THE transformation in personnel of the Blackburn Rovers first team has been well documented.
But there have also been major changes to the way the club’s U21s side is set up.
Some of the changes have been undertaken on purpose to fit the philosophy shared by senior boss Gary Bowyer and Eric Kinder, the man he appointed to coach the U21s.
But others were made on the insistence of Kinder after he returned to his boyhood club last summer and rapidly discovered that some players, in his opinion, were not the right fit for Rovers.
“When I came back in last June there were 24 U21s players and I found out quickly quite a few of them were not up to the level required for a Championship reserve team and that some of them didn’t really want to be here,” said Kinder, whose young team finished bottom of the U21s Premier League table but in good heart after an improved end to the season.
“They were all contracted so it took a bit of time to get the squad down to a decent number and getting the younger ones in who could actually make us better.
“It improved from around February onwards. We still lost games around that time but they were finding their feet and you could see that there was a different atmosphere.
“The lads who were coming in from the academy and the desire of the younger ones who started the season started to come through, as before some of them were being brought down by some of the older ones who didn’t really want to be here.
“It was hard for us as staff and for the players but around February when the vast majority of the squad were academy boys and the younger lads who wanted to play, we started to get better performances and then right at the end of the season we started to get the results too.”
The U21s rounded off a testing and transitional campaign with a 1-0 win at a West Ham United side featuring England international Joe Cole, who was impressed by the man-marking job then 16-year-old Hyuga Tanner did on him.
With Jack O’Connell, Anthony O’Connor, Ryan Edwards, John O’Sullivan and Kellen Daly all out on loan and Anton Forrester injured, the average age of the Rovers’ starting line-up against the Hammers, excluding trialists Louis Laing and Jordan Laidler, was just 17.
And that is just the way Bowyer and Kinder want it.
“Gary Bowyer has and always had a massive influence over me,” said Kinder, whose coaching career began at Preston North End alongside former Manchester United and Everton manager David Moyes before he was invited to take over the Rovers U16s side in 1999 by the club’s then academy boss Bobby Downes.
“I was lucky enough to work with him here when I was U16s coach and he was U18s coach and we both spent many hours talking about the way that we wanted to play and it’s carried on now.
“He wants his 19-year-olds out on loan and we want the younger ones coming up from the academy playing U21s football because if they can handle that at that age, they will every chance of progressing.
“If they’re only playing U21s football when they’re 20 and they haven’t been tested in the League then that probably tells you they’re not going to be good enough for the level we want them to get to.”
Kinder, who spent seven successful years heading up Carlisle United’s academy before returning to Rovers, has nothing but praise for the way Bowyer has adapted to becoming a senior team manager.
“When I first walked back in it was a completely different club to the one I had left in 2006 to go to Carlisle,” said Kinder, who grew up supporting Rovers.
“But as we sit here now 11 months down the line it’s a completely different club to the one I came back into in June.
“Gary deserves credit for that. He’s managed to deal with everything that’s gone on behind the scenes.
“I don’t how many players he’s got out in total – and that doesn’t just include his first-team squad but my squad as well.
“And to do that and still take us to the edge of the play-offs was an amazing effort. He deserves every bit of credit that comes his way.”
Kinder is confident Rovers, with three or four additions and further departures of players not in Bowyer’s plans, can push for promotion next season.
And he is also hopeful his team will pick up from where they left off.
Kinder said: “Our squad will be young but it will be vibrant and it will be a group of lads who want to make a living playing professional football.
“If I could have 16 Blackburn-born lads playing for the U21s I’d take it tomorrow’s but that’s not going to happen so as long as they come in – whatever age – and go out there and try and make themselves as best they can, that’s all I can ask.”