Football: Rovers must rebuild for a swift return

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FOUR YEARS after they duelled for the championship as equals, the gulf between Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers' present status could not have been more stark yesterday. Both were talking about the future, but that is where the resemblance ended.

The players of United, whose point at Ewood Park on Wednesday night took them to within three wins of a unique treble, played host to the world's media. Top of the agenda was the final of the Champions' League. The Rovers players, relegated on Wednesday, were talking to their agents and their families. On their agenda, the Premier League, the Nationwide League and the Pontins League.

The last-mentioned is the reserve league which is where several Rovers players could be spending next season. The lucky few will, to rework Brian Kidd's rebuke, be taking to the rubber dinghies and seeking an instant return to the Premiership. Chris Sutton and Stephane Henchoz are likely to be first off the sinking ship with, respectively, Tottenham and Liverpool expected to lead the chase. Others who could be allowed to leave are Tim Flowers, Billy McKinlay, Kevin Gallacher, Nathan Blake, Christian Dailly and Kevin Davies - though there is little prospect of Rovers recouping the pounds 16.8m they paid for the last three. However, Rovers are in a different position to most relegated clubs.

Usually the first response is to trim the wage bill to Nationwide League budgets. Thanks to Jack Walker, Rovers do not need to do that, they can continue to pay Premiership wages if they want to.

This is fortunate, for they may have no choice. There are several players at the club whose earnings are vastly inflated, considering their abilities. They may decide to sit in the reserves on a fortune rather than leave for less. This was the problem Manchester City encountered and, in some cases, it was only solved by paying off the players concerned.

The players Kidd bought will presumably stay and the likes of Ashley Ward, Lee Carsley, Jason McAteer and Matt Jansen will be useful in the Nationwide. With judicious buying, and the introduction of more graduates of Rovers' impressive youth scheme (Kenny Dalglish's real legacy) they should make a swift return.

Jansen, who, having been at Carlisle and Crystal Palace last season, has now played for three relegated clubs in two years, said: "I didn't think it would happen here but it has and we just have to live with it. We have a great squad, a great manager and a brilliant owner and I can see us bouncing straight back up."

Meanwhile, at Old Trafford, David Beckham was reflecting on a rather better season. "At the start of the season a lot of people were wondering how I would go, if I would crack or go abroad but it has been a really enjoyable season. After what happened in the summer [when he was sent off against Argentina] I just wanted to get back to playing for United. The manager [Ferguson] said I would be fine and though I've had stick at away grounds the lads have given me great support."

Beckham, who was involved in a contretemps at Ewood, added: "I've not changed on the pitch and I don't think I will but I am a stronger person."

It was strength of character Rovers could have done with, and Kidd now has a summer to instill in his new charges the attitudes that were second nature to his old ones.

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