Three players with a combined 25 years’ service, more than 600 appearances, and potential transfer value of around £10m, have all left Rovers for free this summer.

Club captain Darragh Lenihan, homegrown product Ryan Nyambe and midfield star Joe Rothwell have all left Rovers, turning down new deals to seek opportunities elsewhere.

It was a fate feared by the club, with hopes of one, two, and possibly even all three, staying at some point along the way but all failing to materialise.

With player of the year Jan Paul van Hecke having returned to Brighton, alongside fellow Seagulls star Reda Khadra, the experienced figure of Bradley Johnson seeing his contract come to an end alongside that of Jacob Davenport after four years service, big gaps have appeared in the Rovers squad.

And all this while there remains an uncertainty surrounding the future of top scorer Ben Brereton who is into the final year of his deal.

Rovers turned down offers in excess of £3m for midfielder Rothwell in the January transfer window, as the club insisted on keeping the squad together.

He will sign for Premier League new boys Bournemouth, who targeted him in January, on a free transfer.

Lenihan has joined Middlesbrough on a free transfer, while Nyambe is also free to speak with other clubs and set to land a new home.

Previous manager Tony Mowbray had stressed the difficulty in having to replace three first-team regulars without recouping any funds for them, while the future of top scorer Brereton is uncertain with just one year left on his deal.

That was the same fate with Adam Armstrong, sold to Southampton for £15m plus add-ons, with his contractual status playing a key part in the fee that Rovers were able to hold out.

Outlining the out-of-contract players, chief executive Steve Waggott said: “With Joe, there was a bit of movement in the January window.

“Joe said pretty early doors that he wanted to go, he would be committed for the season which I thought he was, and didn’t slack at all.

“Both (Rothwell and Lenihan) are at similar ages, coming to the key stage in their career, another three or four years on a major contract.

“Darragh I thought he may stay. We offered him a great contract from our level, and I thought with the leadership and his involvement with the club, being close to decision-making about certain things, I thought he may stay.

“The only way I think he was going to go was if there was a material uplift to his package with us.

“I think he must have got a reasonably decent uplift.

“The manager there has always liked him, tried to sign him when he was at Sheffield United, and he’s always courted him.

“Everyone knows Darragh’s level, he’s played in the Championship for quite a few years so was always going to have interest.

“I’d have loved for him to stay.”

“Ryan, he considered his future.

“He’s come through the Academy, played a lot of games for us, potentially he might feel a move is better for him to kick his career on which can happen.”

Rovers have been more proactive with contracts in recent times, with Thomas Kaminski and Lewis Travis among those to sign long-term extensions in 2022.

With the uncertainty over the financial implications of Covid, Rovers held off offering terms to players,

They have since faced an uphill battle in trying to get players to agree to terms, with a growing number of clubs facing the issue of clubs playing out their contracts to become free agents.

It is a far from ideal situation for Rovers who face a growing number of issues to address within the squad without any funds as yet from departures.

Brereton could yet leave, but there was some surprise that Rovers didn’t advance contract talks with the attacker ahead of his expected call-up for Chile last summer.

The club felt the offers made were more than fair, falling within their wage structure, but the uncertainty over the managerial position certainly didn’t help in the case of Lenihan.

“You never want someone to walk away for free,” Waggott added.

“It’s hard when you’re negotiating in the last year of their contracts.

“Some do stay, some don’t.

“Unfortunately we’ve got three players there all leaving at the same time.

“There’s a lot of players in circulation, the lists are immense of who’s available and it’s about selecting and getting the right players to fit into the structure and how Jon wants to play going forward.”

Director of football Gregg Broughton has stated the club have a ‘healthy budget’ for the upcoming season, which has been agreed with owners Venky’s, but the wage structure already in place will remain.

Rovers have to work within profit and sustainability rules, however, the sale of the training ground to a newly-formed company of the owners, as well as that have Armstrong, have given them some breathing space.

The timing of the Armstrong sale means that will be included in the accounts for the year through to March 2022, with the training ground sale included in the 2021 accounts.

Waggott pointed to rising costs across the club however, with increases in pitch maintenance, while the Premier League is also asking for increased contributions towards funding the Category One Academy.

Asked for the latest on the club’s finances, the CEO said: “We’re okay on profit and sustainability. That’s the big one we have to keep our eye on.

“I think with the tweaks we did to the structure last year, the sale of Armstrong in the 2021/22 accounts, so we’re looking solid.

“The owners are fully supportive again of the shortfall to have a competitive squad like we all want.

“The cost base is going through the roof.

“The pitches, probably another £100,000 spend on those because of the increasing costs across the board.”

Should Rovers take up the necessary options in players’ contracts, then Dan Butterworth, Tyler Magloire, Daniel Ayala and Brereton are those whose deals expire in 2023.

Aynsley Pears, Bradley Dack and Joe Rankin-Costello are contracted to 2024, though Rovers do have 12 first-team players contracted beyond 2023, with the hope of avoiding a similar situation moving forward.


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