Harford's head stuck in the sand

Phil Shaw reflects on another depressing night for Blackburn Rovers in Europe
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The Independent Online
To say that Ray Harford has lost the plot in Europe pre-supposes that he was ever acquainted with it. Judging by the Blackburn manager's response to a third Champions' League defeat, at Legia Warsaw, that must be doubtful.

Before their European Cup debut against Spartak Moscow, Harford announced unasham- edly: "There's no question of us adapting our style... we can't be patient." Their performance in Poland, like the interim embarrassment by Rosenborg, suggested Blackburn would be as good as his word, or rather as bad, to the bitter end.

That could well come against Legia on 1 November. Nothing less than a victory will maintain Blackburn's tenuous hopes of reaching the quarter- finals. Even then, they would have to go to Russia and beat Group B's outstanding team, Spartak, to keep the issue on its life-support machine.

Legia, arguably the weakest outfit Blackburn have met in a less than formidable section, would seem to offer Harford's men their best chance of breaking the duck. The Poles are bound to miss their excellent sweeper, Jacek Zielinski, who will be suspended, though it is still hard to picture Blackburn bridging a chasm in flair and fluidity.

They were, admittedly, without Graeme Le Saux, Jason Wilcox and Stuart Ripley, as well as the ineligible Lars Bohinen and Billy McKinlay. Nevertheless, Harford was not undermined by Uefa's restrictions on foreigners to anywhere near the extent Manchester United were last autumn.

The problems go beyond personnel, however. In another phrase coming back to haunt Harford, regarding Blackburn's adherence to 4-4-2 and a long- ball game, he said during a summer of transfer inactivity: "If it's not broken, why fix it?" They have now lost 12 of the last 21 matches, yet he left Poland praising their "rigid" shape - which spectacularly misses the point about Europe - and asserting that they looked like "the Blackburn of old".

Perhaps, by that, Harford meant the side who could not escape the former Second Division until Jack Walker bankrolled Kenny Dalglish? Flippancy aside, a greater share of possession and some unproductive late pressure do not add up to control of a game.

Harford also demonstrated a depressing lack of feeling for a competition whose allure is second only to the World Cup. It was as if the lessons absorbed and applied by previous champions, notably Liverpool, had been erased. He was "not bothered" about this group; the Premiership remained Blackburn's priority. Whether he meant staying in it or winning it again was unclear.

It is a myopic view - not least because each Champions' League win earns pounds 500,000 from Uefa, with a draw worth pounds 250,000. Surely even Blackburn, who would probably not have lasted more than one round under the old format, cannot afford to be sniffy about such sums? Walker missed the trip, but his record in business indicates that he certainly would not be.

Dalglish was also absent again, ensuring renewed debate about his role as "Director of Football". When he first came to Ewood Park, the only row of noughts came on the cheques he wrote. Unless there is a recognition that the present "style" has outlived its usefulness, their points return in Europe might well come to be represented by one.

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