BLACKBURN Rovers boss Gary Bowyer believes Tom Cairney possesses ‘Premiership quality’.
But he wants Rovers’ player of the year to improve the defensive side of his game in order to become the complete midfielder.
Cairney seems set to start the campaign in the middle of the park after playing most of last season out wide.
Bowyer has no doubt that the former Scotland U21 international can flourish in a central position.
But he will be challenging Cairney and every other member of his squad to show more when they return to pre-season training on Wednesday.
Bowyer said: “Tom finished last season ever so well playing in the centre of midfield and got a couple of goals against Charlton and Wigan.
“He has the ability to play in there, there’s no question about that, but when we played him in a wider position it was more to give him the licence to roam, create and find himself pockets of space.
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“Whereas when you try and play as a standard number 10 it’s a bit easier for the opposition to pick you up.
“We worked on Tom getting in off the line and finding those pockets of space and it worked well for us.
“But, as I say, the kid has got the ability to play in the centre of midfield. In terms of how he handles the ball, he has Premier League quality.
“You saw him grow as last season wore on – the improvement from the start to the end of it was fantastic.
“Now we expect better from him again this season – and that’s the same for all the lads. The message will be, ‘show more and improve’.
“Tom’s got to work on his defensive side and he knows that.
“But there are not many better players producing what he can produce with the ball at his feet.”
With Ben Marshall fully fit after recovering from ankle ligament damage, he is set to challenge Craig Conway, Josh King and Chris Taylor for a place on the wings.
That should free up Cairney, who scored six goals last season and created eight others, to move into the centre of midfield.
But Bowyer admits there could be times when the £600,000 signing from Hull City will operate on the flanks.
He said: “It’s about finding the right balance for each particular game and treating each game with the respect that it deserves.
“But there’s no doubt Tom has got a special talent that we have to use.
“And if he can add one or two bits of defensive responsibility to his game, he will only improve further – and that’s all that we want from them all.”
Rovers have been linked with versatile Bolton Wanderers defender Alex Baptiste.
But it is understood Bolton do not want to let Baptiste leave, certainly not on loan.