The sale of Christopher Samba to Anzhi Makhachkala for in excess of £10m on Friday night represents the third major defensive departure from Ewood Park in the last eight months. Samba follows Ryan Nelsen and Phil Jones out of the door, but does this leave Venky’s as defenceless as Rovers?
When Venkys completed their takeover of Blackburn Rovers in late November 2010 there was a wave of optimism around Ewood Park – if not a surge of excitement. There was a consensus that Venky’s predecessors, the Jack Walker Trust, had served Rovers admirably, keeping the club on an even keel financially while retaining the club’s Premier League status year after year, but that new owners were necessary to secure the long-term future of the club.
The arrival of new owners was therefore inevitable and fans – although cautious – were ready to give the new owners a chance to prove their worth at the helm of the club. With so many foreign owners ploughing money into their newly acquired Premier League sides, fans could be forgiven for hoping Venky’s were planning on following suit. At least Venky’s managed expectations, stating that £5m would be made available for new transfers shortly after taking ownership of Blackburn.
True to their word, players did arrive in January, but amid much speculation of big name arrivals, the permanent signings of Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina and the loan signings of Jermaine Jones and Roque Santa Cruz were completed – to rather less fanfare. Minimal expenditure on new players is not in itself necessarily a cause for concern, but when this is coupled with the departure of key members of the playing staff, consternation with the Venky’s involvement is understandable.
To make matters worse, the most significant player sales all affect the same area of the side on the pitch. Last night’s departure of Christopher Samba to Anzhi Makhachkala, together with Ryan Nelsen’s switch to Tottenham Hotspur at the beginning of the month and Phil Jones’s move to Manchester United in the summer, mean that Blackburn are without the core of the defence that served them so well last season.
For a side to lose their holding midfielder and both halves of an established central defensive partnership can only have a harmful effect on the team. Rovers’ recent defensive record is evidence of this, as they are now without a clean sheet in 34 competitive matches, since a 1-0 win at home against Bolton Wanderers back in April 2010.
The potential impact of the defensive departures is illustrated by Blackburn’s record when Samba, Nelsen and Jones have featured together in contrast to their record without the defensive trio. Since Jones broke into the first team at the end of 2009-10 the three have played together on 19 occasions, conceding 29 goals and keeping four clean sheets. This contrasts their record without all three defenders, where in nine games Rovers have shipped 24 goals and are yet to keep a clean sheet. A goals conceded ratio of 2.67 goals per game without Samba, Nelsen and Jones, compared to just 1.53 goals with the trio speaks for itself.
Samba’s physical presence will be felt at the heart of the defence, particularly his strength in the air. Only Steven N’Zonzi has won more aerial duels than Samba this season but the Congolese defender has the highest aerial duel success rate at the club this term, winning 70% of headers contested. When considering that the remaining central defensive options at the club, Scott Dann, Grant Hanley and Gaël Givet, have aerial duel win percentages of just 39%, 45% and 50% respectively, the side looks far more vulnerable to crosses without Samba.
The loss of Samba’s aerial prowess will be felt not only defensively but also going forward. He has netted more goals in a Rovers shirt than any other player in the squad with the exceptions of the long-serving midfield duo of Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Dunn and only forward players Yakubu, Mauro Formica and Junior Hoilett have scored more than the two goals Samba has chipped in with this term.
While renowned for his strength in the air, Samba was also dominant on the ground, winning 76% of his tackles attempted. When comparing Samba to his likely successors at centre half, only Givet has won more tackles made, with a win percentage of 87%. Yesterday’s defensive pairing of Dann and Hanley have won just 50% and 68% respectively.
The sale of Samba is undoubtedly to the detriment of the side and represents a huge gamble by Venky’s with Premier League survival in the balance. Regardless of the financial windfall his sale will have brought, the cost of relegation is certainly more than the cash received. When Venky’s arrived it was with the hope that more investment in the playing squad could push the club forward. Over a year on and it seems that a policy of asset stripping is in full swing and the side is in a more perilous financial position than under the previous owners.
The last 48 hours have shown how different things could have been with ambitious owners. Friday night’s sale of Samba to Anzhi Makhachkala, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, followed by a 3-0 defeat at the hands of a Manchester City side fuelled by much investment by Sheikh Mansour highlights the lack of ambition shown by Venky’s at Ewood Park.