Unlikely saviour Gary Bowyer plots Indian summer for Blackburn, and receives assurances over Jordan Rhodes
Life Beyond the Premier League
Gary Bowyer knew he was back in India last week when a cow walked down the street towards the taxi carrying him to the home of the millionaire Blackburn owner, Anuradha Desai. Ten hours and two flights after leaving Heathrow Airport, Bowyer was once more faced with the contrasting levels of wealth and poverty that swing so wildly in Pune, on India's west coast.
"It is a massive cultural experience," he says. "You have extremes; of wealth and at the same time there is extreme poverty. It is very visible to you. It is such an eye opener when you get there. There are people with nothing, absolutely nothing. When you see a cow walking down the street towards you, you know you're back in Pune."
There is much to digest with Bowyer's own story, as there is is with the club he now manages. Bowyer's tale starts in 1995, when the son of the former Nottingham Forest midfielder Ian was forced to retire because of a back injury. He was 25.
"It was a massive blow," he adds. "For anybody who has their career cut short it is very difficult to deal with."
Bowyer was invited by Tony Loughlan (now with Burnley) who had also been forced to retire through injury, to join him on a coaching course in Leicester. He worked part time at Ilkeston and joined Derby as Under-17 coach. Blackburn offered him the post of Under-18 coach in 2004. He progressed to take charge of the reserves in 2008, and then last season happened, when Blackburn imploded. Three managers were sacked (Steve Kean, Henning Berg and Michael Appleton). A day after Berg was dismissed, Bowyer was called to see the board at the Blackburn training ground. He thought he too was about to be sacked. "You close the door (after the meeting) and think, 'I've been given the manager's job until they appoint someone. I thought I might be going.'"
That was on Friday, December 28. The following day Blackburn played Barnsley. That night Bowyer and Terry McPhillips, his assistant, sat down in a hotel room in Yorkshire. 'We just went, 'Wow!' we're playing Barnsley tomorrow. It wasn't a case of enjoyment or hating it. It was like, 'God, it's Friday, we have to get a team ready for Saturday!'"
They did. It won three-one.
When Appleton, Berg's permanent successor, was also sacked, after 67 days in charge, Blackburn turned, once more, to Bowyer. By now he had been to India to meet the club's owners. This time the mandate was more clear. Keep the team up.
A club ravaged by the campaign found enough stability under the unknown 42-year-old to pick up 12 points from their final nine games. It was enough to escape a second relegation in three seasons. On May 24, Bowyer was summoned to India again. There he became the permanent manager of one-time Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers. "If you look at how I've arrived at the helm, you wouldn't be able to predict becoming manager, that's an understatement!" he says. "I've worked very, very hard. I've learned from many different people along the way.
"What happened last season has been well documented. Mistakes were made. Everybody is aware of that. We had to make sure we kept the club up. People would have been sacked if we'd gone down. We stayed up and I just felt relief.
"I was fortunate to be offered the job. It was a very proud moment. I needed to establish what way the owners were going to go and how we were going to go about it. I wanted to make sure my ideas would be supported.
"Things won't happen overnight. We have to keep on improving. I'm looking to build for the future. Stability will help the club's standing 100 per cent. It needs a plan and a process for a rebuilding period.
"I speak to the managing director Derek Shaw on a daily basis and the owners and direct with Madame. That is my focus. I don't get involved in anything else that does not concern me."
And so back to Pune, last week, to see Anuradha, who he calls Madame.
"I wanted to know where we stood in terms of the January window and certain issues, ie. Jordan Rhodes," he says. "I wanted assurances on him and they categorically stated he won't be going anywhere.
"We talked about how we have to work hard to reduce the budget because of financial fair play. It's important for us to secure the future of young players as well.
"We're trying very hard to put things right. It won't happen overnight. There is a sense of understanding from everybody involved. It will be tiny steps rather than one giant stride."
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