Yesterday, while much of the world watched in amazement as Robert Lewandowski and his Borussia Dortmund side dismantled Real Madrid 4-1 at Die Schwarzgelben's Westfalenstadion in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, Blackburn and West Bromwich supporters sat in front of their tellies wondering what could have been.
Lewandowski, a 28-year old from Warsaw, and the Bundesliga's leading goal scorer, has for a few seasons been a known commodity to fans of the game, however in 2010, he was a lesser known prodigious talent plying his trade for Lech Poznan, of Poland's top flight. As many of Europe's football clubs often do, EPL sides Blackburn and West Bromwich Albion, under the leadership of then skippers Sam Allardyce and Tony Mowbray, were trolling some of Europe's lesser known leagues in search for the next big thing, when sights were set on Lewandowski. Despite a small, seemingly fragile frame, Lewandowski had a natural talent for scoring goals. In Europe's most competitive league, the EPL, sometimes what separates those in the relegation zone and those in the safety of mid-table is the exploits of a single talismanic player in the mould of a Lewandowski.
A bidding war ensued between Blackburn, West Brom and Scottish juggernauts Celtic for Lewandowski's services, with Blackburn Rovers eventually being the ones to step to the forefront despite Lech Poznan's interest in raising the transfer fee to a reported ₤4m ($6.15m USD), inviting Lewandowski for a trial with the club. Then nature intervened.
Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in April 2010, spewing ash across the continent to the south, cancelling all flights in Europe from April 15th to the 21st, leaving Lewandowski on the runway, and unable to attend his trial with Blackburn.
(From a personal perspective, I remember the volcano and its influence on Europe at the time well. I was in Marseille, in the south of France, likely enjoying some wine and crustaceans with bread dipped in a tapenade, when the entire country was handcuffed by the volcanic ash. To make matters worse, France was experiencing wide scale labour shortages thanks to a strike by train employees, something that is part of French life. The grève, as the French call it, is as much a part of what it is to be French as it is to fulfill whatever other stereotypes North Americans may have about the French; since many of them are factual. Essentially, save for renting a Peugeot, I was trapped in Marseille. Heck, it could have been much worse. Point being; the volcano affected everyone, regardless of class or creed.)
No long after, in June, 2010, the Polish striker signed with Borussia Dortmund and would go on to cement his place as one of Europe's best attacking players. Blackburn would be relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2011-12 season, and are currently languishing in the Championship, having had 3 managers in 6 months and in danger of further relegation, flirting perilously close to the drop-zone. The club has become a mockery, and in the English media, the club's ownership group, run by Venky's chicken, has become a point of derision. Once a club enjoying top flight football, and the honour of being the 1995 Premier League champs, the only side besides Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal to win the league, Blackburn have fallen rapidly, begging the question; what could have been?