Gary Bowyer on an upward learning curve as Blackburn Rovers boss
THE last of his players and coaching staff may have packed up and gone home for the summer but Gary Bowyer, decked out in training gear, remains resolutely tied to his desk.
It is a position he has grown accustomed to.
Early starts and late finishes have become the norm for the 42-year-old in his first full season in charge of Blackburn Rovers, the club he affectionately calls his own after 10 years of service.
But whereas in his first nine years at Rovers Bowyer was a visible presence around the corridors of Brockhall after training had finished, he now spends more of his time locked away in his smart and spacious office, the place where he plots to put the 1995 Premier League champions back on the road to the top flight of English football.
Twelve months ago, when he was given the chance to become Michael Appleton’s permanent successor, it appeared a very long road indeed.
After all he was taking over a club that had been ripped apart from within and whose fan base had become browbeaten at being dragged from one self-inflicted crisis to the next.
Fast forward one year and while Bowyer will be the first to admit there is still some travelling to do, that road has shortened.
But to transform Rovers from a team that were four points from being relegated to one which finished two points outside the play-offs, while all the time needing to be mindful of a wage bill that still needs to be slashed considerably, has been far from straightforward.
Certainly not for someone whose previous senior managerial experience amounted to 13 games.
It has required long hours, tough calls and no little self-analysis.
Not that Bowyer would have had it any other way.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” said Bowyer, who was installed into the Ewood Park hotseat a year ago on Saturday after he guided Rovers to safety last season in his second caretaker spell.
“It’s been a massive challenge. Every day is a different challenge, it’s managing people and dealing with people and I’ve learned loads – and I’ve loved learning.
“It’s something that we say to the players all the time – we haven’t finished learning.
“None of us have and it’s important that we keep developing and keep pushing each other and ourselves to get better – and I think that’s what we’ve done this season as a whole.
“I’ve learned off the players and hopefully they’ve learned off me.
“So, yes, it’s been good and it’s been entertaining – although there have been one or two sleepless nights and there are certainly one or two more grey hairs.
“But I’ve definitely got no regrets. I’ve been at his club for 10 years and to get offered this job permanently was a huge honour.
“What I do know is that myself and the staff have worked extremely hard this season to try and restore a little bit of pride in the club.”
Bowyer believes, very much like the promising side he has assembled, he personally has got better as the season wore on.
But when asked what parts of the job he has done well and what parts he must improve on, he feels it will not be until his wife, whether he likes it or not, takes him away from his desk and on to the beach that he will be able truly to reflect.
“You look back and think I might have done this and I might have done that but if I’m being completely honest, I think I’ll only be able to answer that question better when I actually get to sit on the beach and find a minute’s peace in my brain,” said Bowyer.
“You’re always learning, always being challenged and you’re constantly looking at ways to help the squad and help the building (Brockhall) get better – and ultimately help the football club get better.
“That’s my big thing, that’s what we’re doing all the time – looking at ways to strive to get better and improve.”
One area in which Bowyer has undoubtedly improved Rovers is their playing squad.
But he takes as much pride at the way his players have bought into the principles of hard work and respect that he demands – principles he first learned under Nottingham Forest greats like his father Ian, Archie Gemmill and Brian Clough – as the way they have performed on the pitch.
“The first thing that is paramount is that they are good people and team players who buy into what we’re trying to do and work very, very hard to achieve it,” said Bowyer, who left his boyhood club Forest without making a senior appearance.
“A lot of research goes into who we are bringing in. We need to know what they’re like as people, on and off the pitch, and then obviously once they have ticked the box of being a good person, they have to be a good footballer as well.
“And, as people, the players we have brought in have been outstanding – they really care.
“And I think when you’ve got people who care as much as the people do in this building then you’ve got half a chance – and it’s not just the players and the coaching staff who care, it’s everyone from the chef to the bootman.
“The staff here will go above and beyond what is required of them and that is fantastic.
“I can’t thank them for that enough for that because we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done this season without their help.”
Not that Bowyer, who has remained level-headed throughout the campaign, will be getting carried away.
“There still remains a lot of work to do,” he said, before, inevitably, returning to his desk.
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