Today we grill sports journalist and Blackburn Rovers supporter Rael Mason on his hopes and fears ahead of the new season, his love for pure footballers and losing starting players.
What is your greatest hope for the season ahead…
I approach this season with a distinct lack of optimism, so my hopes are somewhat tempered right now. My great hope in the short term is that we both hold onto our captain Chris Samba, as well as reinvesting the near £20m we received for Phil Jones, on top of what the new ownership were already going to invest. If that is done well, then the hopes extend to seeing Rovers return to the comfort of mid-table and promising cup runs, rather than the relegation battle we endured last season.
And your biggest fear…
Pretty much the flipside of the hopes I just mentioned. I harbour strong fears that not only may we lose Samba along with Jones, therefore losing both of our centre back pairing, but that we will only reinvest a fraction of that money in new players. If that happens, then the spectre of relegation looms large.
Thoughts on the club’s summer transfer business…
Too early to pass judgement really. Losing Jones was an inevitably given the calibre of clubs that came in for him, and I actually think the management did well to push for a fee that could approach £20m for a player with less than 50 Premier League games under his belt.That said, on the purchase side we have been far less impressive. We seem to have conducted most of our business through the media, linking ourselves to players including Ronaldinho, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mirko Vucinic over the past 12 months, but at present the only player we are close to signing is free agent Mariano Pavone, a 29 year old striker who has endured relegation with both Real Betis and River Plate in the last three years. Hardly inspiring.
Who’ll be your most important player this season…
If he stays, then Samba. He fulfils so many key roles within the team; inspirational captain, dominant central defensive presence, attacking set piece threat, as well as being fairly accomplished at bringing the ball out of defence to help formulate attacks. If he leaves then it’ll be more of a shared responsibility; goalkeeper Paul Robinson, whoever leads the line in attack, and whoever replaces Samba & Jones at the back.
And who’s the fan favourite?
Probably Samba again. You can’t help but like the guy. Not only is he probably our best player, but he also has a fearsome never-say-die spirit, he has time for the fans, and given his eye-catching size and brilliant surname, is one of the easiest players in the league to write terrace chants about!
Anyone knew who we should keep an eye out for?
Young winger David ‘Junior’ Hoilett is definitely a player worth watching out for. During the second half of last season, he was easily our most potent attacking threat, both in terms of creating chances for others as well as taking them himself, and this year could be a real breakthrough season on the Premier League stage. It seems like a lofty comparison at such an early stage, but he reminds me of Ashley Young with the way he cuts in from the left to such great effect. While his delivery is not on the level of Young’s at this stage, his dribbling ability is arguably better, and at the age of 21, he still has plenty of time to improve even further. One of our main endeavours this summer has to be to extend his contract, which runs out next summer.
The player you’d pay his taxi fee to his new club?
I’m not sure I speak for all of our fans here, but personally I would happily pay the taxi fee of both Jason Roberts and Keith Andrews. It’s not that they’re problem personalities, or that they’ve ever shirked their responsibilities, it’s just that at this stage of their careers, I don’t think either of them are good enough to play Premier League football. Although if you took an opinion poll on across the stands, I suspect Morten Gamst Pedersen might top the list, which I couldn’t really argue with. Most games he hardly looks interested, his potential for brilliant deliveries is nullified by his lack of footballing intelligence, and he looks a shadow of the player who took the league by storm a few years back.
Who do you want to beat most this season?
With Burnley not in the Premier League, it has to be Man United. Both Bolton and Wigan may be closer geographically, but nothing beats getting one over on United, both in terms of the sense of achievement at beating such a top side, and also the satisfaction of sticking it to a side I’ve always hated!
Opposition players you admire and you despise?
It might sound strange to say considering I support a no-nonsense Lancastrian side, but I’ve always considered myself a bit of a football purist, so players like Tottenham’s Luca Modric and Man City’s David Silva immediately leap out for their technical brilliance. I also derive a lot of pleasure from watching Robin van Persie in full flow, as he was for the second half of last season.
In terms of the players I despise, it tends to be more for their (lack of) character and their antics rather than their footballing style, so it’d have to be obvious candidates like Luis Nani, Emmanual Adebayor and Joey Barton.
Have you got the right manager, and what advice would you give him?
Steve Kean seems like a reasonable guy and a decent talker, and I should probably reserve judgement until he’s had the chance to start the season with a few of his own new signings, if in fact they are his signings, and not those of are unpredictable owners. What I will say though, is that I’ve seen nothing so far to suggest that he was the right candidate to replace Sam Allardyce. Sacking Allardyce was a huge risk by the owners, and one that would have backfired spectacularly had we not survived on the final day of last season. In terms of advice, I’d like to encourage Kean to be his own man, fight for his own signings this summer and demand that the board back him financially to do so, but given that he seems a little bit of a puppet for the owners, I don’t think that’s likely.
And finally, where will you finish?
I hinted at this in the first two questions, but so much of it depends on whether or not we hold onto Samba and get to reinvest the money we received for Jones. If we keep our captain, and reinvest £20-25m on four or five quality players to join the likes of Robinson, Samba, Olsson, Hoilett & N’Zonzi, then I really think we have the potential to move back towards mid-table, but if we lose Samba, or don’t manage to reinvest, then another season of relegation trouble beckons. I’m going to be relatively optimistic, and suggest we will finish round 13th or 14th.