The house that Tony rebuilt – Interview
Friday, 2nd Nov 2018 11:04 by Clive Whittingham
Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Blackburn we’ve been talking to our old mate Ian Herbert from the BRFCS podcast and the guys at Rovers Chat on their team’s bounce back from League One and surprisingly good start to life in the Championship.
Blackburn went down in a bit of a state but it’s been quite a recovery since then, how’s it all turned around?
IH: In fairness, the on-field recovery started with the appointment of Tony Mowbray (and the removal of Owen Coyle - one of the most ill-conceived managerial decisions ever made by Blackburn Rovers FC) whilst we were still in the Championship. Relegation only arrived on the final day and then only on goal difference. There was a sense that had Mowbray been given another month, we might just have stayed up. The Venky’s finally seem to have adopted the radical approach of appointing competent people to key roles and letting them get on with their jobs. A new CEO in Steve Waggott, has steadied the off-field ship and Mowbray continues to earn respect, admiration and dare I say it, outright affection amongst the squad and the fans.
RC: There’s one man that I credit with the turnaround we’ve seen at the club, and that’s Tony Mowbray. We’d been relegated to the third tier, and it actually felt like the club had gone, but Mowbray changed that. He removed all the dead wood from the side and brought in hungry players who would fight for the club and for the badge. Last season, we saw a side filled with passion and it helped us massively towards gaining promotion. Add that to the signings we made this summer such as Harrison Reed and it’s carried on this season as well. The future looks bright, and we’ve got our club back.
How would you assess Rovers’ start to the season? Just three defeats is something for a newly promoted side…
IH: Overall, better than I expected pre-season. We’ve drawn a fair few, including some we would have hoped to win (mainly at home), we’ve won some that I didn’t expect at all (Stoke City, Leeds Utd); but when we lose, we seem to crash & burn (4-1 at Bristol City, 3-1 at Swansea for instance). A curious feature of both of our away defeats was the fact that we took the lead early in the first half in each instance, only then to fail to turn up at all in the second half. The secret for Rangers therefore might be to gift us an early goal, let us go in at half time one up and then come at us hard in the second half.
Is Bradley Dack as good as everybody is saying? He was at Gillingham a long time before somebody took a punt on him…
IH: I have the distinct honour and privilege to host the @brfcsdotcom podcast (available on iTunes folks…!). On an episode last season, following a fortunate away draw at Shrewsbury, where Dack had been played as an outside left, had done no defensive work, but somehow had scored our equaliser; I memorably shared the opinion that he was “an elegant solution to a problem we don’t have…”. My view was that he was something of a luxury item and after some tabloid dalliances with a Love Island “celebrity”, it seemed that we had signed a Poundland Rodney Marsh - one for your older readers there. I would like to apologise here & now to Mr Dack, Mr Dack’s family, his friends, and if he has one, his dog…I was wrong. Very wrong. In my defence, once Mowbray played him centrally, allowing him to roam deep and ghost in, he became instrumental to last season’s success. He brings a swagger, an exuberance and no little skill to this side, a little like a certain Duncan McKenzie (another one for the teenagers there) once did for Rovers in the late 1970’s. He’s good alright, he has the potential to be very, very good; Premier League level certainly if he wants it badly enough. I don’t know if he can jump over a Mini though.
RC: He’s struggled in the last couple of matches with Mowbray using him as a false nine forward, but other than that, he’s shown that he is more than capable of making the step up to the Championship. Dack has won us points this season, and when he gets going, he’ll cause any Championship defence problems. Hopefully, he’ll be back to his normal self this weekend and cause problems for your defence.
What’s the score with the Venky’s, obviously highly controversial and widely disliked the owners of the club last time we met?
IH: Their profile right now is probably the lowest it has been since they bought the club. The club is possibly in the happiest state it has been since they bought the club. This may just be correlation. As I said earlier, they have appointed a management team (on and off field) with experience, knowledge and ability and seem to be allowing everyone to get on with it. If Venky’s never set foot in Blackburn ever again, I doubt too many would care. When fans enjoy the on field stuff, the owners can happily fade into the background. The harsh reality for the fanbase, is that it is their money which keeps the lights on and without it, our future would be extremely precarious. Many are ready to forgive them, believing them to have been duped by “advisors”; although many others still harbour bitter resentment for the cack-handed way the club was run until the summer of 2017. Their motivations for their continuing involvement elude me, but without them, we would have an epic financial black hole to deal with.
RC: If I’m honest, I believe they’ve realised their mistakes and have decided to leave the running of the club to Tony Mowbray and Steve Waggott (alongside others), which is working well. I’m sure that fans still dislike them, but the positive mood around the club has taken the focus of the owners and onto the pitch now. The worst thing they could do now is return to Ewood. Leave things as they are and keep some investment coming in and we’ll be fine under Tony.
A rumoured bid for our own Luke Freeman and then big money splashed on Ben Brereton raised a few eyebrows over the summer – where’s the money coming from, is there more to come and where are you with FFP?
IH: It raised more than a few eyebrows in East Lancashire believe me. The latest accounts reveal a concerted (and largely successful) effort to reduce the cost base, helped by off loading a number of high wage earners, (a legacy of the relegation from the Premier League), plus the happy accident of no longer changing our manager every six weeks and paying their contracts up in full. It is this strategy which has addressed the FFP issue, which in turn led to our temporary transfer embargo. Promotion has clearly helped significantly - to increase TV, sponsorship and match day revenues, which in turn helps the FFP calculation. Attendances stubbornly refuse to grow as quickly as the CEO hoped but people in Blackburn have long memories and need to be won over. The 1960 FA Cup final ticket fiasco is still cited as a reason for poor gates by some. The financial trend is positive, but it’s hard to compete with teams receiving parachute payments and those teams who flagrantly break FFP rules and have subsequent fines more than halved…see what I did there…?
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
IH: Very good keeper in David Raya - great shot stopper, not so good at kicking as yet, which these days is becoming so important. Probably will be out though following a nasty injury sustained at WBA last week. Excellent midfield dynamo on loan from Southampton in Harrison Reed. He’s very quickly become a fans’ favourite. #GingerNinja The boy Dack we’ve mentioned already.
RC: Our best player in our last match (the 1-1 draw away to West Brom) was Harrison Reed. The ‘Ginger Ninja’ worked all over the pitch and was at the heartbeat of everything before topping off his performance with an excellent 25-yard curler to put us level. Danny Graham will cause problems for your defence with his excellent hold up play, whilst Richie Smallwood and Corry Evans are two strong holding midfielders, with the former ending up in net in our last match.
In terms of our weak link, I think I’ll have to go for our goalkeeper. Our regular number one David Raya has been excellent this season but left the pitch with a broken nose in the draw at West Brom, meaning we’ll have to use our back up keeper. Jayson Leutwiler is our “bench keeper”, but Mowbray is a big fan of the young Andy Fisher, so he may get the chance to play. He’s a good keeper but the nerves may play a part and he may struggle, but I hope not.
How do you see the rest of the season panning out, and then beyond that for the club?
IH: In your LFW pre-season preview I predicted 19th. Almost as soon as I mailed it, we then signed Jack Rodwell, Adam Armstrong and Ben Brereton, which raised expectations. Having seen a quarter of the season, Ewood will not be an easy place to visit for most and we will nick a few on the road. I’m now hoping for top half (12th) but expecting 14th/15th come May. That would be perfectly acceptable to me…of course if we bring in Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones on loan in January, the play offs will be firmly in our sights. Living in Sheffield, I cast envious eyes towards Sheffield Utd and see a lot of parallels with their resurgence. A down to earth, well respected, old school manager delivering a barnstorming promotion year, a consolidation year, then a full on assault on promotion. There’s no reason why we can’t imitate that if everyone holds their nerve and the squad can continue to evolve.
RC: For this season, I don’t feel we’ll have enough for the play-offs, but a top half finish is definitely possible. It’s a tough one to call. We do look a decent side but we’ve been unlucky with injuries so far. If we can keep relatively injury-free, the top half is a definite possibility and who knows, we may climb into the last play-off spot. For the future, it looks bright under Mowbray. He’s expected to sign a new deal soon which would be excellent for the club, and he knows what he’s doing. If the Venky’s continue to back TM, we’ll be a top six side in a year or two. I take inspiration from Sheffield United. We are quite similar to how they were last season and look at them now. That could be us come this time next season, we’ll just wait and see.
The Twitter @rovers_chat, @ianherbert, @brfcsdotcom, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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