It was a saga that stretched out over the course of the January transfer window but Blackburn Rovers finally got their man with a bit of persistence and a helping hand from their owners.
Harry Pickering completed his move to Rovers, signing a four-year deal with the club before heading back to Gresty Road to spend the remainder of the campaign on loan at Crewe Alexandra.
And it was the option to loan Pickering back – an aspect Rovers were keen to consider given they already have Barry Douglas and Amari’i Bell within their ranks – that swung the deal in their favour.
Rovers were not the only party attentive to Pickering’s services. Stoke City were credited with an interest, while Sheffield Wednesday lodged a bid for the left-back, only for Crewe to dismiss the proposition of a lengthy installment plan that Wednesday had submitted.
And while the League One side laughed off the idea of Wednesday’s ‘buy now, pay later’, Rovers were taken seriously with their bulk payment offer – and why Crewe were more inclined to talk business over their star man.
Interest had arose months ago, with the recruitment department identifying several potential targets for an array of key positions including goalkeeper, centre-back, left-back and central midfield.
Rovers were fond admirers of Pickering, as were many other Championship rivals who had monitored his progress during Crewe’s promotion campaign. Ultimately in the summer window Mowbray and his recruitment team opted to pursue a more experienced option in their left-back search, which led them down the path of Barry Douglas from Leeds United – that deal itself was complicated enough as it is, with Rovers forced to move back and forth in agreement over their wage contribution.
But with Douglas’ loan expiring at the end of the season – the Scot will be out of contract at Elland Road in June – and Amari’i Bell one of 11 players whose current deals end in the summer, the need to address the left-back position soon became a priority for the club to address.
Rovers identified Pickering as the long-term solution to that void and with the owners – somewhat unexpectedly, I should include – sanctioning additional funds for Mowbray, Mark Venus and the recruitment team to sample the market with, Rovers travelled to the station in order to test the Railwaymen’s resolve.
Their initial offer was short of the release fee in Pickering’s contract and Crewe were insistent on a series of incentives and clauses that resulted in a deal becoming financially unobtainable for Rovers.
While it didn’t throw Rovers off Pickering’s scent, it did force them to withdraw from negotiations temporarily. Recommencing their interest in the summer did come under consideration but in light of Sheffield Wednesday’s sudden interest and the prospect that Pickering would be a highly-sought after target in the summer – especially after the details emerging of his release fee – then it was now or never for Rovers.
And this is where it’s evident that there is a great degree of trust between manager and board. Mowbray identified Pickering as a long-term asset, someone who can help the club on their journey whilst also developing price tag of his own with his continued development. Persuading the owners that it was a worthwhile investment given the money they’re already investing was going to take some persuasion but the relationship between both is a prosperous one and without Venky’s support, a move may never have materialised.
Initial reports of a bid during last week were unfounded but Rovers did submit their offer over the weekend and Crewe were on the same page. As David Artell stated in the first round of offers, they don’t sell players, other clubs buy them and Rovers tabled an offer that the League One side were willing to consider, with a few tweaks on the side.
A sell-on clause was inserted but it was Rovers’ willingness to allow Pickering to stay on loan at Gresty Road until the end of the season which ensured negotiations were a lot smoother than expected. From a business perspective it was a winner, from a squad point of view it was a logical step.
After all, with Douglas currently in exceptional form and Bell providing back-up, Rovers felt it was beneficial that Pickering continued playing regular football to aid his progress before returning in the summer, where he will inherit first-choice left-back duties. A four-and-a-half year deal is a significant show of faith from the club.
We’ve seen the club dish out long-term contracts in the past to every Tom, Dick and Harry that have truly bewildered us but this is one rare occasion where Rovers are right to throw all their eggs into Pickering’s basket.
The 22-year-old, who still lives with his parents in Chester, is destined for a bright future and is a superb indicator of the progress that the club are making, both on and off the pitch.
After all the documents were filed and media duties prepped, Pickering said: “I’m over the moon and absolutely buzzing to join a massive club.
“I can’t wait to get started. Since I heard of the interest I’ve been excited by the opportunity to come to Rovers. As soon as I heard of the interest it was something that I really wanted to happen. It’s all come around now and I’m happy to be here.
“I spoke to the manager and he’s really excited for me to be here. He wants me to be a part of the journey of getting us back to where we want to be and I’m really excited by that prospect.
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“It’s such a big opportunity to come to a huge club with a big history and lots of really good players.
“Coming to a Championship club, a big club such as Rovers, it’s a big step up for me,” he added.
“I’m going to take the opportunity to learn from the manager, the players, all the staff and take everything in to learn as much as possible.”
A deal where Rovers’ perseverance paid dividends and to sign one of the Football League’s most exciting prospects for an inexpensive fee is fantastic business by the club.