It seems strange to question what has happened to a team who are still regularly playing in the Premier League for all to see. But Blackburn are a changed team and it’s for reasons unknown. I’m not talking about the break-up of the 1995 title winning side; Blackburn’s relegation in 1999 and subsequent return in 2001 was dealt with and then consolidated with a number of relatively successful season. No, my concern for Blackburn is how a team that was regularly challenging for a UEFA Cup spot suddenly became a team always involved in a relegation scrap. It appears to be quite a mystery.
After their return to the Premiership in 2001 Blackburn quickly showed themselves to be a capable team; they won their first ever League Cup in 2002 to reach the UEFA Cup for the next season. Aided by the financial help from European competition, Blackburn went on to finish 6th the next season and continue to represent England in Europe. The next season, with their key players sold, Blackburn gave us a sign of things to come as they got involved in a relegation scrap – they survived however and things looked ready to return to normal.
Under the leadership of Mark Hughes Blackburn avoided relegation again but started to look a better team. They finished 6th again the next season to reach Europe once again, battled for it the next year although they eventually missed out, and then finished 7th the next year, just missing out on that UEFA Cup spot.
The departure of Hughes heralded the start of Blackburn’s decline; Paul Ince was given his first top flight job and wasn’t given much patience from the board with it. The loss of key players Brad Friedel and David Bentley was hardly going to help but Blackburn were still expected to push for a UEFA Cup spot for 2008/09. It didn’t happen. Ince’s seemingly good start quickly was overlooked due to poor results which sent Rovers spiralling down the league and into the relegation zone. Ince was sacked in December and Sam Allardyce replaced him – but could only take them to 15th in the league as they’d faced an unlikely relegation battle.
Blackburn currently sit in 12th place in the Premiership which doesn’t appear too bad but their position is misleading – the club have been very unpredictable; losing to teams you’d expect them to beat easily, winning games which you weren’t sure about, and being hammered by most big teams they faced. Blackburn are closer to being relegation candidates than anything else but the inability of the other teams in the division to get a good run going has allowed them to sit in a surprisingly high 12th position.
With the emergence of Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City onto the fight for European qualification it looks like it’s the end of European participation for Rovers for a long, long time as they don’t have the financial might to compete and don’t look like a Top 10 team any more. The sales of crucial players over the years definitely didn’t help but the replacements brought in should’ve proved adequate. Rovers have been mismanaged, given little confidence and odd tactics and it shows through their erratic form. If Blackburn went down within the next few seasons I would not be surprised – their downfall seems to be heading that way with only the form of others making it seem otherwise.
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