Will Rovers' gamble pay off?

August 8, 2008
By Phil Holland
(Archive)

You have to hand it to Blackburn Rovers, they do like to take a risk. Take the arrival of Mark Hughes as manger in 2004; the Welshman had absolutely no managerial experience at club level, but in his first season managed to avoid the threat of relegation and guide the club to its first FA Cup semi-final appearance in over 40 years.

GettyImagesPaul Ince: A tough season lies ahead for the new Rovers boss.

Now Rovers are hoping that another managerial gamble will pay off.

The fact that Paul Ince's arrival as Hughes successor made him the first black British manager in the Premier League took all the headlines but rather skirted over the fact that Ince had also become the first manager to leap from the fourth tier of the English game to the first.

While Hughes had an impressive spell as Welsh national team manager under his belt, all Ince has to his name is less than two months as player-coach at Swindon Town, less than a full season at Macclesfield Town and a creditable promotion achieving campaign with MK Dons.

The question that can only be answered a few weeks into the forthcoming season is: 'Does Ince have what it takes at this level?'

If pre-season reports were to be believed there were some senior players who felt not, with some Rovers squad members apparently unimpressed with Ince's approach to training and man-management.

Where Hughes was in favour of a scientific approach to training and recuperation (he was one of the first managers to introduce post-match ice baths) Ince's approach was claimed to have been less considered.

Reports that prior to his transfer away from Ewood Park David Bentley stormed out of training after being order to do 20 push-ups after a minor infraction remain unconfirmed, but seem to tally with the forthright personality Ince portrayed as a player.

Rovers fans will hope such rumours prove to be baseless scaremongering, after all Ince was hired on the basis that his personality and drive would help foster team spirit and engender camaraderie, not animosity and division. Not that Ince will be especially perturbed by ruffling a few feathers amongst the highly preened Premier League peacocks.

On the plus side, Ince did appear to be decisive and shrewd in the transfer market, replacing the veteran Brad Friedel with the recently-wayward but previously-impressive Paul Robinson.

Rovers have been relatively quiet in the transfer market so far, alongside Robinson the only additions have been the arrival on season-long loans of Carlos Villanueva and Danny Simpson.

Peter Enckelman and Stephane Henchoz were amongst the players released, but the main departure was that of Bentley to Tottenham Hotspur for an initial fee of £15million.

EmpicsRoque Santa Cruz: Will he get anywhere near his first season goal tally of 19?

His pace, running with the ball, invention, crossing and dead-ball delivery will be sorely missed, but the transfer fee will cushion the blow and the fact that he was long-tipped for an exit anesthetised the club and its fans for the inevitable.

The rest of the squad remain unchanged, and rather well-appointed. Players like Benni McCarthy, Matt Derbyshire and Morten Gamst Pedersen are real quality, but did not perform as well as they would have hoped last term and will be looking to improve in the 2008/09 season.

Wearing the skipper's armband and marshalling a solid defence, which includes the mountainous Christopher Samba and the canny Andre Ooijer, will be the ever-impressive Kiwi defender Ryan Nelsen and banging them in up-front, if he chooses to stay, will be one of last season's revelations; Roque Santa Cruz.

The Paraguayan arrived from Bayern Munich for a bargain £3.5million and ended the season with an impressive 19 goals. Without the sterling delivery he fed off from Bentley, Santa Cruz may not be able to able to match that haul this coming season, but he will go into his second Premier League campaign in confident mood.

Still, Ince is hopeful that Australian winger turned full-back Brett Emerton can help fill the void left by Bentley. Emerton inked a new four-year deal during the closed season and if he can alter his game again to get up the field and deliver crosses from the by-line perhaps Ince will have found a stop-gap solution until he can identify a long-term replacement.

Last season Rovers finished the season seventh in the table and seven points shy of a European place; if Ince can match that finish he will consider himself to have had an absolutely stellar season, and rightly so.

In what is sure to be a season of transition a more realistic objective would be a comfortable mid-table finish, but whether such a modest achievement will be enough to convince Rovers' star players that their future remains at Ewood Park is another matter.


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