The putting of pen to paper today by “nice guy” Steve Kean seems to indicate a turning point for Blackburn Rovers: that Ewood Park is shedding its image as a Home for Wayward Boys.
Indeed, the news seemed to cap off what looked like a week of redemption for the club. Rovers have sold off poor sport Pascal Chimbonda, a whiny wantaway from every team he’s ever played for. Kean also wondered aloud to reporters whether it might be time to let go of the Human Camel, El-Hadji Diouf. Those words come just a week after Diouf allegedly stood over QPR player Jamie Mackie, taunting the player as he writhed in pain from a double leg fracture.
The truth is that — in the history of the Premier League — Blackburn has been a place for boys who behave badly. Out of the players in the top 50 for all-time Premier League fouls, 10 spent time at Rovers. Out of all-time Prem yellow cards, 12 wore the blue and white. Of course, it’s also what they do off the pitch that makes them such problems.
Jason Roberts (2006 – ) – He lit up what is now League One for Bristol Rovers over two seasons. But when they failed to get promoted, Roberts handed in a transfer request to a bitter Ian Holloway. He was just as fickle to ex-manager Sam Allardyce. Now Roberts can’t find the bright side of a barn door and is hated by the Rovers faithful.
Paul Dickov (2004-2006) – Nicknamed “The Wasp” and “The Pest”, Dickov’s role as a second striker was more to irritate central defenders. At only 5′ 6″, the cranky Scotsman did his job but picked up a weeee bit of fouls along the way.
Brett Emerton (2003 – ) – The Aussie plays the same style as many of his countrymen (Neill, Cahill, Kewell, Viduka): nasty. The midfielder seems to find his way to a yellow card or two internationally, including this weekend in the Asian Cup.
Lucas Neill (2001 – 2007) – The epitome of Blackburn Rovers football in the last decade, Neill is also the epitome of the phrase “See You Next Thursday”. A dirty player, he broke Jamie Carragher’s leg in 2003… an incident that literally made him a marked man on Merseyside. Neill is now playing for Galatasaray, so if Blackburn is a stop on the Road to Perdition, then Welcome to Hell, you Aussie git!
Morten Gamst Pedersen (2004 – ) – Alternating between pest and crybaby, Pedersen made a meal of Joey Barton’s punch this season. Barton is no angel but Pedersen made it handbags at dawn.
Robbie Savage (2005 – 2008) – By all accounts a nice fella when he’s in civilians, the Welshman is probably the most hated man on the pitch.
Craig Bellamy (2005-2006) – Another Welshman, Bellamy never shuts up, irritating “friend and foe” alike. He pissed off former Blackburn boss Graeme Souness when both were at Newcastle. He went after Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise with a golf iron. He can’t stay at one club more than a season and a half.
Of course, one only has to look at the managers over the last ten years to see why the team is built like it is. The seeds were likely sown with Souness’ arrival in 2000. The Scotsman earned his reputation as the Godfather of Hard during his playing days at Liverpool. When he arrived at Blackburn he attempted to build the team in his own image. After the Neill-Carragher incident, Souness refused to apologize for 48 hours. Just this fall, Carragher returned the favour, saying that Souness’ time as Liverpool manager was the beginning of the end for the once-great club.
But the man who probably had the most influence was Mark Hughes. The irritable striker was a superstar for Manchester United… but it was at Blackburn that he ended his prolific career. Sparky — another Welshman, by the way — brought in the likes of Roberts, Dickov, Pedersen, Savage, and Bellamy during his tenure. While successful — Blackburn made two UEFA Cup appearances because of their League finishes — they were often the most penalized team in the Prem.
After Hughes left for the greener pastures of Manchester City (snicker), another bad boy took his place: Hughes’ former United teammate Paul Ince. But Blackburn soon realized what lots of people already know: that ex-players without their coaching badges are almost always awful. Plus, the players couldn’t stand him. Ince had a cup of coffee in Lancashire and then made way for Big Sam, who brought the same philosophy of “stuck-in” football that he used at Bolton… which leaves us where we are today.
A quick note: Even when Kenny Dalglish was managing the club, there were players getting up to no good. Many members of the 1995 league-winning side were as familiar with the referee’s book as they were with the opposing goal. That season, Tim Sherwood got 10 yellow cards, Graeme Le Saux got eight, Chris Sutton seven. And just months after winning the Premier League, teammates LeSaux and David Batty fought each other during a Champions League match.
I’m not saying the arrival of the Indian Chicken family, and the permanent hiring of Kean, will make Blackburn a kinder, gentler team. But after watching the club over the last ten years, it may be that a more attractive brand of football is on its way.
Anyway, it could be worse. Could be Millwall…