Have Rovers made the right decisions with their retained list?

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Mark Whittle discusses Rovers’ retained list as a number of high-earners are set to depart the club…

On Friday afternoon, Rovers announced their retained list and decisions on players whose contracts expire on 30 June.

Of the senior playing squad, Ryan Nyambe, Joe Rothwell and Joe Rankin-Costello have all seen their options in their contracts triggered for a further 12 months by the club – whilst Harry Chapman has been offered a new deal, after an impressive loan spell at Shrewsbury Town.

Bradley Johnson is the only player who has agreed fresh terms on a new contract, and Elliott Bennett remains in talks over a new deal but is free to speak with other clubs.

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As for the players released by Rovers, Corry Evans, Charlie Mulgrew, Amari’i Bell, Stewart Downing and Lewis Holtby are the big-name senior players to have played their last games for the club.

I am happy that Rovers have triggered the options to extend the stay of Nyambe, Rankin-Costello and Rothwell for at least another season. The club look set to open talks with these players to extend their stay beyond another year, and it is crucial to keep the aforementioned at the club, as Rovers need to build the team around these key players for the next few years and make them into valuable assets.

To let them leave now or next summer for nothing would be poor business by the club. With Rankin-Costello in particular, I would be setting out to give him a bumper deal to keep him for as long as possible as I believe he has an exciting future ahead of him, and if he keeps free of injuries, he could go a long way in the game.

I was also pleased with the news that Bradley Johnson has agreed fresh terms with Rovers. I thought he would leave Ewood after his current deal expired, but keeping Johnson will prove to be valuable and will provide much-needed experience in what looks set to be a youthful-looking side next season. Mowbray and Rovers are seemingly going in the direction of promoting and giving youth a chance next year, and on a limited budget, I do not expect several new signings to be walking through the door of Brockhall this summer. I think any new arrivals will be made up of free transfers and loans again, so keeping Johnson on the books makes sense, especially as there is already a wealth of experience departing.

As for Bennett and Chapman, I would not be too bothered either way if they stayed or left in all honesty. Like Johnson, Bennett’s experience and leadership would be vital for the young players, but his chances of regular first-team football are limited, so is it worth paying a wage for the sake of it? It is much like the Stewart Downing scenario this time last year.

Harry Chapman set League One on fire with his loan spell at Shrewsbury Town, yet during his time at Rovers in the Championship, Mowbray has always seemed reluctant to give him a chance for whatever reason. For me, the question mark remains whether League One is his level or can he come back to Rovers next year and produce the same form in the Championship as he showed for Shrewsbury in League One?

Looking at departures, Mulgrew has been a great servant to the club, and his contribution – especially during the promotion campaign – cannot be forgotten. 

Additionally, it was time for Corry Evans to move on. I could not quite believe he has been at Rovers for eight years – it does not seem that long – and it is fair to say his Rovers career has been very much stop-start. 

There is also a sense of diappointment with the departures, but more as a ‘what could have been.’

I’m sure 99% of the fanbase are disappointed that Holtby’s time with us did not work out better, but injuries have been his downfall. When he signed, it looked like it would be a shrewd piece of business from Mowbray, but it has just not worked for him for whatever reason.

There’s also disappointment, at least from my side, that Mowbray did not utilise Stewart Downing more during the 2020-21 season. Mowbray was so keen on resigning Downing for another season last September, yet he did not seem to give him a proper chance or run in the team.

The only one who I thought might have stayed was Amari’i Bell, and I was surprised to see he wasn’t even offered a reduced deal at the club. The arrival of the promising Harry Pickering has obviously played a part in the decision making, and the fact that Bell has never actually managed to hold down the left-back position and make it his own on a regular basis will have also played a factor. His time at Rovers has been inconsistent, but he impressed me in the final few matches of this season.

I think all Rovers fans know that this summer is going to be one of the most significant summers in recent history for the club and certainly feels as though this will be a transitional period. The season just gone feels almost like a missed opportunity to really kick on and a lot of uncertainly now surrounds Ewood Park and the direction the owners want to take it in. It is no surprise that money will be tight, I think that will be the case for many clubs after the pandemic and playing with no fans in stadiums for well over 12 months now.

It will be an interesting summer, that is for sure! Thanks for reading.

Featured Image Credit: Getty Images

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