Tony Mowbray: Why Blackburn are ‘best at growth of their players’

Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray and Head of Player Development Damien Johnson

Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray and Head of Player Development Damien Johnson

BLACKBURN ROVERS manager Tony Mowbray says the biggest growth area at the club during his five years in charge has been in individual development.

The 58-year-old took over in February 2017 having previously managed Hibernian, West Brom, Celtic, Middlesbrough and Coventry. Individual development - of young players in particular - has been a major focus during his time at Ewood Park.

In July 2019, Damien Johnson was promoted from Under-23s boss to become First Team Technical Coach and Head of Player Development. The primary focus of the role was ensuring the development of young players transitioning from the club’s Category One Academy to Mowbray’s first-team squad.

The results have been impressive. Despite a wobble since Christmas, a young Rovers side are in the play-off places in the Championship. A few weeks ago the Lancashire Evening Telegraph reported that the club had played 576 consecutive league games with an Academy graduate in their matchday squad.

Nine graduates had played a combined 162 games and an Academy graduate (Darragh Lenihan or Lewis Travis) had captained the side in all 34 of their league and Cup matches in 2021/22.

Mowbray said: “I’ve managed six clubs and this one is the best at the growth of their footballers. This club has to, because of the financial situation. Damien’s only job is to develop, to work with individuals.

“The biggest area of growth in this football club in the five years is the individual development of our footballers, to try and make the young players first-team players and better and try and hit the targets they get set.

“The drills are created for each individual on the grass and they work on technique, whether that’s finishing, crossing. That’s what this club does, tries to develop its young players and I hope the evidence is there, that the young players are in and around the team.

“And underneath them, bubbling, there are lots more young players that will hopefully become Blackburn Rovers first team players.”

When Johnson was U23s boss he outlined how he used video analysis in an article for TGG. Analysis, using both video and data, remains a big part of his current role with the first team - and for Mowbray and the coaching staff as a whole.

“Data is everywhere these days, so how many shots, how many assists, touches in the opposition box,” Mowbray said. “They (the players) use it as motivation to inspire. We show them best practice - who has had the most shots and assists in this league if you’re a wing back or a number 10. Who’s the best in the country?

“I’ve used that with Ryan (Nyambe) before, with Liverpool or Manchester City’s right back. Ryan has to strive to use it as a challenge to see what the very best players are doing and if he wants to aspire to play in the Premier League he has to aspire to get close to them.”

The development coach role is becoming a mainstay in the Premier League and beyond. High-profile examples are Carlos Cuesta at Arsenal, Eric Ramsay at Manchester United and Vitor Matos at Liverpool.

Last year TGG held an Individual Development Coaching Webinar, featuring Southampton Director of Football Matt Crocker and Swansea manager Russell Martin were among the speakers.

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