Paul Ince’s premier challenge as his Premier League managerial career begins is to keep hold of Blackburn’s star players, David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz.
Bentley’s commitment and dedication to the Blackburn cause appears to have waned, he has already expressed a desire for a move away from Ewood Park in order to further his career and enhance his chances of cementing a regular starting berth for England. Blackburn have thus far rejected several insufficient offers, but it is only a matter of time before their valuation is met.
It is even more vital then that Ince persuades his star striker to stay. The loss of both of his star players could have catastrophic consequences as the new season looms.
Ince is currently making all the right noises regarding the future of Santa Cruz, stressing that he was “going nowhere” after Blackburn’s 2-1 friendly win at Macclesfield Town last week, and when asked about Sir Alex Ferguson’s, interest in Santa Cruz Ince said: “If [Ferguson] comes asking about Santa Cruz then I will just tell him he’s not having him.”
Blackburn’s commitment to keeping hold of the Paraguayan is sure to be tested though. With each passing day another interested party joins the queue for Santa Cruz. Besides Manchester United, other clubs showing genuine interest include Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.
How long will Blackburn be able to keep fending them off? Money talks in the Premier League and Santa Cruz is hot property.
He possesses a majestic touch, formidable strength and the ability to score all-types of goals. The 19 league goals he scored in his debut Premier League season is impressive by anyone’s standards, but considering it was for a club outside of the "Big Four," it was a phenomenal feat and represented a fantastic return on Blackburn’s £3.5million investment.
Santa Cruz’s future appears to be heavily dependent upon that of Tottenham’s Dimitar Berbatov. Santa Cruz is a player of a similar mould to that of his Bulgarian counterpart, and with both Tottenham and Manchester United both showing interest in Santa Cruz, it appears as though the loser in the struggle for Berbatov will opt for Santa Cruz as a replacement.
Arsene Wenger is also likely to launch a testing offer if Adebayor leaves for warmer climates.
Santa Cruz’s prospective suitors would do worse than to take caution from the Paraguayan past scoring exploits though. His strike rate for Bayern Munich was much less prolific, notching just 38 goals in 188 games throughout an eight-season period.
Contending with strikers like Elber, Makaay and Pizarro limited Santa Cruz’s chances in Munich and he seldom experienced sustained runs in the first team. His move to Blackburn has re-ignited the huge potential he displayed at his first club Olimpia Asuncion, of Paraguay, throughout his teenage years.
Santa Cruz stated his dedication to Blackburn: “A lot of people said my transfer to a bigger club was about to happen, but I live in the present and I’m focused on Blackburn. I am motivated by other team’s interest, but if I am not transferred then I want to have the best possible season at Blackburn”.
His comments suggest that whilst he is content to stay at Blackburn, he would jump at the chance to display his regained form and confidence on a bigger stage once again.