Shrewd steward needed as Parkes fills breach

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The Independent Football

Whoever succeeds Graeme Souness will find Blackburn Rovers a "financially stable club". So said their chief executive, John Williams, as he anticipated "considerable interest in the position" after the manager's departure for Newcastle yesterday.

Whoever succeeds Graeme Souness will find Blackburn Rovers a "financially stable club". So said their chief executive, John Williams, as he anticipated "considerable interest in the position" after the manager's departure for Newcastle yesterday. The phrase was intended to highlight the attractions of the Ewood Park post. Instead, it may simply have underlined the extent to which Blackburn have slipped off the pace over the past decade.

This time 10 years ago, Blackburn were on their way, under the ownership of the retired steel magnate Jack Walker and the managerial duo of Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford, to the Premiership title ahead of Manchester United. The attack was led by Alan Shearer, who, by rejecting United to join them for a British transfer record fee of £3.3m, had become a symbol of the bottomless pockets and boundless ambition of one of the Football League's founder members.

If Blackburn were still in the business of making bold declarations of intent today, they might seek to bring Dalglish back, in tandem with Shearer, who could learn from the man he saw as a mentor. Such a dual appointment, coupled with the release of major funding during the January transfer window, would send out a signal to the football world that they are not content to make up the numbers in the top flight.

More realistically, the stability of which Williams spoke, while not to be sniffed at after the demise of Leeds United and other over-reaching clubs, can probably be interpreted as a sign that going "back to the future" is not a viable option. For Blackburn, survival is the new success. Having finished 15th last season, a drop of eight places on 2003, they currently lie second from bottom and without a win this season.

Sir Jack Walker, as he became, died in 2000 and left a trust fund to ensure his beloved Rovers never returned to the relatively impoverished days of the Seventies and Eighties. However, the conviction that they could compete with Old Trafford, let alone with the sums Roman Abramovich has invested in Chelsea, has unmistakably given way to a mentality more in keeping with their status as a medium-sized club from a mill town.

One thing has not changed at Blackburn since the heyday of Uncle Jack and King Kenny. When the manager leaves, they still turn to Tony Parkes. The eternal caretaker manager duly resumed the role yesterday, just as he did in 1986 after Bobby Saxton left, and again when Don Mackay, Dalglish, Roy Hodgson and Brian Kidd moved on. Parkes' presence lends a reassuring sense of continuity. He made his Blackburn debut 34 years ago last Sunday and even took over "permanently" before Souness arrived.

The search is more likely to focus on candidates renowned for shrewd marshalling of finite resources than on free spenders. Sir Bobby Robson and Gérard Houllier are the highest-profile managers out of work. Both have a palpable love and deep knowledge of the game. Yet each has been accustomed to working at international level and with big-city sides. It is hard to imagine their being content to manage a club where the average crowd of 24,500 was the third lowest in the Premiership last season - or in an "unglamorous" part of England to which leading players, especially from abroad, were reluctant to relocate even when Walker was bankrolling Blackburn.

Gordon Strachan probably fits the bill better, but having left Southampton midway through last season (and recently declared an interest in managing Scotland one day), he may prefer to await developments for a little longer before climbing back on the treadmill.

Micky Adams and Dave Jones, who have gained Premiership experience at Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers respectively, could be more realistic contenders. There will also be backing for Mike Newell, one of Shearer's partners during Dalglish's reign, who now manages the League One pace-setters, Luton Town. Alan Irvine, the assistant to David Moyes at Everton, is highly regarded among the Ewood hierarchy after playing and coaching at the club.

Whoever takes over, there will be no Walker-style war chest. Although Blackburn banked £22m from the sales of Damien Duff and David Dunn last year, Souness spent just over a third of that amount on bringing Barry Ferguson from Rangers. His total expenditure since the start of last season was nudging £16m, with one of the cheapest signings, the former Huddersfield striker Jon Stead, proving better value, at a mere £1.2m, than Steven Reid (£1.8m), Lorenzo Amoruso (£1.4m), Brett Emerton (£2.3m) and Vratislav Gresko (£1.25m).

Only last week, the Scot paid £1.5m for a Norwegian, Morten Pedersen, who, after yesterday's developments, is doubtless wondering what he has let himself in for. As Blackburn Rovers stand once more at the crossroads, at least he is not alone.

¿ William Hill make Mark Hughes, the Wales manager, the 11-2 favourite to become Blackburn's next manager, with Wigan's manager Paul Jewell and Houllier 6-1 joint second favourites. Strachan is 7-1, Newell 9-1, while Dalglish and Shearer are 12-1. Sir Clive Woodward, the outgoing England rugby coach, is 33-1.

Loyal servant: Tony Parkes' caretaker stints

30 Dec 86 to 03 Feb 87

Between Bob Saxton and Don Mackay. Club enjoyed mini-revival. Took Rovers to Full-Members' Cup quarter- finals.

02 Sep 91 to 12 Oct 91

Between Mackay and Kenny Dalglish. Again oversaw a steady improvement while Jack Walker searched for the man to lead his revolution.

25 Oct 96 to 01 Jun 97

Between Ray Harford and Roy Hodgson. His longest period in charge to date. Kept Rovers in the Premiership as they finished the season two points off the relegation zone.

21 Nov 98 to 04 Dec 98

Between Hodgson and Brian Kidd. Shortest of all his periods in charge, Walker having identified Kidd as the successor to Dalglish.

03 Nov 99 to 14 Mar 2000

Between Kidd and Graeme Souness. Lifted team from near relegation zone to a mid-table First Division position.

6 Sep 2004 Steps in as Souness goes to Newcastle.