Our reporter on why Jordan Rhodes holds the key for Boro and Blackburn
BLACKBURN must hang on to Jordan Rhodes. And Middlesbrough must prise him from their grasp. The battle for the Championship’s most natural goalscorer is the summer’s titanic transfer tussle – and for the loser, the consequences could be dire.
Boro were about as menacing as a sleepy Buddhist last season, even with 19-goal player of the year Patrick Bamford leading the line.
With just 68 goals in 46 games – 30 fewer than champions Bournemouth – nobody in the top eight was more toothless than the Teessiders. Ultimately, it cost them a place in the Premier League.
Now Bamford is gone. So too has Lee Tomlin. And while returning hero Stewart Downing can provide plenty of service, who exactly is he going to serve?
At the time of writing, the only forwards on Boro’s books were the Spaniard Kike and Uruguayan Christian Stuani. One is a target man, the other untested in the Championship.
Will that partnership strike fear into Championship defences? Hardly. On paper, they are about as scary as Tigger and Eeyore.
So no wonder Boro chairman Steve Gibson is throwing his mighty financial weight behind a bid for Rhodes.
The Scottish interna- tional is a cast iron guarantee of goals. Since joining Huddersfield as a teenager in 2009, the 25-yearold has hit 20-plus every single season. His strike-rate – and this is over 325 appearances – is one every 1.8 games. Nobody, at any level, has been more consistent over the last six years.
Blackburn know that better than anyone. It’s why they paid Huddersfield a Championship record £8m for him in August 2012.
And it’s also why owners the Venky family have so far rejected bids of £12m and £14m from Boro. With Rhodes keen to leave, can they resist a third? For boss Gary Bowyer and fans of Blackburn, it is imperative.
Bowyer has done wonders at Ewood Park but any workman is only as good as his tools. And after last season’s 22-goal topscorer Rudy Gestede was flogged to Villa for £6m, his box is already pretty bare.
Rhodes and Gestede accounted for two thirds of Blackburn’s goals last season. Sure, they could buy someone else. With £20m, Bowyer could treat himself to a whole new team.
But the chances of finding one striker, let alone two, of the same quality at such short notice is virtually nil. And with all that cash very publicly burning a hole in their pockets, will those players come for the right reasons? Nobody wants to be the next QPR.
For Blackburn, losing Rhodes now would almost certainly invite a relegation battle. For Boro, his signing would make them favourites for promotion. For both, the price of failure could be a hell of a lot more than £14m.