At Ewood Park you cannot help but notice the size of the press box. It is nearly as big as its equivalent at Old Trafford – rows of seats that were installed, presumably, to accommodate the army of reporters that descended on Blackburn Rovers in their Premier League title-winning season. Most of them are empty now and that 1995 triumph seems to belong to a different world.
That is not meant to diminish Blackburn Rovers. They are a club who, 15 years ago, achieved what Manchester City are making such hard work of these days: converting the huge wealth of a generous owner into a Premier League title. Rovers will always have 1995, even if the football landscape has changed dramatically since then.
The days when the late Jack Walker pumped money into the club – about £100m in all, £30m less than City have spent this summer alone – are over. Blackburn are among those Premier League clubs for whom survival is the first aim. They have to balance the risk of investing in new players with the potential financial implications of relegation. It is not easy.
As a rule, Rovers have played the game well. They have a good chairman in John Williams, who has a knack of appointing effective managers (we'll excuse him Paul Ince), and they tend not to make big errors in the transfer market (Kevin Davies in 1998 was probably sold too early). Their attendances hold up pretty well against bottom half of the table contemporaries. They were ranked 13th in last season's best-supported table with an average crowd of 25,428 – not bad for a town with a population of 105,000 but much less than the 31,000-plus capacity.
What hangs around Blackburn's neck is their debt. At a shade over £20m it is small by Premier League standards but it is a concern to the club that no longer has input from its key shareholder – Trustees of the Jack Walker 1987 Settlement, as they are known in Companies House records. Over Blackburn's last five accounts the debt has risen and fallen year-on-year but the trend seems to be upwards.
In his sensible accompanying notes to the last published Blackburn accounts, for the year ended June 2009, Williams repeated his warning that without "external funding" Blackburn would be forced to sell players to manage their debt, thus risking upsetting the delicate equilibrium at the club. In other words, they need a new owner.
Enter 36-year-old Indian businessman Ahsan Ali Syed who, by his own admission, has only been watching the Premier League for 10 years. The problem with Syed is not his late arrival on the scene, it is when he says things like the following:
"I was 26 when I started following the Premier League," he said last week. "I used to like Blackburn back then and also used to follow Manchester United's fortunes because of David Beckham. If my finances allow and his intentions are positive, then I would love to take Beckham [to Blackburn ]."
With respect to Beckham, what Blackburn really do not need right now is the highest-paid 35-year-old in world football. What they especially do not need is an owner who assumes that signing Beckham represents the pinnacle of every English football supporter's ambition. What Blackburn need is the same careful financial husbandry that Williams and his board have demonstrated since the Walker estate stopped funding them.
Every club has the right to dream. But, in the post-Portsmouth era, most of the Premier League's weaker clubs would settle for the dream of sustainability. Depending on what interview you read, Syed is promising £100m in transfer funds or up to £300m investment. There are better ways to spend £100m than on transfer fees.
A mere £100m will not buy you the title these days. Try trebling it and you might have half a chance. Then take into consideration that there are players' wages on top of that. That means a five-year contractual commitment at the very least. Plus the playing and coaching contracts you will inevitability have to write off as you juggle a 25-man squad. Scary, isn't it?
That £100m of Syed – provided it materialises – could be used another way. It could be used to pay off those £20m debts and establish a financial security so Rovers never have to worry again. It could set the club up for life. It could continue the work of the Reclaim Ewood campaign to encourage fans to come to matches instead of watching, as a few do every game, from behind the CIS Stand on that verge known locally as the Scar.
Unfortunately, not every investor eager to buy an English football club comes in on a promise to keep things ticking over. That kind of schtick does not appeal to the new thrusters of global wealth. They want to promise fortunes. The expectation of some fans does not help either.
Blackburn had their day at the top of the heap. It was good while it lasted and when you look down the list of Premier League winners the "1994-95 Blackburn Rovers" line seems as improbable as Greece's victory at Euro 2004. There is nothing in the club's recent history apart from that brief mid-1990s boom that suggests they should be challenging for the title or signing famous former England captains.
Rovers are a well-loved club chiefly responsible for giving a middling-sized town in Lancashire a degree of global fame. That is not meant to be patronising. It is said in the hope that they will be treated with the care their position in their community demands and not be treated lightly by Syed or any rich man with an addiction to seeing his name in newspapers.
Capello must resist the temptation to turn to Arteta
Fine player though Mikel Arteta is, it would be one more crack in the sanctity of international football if he was to represent England. But for being born into the finest generation of Spanish players of all time, he would be a Spain international and quite happily so.
There is a feeling that Fabio Capello and Arteta himself might be changing their minds about this and they will surely point to Marcos Senna's conversion from Brazilian to Spaniard. The Football Association has stayed out of Capello's business until now, but if ever there was a point of principle for the newly formed Club England to stand up for then it is that this "club" cannot, with respect, admit Arteta.
Young players risk losing their best years for nothing
The sad news that Chelsea's promising defender 21-year-old Sam Hutchinson is to retire through injury shows that, for all the money and the occasionally bad attitudes of our Premier League footballers, there are huge risks in pursuing a career in this game.
To become a professional footballer requires a level of application during teenage years that, everyone in the game knows, means all but a few effectively abandon their education. The new 15-hour-a-week contact time proposals for elite young players will leave even less time for school. It's football or bust. I hope Hutchinson finds his feet and moves on successfully.Reuse content