Would Blackburn survive the dreaded drop into the third tier if they had kept some of these players?
If an incoming owner needed a manual on how not to run a football club, all they needed to do was read up on the goings-on at Blackburn Rovers over the last five years. Since the Venkys sacked Sam Allardyce in November 2010, it has all gone pear-shaped for the club.
Five years ago, the club publicly announced that they were targeting Champions League qualification by 2015. Now they’ll be lucky if they can retain their Championship status for next season following a disastrous start which has seen them collect two points from their opening seven games.
The future looks bleak for the former Premier League winners, who seem destined to follow the likes of Blackpool, Charlton and Bolton through the trapdoor into the dreaded third tier of English football.
There has been an exodus of players in recent years which is no surprise considering the extraordinary mishandling of the club.
Take a look at what the starting XI for Blackburn would look like if they had kept hold of some of their best players.
Goalkeeper: Jason Steele
Jason Steele made 142 appearances for Middlesbrough across four seasons before switching to Blackburn Rovers in 2015. Despite the club’s porous back line, he has kept a steady pair of hands and is one of the few players to have emerged from their disastrous recent results with any real credit.
Right-back: Phil Jones
Sir Alex Ferguson once touted Phil Jones for greatness, claiming that he could one day be the best player in Manchester United’s history. Due to a series of injuries and poor form, those claims look rather silly now as the 24-year-old finds himself on the periphery of Jose Mourinho’s team and a shadow of the exciting youngster who made the £16.5 million switch from Ewood Park five years ago.
He made 40 appearances for Blackburn and drew the attention of the Red Devils thanks to some remarkably mature defensive displays. Injuries may have halted his progress, but the England international will still be hoping to carve out a future at Old Trafford, as evidenced by his refusal to sign for Stoke City this summer.
Centre-back: Grant Hanley
Having signed for the club as a 16-year-old in 2008, Grant Hanley worked his way through the Blackburn set-up to finally accept the captaincy in January 2014. The Scotsman is a no-nonsense defender, and formed a tough partnership with the likes of Scott Dann and Shane Duffy during his time at the club.
After 200 appearances, the lure of Newcastle United proved too great and the Scotsman departed in July 2016.
Centre-back: Scott Dann
Scott Dann remains among a select few who are often championed for international honours but yet remain excluded whenever call-ups are announced. The 29-year-old centre-half has established himself as one of the most dependent centre-halves in the country, and Alan Pardew has repeatedly backed him for an England call-up only for it to fall on deaf ears.
He spent three years at Blackburn following relegation with Birmingham City in 2011, and despite rupturing a testicle and experiencing further relegation during his time at Ewood Park, Dann maintained a good level of form to draw the attention of Palace.
Left-back: Martin Olsson
Martin Olsson is one of the best left-backs in the Championship. The speedy defender is a menace for opponents as he overlaps his winger time and again, arrowing crosses into the box. The Norwich City man has played over 100 games for his club in the last three years and has nearly 40 caps to his name.
Having cut his teeth in English football with Blackburn, arriving from Scandinavia in 2005 alongside brother Marcus, he stayed eight years at Ewood Park and proved a dependable commodity at left-back.
Right-wing: Joshua King
AFC Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe has hailed 24-year-old Joshua King, claiming his striker is ‘a player of huge potential’. Unfortunately for Blackburn supporters, he looks to be right following a series of impressive displays from the Norwegian international.
Following a number of loan spells during his ill-fated stay at Manchester United, King finally seems to have settled at Bournemouth but Rovers fans will be disappointed not to have kept him having signed the speed merchant in 2013.
King made 74 appearances for the club and while he only scored eight goals, he was still offered a new contract by the club. He subsequently turned it down in May 2015 and diverted to Bournemouth ahead of their first-ever campaign in the top-flight.
Centre-midfield: Steven N’Zonzi
If reports are to be believed, Steven N’Zonzi was close to returning to the Premier League this summer with champions Leicester City. Even more bizarrely, England boss Sam Allardyce had apparently enquired as to his international availability with the Frenchman having never received a cap for France.
The former Stoke midfielder is a colossus, and was a perfect fit for Allardyce’s rough-housing Blackburn during his three years at Ewood Park. Now at Sevilla, the 6ft 3in man has moved on to pastures new, but he remains a firm fan’s favourite.
Centre-midfield: Tom Cairney
Tom Cairney stayed only two seasons at Blackburn Rovers, with only the second being on a permanent basis, but it was enough to illuminate Ewood Park with his myriad of midfield skills.
His class was demonstrated by the fans’ decision to vote him as the Player of the Year for the 13/14 season.
Fulham’s decision to swoop for Cairney at the end of the 14/15 season did not go down well with some sections of the support, irked by the club’s willingness to let such an asset go.
Left-wing: Alan Judge
Admittedly, Alan Judge was far from one of Blackburn’s best players. Indeed, during his two spells with the club, he played just 14 times. After such a frustrating experience, the Irishman would probably not return to Ewood Park.
He was brought to England by Blackburn as a youngster in 2006, and lasted five years at the club, taking in three loan spells and making zero appearances for the first-team. The club bought him back in 2013, after selling him to Notts County two years prior, but after just 14 appearances and one goal he cut the chord and signed for Brentford.
During his time at Griffin Park, he has been instrumental in the Bees’ rise from League One to the Championship play-offs. The Irishman can operate anywhere from a defensive midfield anchor to the wing position. Last season he netted 14 goals and provided 11 assists, which secured him a spot in the Championship PFA Team of the Year.
Newcastle were accredited with an interest during the summer, but any move will be put on hold due to his double lower-leg fracture which will keep him out until the end of the year.
Centre-forward: Jordan Rhodes
Jordan Rhodes may be finding opportunities scarce in the Premier League but there is no denying that he is a born goalscorer in the Championship.
The 26-year-old bagged 83 goals in 159 league games for Blackburn Rovers since signing from Huddersfield Town in 2012. The Scotland international is a fox in the box, and has been one of the deadliest goal poachers in the second tier over the last five years.
Centre-forward: Rudy Gestede
Rudy Gestede is back in the Championship with Aston Villa, and their supporters will be hoping he can repeat his form from the last time he was in this division.
Gestede spent two seasons at Ewood Park but it was in his last campaign where he truly came alive, bagging 22 goals in 44 appearances for the club. His tally of 12 in 22 the previous season wasn’t bad either, as he and Rhodes struck up a form of telepathy.
Big and burly, the 6ft 4in striker is a threat in the air, and while he looked way out of his depth in the top-flight last season, he is more than capable of bagging the necessary goals in the Championship.