HANLEY AIMS FOR ROVERS RETURN
Captain’s sights on Premier League
GRANT Hanley has seen it all at Blackburn but the Rovers skipper admits he’s desperate to return to the Premier League and make up for lost time.
The Scotland international has been a mainstay at Ewood Park throughout the turbulent Venky’s ownership – from chicken pitch invasions to the paltry performances which led to relegation in 2012.
Football can be unforgiving, but the hard times which fell on Blackburn – and the developing Hanley – were a blessing.
At 23, he’s now the club captain. Last month he played against England at Celtic Park and earned his 17th Scotland cap.
And under boss Gary Bowyer, Rovers are back chasing a playoff place with Hanley the driving force.
“I played a lot of games in the time that we were struggling, which I think was character building,” said the broad-shouldered centre-back. “It was a massive learning curve.
“The situation was really tough to deal with as a young fella, but from a personal point of view all I could do is concentrate on myself to get some game time.
“I’ve been here a while now. I’ve been involved with the club when it was on a downward spiral, it’s good to see we’ve turned things round now and we’re heading in the right direction.
“It was a brilliant honour to be made captain. To captain a club as big as Blackburn is amazing and it’s something I enjoy. I’ve captained a lot in the youth team and reserves, and for Scotland age grades.
“The atmosphere against England the other week was brilliant, it was really good to be involved but unfortunately they really turned up on the night and they were as good as they have been in a long, long time.
“Those are the games you want to play in. I want to get back in that Premier League and test myself against the best every week, and I think we’re good enough to do it this year.”
It’s fair to say Bowyer has now steadied the Blackburn ship. After relegation in 2012, Rovers had five different managers and only just avoided demotion to League One with the club veering from crisis to crisis on and off
Last term, though, they narrowly missed out on the play-offs in Bowyer's first full campaign in charge, and Hanley says the whole club are buying into his way of working.
“The new manager has built a great team spirit, especially this season,” added Hanley.
“The main thing is all the lads want to be here, even the ones that aren’t always playing. They don’t show that disappointment, everyone wants the best for each other, and we all push each other to do better.
“It would be brilliant to get this club into the Premier League, and that’s what everyone is looking for.” Key to achieving that aim will be the form of their fearsome front two – Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede, pictured left with
Before this weekend the duo had bagged 18 of Blackburn’s 30 Championship goals.
“If you look at the record of the two guys it is brilliant,” Hanley continued. “Look at teams promoted recently like Leicester with Jamie Vardy and David Nugent; Burnley with Danny Ings and Sam Vokes. Clubs need good front pairings.
“Hopefully Jordan and Rudy can be similar for us this season, and if you have two good strikers you will go far.
“I don’t think there is a better out-and-out goalscorer than Jordan in this division, and maybe the one above.
“His finishing is better than I have seen from anyone, and when Rudy is on song he is unplayable.”
SLIDE RULE: Grant Hanley makes a challenges on Norwich’s Lewis Grabban. Inset, Jonathan Walters and Grant Hanley in a Euro 2016 Qualifier