Opinion piece by Toby Wilding, sports journalist and Rovers fan
There has been just one story talked about in the football world this week - Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title triumph rightly dominating headlines across the globe.
Leicester deserve all the praise they get. They have refused to bow to convention, ignoring any suggestions of over-achievement and of a job already completed with the guarantee first of survival and then European Football, pausing only to celebrate when the greatest prize of all was guaranteed courtesy of Tottenham’s draw with Chelsea on Monday night.
Yet amongst all the jubilation and excitement, there came a stark warning that will resonate long and hard with Rovers fans. In the aftermath of Leicester’s victory, Martin Samuel provided a perceptive history lesson in his Daily Mail column, asserting that The Foxes can ill afford to rest on their laurels too long, with the country’s biggest club’s already making plans to re-assert their authority at the top of English football, while clubs of a similar size to Leicester will now be sensing an opportunity of their own. Samuel’s point was that if Leicester do not instantly begin to work towards next season, they run the risk of being left behind by the same group they have just broken into. And he had a case in point to prove it.
That case was of course, Blackburn Rovers in the aftermath of their own victory against the odds to lift the Premier League title in 1994/95. During that summer Rovers signed just two minor squad players, leaving them a team ill equipped to battle on the dual front of Premier League and Champions League. It meant the club was unable to back up what it had done the season before, and it was that that spelled the end for a number of the club’s star players at that time, one Alan Shearer among them.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Samuel’s message to Leicester then is that they must move quickly to avoid a rapid slide back to where they came from and although the context may be rather different, you could find yourself giving the hierarchy at Ewood Park the same message today.
It is now more than a week since Paul Lambert announced he would step down as manager of the club at the end of the season and comments coming out of the club so far appear to suggest, worryingly, that such a message would not be heeded.
Club director Mike Cheston was quoted in the Lancashire Telegraph saying that “time is on our side”, with regards to appointing a new manager. It is hard to see where this train of thought is coming from.
In the same way that the sides overhauled by Leicester will already be making plans to attempt to reclaim top spot next season, those sides who found themselves alongside Rovers looking over the shoulders towards the trapdoor out of the Championship will be desperate to make sure they are not in the same position 12 months down the line, and will already be taking steps to ensure that is not the case. One such example is Rotherham United who, having secured survival courtesy of an 11-match unbeaten run under interim manager Neil Warnock, have already opened negotiations to attempt to convince the veteran manager to remain at the club next season.
You can be sure other clubs at the wrong end of the table will also be well underway in preparing for next season, given survival is now guaranteed. If Rovers fail to appoint a manager and begin making their own plans for the coming season, they risk being left behind just as they were 21 years ago. Only this time, the consequences don’t bare thinking about.