Blackburn prepare for costly clear-out

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The Independent Football

Blackburn Rovers' squad will be ripped apart at the end of the season. But most worrying for the club who are two places and three points above the relegation zone is that they will have to virtually give away their players should they go down.

Andy Cole is the best-paid player at Ewood Park and is due almost £3m in the remainder of his contract. Cole will not budge unless the next move suits him or the golden handshake he receives from Rovers is satisfactory. Like the rest of the squad there is no clause to reduce his wages in the First Division.

Dwight Yorke has one year left on his contract and around £2m in wages still to collect. He would need a settlement to leave, while Tugay is likely to leave on a free transfer at the end of his contract.

The veteran Craig Short may already have played his last game for the club. His contract is up in the summer and an injury-hit campaign will not help his case for a new deal. Markus Babbel will return to Liverpool at the end of his year-long loan. The Norwegian midfielder Martin Andresen came on loan and is unlikely to be kept unless his performances improve.

The goalkeeper Brad Friedel is also on a big contract, with one year to run. He is probably Rovers' most sellable asset, but at 33 the profit would be small.

Blackburn would also have to swallow hard to afford the wages of Barry Ferguson and Lorenzo Amoruso, the two big captures from Rangers. That would leave them with a squad relying on youngsters Jon Stead and Paul Gallagher, the captain, Garry Flitcroft, and the Australians Brett Emerton and Lucas Neill.

It is a bleak future that scares the board, and will leave the manager, Graeme Souness, in a sweat as the price of Premiership under-achievement threatens to touch even the well-run, relatively well-off Blackburn.