Jason Roberts: Playing with Roque Santa Cruz and his relationship with supporters


We had the pleasure of speaking to former Rovers forward Jason Roberts about his time at Ewood Park.

Roberts played for Rovers between 2006 and 2012, scoring 28 goals in 155 appearances.

Below is the full transcript of Jason’s answers:

When you heard that Rovers wanted to bring you to the club, what did you make of the interest?

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“When I heard of Rovers’ interest, I knew it was time to move on from Wigan. We hadn’t been able to agree new terms on a deal and there was a lot of interest from abroad and especially from Charlton, who were doing very well at the time, but Blackburn had a really strong squad.

“I had played against them twice last season and I was very impressed with the way they played football with the manager and the fact they was playing Europa League football. I enjoyed living in the North West also, so it was the perfect move for me, and also the profile of the club and European football so I felt that was the next step in my development.”

What do you make of your time at Rovers?

“My time at Rovers was mixed. I think that there was mixed fortunes from under Mark Hughes with Europa League football. I think we had a strong squad and personally, there was not a lot of rotation [which was] not what I was used to, but we were successful, and I enjoyed that time and being challenge.

“Unfortunately, when Mark Hughes left, we lost Brad Friedel, we lost David Bentley. With Paul Ince, we just didn’t gel with the dressing room and with his management style.

“Sam Allardyce came in and we enjoyed some really good form in his first season. We played 4-4-2 and I played up front with Benni McCarthy and I felt really good about that relationship, but the next season we went one up front and a little more direct and, although we had sustained success by Premier League standards, it was difficult to maintain focus on the formation and style of football that we was being asked to deliver.

“And then of course Steve Kean, which in a strange way, was very challenging but after being mid table for a number of years, it brought a new challenge which was [being] happy to stay in the league. Staying up on the last day of the season at Wolves was one of my biggest achievements, and I know we should never have been there, but I think in big moments you have to turn up, and we did do that, although we never wanted to be in that position and that was my last season at the club.

“All in all, it was enjoyable with mixed fortunes – as the club did – but I really enjoyed my partnerships with Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy especially, and it was an enjoyable time for me. [It was] the longest time I spent at a club actually.

You played under four managers during your time under Blackburn – Hughes, Ince, Allardyce and Kean – but who was the best and why?

“Under Mark Hughes, that was the most successful time, I think we’d built a squad of real men, that could manage themselves, that could motivate themselves and find solutions in games. They played a very standard 4-4-2 style but was able to adapt and was able to challenge any team they played against, whether that was physically or tactically. [That’s] because after we have played our brand of football, there was some very good tacticians and technical players; from David Bentley, Pedersen, Tugay in midfield to Benni McCarthy up front.

“Under Sam Allardyce, we went a little more direct and used the likes of Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen a lot more from set pieces. But, one thing I would say that Sam Allardyce, even though we had our differences, was a fantastic man motivator, he knew how to motivate people, whether that meant falling out with you or whether that meant giving you a hug. He could motivate people and it was definitely enjoyable playing under him.”

How good was it to break your duck against Chelsea in the F.A. Cup semi-final? Should we have got through the final that day?

“That day at Old Trafford against Chelsea is definitely a day that we should’ve made it to the final.

“We played a fantastic Chelsea team that’ll go down in history with a fantastic manager but on the day, even though I had a slow start by my standards – I always scored on my debut and always started well at my clubs but at Blackburn it wasn’t to be.

“With every game that passes, you become a bad player to the fans who don’t know what you’re capable of and you need to start well, and I got the opportunity to play in that semo-final, I know I was training well and playing well without scoring so the opportunity to score and get back in the game, it just felt like it was a unique opportunity against a Chelsea side that were so strong at the side and we had them on the ropes.

“Gamst [Pedersen] had a fantastic opportunity that [the] last time we got together, people were teasing him about. He was fantastic for us and strong in the air, and we all expected him to score, and with the high standards that he set.

“It was one of those things, you look back and it say it was a great opportunity, and unfortunately it wasn’t to be for us”

Which season do you feel was your best at the club?

“It’s pretty difficult to say which my best season was, because I feel like my time was mixed. I don’t think for a sustained season, I played at my best or was utilised in the best way or was able to put together a whole season of form of which I knew I was capable.

“I look back at the big moments of my time at Blackburn and I think I turned up in those big moments and I think they’re the things you remember. Like having to perform in the last three or four games to make sure we stayed in the league or our European experiences, whether it was the end of the season when we had to achieve certain objectives.

“I always felt when I was used in those moments I came up pretty big like games against local rivals. I think these moments is when I showed my best form however I don’t think for a sustained season I showed what I was capable of at Blackburn, unfortunately.”

You forged a strong partnership with Roque Santa Cruz in the 2007-08 season, but just how good was the Paraguayan?

“It was an ambitious move by the club to bring Roque. He had a great reputation and had played at Bayern Munich and had a great pedigree. With him coming to the club with the strengths that he had; his hold up play, he was a great goalscorer and what a fantastic guy! He fitted into the dressing room so easily, everyone gravitated towards him. He was an absolute gentleman. It was a pleasure to play with him and I always felt I played much better in a partnership and the one thing that I did was being able to look at his game and try to balance off. He was good in the air and I ran more in behind, became more of the focal point with my runs in behind Roque, who liked to come short and was really good at little flicks and putting me into areas to expose defenders one v one.

“I also had a really good relationship with Benni McCarthy, [who was] one of my best partnerships. Although we didn’t play together as much as we’d have liked, his technical ability and being able to take defenders out of their natural positions and make them uncomfortable. His movement allowed me to be a little more of a focal point of the attack, I had to do a little more of the hold up play, a little more of the number 9 with Benni. He wasn’t someone to run around so I had to do a little more of that.

“Between Benni, Roque and myself, I thought we had three good options going forward and when we played two up front, we looked dangerous and I think that was the more successful time at Blackburn when we had us three rotating and picking various partnerships for different games.”

What would be your dream five-a-side team (excluding goalkeeper) from your time at Ewood Park and why?

“My five a side team would have to start with Jason Brown in goal. I know I played with Brad Friedel and Paul Robinson, but Jason would bring the vibes and is a fantastic goalkeeper, so I would have to have him in goal.

“I would go with Phil Jones and Chris Samba at the back, Tugay in the midfield and me and Benni McCarthy up front.”

How did you feel about your relationship with the fans?

“I really enjoyed my time at Rovers and my relationship with the fans was good. I think it doesn’t help when you don’t start well, and I didn’t, and that always put you at a disadvantage. Scoring against Chelsea and then going on to score some big goals against our rivals, whether it was Wigan or Bolton, so I felt like I had a good relationship with them. I didn’t think I had a season where I played at my best or where the formation suited me. I think for a long time we played one up front under Sam [Allardyce] which didn’t work too well or under Hughes when we did play two up top, the likes of Benni or Roque Santa Cruz, it settled well.

“We had Matt Derbyshire off the bench and I think going forward, we had lots of options and that reflected in the fact there was so many others able to do a good job in my position. As I said earlier, I think I turned up in the big moments and I would like to think that always held me in good stead when fans were concerned.”

Do you still follow the fortunes of the club and if so, what do you make of Tony Mowbray?

“I absolutely follow the fortunes of the club and I think it’s great to see Blackburn get back to a style of play and an identity under Tony Mowbray. I think he’s a guy who is well thought of by everybody who has worked with him and he seems like a very good person as well which is important.

“I think Blackburn has always been about a community and a strong unity between the fans and the players and the team, and I think they have that now. Of course, I think everyone is enjoying the football and the players they have, like Bradley Dack, etc.

“Everyone wants to make that step into the Premier League and maybe it’s too soon at the moment. but the club is building and there is a plan. I think it’s exciting times for Blackburn, and as long as the next step is made from the backdrop of sustained development, then Blackburn are in a good place.

“From my mind, it’s a club that belongs in the Premier League with the history of winning trophies and winning the Premier League that was always a source of pride. You want Blackburn back in that league. I think what’s more important is that they get their identity back as a club in regards to what they stand for as a club, and that affinity between the fans and the community, and I think that is happening now.”

Is there anything you’d like to say to the Rovers fans?

“I would like to say thank you to the fans for their support over the years. I think that my time at the club was varied from the manager and the sculp of what we was trying to achieve, and the club was looking at breaking into the next level, and that was the top four. We’d been in the top ten for many years, we continued to do that during my time there with Europa League football.

“We had a strong group, a strong mentality, and the dressing room which was extremely determined, ambitious and had a lot more ability than people gave it credit for, and it was an enjoyable time to be at the club.

“Although the transition into losing Mark Hughes wasn’t successful, I think that hurt the group a lot, but you understand ambition from Mark to go on and I think that the transition into Paul Ince didn’t work for a variety of reasons.

“For Sam Allardyce, we had sustained relative success for our budget and group of players. We look back now and say it was relatively successful. It would’ve been nice to go a bit deeper into some of the cup runs but I think from a league point of view, he came in and we looked like we was in some trouble under Ince, but we put in a strong end of season and the support from the fans was really important.

“Obviously under Steve Kean, there was a variety of issues going on behind the scenes. It would’ve been easy for us to go down that season but we all rallied around, including the fans, and kept ourselves in the division.

“The fans are fantastic. They have an opportunity now to get their identity back. I think there has been a time when the identity has been lost but there’s a chance for the fans to continue to support the team under Tony Mowbray and the talented squad that they have now, and slowly but surely, build to getting the club into the Pl.

“I think that’s where the club belongs, and where the fans belong, in my mind”

This interview was originally published in June 2019.

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