We're almost at the two-week threshold before kickoff. Smell the excitement ... and there's nobody that gets the juices flowing quite like Sam Allardyce's Blackburn Rovers. Not really, but bear with me.
Fade to Blackburn
For years, almost decades, it has been easy to lob barbs in the direction of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for the lack of Englishmen in the Gunners squad. Granted, as American, these type of attacks don't quite make much sense, since if anything the Arsenal squad under Wenger has been a meritocracy.
Yet, Wenger is tragically French and prone to making faces on the sideline like he just ate some foie gras that had been sitting out in the North London sun for a couple hours. Like a moth to a flame, certain English speakers can't help themselves in mocking Wenger.
There's someone who, if you're an Englishman, you ought to consider saving your Jack Bull-like wrath for -- current Blackburn Rovers manager (Big) Sam Allardyce. When we're pointing out Allardyce's foibles it's usually for his love of wine or his fetish-like love of set pieces or the silly headset he wears on the touchline.
Wednesday Allardyce was quoted by an English paper, "I would like to coach a national team, if one came up, in another two years."
Let's hope Allardyce isn't assuming he's going fill Fabio Capello's spectacles as the next boss of England. Another country, yes, but not England. No way.
If anyone's as guilty as turning the Premier League into a proving ground for high-priced foreign imports it's Allardyce, yet nobody likes to point this out. It's simply a lot easier to deride Wenger's preference to young Francophones, than it is to look in the mirror at an English manager like Allardyce -- remarkably one of only five Englishmen managing a Premier League side at the start of the 2010-11 season.
His current Blackburn(*) side has five, yes five, English players on the books -- two being backup keepers. That's two more than the supposedly foreign Arsenal squad. Odds are only two English players even play for Blackburn this year, No. 1 keeper Paul Robinson and midfielder David Dunn.
(*) Should we mention Allardyce's Bolton squad, aka the International House of Football, which at times had about 20 different countries represented?
Ironically enough Blackburn did have itself a promising young English striker -- Matt Derbyshire -- who was eventually loaned and sold off to Olympiacos of all places.
This little example illustrates the underlying problems in England. Don't talk to me about youth development or UEFA quotas.
When you have a club like Blackburn -- which has actually won during the Premier League era, look it up -- unable to sign or acquire English players, that's a problem, not so much Arsenal.
And it's a two-way street.
English players, at least international caliber ones, don't find a place like Blackburn, or Sunderland, or Stoke or anything non-London or Manchester/Liverpool as attractive options. Maybe it's because the discos in these places suck, I don't know, but they certainly don't want to play there. Of course, in the NBA, for example, players only seem to want to play in New York, Miami or Los Angeles ... again rich, young athletes priority No. 1 is always nightlife.
David Bentley was a breakout star at Blackburn, could have been their fulcrum, the team could have been his for the next five years, yet eventually he forced a move to Tottenham where he's in a timeshare with Aaron Lennon on the right.
I'm guessing if a club like Blackburn had it's druthers it would sign and keep all the English players it could handle -- or at least brainwash them into enjoying post-industrial northwest England. The problem is that by nature, English talents tend to end up costing more than their Mexican/Swedish/Algerian/Danish/Congolese equivalents.
Therein lies the double-edged swords the non-glamor clubs in the Premier League face. The good English players don't want to play there, while the nominal ones cost more than their less analogues.
That's why we have the Allardyce-approved, mish-mash at Blackburn, which is all actuality is still the core of the very decent side -- seventh place in 2007-08 -- assembled by Mark Hughes (*) before the siren song of Manchester City became too much.
(*) Side note: Tremendous hire by Fulham grabbing Hughes.
The old guard of Hughes -- Ryan Nelsen, Chris Samba, Brett Emerton, Jason Roberts (*) and Morten Gamst Pederson -- is still the backbone of the team.
(*) Maybe the least fancied striker in the EPL this side of Emile Heskey.
Allardyce recruits have been hit or miss. Martin Olsson and Steven N'Zoni look like capable Premier League squad players, while Michel Salgado looks past his sell-by date and young Croat Nikola Kalinić failed to impress last season.
Somehow this odd assortment of players managed a decent 10th place finish, though if you had to ask me to remember one positive moment of Blackburn football last season I'd draw a blank. My only recollections of this team was the beatings it sustained against teams like Manchester United.
The way the Premier League works, somebody has to finish 10th place every season and last year those "honors" fell to Blackburn.
A mediocre team, regardless of the nationalities of its players, is still a mediocre team.
Bottom line -- Probably more of the same. If my old pal Gamst ever could pretend it was still 2005, this team would be a lot more attractive to watch. I'm telling you, back then the Norwegian was a Top Five most exciting player in the Prem and used to rock Ewood Park. I saw it with my own two eyes.
For better, or probably worse, Blackburn are the new Bolton. Sigh.