Does Lewis Holtby’s departure make sense?

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After news emerged that Lewis Holtby won’t be offered a new deal, Glenn Entwistle takes a look at his time at Ewood and whether the decision makes sense.

When Lewis Holtby signed for Rovers, I was excited and thought it was an absolute steal – a German international with Champions League experience, on a free? A no brainer.

He came off the bench for his debut at home against Reading and looked bright both on and off the ball and every inch the international who had obviously played at a higher level. You could tell he had a footballing brain and was making runs no-one else in the team could see, or could, but 10-15 seconds too late – he was almost too quick of thought for the rest of the side. At the time, I remember thinking we’d got a real class player.

Over time though, we’ve seen less and less of him being quicker than the rest of the team and I don’t think this is a case of the rest of the team catching him up, I think it’s been more a case of him regressing to the means of the squad. That said, I don’t think you could ever doubt the commitment and passion when he donned the blue and white shirt.

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Like many in this current squad, one of Holtby’s problems is that Tony Mowbray perhaps doesn’t know his best position or the position he could be most effective from. When we signed him, I saw him as a Number 10, and immediately thought that he’d been brought in as a potential replacement for Dack who looked like he might be off to bigger things in the January transfer window. However, as Mowbray has tweaked the system over the last 18 months, we’ve seen Holtby play as a #10, as a deep-lying playmaker, as a central midfielder, and at times out wide – and I’m still not sure what his best position is, probably as part of a midfielder three, able to get on the ball and pick a pass, but also not afraid of a challenge.

Holtby’s chance to shine came when we lost Dack just before Christmas last season – Holtby looked like the perfect replacement and a chance to stake a claim for the role for the next 12 months. It looked like we were going to see the best of him with the 5-0 away win at Sheffield Wednesday in which he was instrumental, but that was cut short as he was forced off against Middlesbrough two games later with a lateral ligament injury in his knee which looked to have ended his season. We saw him return later in the season due to the prolonged nature of the season due to COVID-19.

Although he returned before Dack, by the time he returned, Mowbray was very much implementing Mowbray 2.0, beginning to play without a Number #10 as Rovers adapted to life without Dack.

Looking back at his time at Ewood, I think it is a case of what might have been had it not been for injuries. He is a player with undoubted class, but too often he has been fantastic one week, only to not be seen again for the next two. At a time when Mowbray has shuffled his pack weekly, not to mention changing the entire midfield at once mid-game with the increased substitutions allowed, Holtby’s injuries have meant that he can’t be relied upon and also potentially needs to be protected – so he rarely finished the full 90 minutes. Add into the mix that his experience and talent will have likely cost one of the higher wages at the club, the combination of injuries and wages is likely to have played a big part in the decision not to renew his contract.

All that said, I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing him in a Rovers shirt for the last two seasons. He didn’t come in with the air of a player who thought he was better than the club or the second tier and he has mucked in and looks to have become liked figure in the dressing room. He’s integrated with his surroundings and communicated with fans via social media, and this has always been in a positive manner both about the club and the local area. All during a time that must have been difficult as his wife stayed back in Hamburg to have their first child back in October, mid-way through the pandemic and on the eve of the return of stricter lockdown measures. The fact he was eager to get back and on the pitch after a Mowbray-approved leave of absence speaks volumes of his professionalism, and commitment to the cause. 

I wish him all the best for the future whatever that next step be and thank him for his contributions over the last two seasons. A 30-year-old with international and Champions League experience and a footballing CV will not be easy to replace, especially if Rovers are trying to do whilst reducing costs.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images

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