Jump to content


SINCE 1996
Proudly partnered with TheTerraceStore.com

Season Review Part One

Guest Kamy100

Recommended Posts

Guest Kamy100

With the players back in pre-season training it is an opportune moment to look back at last season.

Karl Sturgeon (aka Yawnsie) has done an excellent Review:

Blackburn Rovers Season Review 2008/09

Part One - Paul Ince

One of the few downsides of working in a high-profile profession like football is the way every utterance, however banal or instantly regretted, gets recorded and filed away for posterity. Mess up, and some helpful soul will delve into the archives for something to make you look even worse.

Ewood Park, June 2008. At the press conference to announce Paul Ince's appointment as Blackburn manager, John Williams was explaining the board's reasoning behind giving the job to a man who'd only ever managed in League Two. It was, Williams said, a great opportunity for someone as relatively experienced, because Rovers were an established top-flight team and in good shape. 'We're nowhere near the bottom three . . .'

Ince leant towards the nest of microphones before him, smirking like the smart kid who can't keep quiet while teacher is speaking.

'Not yet!' he said.

It raised a laugh. Why not? Rovers had finished seventh the season before, only missing out on Europe because of a defeat at Big Club on the final day. Ince brought a blossoming reputation, having first somehow revived Macclesfield when they'd been seven points adrift at the foot of League Two, and then winning a League Two and Football League Trophy double at another footballing zombie, MK Dons. He'd been promoted to the big league quickly, yeah, but he'd worked under some great managers and coaches (and Brian Kidd) during a fine playing career, and he surely knew what it took to survive, and prosper, in the Premier League. The sun was shining, Wimbledon was still on, and the football season seemed a long way away. What could go wrong?

Unfortunately, Ince's powers of prediction turned out rather more impressive than his ability to manage in the Premier League. Blackburn, firmly ensconced in the top half of the league during four fine years of Mark Hughes's stewardship, saw out the season scrapping for their lives; Ince, a year after departing for the big time, has recently returned to Milton Keynes, perhaps a little wiser than he was 12 months previous, when he was heard talking about how he'd prefer to manage Inter Milan than Manchester United. How did it happen?

In fairness to Ince, and not to ignore the things he got wrong, it's necessary to point out that the Rovers job was not quite as easy to step into as John Williams may have made out at that first press conference. Rovers had finished in a respectable seventh place, yes, but the 07/08 season was still something of a disappointment: after a strong start that had Mark Hughes talking in November 2007 of a Champions League push, Rovers faded badly, never quite recovering from a 4-0 home shellacking by Aston Villa. In the second half of the season, the team was unconvincing, but eked out results either through individual brilliance - mostly from Friedel, Bentley or Santa Cruz - or generous refereeing. (That may be disputed by the more paranoid Rovers fans, the ones who think the CIA, the New World Order and the Space Lizards are conspiring to keep Blackburn below Man Utd, but it's true.) Ince had barely time to get his feet under the snazzy Ikea desk at Brockhall before Brad and David Bentley left. Roque Santa Cruz stayed on, despite a summer of rumours linking him with Man United, but, as we'll see, he wasn't quite as good this time around.The midfield was brittle, with Tugay another year older and Dunn and Reid both sterner opponents to our physios than to opposition players. And, this being Rovers, there was no money for new players. So Ince didn't cover himself in glory, but it's only fair to point out not all of our problems were of his making.

Ince's failings and mistakes have been dissected before, particularly on this forum, and there's no need to go into too much depth. It's this writer's opinion, however, Ince got two things in particular badly wrong, in the first weeks of his short reign, and these two things adversely affected his credibility from the off: his choice of coaching staff, and the sigings that would come to define him.

Under Hughes, Rovers had a backroom team as highly-qualified as any in the land. Players spoke often of high-tech fitness work, of ice baths, of the tyranny of Prozone. When Sparky and his team buggered off to Manchester City, Ince had a blank canvas. Archie Knox aside, the team Ince assembled had about as much Premier League experience as anyone on this site who has a Sky Sports subscription. This is not to disparage the likes of Ray Mathias, a good football man with a respectable body of work in the lower leagues, or Karl Robinson, by all accounts a highly-tipped young coach, but in the Show-us-yer-medals atmosphere of a self-important modern dressing room, your reputation matters. Ince's team were simply not experienced enough.

His signings were a mixed bunch. Vince Grella, £4m from Torino, was always injured. Carlos Villanueva, a genuinely imaginative signing from Chile, might have in different circumstances impressed - for what it's worth his Youtube videos looked amazing - but he lacked the strength and pace to impress himself on a struggling team. Danny Simpson didn't pull up many trees, but he was a loan signing and no real harm was done.

The two players that did harm Ince were the two perceived to be his mates: Robbie Fowler and Keith Andrews. Fowler was straight out of left-field; he'd spent a year in semi-retirement at Cardiff, presumably spending his time happily snapping up buy-to-let houses in South Wales without having the inconvenience of football to get in the way. Keith Andrews, Ince's 27-year-old captain at Milton Keynes, has been a whipping boy all season; despite his obvious application and effort, he doesn't look comfortable in the Premier League. To some extent, the stick he's received has been excessive - you can't blame him for taking the opportunity to play in the top flight, and he was signed as a squad player, a role in which he performs adequately - but, fairly or unfairly, he and Fowler came to symbolise Ince's judgement skills. He's signed a 33-year-old has-been striker! He thinks a bloke from the fourth division can cut it against Gerrard and Fabregas! Both signings suggested a lack of judgement on Ince's part, and a jobs-for-the-boys attitude that stood in direct contrast to the clinical professional of the Hughes era.

But despite the lingering doubts of preseason, the opening game promised much. Everton may have been so short of players that they had the wind registered as a sub, and an elaborate set of mirrors and pulleys to make it look like Tony Hibbert was playing in two positions at once, but our 3-2 win at Goodison was still impressive. Rovers passed the ball around well, didn't panic when they fell 2-1 behind, and deserved the bit of luck they had for the winner, when first the ref failed to spot that Ryan Nelsen was offside when he headed against the post, and second when Andrew Ooijer was there to tap in from a yard out.

After that Everton win, another of Ince's signings was under scrutiny. At Tottenham, Paul Robinson had gone from England's established number one to a joke figure, and he was already drawing unflattering comparisons with Brad Friedel after conceding a Michael Arteta free kick from an acute angle near to the corner flag. (Incidentally, seeing Brad in a Villa shirt on that opening weekend was unexpectedly painful, like seeing your ex stomp around town with her new fella.) Blaming Robinson for Arteta's goal seemed harsh, considering both the quality and the shock value of the strike. Robinson had positioned himself in the centre of the goal, anticipating the cross as most keepers would, and Arteta deserves credit for finding the near-post gap that our new keeper left. It didn't hurt us in the end, but it was a shaky start for Robbo.

Rovers' first defeat came later that month, at West Ham. It finished 4-1, a harsh scoreline after Rovers were caught by two late counter-attacks, and the West Ham fans were keen to commiserate with their old pal Ince. Conceding goals would become a problem. Blackburn's next game was a 4-0 hammering at home to Arsenal, the only plus point being that we didn't have to listen to football's moral guardian, Arsene Wenger, go through his usual post-match routine of accusing Rovers of everything from foul play to the credit crunch to the Reichstag fire. Even that didn't seem like too much of a setback, as Blackburn won the next three games, against Fulham, Everton again (this time in the Carling Cup), and up at Newcastle, who were intent on showing that no matter how badly Ince might mess up, he still a relative amateur at mismanagement. (During that period, between Keegan being forced out and Jokin' Ere coming in, Ince was actually linked with the Newcastle job; can you imagine??)

Then things really went to pot.

Ince was trying to get Blackburn playing football; admirable, but not especially practical. Rovers' main creative outline from the previous season, Bentley, had buggered off - rumours that Tottenham were attracted by the sheer gravitational pull from his big head are unconfirmed - and, without him, the team lacked the pace or creativity to play how Ince wanted. Caught awkwardly between scrapping and playing pretty, the team did neither convincingly, and became brittle - witness the game against Man Utd at Ewood Park. It was even enough until the old enemy went 1-0 up, through a dodgy Wes Brown goal, but falling behind seemed to delate Rovers when previously it might have motivated them. The second half was truly painful to watch, as United ploughed through the weak Blackburn resistance, and Rovers players looked like bashful hosts at a party, too timid to stop the gatecrashers from booting the stereo or playing tennis with the goldfish. The game finished 2-0, and we were lucky to get the nil.

Rolling over against the "big four" would become a recurring problem; we can complain against the hegemony at the top of the Premier League, but it's hardly surprising those four teams are so dominant when a team like Rovers, supposedly direct competitors, act as awestruck around them as those screaming Japanese schoolgirls that Sky Sports roll out whenever they're doing a feature on how obscenely popular the league is. This, it's worth pointing out, would continue to be a problem after Ince had left.

With results getting worse, and Rovers falling down the table, Ince offered bewilderment when fans might have expected leadership. He became paranoid, accusing his critics of being jealous of his fine playing career. They all wanted him to fail, he said. Presumably, if he'd spent his career at Accy Stanley opposition teams might have felt sorry for him and let him win once in a while.

One infamous moment, captured by the MOTD cameras, symbolises the lack of control Ince seemed plagued by. It was a clip of him stood on the touchline, sleeves rolled up and flowing tie unknotted, clutching a pen and notepad. The camera zoomed in on the notepad; what tactical wisdom had Ince jotted down? The camera got in close. Ince had written one word: SHOOT.

The pressure was building. Rovers lost 5-3 at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup, and the travelling fans gave the manager some grief. In early December, with Blackburn without a win since for three months and becoming increasingly detached from safety, there was a brief rally against Liverpool at Ewood. Rovers never looked like winning, but they competed, even if they did eventually lose 3-1. In retrospect, it's a sign of how bad things were that we were happy to only lose 3-1.

The JJB Stadium, nestled in an out-of-town retail park in Wigan, is no place to make your last stand, but that turned out to be Paul Ince's fate. It was generally accepted that defeat at Wigan would spell the end for Ince. Despite that, or maybe because of it, Blackburn lost 3-0, without a whimper. It was our sixth successive league defeat. We lay second bottom of the league, with 12 points from 18 games. The gig was up.

A club statement read: 'It is with great sadness the board announce that Paul Ince is to leave the club. After a board meeting . . . it was decided to relieve Paul of his duties.'

Tony Adams - an ex-England player who found himself over-promoted, funnily enough - took time out from messing up Portsmouth to call the Rovers board 'spineless' for sacking Ince. The media agreed that the club had been too hasty in dismissing a promising young manager. Easy for them to say. Anyone who watched that toothless, unmotivated Rovers side stagger through the first half of the season must have seen that we were going down, without much of a fight. As regrettable as it was, the board had to act when it did.

So where next for the club? The policy of appointing young, hungry managers had brought up a false turn. We needed experience. Lucky for us, there was someone, chewing gum and speaking manically into his fancy Britney Spears headset mic, ready to step in . . .

Part Two To Follow Soon.............

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.