Blackburn masters of the modern game

THE CHAMPIONS OF 1995: Jack Walker's money, Kenny Dalglish's acumen and Alan Shearer's goals have combined to produce an efficient and successful team. Only popular acclaim so far eludes them and that, writes Glenn Moore, may not be long in coming
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The Independent Online
Some chairmen - most chairmen - would have milked it like a Prime Minister at conference time, with an ear to the crowd and an eye on the stopwatch. Jack Walker, unaccustomed and uncomfortable at playing to the gallery, simply seemed embarrassed.

Walker, though technically vice-president, not chairman, is the man who bankrolled Blackburn Rovers' championship, which was finally decided by Manchester United's failure to defeat West Ham at Upton Park yesterday. On Monday, shortly before the match with Newcastle, he was in the centre of the Ewood Park pitch preparing to present the Supporters' Player of the Year award to Alan Shearer.

When he was introduced to the crowd the ovation simply went on, and on. It might have continued until kick-off had Walker, rather diffidently, not attempted to speak over the applause and get on with the presentation.

Unaccustomed as he was at public speaking, he knew how to take his leave. His parting shot was "I want Alan Shearer to stay, he is the making of the new Blackburn Rovers". He left the pitch with cheers still ringing around the ground.

That response signalled the Blackburn public's awareness that it is not Shearer, Tim Flowers, Colin Hendry nor Tim Sherwood - stalwarts all - who have made the new Blackburn. It is Walker himself, aided by Kenny Dalglish, the man he appointed as manager.

Some would say the supporters' award should have gone to Walker's chequebook, which has given 110 per cent and covered the bill for every blade of grass, as well as every seat and all but one of the players in the new Ewood.

But having money is only half the answer, you still have to spend it wisely. Malcom Allison's Manchester City, Manchester United under a succession of managers before Alex Ferguson, and, at a lower level, Derby County, have all shown that money cannot win titles by itself.

Walker's master-stroke was his success in persuading Dalglish to return to management. The lack of expectation, the free hand and unlimited backing, the low-key, friendly nature of the club, all made Blackburn the perfect place for Dalglish to finish his rehabilitation after his near-breakdown at Liverpool.

The result is that he has become only the third manager, after Herbert Chapman and Brian Clough, to win the title with different clubs. Added to his glittering playing career, he has now won 14 championships in England and Scotland. He has also distinguished himself, most ably in the aftermath of Hillsborough, as a man of exceptional personal qualities even if they are rarely revealed to the wider public

Dalglish has spent heavily, but wisely and utterly professionally. As Rovers have progressed from the lower end of the old Second Division to the pinnacle, he has constantly rebuilt and reshaped. As each stage accomplished players have been discarded and new, better ones, brought in to deal with the next challenge.

Scott Sellars and David Speedie - both inherited from Don Mackay - Gordon Cowans, Roy Wegerle and Alan Wright, each of whom Dalglish bought, have served their purpose and been moved on. Mike Newell and Bobby Mimms stayed, but are bit-players. Any failures, such as Duncan Shearer and Patrik Andersson, have been swiftly discarded. Only David May has left against Dalglish's will.

All but three - Bobby Mimms, Jason Wilcox and Mark Atkins - of the current squad have been signed by Dalglish. It is an indication of the change in Rovers' fortunes that when Mimms was signed for £250,000 in December 1990 he became the club's most expensive purchase - and that was funded by Walker, who had just joined the club as vice-president.

That Atkins, and the former trainee Wilcox, have figured prominently does mitigate the belief that Rovers are just a collection of big-money signings. Wilcox began at Ewood Park as an associate schoolboy in the summer of 1986. Atkins was signed two years later from Scunthorpe for £45,000. As the only player not paid for by Walker's wad he, especially, must wonder if he will one day wake up and find it is all a dream.

He signed as a right-back and had lost his place as the club struggled in the old Second Division in late 1991. This year, with David Batty injured, he has seen off Robbie Slater and Paul Warhurst to be a central figure.

In many ways Atkins, whose game is based around honest endeavour and occasional inspiration, typifies the Rovers way. They have scored more goals than anyone but rarely quickened the pulse. It is functional football, not fantasy.

But it may not always be so. At Liverpool Dalglish created one of the most attractive sides since the war when he introduced John Barnes and Peter Beardsley. Howard Wilkinson, manager of Leeds, has already suggested that, once they have won that first major trophy, the team may gain the confidence to become a more attractive side.

They have developed with speed with Dalglish instrumental in the improvement of Le Saux, Hendry, Sherwood and Ripley, all capped or called up for international squad duty since signing.

And they do have their merits. Though Sherwood and Le Saux sometimes lose their heads there had been an absence (until Batty's return) of malice in the team and there is a community spirit about the club.

Walker is a fan, not a glory-chaser or political animal. He takes no part in the game's politics, he just wants to see Blackburn win. Unlike most fans he is in a position to do something about it. Which of us, in the same position, would not be similarly tempted.

But if he has been good for Blackburn, is he good for football? Without him this year could have been a procession for Manchester United and, with due respect to Old Trafford, it is good to have someone else's name on the championship.

Less beneficial has been the effect of Walker's money on transfers and, especially, wages. The filter-down effect has damaged clubs at the bottom end and the amount of the Premiership's new wealth being spent on transfers is excessive.

Nine of the current squad cost seven-figure fees; the total cost is about £25m, which is roughly £5m more than Manchester United's and enough to wipe out the cumulative debt of the Third Division with something to spare.

However, most purchases have been of players young enough to retain their value and Rovers are working hard to develop a youth scheme - Walker does not intend to endlessly finance the club. And, with David Batty, Kevin Gallacher and Mike Newell absent, Rovers' team this season has cost a similar amount to United's.

Blackburn have not bought the title, they have simply played the modern game better than anyone else. Their previous titles were based on the wealth of King Cotton; but this one has come courtesy of Uncle Jack.

DALGLISH'S £37m DEALS

(since 12 October 1991)

IN

July 94 Chris Sutton Norwich City £5,000,000

July 92 Alan Shearer Southampton £3,600,000

October 93 David Batty Leeds United £2,750,000

September 93 Paul Warhurst Sheffield Wed £2,650,000

November 93 Tim Flowers Southampton £2,400,000

March 93 Kevin Gallacher Coventry City £1,500,000

March 95 Jeff Kenna Southampton £1,500,000

July 92 Stuart Ripley Middlesbrough £1,300,000

March 92 Roy Wegerle QPR £1,200,000

November 91 Mike Newell Everton £1,100,000

January 93 Patrik Andersson Malm £800,000

March 92 Duncan Shearer Swindon Town £800,000

November 91 Colin Hendry Manchester City £700,000

March 93 Graeme Le Saux Chelsea £700,000

October 91 Alan Wright Blackpool £500,000

February 92 Tim Sherwood Norwich City £500,000

September 92 Nicky Marker Plymouth Argyle £500,000

January 93 Henning Berg Lillestrm £400,000

October 93 Ian Pearce Chelsea £300,000

August 94 Robbie Slater Lens £300,000

November 91 Gordon Cowans Aston Villa £200,000

March 92 Matt Dickins Lincoln City £200,000

October 92 Simon Ireland Huddersfield Town £200,000

July 92 Lee Makel Newcastle United £160,000

February 92 Chris Price Aston Villa £150,000

August 93 Andy Morrison Plymouth Argyle £150,000

August 92 Wayne Burnett Leyton Orient £90,000

November 91 Gary Tallon Drogheda United £35,000

August 94 Tony Gale West Ham United Free

August 94 Shane Given Celtic Undisclosed

TOTAL TRANSFER EXPENDITURE £29,685,000

OUT

June 94 David May Manchester Utd £1,400,000

March 93 Roy Wegerle Coventry City £1,000,000

March 95 Alan Wright Aston Villa £1,000,000

July 92 Scott Sellars Leeds United £800,000

March 93 Steve Livingstone Chelsea £700,000

July 92 Duncan Shearer Aberdeen £500,000

July 92 David Speedie Southampton £400,000

November 93 Patrik Andersson Mnchengladbach £400,000

February 93 Steve Agnew Leicester City £250,000

December 94 Andy Morrison Blackpool £225,000

January 95 Peter Thorne Swindon Town £200,000

September 92 Lee Richardson Aberdeen £152,000

December 93 Tony Dobson Portsmouth £150,000

September 92 Keith Hill Plymouth Argyle £125,000

September 92 Craig Skinner Plymouth Argyle £125,000

August 93 Wayne Burnett Plymouth Argyle £90,000

February 92 Lenny Johnrose Hartlepool £50,000

January 93 Chris Price Portsmouth £50,000

August 94 Simon Ireland Mansfield Town £60,000

August 92 Simon Garner West Bromwich £30,000

March 92 Mike Duxbury Bradford City Free

July 92 Chris Sulley Port Vale Free

November 92 Nicky Reid West Brom Free

February 93 Stuart Munro Bristol City Free

August 94 Andy Scott Cardiff City Free

March 95 Matt Dickins Stockport County Undisclosed

TOTAL TRANSFER INCOME £7,707,000

TRANSFER DEFICIT £22,128,000

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