After their 1-0 defeat at the Emirates saw Arsenal knocked out of the FA Cup and seemingly continue their barren run without a trophy, most people forgot there was another team and another story involved.
Blackburn Rovers have nearly moved full circle, from Premier League winners to Premier League laughing stock to Premier League conquerors. While Rovers are a long way from winning England’s top league again, the turnaround under Michael Appleton has been stupendous.
We are all aware of Blackburn’s plight. We have all laughed at the chicken farmers in charge, and while Venky's, the Blackburn owners, have done much to earn ridicule the appointment of ex-Manchester United player Appleton has looked a step in the right direction.
It is early days yet, but four wins from seven games, and a six match unbeaten run, gives hope to the beleaguered Rovers support. An FA Cup quarter final tie against fellow Championship side Millwall gives Rovers a fantastic opportunity to reach Wembley.
Arsene Wenger may be feeling the pressure as he nears 17 years in the Gunners hot seat, however his travails seem like a walk in the park compared to Appleton’s. His career as a footballer was cut short by a botched knee operation, a £1.5m compensation pay out barely covering the loss. However, it did allow Appleton to start early as a coach, working his way up to assistant coach at West Bromwich Albion.
His first shot at management was hardly the easiest challenge. Portsmouth were already on a slippery financial slope after relegation from the Premier League and a massive annual deficit. Constant changes in ownership did not aid long term planning and when Pompey went into administration in March 2012 (not for the first or the last time, sadly) Appleton stayed with the club even though relegation was all but sealed.
November 7 of that year saw Appleton take over at Blackpool. Finally this young coach, full of potential and acclaimed by many in the game, was taking over a club with a future. However, this proved to be a false dawn as Appleton found the working conditions at Bloomfield Road to be untenable. Rather than stick around and fight it out, Appleton joined Blackburn on January 10 of this year. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
Blackburn had sacked the lamentable Steve Kean while firmly in the race for the play-offs. They replaced Kean with former player Henning Berg. The Norwegian’s only achievement was to make his predecessor look competent, as Blackburn only won one of his ten games in charge.
Appleton’s decision to move to Ewood Park seemed bizarre but with the owners and Global Advisor Shebby Singh wisely taking a back seat, Rovers have restored some of their lost reputation.
Appleton sent seven players out on loan, released one and sold two in the January window, offloading the underwhelming Mauro Formica, Ruben Rochina and the laughable Myles Anderson, while bringing young talent or proven Premiership quality like David Bentley (Tottenham), DJ Campbell (QPR), and Karim Rekik (Man City), all on loan.
To call Michael Appleton the 'Special One' appears ridiculous when compared to Jose Mourinho, but given England struggles to bring through its own managerial talent, Appleton is England’s equivalent.
With few peers in his age group and no-one with the range of experiences Appleton has had in his football career, there is something special about the ex-United trainee and if he can conjure a Premier League or Wembley return for Rovers, he will certainly have made his mark.
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