Blackburn Rovers have enjoyed an excellent start to this season’s Premiership. Indeed it is the best start they’ve had since 1994/95 when they went on to take the title. So what exactly is it that the club is doing so well?
When looking at the way the team is performing you have to start at the top. The board control Rovers’ finances extremely well. Long gone are the days of Jack Walker’s millions, the finances at Ewood are a lot tighter since the clubs biggest fan passed away in 2000. Clubs that suffer financially often suffer with their on field fortunes, in the transfer market this season the club have spent less than anyone else in the league. They haven’t even hit the 5 million pounds mark, with Roque Santa Cruz at 3.5 million being their most expensive acquisition. This leads into the next point:
Mark Hughes. Hughes’ summer spending has been minimal, strengthening only those areas that need to be strengthened, and by doing it as cheaply as possible. He saw an opportunity to sign a quality striker who was looking for a way out of Germany and took it. This was his only major buy for the club so far this season. He also signed exciting Dutch prospect Maceo Rigters (you may remember his overhead kick knocking England out of the under-21 championships in the Summer) for half a million and goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen for a small fee.
Since becoming gaffer at Blackburn, Hughes has proved his ability to shrewdly acquire players that have perhaps not been performing too well at other clubs and get the best out of them. Two shining examples of this are the central defensive partnership of Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen. Both were taken to the north west club as virtual unknowns and both have flourished, becoming the backbone of one of the strongest, most solid defensive partnerships in the Premiership. Nelsen was signed from American club DC United for next to nothing. The New Zealand international had a trial at Charlton but was rejected before arriving at Ewood. He has done so well that he now wears the captain’s armband! Samba, a DR Congo international came from Germans Hertha Berlin where he was struggling to get a game. He is the complete player. Defensively solid, 17 feet tall, good with his head and a solid striker of the ball (see Tottenham away)!
So Hughes has a pretty solid base. He inherited one of the greatest goalkeepers in the world in Brad Friedel. So often overlooked when it comes to naming the ‘Top 20 keepers’ or lists of a similar fashion, the big American pulls off world class saves on an almost weekly basis! To add to this impressive looking defence he took Stephen Warnock from Liverpool. Warnock is one of those players who showed promise but was never going to be good enough to be a regular at Liverpool due to the fact they can just put their hands in their pockets and pick up a world class foreign defender instead! He signed for Rovers and has been quality ever since.
If you look at great teams over the years they always have two quality strikers. One striker can keep you in the upper part of the league but not necessarily take you any further. If you go back to the 1994/95 season Rovers had the SAS, Sutton and Shearer. Between them they scored almost 50 goals and won the side the title. The club has once again discovered a quality partnership in McCarthy and Santa Cruz. With McCarthy signed for a couple of million last season Blackburn were able to move forward after losing Craig Bellamy. However, without the support of another top quality striker Blackburn could only muster a 10th place finish. With the partnership of McCarthy and Santa Cruz, backed up by the ever-improving Matt Derbyshire and Jason Roberts they are looking lethal in front of goal.
Then, look back into midfield and they have yet more class. Wingers David Bentley and Morten Gamst Pedersen have impressed under Hughes. Pedersen, after being signed by Graeme Souness was left out in the cold but soon found his feet under Sparky and has flourished, Bentley has been rewarded for his excellent form with an England call up. In the middle they have everyone’s favourite Welshman in Robbie Savage. A superb player who is hated by every opposition and loved by whoever he’s playing for. Despite being the oldest man in the world, Tugay continues to impress with his ability to play the perfect pass and to score from anywhere! David Dunn has also impressed since returning to his hometown club. He struggled with injury at Birmingham and when Hughes gave him his chance to return to Blackburn he took it with both hands.
The gist of it is this: With Mark Hughes in charge Blackburn Rovers have gone from relegation battlers to Champions League hopefuls. The likelihood is that they won’t have the legs to make the final push into the Champions League, but they are once again a force in English football.