FIFA.com caught up with Blackburn Rovers defender Chris Samba at the club’s senior training centre, Brockhall yesterday – just 48 hours before a home match with Manchester United. The game could see United crowned champions for a record 19th time, but it could also see Rovers banish the threat of relegation once and for all.
By his own admission, it has been a strange season for the east Lancashire outfit. Less than a month after new owners, Venky’s, bought the club, manager Sam Allardyce was sacked with Rovers lying in 13th position. Highly-rated coach Steve Kean was appointed in his stead and a month after Allardyce’s departure, a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion saw them reach seventh, with many pundits tipping them as an outside bet for Europe.
However, things turned bad for Kean and his new charges. A run of ten games without a win saw the side slip to 16th – just three points off bottom. A win over Bolton Wanderers and a draw at West Ham United have eased the pressure somewhat, but Blackburn go into the final two games of the season with real concerns surrounding their top-flight future.
Samba, the club’s captain, spoke to FIFA.com about the season, the changes in the team’s fortunes and what he perceives as being the reasons behind Rovers' loss of form.
FIFA.com: When you look at the season, there’s been some strange results – would you say that the standard of teams is more equal in the Premier League now?
Christopher Samba: No, I would just say that it is a crazy season! You expect some results and they just don’t happen. Last week Blackpool took a point [away to Tottenham Hotspur] for example and that means you are still in it. Wolves have beaten all the teams in the big four and are still fighting for relegation, so it’s a strange league this year. It’s very tight in the bottom half but I think it’s good for the league.
In January, Blackburn were pushing for Europe and now, with two games to go, you’re in a relegation fight. Why is that?
We didn’t manage to get the results that we wanted and we were in a transition period which didn’t make things easier. The new manager had a different idea as to how we should play, but it’s never easy to change quickly. We were used to power play and being more physical under Sam Allardyce and we had a decent run, but the new owners wanted us to play another style of football and Steve Kean has brought in a new way for us to play but that won’t happen overnight. Steve’s a good manager, but he needs time to implement the changes he wants to make. But now we need to make sure that we remain a Premier League club because going down would be useless.
Styles don’t really matter anymore because we’re simply playing to win. We don’t care how we do it, we just want to give the club an opportunity to keep progressing.
Do you feel that the change of manager – and consequently styles - might have been better in the summer, which would have given you time to adjust?
The change of manager came from nowhere, it was a shock. We’d worked for two years with Sam, he had brought us back from a bad position and now, unfortunately, we are back to where we were today. We were at the very bottom of the league [when Sam arrived] and then we finished tenth the year after. We were trying to build on what we had, but then we had the change of manager. It’s never easy on the players. The new manager had to come and install his new way of working which is a very tough thing to do. However, at this point of the season, styles don’t really matter anymore because we’re simply playing to win. We don’t care how we do it, we just want to give the club an opportunity to keep progressing.
You seemed unsettled by the changes but then signed a new contract to the delight of the fans. What made you change your mind?
I spoke to the new owners and they convinced me that staying was the right decision. They told me that they’re going to bring in players to help the team and build a big future for the club and that the grass isn’t always greener so I took the decision to stay and try to get the club in a better position. At that stage we were in the top ten, but today the reality is that we’re fighting relegation, so the aim now is to help the club stay in the Premier League.
The first challenge is Manchester United on Saturday and after the 7-1 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season, you certainly have a point to prove.
Every player in this team should feel that we deserve to do something for our own pride and for the fans as well. Being beaten 7-1 has never happened to me in five years. It was a very bad feeling so we should stand up to the challenge and now show Manchester United what this team is really about.
You said that you will do anything to get the right results – what do you think you and the team have to do to get a positive result from the game?
First of all we have to get the basics right and not give away any silly goals to give us a chance to go and win the game. When you play a team like United you have to be defensively solid and very tight as a unit and the longer you go on against them, the more chance you are going to have to score a goal. They have dangerous stars like Chicharito [Javier Hernandez] and Wayne Rooney and unsung players like Park [Ji-Sung] who are really, really good for the team. We’ll have to concentrate fully and get our game-plan spot-on.
What is the atmosphere like in the dressing room at the moment? Is it one of nerves or is it one of real grit and determination?
The reality is that we are in a relegation battle so we are not going to be relaxed but we have shown in the last two games that the determination is here. We could have shown that we thought that a point would be enough, but no. We’re looking at ourselves, but also at the teams around us as well, so it’s more difficult when things are like that. However, if we win our next two games, we’ll be safe. We have the determination and everybody’s ready to do our best and fight.