Blackburn Rovers finished last season in a creditable tenth place in the Premier League but, with just over two weeks left until start of the new season do Blackburn supporters have cause to be concerned that, this season, the trapdoor may be a little close for comfort? They have, after all, had an exceptionally quiet summer in the transfer market and, if the bottom half of the table does feel as if it is likely to be a pretty congested place to be over the next nine months, the dread possibility of a return to the Football League may loom in the back of supporters’ minds, though these doubts may start to recede if the club passes, as it is expected to, into new ownership although, as supporters of many other clubs will testify, moving into new ownership is far from a guarantee of future success.
The Premier League winning year of 1995 is now a rapidly fading memory for Blackburn supporters. The club even suffered relegation in 1999 and took two seasons to get back into the Premier League. Ambitions of glory at Ewood Park have long since been tempered by the reality that the money of Jack Walker couldn’t go on forever. The club is still owned by the foundation set up in his name after Walker’s death in 2000, but it is up for sale and several prospective owners have come and gone over the last two or three years. The latest to throw his hat into the ring is an Indian businessman called Saurin Shah.
The amount of Shah’s bid for the club has been confused in the press. It was originally said to be around £25m but this has increased to as much as £45m over the last few weeks. He has plans for it, including trying to build relationships with the club’s Asian community and seeking to tie up a connection with a club from the Indian I-League. His involvement may bring the club greater stability and a route into a previously largely untapped market. However, these markets have been explored before with little success and new ownership doesn’t guarantee success. It would be unfair to criiticise him when we know comparatively little about him, but it seems almost certain that his stewardship of the club will be vastly different to that of Jack Walker or the Walker Foundation.
Still, though, the procrastination continues, and after three years on the market the club doesn’t seem any closer to being sold. Nerves, for the supporters, seem to be fraying. The club has been run relatively soundly over the last few years and the club’s debts are currently manageable, but even with the cheapest season tickets in the Premier League they can only three-quarters fill Ewood Park on average and this has meant a careful husbanding of income during this time. The concern over new owners is that they will spend money that the club doesn’t have in chasing unsustainable success, with little concern over the long-term wellbeing of the club.
On the playing side of things, Blackburn’s summer has been one of peace and quiet. Steven Reid left for West Bromwich Albion at the end of last season after a three month loan spell at the club, but their hopes of signing James Beattie from Stoke City as a replacement seem to have been dashed. Perhaps more importantly than this, Blackburn have at least managed to persuade two of their more gifted players, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Martin Olsson, to sign extensions to their contracts. Indeed, recent reports in the press have linked Olsson’s twin brother Marcus to the club from Bristol City, as well. As yet, however, the only confirmed arrival is the young Spaniard, Hugo Fernandez, from the Spanish Tercera Division club Union Deportiva Cornella, about whom we know almost nothing.
Like most clubs during a summer which sees the introduction of the twenty-five man squad rule, there have been more exits than there will be arrivals at the club over the summer so far, although Blackburn haven’t lost anyone that many of their supporters would describe as valuable yet. The club’s youth system is excellent, and the manager is experienced, if not everyone’s cup of tea. There is nothing to suggest specifically that Blackburn will struggle next season. However, the tightness of the bottom half of the Premier League combined with a feeling of stagnation at the club has led to a sense that there could be choppier waters ahead for the club. Based on turnover and revenue generation, Blackburn Rovers would be around the relegation zone in the Premier League, and the fact that they manage to outperform this every season is a tribute to the careful management of the club. It is to be hoped that such careful of marshalling of resources continues, even if the club’s ownership changes. Another mid-table finish shouldn’t be beyond them, but it may prove tougher for them than last season.