FFC columnist Phil Wright analyses the lack of incomings at Ewood Park in the recent January transfer window, and wonders Mark Hughes' squad boasts the necessary strength in depth to challenge for a European place.
A cool £150 million was spent by Premier League clubs in the January transfer window, a 150 per cent increase on the £60m spent in the same month a year ago. Nicolas Anelka's £15m move from Bolton Wanderers to Chelsea grabbed the headlines, representing the largest January transfer fee ever.
Blackburn Rovers had another quiet transfer window, continuing their frugal approach to the transfer period. Their main acquisition was Johnny Flynn, an 18 year-old defender from Ballymena, for an undisclosed fee. Somewhat ironically it was the first official signing of the transfer window. Alex Marrow, the 17 year-old winner of a ‘keepy-uppy' competition held at the Trafford Centre signed for the academy. Free agent and ex-Manchester United full back, Quinton Fortune, trained with the team during their Florida training camp in February, though he currently remains unsigned. The team has also recently been linked with ex-PSV Eindhoven midfielder Johann Vogel, though his fitness is in question having not played a competitive game for several months after his release by Real Betis.
There was however some outgoing transfer activity as Paul Gallagher joined Stoke on loan until the end of the season and Andy Taylor moved to Tranmere Rovers for an undisclosed fee after a successful loan spell. Mamadi Keita, a promising midfielder from the Academy, was also shown the door, joining Hamburger SV on a three-year deal. The one big name to leave Ewood Park was of course Robbie Savage, who moved to relegation candidates Derby County for £1.5million.
Despite the lack of incomings, Mark Hughes was actively searching for new faces in January, though he will be frustrated with the meagre funds at his disposal. He exercised his cautious method of viewing players on trial before committing to a transfer, something that has proved to be successful after Christopher Samba and club captain Ryan Nelson both completed trial periods before signing on the dotted line.
Amongst the players entertained at Brockhall were Dave Mooney, Velice Šumulikoski and Valeri Domovchiyski. Dave Mooney, a 23 year-old Irish striker from Longford Town was deemed not up to standard and he later went on to sign for Cork City. Valeri Domovchiyski, a Bulgarian U21 international from Levski Sofia, had an extended trial with the team, but an offer of a loan was rejected. The striker later went on to join Hertha BSC Berlin on loan until the end of the season. Velice Šumulikoski, a 26-year-old midfielder from Turkish side Bursapor, billed as the ‘Macedonian Gerrard', failed to arrive at Brockhall after a trial period with Ipswich Town. He impressed so much that the ‘Tractor Boys' signed him for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be £600,000 before he could leave their training complex.
Rumours were abound throughout the window about a number of potential transfers that never materialised. Rovers were heavily linked with Welsh international Jason Koumas, but Wigan Athletic's required fee proved to be too steep for Rovers' liking. Claudio Maldonado, the 28 year-old Chilean captain from Santos, was linked in a potential £1million deal, but he signed with Fenerbache for a fee rumoured to be £3million. Finally, Charlton's Amdy Faye's loan transfer to Ewood Park fell through after UEFA stepped in and refused to ratify the deal. He would have played for three British clubs in one season, having appeared for Charlton and Glasgow Rangers already this term, which violates certain rules.
Chairman John Williams explained the lack of transfer dealings at Blackburn by stating that the prices involved in the window were hugely inflated and that the club has a policy of only bringing in players that can improve the starting eleven. He conceded that the club were interested in a player from the Dutch league, rumoured to be American midfielder Michael Bradley, but were told to wait until the summer and that all of their other targets were too expensive. He did admit that the club is handcuffed by the current wage budget, which makes up a shocking 80 per cent of the club's revenue; even with the influx of money from the lucrative new TV deal.
This lack of activity in the transfer window leaves the Blackburn squad extremely exposed to injuries. Kiwi Ryan Nelson has suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that kept him out for much of last term and has been out for several weeks. Andre Ooijer, the Dutch centre half, has been plagued by injuries since his arrival at Ewood Park, including a broken ankle at the end of last season, and cannot be counted upon for any stretch of games. This leaves Rovers relying on the impressive Samba and the under appreciated Georgian, Zurab Zhizanishvili, at the heart of the defence. Whilst both are very capable, the team is sturdier at the back with either Nelson or Ooijer in the starting eleven.
Greater problems can be found in the centre of midfield, especially with the sale of Robbie Savage. Rovers find themselves light in the middle of the park, gambling on the fitness of Reid and Dunn, two players that have missed considerable time in the last few seasons through injury. Turkish maestro Tugay cannot be counted upon for 90 minutes every week at 37 years of age, and South African Aaron Mokoena is strictly limited to a defensive midfield role. This lack of options will be a worry to Hughes should either Dunn or Reid suffer a setback.
With Rovers looking to push on into the European qualification places, this lack of depth in the squad could have serious implications if any injuries are picked up. With the teams around them spending big in recent transfer windows, Blackburn are struggling to maintain their recent good form in their challenge for a UEFA Cup place.