We won our record breaking 19th title at Ewood Park last season, thanks to a penalty scored by Wayne Rooney. Blackburn manager Steve Kean came under some criticism for allowing his team to watch United pass the ball around our half for the last five minutes or more. Joe Ainscough, who writes for Vital Blackburn and has his own blog, The Rovers Report, has reflected on last season under Kean, pondered on the future, and discussed in detail the quality we have in new signing Phil Jones.
Scott the Red: Were you happy with your team’s performance last season?
Joe Ainscough: I think given the mass change at the club, you can see reason for our flirtation with relegation last season, but I don’t think any Rovers fan would be happy with it, no. At the start of the season we were expecting a top 10 finish and a good solid season, something which would have been achievable had Sam Allardyce remained in charge. As it was, a lot of change occurred with the new owners and their vision for the club. I think a lack of knowledge led to some rash decisions, which should perhaps have been put back until the end of the season. It was a very close call and I don’t think it was something the new owners expected.
STR: It was a bizarre decision to get rid of Allardyce, particularly to replace him with someone with far less Premier League pedigree. What do you think of the new owners?
JA: I am undecided. They are very secretive and tell us fans nothing. They release many statements and interviews with the media, but they contain very little information and are very vague. A lot of fans are getting sick of their all talk and no actions, and this transfer window is “perform or get out” for many. After unrealistic comments about Champions League football in 5 years, a lot of fans expect £30 million+ to be spent. They seem unaware of what it takes to get into the big time and whilst they sit back and just expect everything to come together, our rivals are going out spending more money than us. Granted this does not mean better players, but it does give a better signal of intent. We seem unable to commit to signings and have seen many targets go elsewhere due to a lack of urgency to get things done. They need to wake up and live up to expectations. Rovers fans do not expect to be in the Champions League, but we do expect owners to match their ambitions. If they had said “we want a top 8 finish each season” we would have been happy if they had spent say £10 million per window.
STR: I take it you’re not too impressed with how they’ve performed in the transfer market this summer then?
JA: This summer is one that promised much but as of yet has failed to deliver. Rumours of £50 million in the transfer kitty and big name signings have gone quiet of late, and a more sensible systematic growth approach seems to be the thoughts of our new owners. Outgoings we have had is Phil Jones to yourselves, which was such a bargain for you guys. He is honestly the best talent for his age I have ever seen at Ewood, and one of the best I have seen all together. I think another season at our place would have seen his move sit a lot easier amongst us fans, but the lad was always going to move. Coming in we have had just the one as of yet, David Goodwillie (enter innuendo here) has signed from Dundee United for around £2.8 million. Good business I think, the boy has talent and had he been English we could have been looking at a Connor Wickham fee. A few more before the end of the window are expected. Radoslav Petrovic who was tracked by you lot a couple of years back is coming in pending a work permit. A few top clubs around Europe were looking at him I believe, but he has agreed a deal to sign for us for around £3 million which again seems to be a cracking steal! A 22 year old 18 time Serbian international defensive midfielder at a height of 6 foot 4”! Cant say fairer than that!
STR: Tell us more about Phil Jones. How highly do you rate him?
JA: Very. He is the best young centre back I have ever seen. He will captain England one day I am sure. He could play in any position and not show himself up and I can’t see him having any faults. He will do incredibly well for you and at £16.5 million is a great bargain. Without a transfer clause he would have been worth around £25 million so you got yourself a great buy.
STR: He was important for Blackburn last season. Who else helped you avoid relegation last season?
JA: I think 4 names spring to mind when you think back to last season and the survival scrap. The first I would say is Paul Robinson. I know I may be biased but he is one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the Premier League. He had big boots to fill when he replaced Brad Friedel two years ago, but he has stood up and improved all the time since his arrival. In my opinion he is one of England’s best goalkeepers who has been punished for one mistake. The second player I would say is Chris Samba. He was a rock in our defence last year and he threw himself in front of everything for the cause. Off the field his comments about moving were not to every fans’ taste, but he put 100% into keeping our club in the top flight, and even if he moves on this summer, us fans have a lot to thank him for. The third name is Jermaine Jones. A January signing on loan who only got better as he went on. So much so that at the start of his stint at Rovers he could have been picked up for as little as £3 million, but at the end Schalke slapped a £10 million price tag on him. He was the player we were missing – a box to box midfielder which we have not had since the days of Steven Reid prior to injury. At both ends of the pitch he was great, and gave us that drive forward when we needed it most. The final name is a youngster who we have had since the age of thirteen. David “Junior” Hoilett. Credit where it is due, Steve Kean was the man to bring the best out of the young lad. At the start of the season he was all hype and no product, but this side of Christmas he has been fantastic. He is the spark in our team, and a real game changer, watch out for this lad, because we can expect big big things from him.
STR: So Kean gets some credit then? How do you rate his ability to take the club forward?
JA: I am very sceptical of our current manager. He is backed to the hilt by the owners for which I admire them sticking to their guns, but I would much prefer they offer backing to someone much better – Mark Hughes for instance. He fails to attract big names which the owners want, he tries to play attractive football yet most of last seasons goals came from set pieces. He came in at a time of turmoil at the club, and I am willing to give him a chance and to make his own mark on the squad. Seemingly he has an eye for a good signing, but a lack of them and a “yes man” title to the owners is a worry. A poor start could see him gone before Christmas, but I hope he proves us all wrong.
STR: So, what are your aspirations for this season then?
JA: Avoid a season of relegation scrap. Realistically we should be looking for anywhere between 13th and 8th. It all depends on the incomings before the new season kicks off. We are in desperate need of another striker to avoid a repeat of last season, when our top scorer was on a grand total of 6 goals.
STR: Wow, that’s horrendous. Where do you think Blackburn will actually finish this season?
JA: I am going to say 12th. All the talk is about aiming for top 10, but with teams like Stoke looking to splash 20 million or so, we are in danger of being left behind. It all depends on the incomings in the next few weeks really.
STR: Which player do you think will most important in helping you achieve this?
JA: Of our current crop Junior Hoilett. He really stepped up his game last year and is a real talent. Hopefully he can build on last season and do the business again for us.
STR: Which two current United players would you most want at your club?
JA: Predictably I am going to pick Rooney. We are in desperate need of strikers and he is the obvious choice. He is a fabulous player who without you would seriously struggle. Second I will go for new boy Ashley Young. To go with our new strikers we could use a bit more service. We have the likes of Pedersen and Dunn, but often they fail to step up to the plate when needed most.
Scott: Finally, who will finish in the top 4? Who will go down?
JA: Top 4 will be Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. Relegation will be Wigan, QPR and Swansea.
STR: Cheers Joe. Great to hear your thoughts on Jones.