Blackburn Rovers: What Now?
Today, the news that all Blackburn Rovers fans must have dreaded for the last couple of seasons has finally arrived. Manager Mark Hughes has moved on to pastures new, signing a three-year contract to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson at Manchester City.
Many will speculate on what this means for Hughes' management career (can he really manage United at some point after City? Will currently miffed United fans grow up and get over themselves?), and for Manchester City as a club, but what about Blackburn Rovers?
It had already been a summer of worrying speculation for Rovers' fans, with star players David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz both heavily linked with moves away.
With the manager who brought players like that to the club now gone, speculation on the future of many of their other good players—Stephen Warnock, Benni McCarthy, Ryan Nelsen, Morten Gamst Pedersen—will now surely grow further.
Warnock has already intimated that he only signed a new deal at the club recently on the proviso that Hughes would be in charge for the length of the deal. Nelsen, the club captain, has moved to try and quell fears of an exodus:
"We're all contracted to Blackburn, it's as simple as that. We all love coming into work and we all love playing for the club. So we're really happy at what we do," he said.
"I can't talk for other players about what they might want to do in the future, but I certainly know on the last day of the season we were all happy."
The last sentence appears to be the most salient there. Blackburn might be one of only four clubs to have won the Premier League, but they are a relatively small club nonetheless. Hughes' outstanding management and name made sure they punched above their weight and attracted players who wouldn't normally give Blackburn a second glance.
His departure, although inevitable in the long-term, was always going to be a massive blow.
It remains to be seen whether Hughes will be raiding his old club, but with Manchester City in desperate need of a quality centre-forward, Santa Cruz will surely be at the forefront of his mind.
David Bentley might have bigger clubs than City on his mind, and a move to Liverpool or Tottenham looks a distinct possibility for him.
Nelsen could be seen by Hughes as an ideal replacement should Richard Dunne still feel he wants to leave City.
Pedersen is unlikely to join the Eastlands outfit, with Martin Petrov seemingly in command of the left wing position, but a move to Newcastle could be a real possibility.
Meanwhile Warnock would likely attract the attentions of Portsmouth, Sunderland, and Newcastle himself.
Of course any talk of moves is pure speculation, but Blackburn Rovers fans will have to get used to that in the next few months.
Whoever takes over at Ewood Park is going to have to make holding on to the bulk of his seventh placed squad the first job on his list of things to do, otherwise Blackburn could follow in the footsteps of Charlton and Bolton, clubs who punched above their weight thanks to excellent management, but who then found life afterwards more difficult.
Ironically, Sam Allardyce, the man who did so much for Bolton, is the early frontrunner for the Blackburn job. It represents the perfect opportunity to rebuild his reputation on one hand, but the most difficult of challenges on the other.
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