If you were to pitch the story of Blackburn Rovers in the 21st century to a group of Hollywood directors they’d be pleading on their hands and knees to start production immediately. If only Amazon were around with their behind-the-scenes insight a few years back!
It’s been a rollercoaster, from the pinnacle of European football to the despair of relegation to England’s third tier but now Rovers appear to be heading in the right direction once more after a tumultuous period.
The first decade was a successful time for the club. A return to the Premier League, a League Cup trophy and a wealth of exciting talent to pass through the entrance door at Ewood Park.
Even in the wretched periods of Steve Kean and Owen Coyle, Rovers still boasted some high-calibre players.
We’ve picked 21 players – in no particular order – who we think were the very best to pull on a Rovers shirt in the past 20 years.
Please feel free to let us know how wrong we are…
A proud inductee of Rovers’ Hall of Fame and in terms of value for money, you will not find many better.
The American spent eight years at Ewood Park, helping them to promotion back to the Premier League in his first season, 2000/01, as well as lifting the Worthington Cup after a man-of-the-match performance against Tottenham in 2002.
An unsung hero. Quietly effective, a solid feature in an impressive defence and a leading figure.
His departure to West Ham left a sour taste but with just short of 200 Rovers appearances he was iconic from the right-back position.
If you look up consistency in the dictionary you’ll see a picture of an Australian number 7 wearing a Rovers shirt next to the text.
Never a world beater, bar his very first game, but a true Rovers stalwart.
The impenetrable Kiwi. A Premier League icon and one of the finest captains Rovers has ever had.
A pillar of professionalism, strength and leadership.
Still turned in strong performances amongst a demoralised side before his infamously shady departure to Spurs.
A massive presence, even in the difficult times, and one of the club’s true bargain success stories.
Similarly to Nelsen, the manner in how he went onto leave the club was far from ideal.
The last Rovers player to earn an England call-up while representing the club and a beacon of versatility playing at left-back, left midfield and central midfield.
Under appreciated from a defensive point of view and an air of consitency with the perfect blend of pace, passing and tackling.
Fast, agile and able to play at both left-back and left-wing, and stuck with the club through the tumultuous Steve Kean era.
Surprising he didn’t go onto better his career than the periods at Norwich and Swansea that followed.
One of four Premier League players to score a hat-trick. His crossing ability was renowned, curling delicious deliveries into the box, and he was earmarked as David Beckham’s replacement for England.
He was advised to move on by former England boss Fabio Capello but the midfielder produced three scintillating years at Ewood Park.
Savage was the beast to Tugay’s beauty when the pair were partnered together but it was a relationship that fared so well as Savage mastered the ugly side of the game.
A contentious character who embraced a 50/50 challenge. He was a far better footballer than many gave him credit for, becoming more assertive in possession and demonstrating impressive technique from set-pieces.
A club legend in every sense of the word.
Rovers were able to savour Tugay’s final years on a football pitch and it was a pleasurable watch. His vision was simply phenomenal, the range of pass commonly unbelievable. He never lost the ball and had such an awareness – he could have easily played for the very best.
Legend is perhaps an overused term nowadays, but not in Dunny’s case.
The iconic goals, the drive and endeavour, his peak years were in a Rovers shirt.
It’s extremely unlikely that you will find a player of Dack’s calibre for the price that Rovers paid nowadays.
What a sensational talent. His eye for goal, his awareness and his technical ability all combine to make one deadly weapon that teams are often unable to contain.
Morten Gamst Pedersen
Our Norwegian sweetheart, and Rovers have enjoyed their fair share of Scandinavian romances but this one hit different.
That sweet, sumptuous left peg of his could alter matches in an instant. A source of goals and a loyal figure, even through the dark days of Steve Kean. Another name who rightly deserves the legend label.
An absolutely smashing footballer who was criminally sold to Fulham for significantly less than what he was worth.
A player of the season and a standout performer who elevated an average beyond its means.
Can now be found driving a Lamborghini, if that’s any added incentive.
Duff dazzled in many of his 207 appearances for the club before his departure for Chelsea in the summer of 2003.
An enticing talent with a supreme ability to beat defenders with ease. It was mesmerising how he would move the ball at supreme speeds – Matt Jansen accurately described it as ridiculous – and he was able to deliver the goods in the final third, to boot.
Has the Championship seen a more prolific strike partnership in the past decade than Rhodes and Gestede?
Signed to minimal fanfare and achieved far more than anyone thought possible.
An overwhelming aerial presence and a perfect foil for Rhodes to execute the finishing touches.
Marquee signings have not always been a success for Rovers, but Rhodes was nothing short of an unstoppable success.
Goals, goals and more goals.
A prolific goalscorer in Portugal, McCarthy continued that form into 2006/07 and he was genuinely breathtaking – nobody had an answer to him as he plundered in 17 league goals for the campaign.
Found first-team opportunities limited the next season due to a Paraguayan arrival but still scored 11 in all competitions, before silencing critics with another 15 the following campaign. As clincial as they come.
Roque Santa Cruz
Heard several argue he was a ‘one-season wonder’ but on his day Santa Cruz was one of Europe’s finest.
An exotic talent whose debut campaign was a masterclass in potency and his ability on the ball was truly exceptional.
No doubting Graham’s predatory instinct, and 13 goals during a relegation season is no bad return.
His presence allowed him to change the game on its head and while his influence waned towards the end, Graham was an excellent servant to the club and a vital source of goals in recent years.
He was only with Rovers for a year but what an electrifying year it was.
Bellamy netted a superb 17 goals in the 05/06 season, firing Rovers to a solid 6th place and qualification for the UEFA Cup, while winning the club’s Player of the Year award to boot.
Terrifying speed, sublime skill and a knack of finishing chances.