchnall for a loan spell at Norwegian side Viking FK he was released by Rotherham in May of last year.
Since then it has been a tough ride for Dawson.
A behind-closed-doors friendly for Oldham Athletic has been his only 90 minutes in the last year, after suffering a torn ACL.
The knee injury has kept him out of action but now, fully fit, he is hoping to help the Seadogs in their bid for promotion from the Northern Premier League Division One North.
Leeds United fans were always excited about Dawson’s ability. Often praised by his coaches and fans for his performances with the under-23s he looked a first-team prospect.
Technically gifted and dangerous around the box the Welsh talent has all the necessary skills to be a star. The one thing Dawson has not been gifted with is luck.
Hopefully, he can find success with Scarborough. Five years after making his Leeds debut, Dawson is embarking on the latest stage of his career.
No Leeds United fan would begrudge him any future success.
Leo Bonatini wants to stay and Wolves should keep him
The Brazilian has not scored in 18 games, but has earned a permanent Wolves switch.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have a decision to make in the summer regarding striker Leo Bonatini.
The Brazilian is on loan at Molineux from Saudi Arabian side Al Hilal until the end of the season.
According to Birmingham Live, that deal can be made permanent in the summer for a fee of around €5 million (£4.4 million).
“It’s something I still don’t know. I’m on loan here, really, until the end of this season from Al-Hilal. I don’t know what will happen.
“But I know what I want, I want to stay. Here’s a place that I was able to adapt very well to the game style, it’s a game style that I like a lot, the country is a very good country, where I adapted to be able to live.”
In December, this would have been an easy decision to make. The Brazilian had scored 12 goals in 22 games for the club as they romped to a Championship lead.
It was a level of form that had him in contention for the national team.
Since then, things have dropped off. Bonatini has not scored in 2018 and is now 18 games without a goal.
The January loan signing of Benik Afobe has seen him lose his place and the Molineux outfit will no longer be sure that the 23-year-old should be snapped up in the summer.
But, surely Wolves should still push forward with signing the Brazilian striker?
His form recently has been a concern. However, Wolves know what he is capable of when he is firing.
Those 12 goals in 22 games at the start of the season were no fluke and the bullish frontman has plenty of talent.
Furthermore, Wolves can not argue with the price-tag.
For a player of Bonatini’s age and talent, £4.4 million is an absolute bargain when compared to some of the prices in the Championship in recent seasons.
Wolves will need different options up front if they are promoted and new faces will be expected at Molineux.
But Bonatini will have played a pivotal role in taking the club to the top-flight. Having him on the books will be a major plus in the Premier League.
Whilst his form has dipped in recent times, £4.4 million for a 12-goal striker, at just 23 years of age, is a deal that Wolves must snap up.
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