After a chaotic three years of managerial changes, relegation and acrimony Rovers' Indian owners Venky's appear to have found some stability with Gary Bowyer's young team
Blackburn Rovers arrive at the Etihad Stadium for their FA Cup third-round replay against Manchester City on Wednesday with a young team who stood up spiritedly to City's all-stars in the 1-1 draw at Ewood Park, a rookie English manager, Gary Bowyer, preaching hard work and stability and 4,000 loyal fans expected to travel down the M66.
Rovers' supporters, down in number by several thousand since relegation from the Premier League in 2012, have been cheered by Bowyer's positive, traditionalist approach, learned originally from his father Ian, who started his stalwart career at City in the 1960s, then was part of the side that won the 1979 and 1980 European Cups for Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. This return match at City, Bowyer says, is a development opportunity for his team, of mostly British Championship signings or graduates from Rovers' academy.
"For us it is about learning about our players in these games; no one expects us to win so we can go there and see what our lads are made of," he said, praising the performances in the first match of the 19-year-old former trainee Adam Henley against David Silva and of Tommy Spurr, a £200,000 signing from Doncaster Rovers last summer, who was "outstanding" marking James Milner.
You could almost believe a model Championship club, solid, steady, careful Blackburn Rovers, are coming to play Sheikh Mansour's £1bn City project, if you mentally will away, as some at Rovers seem to do, the chaos of the first three years under the club's ownership by Venky's, the chicken company from Pune in India. Their ownership has dumped Rovers, well run in the Premier League before the takeover, with a £37m loss made in 2012-13, when wages were running at 137% of the club's whole income. Continuing losses this season are estimated within the club to be around £24m, with several high-earning players signed in the summer of 2012 still being generously paid but seldom playing.
Derek Shaw, the former director of near rivals Preston North End tasked with running Rovers sanely again, has made it clear the club has almost no chance of complying with the Championship's new financial fair play standard when it is assessed in December. The rules, introduced in 2012, will impose a transfer embargo on a club which has lost more than £3m this season; Rovers are currently losing eight times that permitted amount. If a club goes up – Bowyer's and his team's efforts have them in eighth place, two points outside the play-offs – they will be fined by the Football League for having achieved promotion, like so many Championship clubs before them, by making excessive losses.
Any such fine would be a cheque Venky's would be thrilled to write, as only promotion back to the Premier League's TV billions can begin to rescue the fortunes they have bewilderingly lost in their rush of haphazard decisions since they bought Rovers in November 2010.
When promoted from the coaching ranks last March, Bowyer became Blackburn's fifth manager in just over two years (plus caretaker stints by him and Eric Black), Venky's having crashed through Henning Berg and Michael Appleton for barely two months each, following the bitter tenure of Steve Kean, who led his team to relegation 18 months after Venky's summarily sacked Sam Allardyce when they took over.
Venky's chairperson, Anuradha Desai, one in the increasing line of new English football club buyers who acknowledge they know nothing about football, said their intention when they bought Rovers was to exploit the game's global popularity to further their own commercial ambitions. "I feel that the Venky's brand will get an immediate recognition if we take over this club, and that is the main reason why we are doing this," she said. The mission of the company, founded in 1972 as an egg hatchery with 8,000 chickens, was stated by Desai's father, Dr Banda Vasudev Rao, as: "To see India on the No1 position on the poultry map of the world."
Shaw, while acknowledging "some difficult times" since he stepped into a club then being run by Venky's "global football adviser", Shebby Singh, now much less visible around Rovers, was reluctant to discuss the club's decline in detail, insisting that now "I think we are getting there; huge credit to Gary Bowyer for bringing in young players, not big signings on big wages. We are heading in the right direction."
Venky's representatives declined to comment but Shaw said of the owners: "There is no talk of them getting out; they know mistakes have been made, they don't dwell on it and they are looking forward. They have an unbelievably big business in India and the Far East, they have backed this football club and continue to do so."
While the centre-back Scott Dann is linked with a return to the Premier League, with Crystal Palace reported to be interested, Bowyer said Venky's are not pressuring him to sell the striker Jordan Rhodes or Rovers' other best players.
"They are OK, they always want better, as we all do," Bowyer said of the owners, "but they are fully supportive of what we are trying to do and the model we are trying to implement."
It has taken three years, at a cost to Venky's of £23m to buy the club and £36m, and counting, in loans, to turn a Premier League club into a sensible Championship outfit, hoping to emerge from the Etihad with some credit intact.