Allardyce ready to rally Rovers

New Blackburn manager believes Ewood squad are good enough to survive
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The Independent Football

The rains suddenly ceased when Sam Allardyce stepped out on to Ewood Park to brandish a Blackburn shirt last night and there was something in his demeanour – a far cry, it should be said, from Paul Ince's awkwardness in June – which suggested he is the man to take Blackburn through the storm ahead. Time will tell whether Manchester City's offer for Roque Santa Cruz is too good to refuse but Allardyce did not even wait for the question of his departure, enough to finance perhaps four new players, to be concluded. "No," he growled. "Where are the players who can replace the quality of the players at this club already who have Premier League experience? Sell... your best players, particularly one of your leading goalscorers? It is not the case whatsoever."

Allardyce did not speak with Santa Cruz yesterday, but he met the players at the club's Brockhall training ground and his belief that the club's current squad is mid-table material created a clear line of demarcation with Ince's insistence that there was a pressing need to buy more next month. The call from Blackburn was not something the 54-year-old was expecting when he booked a Christmas and new year break in Dubai, departing next Monday – "for the first time ever you can imagine my wife trying to say that was no problem" – but he has wasted no time in "having a word", as he so deftly put it, with Ince's lieutenants Archie Knox and Ray Mathias, who have already left the club and hiring the Leeds United coach Neil McDonald, who was his first-team coach at Bolton, to work with him.

The new manager joked that he was looking for "the Harry Redknapp Midas touch", but he clearly feels he also has something to prove, after the course of the last 18 months, during which he left Bolton to satisfy a need to win silverware, was overlooked for the England job, was sacked five months into last season at Newcastle and has now washed up back at the level he started. "If I want to decide I'm finished in the game, I want it to be my decision and not somebody else's," Allardyce said, providing a fleeting sense of the hurt he still feels about the Newcastle owner Mike Ashley's decision to dispense with his services.

Allardyce has always had a slight chip on his shoulder where some foreign managers are concerned. He was careful to ensure that Arsène Wenger's Arsenal always got a physical reception across Lancashire and has said in the past that if he answered to the name "Sam Allar-dici" then his career might have taken a different path. "I probably think I should be at Real Madrid but I'm English, aren't I?" he said, returning to that theme as he reflected on the low-budget role which remains his stock in trade after all these years. "Juande Ramos can leave at the bottom of the table with Tottenham and get the Real Madrid job. You have to think that if I was Spanish I might be able to do that as well but I'm not."

Sunderland might have offered the big-club prospect he yearned for, though with Wearside in no hurry to appoint a replacement manager for Roy Keane, he had clearly lost any sense of belief that there might be an offer heading his way. "I just didn't think that any of the big clubs [would come in], irrespective of whether it was my fault or not during my short tenure at Newcastle. What you've done before quickly gets forgotten in this game. There was no official contact from Sunderland after Roy left."

Allardyce would have been at Ewood Park four months ago had it not become clear to him that Rovers would rather employ Ince, though he provided a rather unconvincing gloss on all that yesterday. "It was too early to jump straight back into it. I never had a winter off for 15 years," he said. But after nearly a year out of the game – Newcastle sacked him last January, eight months after hiring him – the prospect of accomplishing for Rovers the kind of things he did in eight years for Bolton suits him just fine. There are so many symmetries between this task and that one: the two Lancashire clubs were promoted together in 2001 – part of the only triumvirate of promoted clubs in Premier League history, with Fulham, to survive in their entirety the next season.

Allardyce recalled yesterday his own struggles with relegation in two of the seasons that followed, while Graeme Souness's Rovers went on to a top six finish. "The most mentally draining thing a manager can do is living in the bottom three in the Premier League for a long period of time." But few battles compare with the one ahead – Rovers are five points adrift of safety after six straight defeats and no wins in three months, ahead of tomorrow's home match with Stoke and the visit to Sunderland on Boxing Day, which has assumed an equally huge importance.

Allardyce managed to keep Bolton up with 44 points in 2003, a year when West Ham were relegated instead with 42, but he believes 40 might be enough this season. "I woke up this morning like a bouncing baby waiting to go to school," he said, munching on one of the mince pies his club had provided in a brave attempt to raise some spirits in desperate days. There will be other emotions as he is buffeted in the weeks ahead.

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