Thursday, 9 May 2024

The faux surprise expressed by many at the comings and goings at Ewood this season are matched only by the realization that there is no surprise at all. The “you couldn’t make it up” attitude is recognising that you don’t need to make any of it up, it is Rovers default setting. Although the season hasn’t perhaps panned out as some would have it, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Rovers are no nearer flirting at the business end of the table, in fact they are way off the pace.

After building in the latter stages of last season a no more than reasonable shot at the Play Offs, which, as anticipated, was quickly put to bed, maybe to some there was an expectation to succeed this season. Truth be told this aspiration was never more than fanciful. Roverites of a certain age, like me, have become conditioned over time to disappointment and this season has been no exception.

Nor was it unsurprising that the previous coach’s unhealthy and discordant relationship with the Ewood hierarchy continued to simmer under the surface. The unsavoury fallout from the January 2023 transfer window was still raw when inexplicably repeated in January 2024 which only cemented the distrust between JDT, the Director of Football and the Chief Executive.

The Phoney War had gathered pace and sandwiched between the transfer debacles was the smoke and mirrors budget that never was. It was an uneasy peace at least. Irrespective whether JDT was looking for a convenient way out, it is difficult not to sympathise with what had increasingly become an untenable position. No matter the issues that some might have with JDT, he left with a more than favourable win percentage – 44%. At this stage what was happening on the pitch became almost secondary to events being played out at the training ground and in the board room.

Whatever “the project” signed up to by JDT and disassembled by the CEO and his cohorts, there are, as always, two sides to every story but taken at face value it had all became a total mess. Remarkably, despite the maelstrom, and amidst all the culpability and confusion, Messrs Waggott and Broughton remain in situ, whether they are sitting comfortably is subject to conjecture.

When I look back over my 73 years as a Rovers supporter, I always believed and concurred with past Rovers Chairmen, C Ronnie Davies, Bill Fox and Bill Bancroft who all maintained that they were simply “stewards” of the Club and their approach and management reflected that. 

Those sound management principles appear somewhat anachronistic by today’s standards. It is shameful that Rovers immediate future will almost certainly be decided by a court judgement in India. The dilemma is, even a positive outcome might not necessarily lead to a positive outcome.

The club’s so called “model” of progressing young talent through the academy system with the avowed intention of selling profitably over time appears to have fallen at the first hurdle. Yes, Wharton the younger was sold for an extravagant fee but surely the prerequisite of the “model” was to benefit the Rovers on the field over a few years, rather than sell in its infancy and at the first sign of dwindling funds? 

Reading between the lines the move was not only timely but necessary in contributing to keeping the lights on at Ewood. I’m not convinced we have a conveyor belt of latent talent moving seamlessly from the academy – yes in time we might realise a fee on certain players but where are the big hitters – talent like Adam Wharton comes along infrequently? Selling a player to fill a financial void can never be the answer.

With apologies to TS Eliot who had April as “the cruellest month”, that might just prove to be August when the Indian court sits in judgement. Sitting on £23m might not exactly help the Rovers case either.

Having barely touched on events on the field it is the more remarkable that one man has captured every headline and most deservedly every award going. 

Sammie Szmodics seismic shift from a relentless attacking midfielder to a prodigious goal getter is quite extraordinary. Such is his feat that without his propensity of goals Rovers would have been cast adrift long ago. 

A great achievement to become the first Rover to score 30+ goals since Shearer, but for me it has been the execution of those strikes which have re-awakened fond memories of the late Andy McEvoy. For me McEvoy still is technically the finest goalscorer I have seen in a blue and white shirt, that Szmodics can, even in passing, be mentioned, however fleetingly, in the same breath, is praise indeed. Those two finishes against Leicester were truly McEvoy-esque. Added to all of that, I cannot honestly remember a time or era where a player has almost single-handedly carried a team through a season. Szmodics‘ contribution has been nothing short of magnificent.

Like all those great goal scorers of the past it has been a delight and a privilege to see Szmodics at the Rovers. Sadly, I fear that it is inevitable that he will move on at the end of the season and add to the death by a thousand cuts facing Rovers in the close season.

I’ve failed to mention John Eustace who comes across as a decent man but who has yet to demonstrate that he is the man to take Rovers forward in a meaningful way. Unlike JDT, I suspect Eustace is more likely to accept his lot and refrain from making waves in the boardroom. I don’t believe that engineering last gasp salvation was worthy of celebration, in fact it is an indictment that the Rovers should have been in that position in the first place. Nor do I accept his post-match analysis that we were “doomed” before he came in – far from it.

What will transpire in the close season is anyone’s guess, but serious consideration should be given to a forensic examination of issues both on and off the field of play. In this game you cannot allow yourself to stand still whilst others around you look to build. You have got to look to develop and not be derailed by the inconsistent and indecisive decision making which has blighted this season.

So there we have it – an inharmonious season bedeviled by mounting tension both on and off the pitch. All this played out amidst a backdrop of a Club in decline, financial instability, vulnerability and an uncertain future. 

Whatever the outcome, you get the feeling it may well come down to those sitting in judgement in India, and that can never be a good sign.



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