Eye Witness Assessment: Blackburn Rovers have no choice but to sell Jordan Rhodes
In his programme notes for Saturday’s less than thrilling 0-0 draw with Reading, Blackburn Rovers’ quietly impressive manager Gary Bowyer told of the outcome of his recent visit to India to meet with the club’s owners, the by now notorious Venky’s.
The meeting was planned a number of weeks in advance, because there was an international break. It as an ideal opportunity to sit down with the owners face-to-face and talk about where we are, areas we feel we can improve, the upcoming January transfer window, the need to reduce the wage bill and we can go about that (sic).
It was a positive and constructive meeting and important to hear them categorically state once again that Jordan Rhodes isn’t for sale.
If that truly is the case then Venky’s are even sillier than we all thought because quite frankly, Blackburn Rovers have no option but to sell Jordan Rhodes.
Earlier this month, the club published annual figures that would have made the ageing Liberace blush. Posting an annual loss of £36.5 million, a £27.3 million drop in turnover, an operating loss of £24.3 million and a net debt that has climbed to £54.5 million, the Lancastrians are in big trouble and while fans will baulk at any attempt to assuage a wage bill that will also benefit the pockets of the Indian owners, something is going to have to give.
That salary bill stands at £36.6 million and represents a 136.1% wages to turnover ratio while it is has been alleged that £3.5 million of that has gone on agents’ fees. While the likes of Martin Olsson and Morten Gamst Pedersen have moved on, the squad still possesses a number of high profile stars from whom Rovers are receiving precious little in return currently even if injuries have been a factor.
These include former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson, on loan David Goodwillie and Bradley Orr, popular Spaniard Rubén Rochina, finally back in action from the bench on Saturday, and Leon Best to name but five while some of this campaign’s regular first teamers – Scott Dann and Rhodes most notably – will also be among the higher wage earners.
That’s a big improvement on a couple of years ago and the club has slowly managed to move on some of the chaff – although a tendency to fall out with both players (Jason Roberts) as well as managers (Michael Appleton and Henning Berg) has cost them money they could ill afford to throw away.
Rhodes has been outstanding for Blackburn, with a strike record of 37 goals in 58 games and a more than respectable 10 this season alone. He scored back to back braces in rousing home wins against Barnsley and Bolton and survived an injury scare while on international duty last week. One outrageous dummy mid-way through the second half which let in Josh King showed the man’s ability while he has that eager style that always denotes a goal poacher – the kind of operator who can snaffle a chance in an instant.
But having disbursed £8 million for the Huddersfield Town player at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, the fact that his reputation has only been enhanced must leave the club tempted to cash in. It’s possible that a struggling Premier League side may be coerced into a £10-12 million offer in a desperate January window gamble and given the parlous nature of the financial situation, Rovers should have no choice to accept.
Such a decision was provided with supporting evidence on Saturday as Bowyer deployed a fluid 4-5-1 formation while several of his younger stars enjoyed good games albeit in a match that was never a classic.
Most notably, Norwegian Josh King provided Chris Gunter with a harrowing afternoon. Exceedingly raw, the former Manchester United kid has a real streak of pace and if his finishing and final ball had matched the ability to convert defence into attack, it may have been game over by half time.
The former Borussia Mönchengladbach loanee was symbolic of a lively attacking display which saw Tom Cairney, on loan from Hull City, figure prominently – the blond midfielder has a rare elegance and two proverbially lovely feet and while he somehow passed the ball into the grateful arms of Alex McCarthy after a glorious shimmy, he did force a wonder save from the young Reading keeper with a much fiercer effort.
At 21 and 22, the duo provide much room for optimism for Rovers even if Cairney is not a permanent employee – but it isn’t all about youth at Ewood Park. David Dunn, a club hero, had a wonderful match and it is surely only his desperately unfortunate record with injuries that cost him status as a more regular England international – his only cap came against Portugal 11 years ago now.
Prominent in setting up the attacking play were anchoring midfielders Jason Lowe and Lee Williamson. The latter, who I have seen play for a number of clubs, is often too languid for my liking but he knows how to rotate possession while, Lowe, a new man to me, looked extremely impressive in breaking up the play until Nigel Adkins reacted to his side being outnumbered in midfield with a double half time substitution of Hope Akpan and Danny Williams.
There is optimism for Blackburn at the back too – with grizzled ex-Premier League central defensive pairing Grant Hanley and Scott Dann not giving Reading a sniff while Tommy Spurr, a versatile defender operating here at left back, is starting to look like the player an early spell at Sheffield Wednesday promised he might be.
The concoction was rounded off by right back Todd Kane, on loan from Chelsea and looking solidity personified and keeper Jake Kean, at 22 the obvious future of the club even if at times he looked uncertain under the high ball.
So there is plenty there to work with and Bowyer would appear to have the tactical nous to provide it. What he will need however, is greater passion from the fans, understandably deadened by the abuses of Venky’s and the lack of anything to shout about on the pitch – crowds are simply alarming at Ewood these days and have halved in two years, most famously when less than 9,000 turned out for an FA Cup quarter final replay last winter.
Recent results have been patchy and the 3-0 thumping at Brighton was perhaps the most worrying so a ship steadying 0-0 draw with Reading will provide some solace – but on this showing, Rovers can probably expect to do no more than achieve the mid table position I predicted in August. They therefore need to exercise good sense and cash in on their most prized asset, while taking care to draw on the acumen of Bowyer to identify a suitable replacement – after all, Rhodes’ opposite number here, Adam Le Fondre, was plucked from similar climes for just £350,000 and notched up 12 Premier League goals last season. Renewal on all levels is what Blackburn need.