Lowdown on Blackburn
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It’s been one extreme to the other so far for Blackburn Rovers in only the first week of the new season.
The newly-promoted, but much-fancied team launched the campaign with a disappointing 2-1 defeat at tipped-to-struggle Derby County, albeit with the Ravenelli-factor playing a significant part.
In midweek both teams reverted to predicted type. Derby were convincingly downed at Ipswich, while Blackburn showed their mettle in a battling 2-2 draw with champions Manchester United. Ahead of the season, Blackburn fans might have fancied sneaking at least a point at Derby and settled for an honourable defeat to the champions.
It’s been a long and winding road for Rovers since they entered the Premiership in a blaze of glory under Kenny Dalglish in 1992, backed by the committed support and open chequebook of benefactor Sir Jack Walker.
The Rovers definitely ruffled the big boys, upping the ante on transfer fees and tempting some of the nations’ finest footballers to what was traditionally a cotton town rather than the big city hitters.
Blackburn really put their marker down with the signing of Alan Shearer, a raw but much-fancied product of Southampton’s youth system. Under the tutelage of Dalglish, Shearer developed into one of the most complete strikers of his generation and soon attracted admiring glances from clubs who scoffed at the initial fee of just over £3m.
Shearer and the likes of Colin Hendry, Graeme Le Saux, Tim Flowers, Henning Berg, Tim Sherwood, David Batty, Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley formed a formidable unit, playing to their obvious strengths with a brand of effective, if not spectacular, football.
After finishing third in their first campaign back in the top flight, Walker backed Dalglish to the tune of £5m to secure the services of Chris Sutton — again to the chagrin of the superpowers, who realised that their own transfer policies would have to be adjusted in order to compete.
But who was to argue with Blackburn strategy? Ewood Park was re-built and Dalglish put the Premiership trophy on the table as reward for Walker’s investment.
The investments were certainly shrewd, even if they did not appear so at the time. All the players bought for large fees had a re-sale value — and then some. When they eventually came to leave, Shearer and Sutton alone fetched a £25m return, a cool profit of over £16m. Large returns on Sherwood, Berg, Le Saux and Batty followed later.
Winning the championship came at a price for Blackburn. Dalglish called it a day, moved upstairs and later out of the club. His successor and former assistant Ray Harford struggled to recreate the formula that yielded such success. The departure to Newcastle of talisman Shearer did not help his cause.
Harford left in October 1996 and Tony Parkes steered the ship through the choppy waters of a relegation fight. He was keeping the seat warm for one Sven Goran Eriksson, but the now England manager did an about-turn and headed for Rome. It was Inter Milan coach Roy Hodgson who ended up taking the post.
Hodgson enjoyed a good start, steering the club to a European place in his first season before a combination of injuries and bad luck did for him in his second. The combined talents of Parkes and Brian Kidd failed to save Rovers going back from whence they came and a spell back in Division One beckoned.
Kidd failed to stir Rovers from their slumber and, after Parkes stepping in again, was replaced by Graeme Souness in March 2000.
Shortly after his appointment, the man who made the Rovers dream possible lost his battle against cancer and Souness set about achieving promotion in honour of Sir Jack Walker’s memory.
He did just that in his first full season in charge and here we are now. Souness spent moderately in the summer, bring in Turkish midfielder Tugay from Rangers and striker Corrado Grabbi from Ternana. Souness probably recognising that, even through the relegation period, Rovers never really became a bad side
Now the former Liverpool manager will be seeking to establish the club as a Premiership force again and build on the foundations lovingly put down by the late Sir Jack.