x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Ruben Rochina ready to ride out the storm at Rovers

The Blackburn striker has established himself as a fans' favourite against a backdrop of unrest at the club.

Ruben Rochina, centre, has given Blackburn Rover fans something to cheer about in a season of discontent.
Ruben Rochina, centre, has given Blackburn Rover fans something to cheer about in a season of discontent.

Ruben Rochina was not to know that he was walking into a civil war.

A year ago, the Valencian winger, who had left Valencia for Barcelona's Masia school of excellence at 13, was playing for Barcelona B in Spain's second division.

He was 19 and enjoyed a solid reputation among the 3,000 fans who had watched him win promotion from the third division after making his debut at 17.

They hoped he would be more consistent, but felt that would come with age when he would be pushing for the first team.

Rochina, however, had other ideas.

"I faced a choice," Rochina said. "I stayed at Barcelona B without any real hope of getting in the first team because the players ahead of me were the best in the world, or I moved. I had played for my country [Spain] at three different age levels and for Barca's first team in pre-season games, but never a competitive match."

"I felt I was better than a second division player, but I was not going to get a chance at Barcelona. If you are not going to play for Barcelona or Real Madrid, then the English Premier League is the best place to play football. When I got the [four-year] offer from Blackburn, it was too good to turn down and I decided to leave."

There was a financial factor. Barca's reserve players earn around €200,000 (Dh 960,200) a year, the same as Lionel Messi gets in a week. A regular Blackburn Rovers squad player can earn that in 10 weeks and Rochina enjoyed a huge pay rise when he moved to Lancashire.

He joined the burgeoning number of Spanish players in England in January 2011 for an estimated £1 million (Dh5.5m) fee, an unknown prospect walking into a troubled club who had undergone an unwanted takeover and made an unpopular managerial appointment in Steve Kean.

Blackburn had been tracking Rochina's progress when Sam Allardyce was manager, but it was his successor, Kean, who made the move for the Valencian and who described Rochina as "a great addition to my squad. He joins our elite development group alongside the likes of Phil Jones and Junior Hoilett. He will compete for a first-team place from the word go".

Jones moved to Manchester United in June and is rated as a future England captain, while Hoilett has been one of the few bright sparks in bottom-of-the-table Blackburn's awful campaign so far.

Rochina did not walk straight into the first team and saw more reserve football as he settled in the more aggressive English game, but he impressed sufficiently to make his first-team debut at Everton in March. At the start of this season, he scored his opening goals in England as Blackburn beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in a Carling Cup win and in training, he showed the technical levels honed at Barcelona.

"Being at Barcelona is the best football school you can be at," said Rochina. "Everything there is the best. Best coaches and players, facilities and a very clear philosophy of how football should be played. I don't need to tell you that it works because the results of the Masia are clear to see with Barcelona's first team.

"Barcelona taught me to become a footballer, but I've been very impressed with training at Blackburn, too."

Rochina has received more first-team chances against a backdrop of fan discontent in the form of sustained campaigns to get rid of manager Kean and the club's Indian owners.

His sublime vision, first touch, and ability to split defences made him a fan favourite, and teammate Morten Gamst Pedersen said: "Ruben is almost your typical Spanish footballer. He has a good bit of ball skill and he is still only young. He has everything you need to be a good footballer, a fantastic left foot, control, everything."

"He will be a fantastic player. You see all the ability he has got, but he just has to ease himself into the league."

If there was a criticism of the Spaniard, it was that he was too greedy, with Pedersen adding: "He has to learn when to pass the ball and when not to dribble it; that and the tempo in the game. When you see him doing the things we have seen [in training] you know he is going to be a good player. Sooner than later he will be a big player in the Premier League."

Rochina's not shirking the battle at Blackburn and has described it as "the best part of my career because it's real."

He has scored six goals this term and continues to improve, but his greatest challenge is an immediate one, keeping Blackburn in England's top-flight which he was so keen to join.


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