Watching Portugal hold the Euro 2016 trophy aloft last night, I was struck by the thought of what might have been.
A committed, rugged and determined team, sprinkled with a touch of stardust outfought their more illustrious hosts and scored a stunning goal to clinch the title.
But, unfortunately, where was the Rovers connection?
When Rovers sank to the Championship in the summer of 2012, manager Steve Kean and infamous global adviser Shebby Singh flooded the squad with unknown Portuguese imports, presumably thinking they would bring such qualities.
Last seen sneaking out of the back door, these Portuguese players virtually to a man flopped miserably and were conspicuously far away from all aspects of that triumphant nation last night.
A toast therefore to absent failures, a generation of Portuguese youngsters who weren’t good enough for Rovers and who knows where they are now?
A veteran of successful Portuguese squads, he was the most impressive of our imports. Totally devoid of his old pace but quick-witted, he linked up well with Jordan Rhodes and got on the scoresheet four times himself. He did a decent job but did spend a fair bit of games strolling around wondering what on earth he had signed up for. That showed he was never really a long term solution. So much so in fact that a year into his two-year contract (two years for a 36 year old!), he was released.
As Ronaldo was stretchered off last night, thoughts turned to which tricky, speedy winger could replace him and turn the game in Portugal’s favour. Who would step up to terrorise the French defence and lead his nation to glory? Safe to say that Nunes was not on anyone’s shortlist. Yes, he had a bit of pace and he chipped in with a couple of assists but seven appearances for someone handed the No 7 shirt was quite telling. Kean once described him as ” “an exciting player with clear potential”. Really?
Pepe epitomises the modern centre back (except for the awful playacting). Strong, decisive, leading by example. Nuno Henrique was nothing like his countryman and was let nowhere near the first team. Is now plying his trade for Boavista and has probably cast his Rovers nightmare to the back of his mind.
“He’s got a vast amount of talent,” boasted Kean as he snapped up Edinho on a three year contract. He played once and is now in the Portuguese second division.
It didn’t get any better with the “young Gattuso” Paulo Jorge who made three brief appearances in the famous blue and white halves before disappearing in February 2013. Clearly Gary Bowyer didn’t share Kean’s optimism. But then again, who did?!
Again, another promising youngster who was set to revolutionise our midfield. Sadly, he had top pros (!) Dickson Etuhu and Danny Murphy standing in his way. Oh, and he wasn’t good enough. At all! He was gone by midway through the 2012 season, on loan at Benfica of all places, and now occasionally turns out for a club in the Cypriot First Division.
So, there you have it. Rovers’ Portuguese revolution was flawed from the start and none of the imports could be declared as successful. Looking back at that summer reopens old wounds…wow it was depressing!
Maybe a few more William Carvalhos and Joao Marios would have been better ideas!