Loan market success bittersweet for Rovers


They say in football to never get too attached to a loan signing. It is without doubt one of the worst feelings in football each and every May, when that absolute gem of a loanee leaves your club, never to pull on your club’s colours again.

Tony Mowbray’s use of the Premier League loan market has been exemplary since promotion from the third tier, making those aforementioned feelings bittersweet as ever. The last four youngsters signed from top-flight clubs have all shown incredible promise. Jarrad Branthwaite, Harrison Reed, Tosin Adarabioyo and Harvey Elliott were all brought in from such sides, and while Branthwaite has looked assured and composed in his early Rovers career, the small sample size of just two appearances at the time of writing means that it is impossible at this point to determine whether the former Carlisle defender has been a success, so I will not be discussing him at length here. It is universally agreed amongst Rovers fans that the other three mentioned have all been roaring successes, which not only benefits the players involved, but Rovers themselves in the long-term.

Harrison Reed has now established himself as a Premier League regular in west London, and quite a portion of that is down to a season in east Lancashire in 2018-19. The then-Southampton midfielder, who featured 30 times in 4 seasons on the south coast, arrived at Ewood after a loan spell at fellow Championship outfit Norwich City the previous year. Making his debut in front of the Sky cameras against Aston Villa, he looked assured and composed, allowing the likes of Bradley Dack to further illustrate his attacking impetus.

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‘The Ginger Xavi’ provided some memorable moments during his spell at Blackburn, perhaps headlined by his Goal of the Season contender away at West Bromwich Albion, from then on making him synonymous with the yellow away kit we wore that afternoon. After the ball ricocheted to him on the left-hand side thirty yards from goal, he drove the ball forward before unleashing a curling shot past the helpless Sam Johnstone in the Baggies goal. That moment, coupled with the King of Ewood turning into Lev Yashin for 20 minutes made for a memorable away day in the Midlands, as the ballistic Blackburn away end showed limbs in microcosm. Reed was a gem of a player who often ran the show from midfield during his short spell at Ewood Park, and to see him do so at the top level just proves the ability we believed he had was able to transcend into the Premier League so seamlessly.

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The departure of Tosin Adarabioyo from Ewood Park, however imminent it was, was still a sad day to be a Rovers fan. Signed from Manchester City until the end of the 2019-20 season, the centre-half had, like Harrison Reed, arrived in Blackburn after a loan spell in the Championship, experiencing playoff semi-final heartbreak with West Bromwich Albion the season earlier.

A towering, quick centre-back with all the ball-playing attributes that would be expected of a Manchester City academy graduate, he made his Rovers debut in a 2-0 away defeat to his current employers Fulham. After a turbulent start to his career in blue-and-white that saw Republic of Ireland international Derrick Williams preferred, he cemented his spot after played the full ninety minutes in a 2-2 draw against Huddersfield Town, playing every minute for the Blues from then on, with the exception of missing a pair of games in two separate spells, one over the festive period and the second being the final two games of the season, that saw Rovers academy graduate Hayden Carter thrust into the thick of things against Reading and Luton Town.

Any slight hopes we had of signing the defender of Nigerian descent were quickly extinguished when the Manchester City valuation came in, as Fulham took advantage of an absolute bargain when they snapped up Adarabioyo on a permanent deal before the start of this season. A centre back who oozed class and was miles above Championship level, we were quite lucky to see the true emergence of a quality defender firsthand. Now a teammate of fellow former Rovers loanee Harrison Reed at Fulham, I have mixed emotions about watching the Cottagers play this season; happy for the pair that they are bossing it in a Premier League team, but slightly devastated that they could not both have stayed in Lancashire any longer.

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When I first heard about rumours linking Liverpool starlet Harvey Elliott with a loan move to Rovers, I was excited beyond belief. I first heard of Elliott when he made his debut for former club Fulham at the age of just 15 years and 174 days old against Millwall in the League Cup, astounded by the fact that someone only 320 days older than myself was playing at a Premier League club. One of the brightest talents in Liverpool’s academy setup at the present moment, I was hopeful that by the time the next Melbourne morning rolled around and the transfer deadline had closed, that the Premier League’s youngest ever debutant would be on our books and by the time I had woken up, he was.

It was a statement to the rest of the country that such a starlet had signed at the Ewood Park outfit, a true reflection of how good our development of young players really is. Social media erupted at the move, collectively assuming a belief that Elliott would not be able to adjust to the physical demands of Championship football and would simply be two-footed at the earliest opportunity. Four goals and eight assists later in twenty Championship appearances later, it is safe to say that those critics have been silenced, as his skilful play, ability to create something out of nothing and his grounded, level-headed attitude have been an absolute joy to observe from afar. Elliott is quite an incredible prospect with the world at his feet, and the fact that his first real full season in men’s football has proved him an essential asset for Rovers is a testament to his play on the pitch, and his character off it. 

The loan signings of Reed, Adarabioyo and Elliott have not only allowed us as Blackburn Rovers fans to see the talent and quality of three young Premier League players with immense quality play for our club, but also holds our club in good stead in terms of player development in future seasons. It is worth mentioning that the signing of Everton youngster Jarrad Branthwaite has symbolised that Blackburn’s development of young players is slowly becoming a lure for top-flight clubs looking for their players to gain experience, something that can only be a positive for Tony Mowbray’s men. While Mowbray remains at the helm as Rovers boss, sides on the top rung on the English footballing ladder should look at the three examples outlined as a pattern emerging that may well benefit their clubs in the future.

Thanks for reading.

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