With the news breaking today that Jack Byrne has returned to Manchester City from his loan at Blackburn Rovers, some will wonder what went wrong.
Last season, Byrne enjoyed a fruitful spell at Dutch side Cambuur. Despite the season ending in relegation, Byrne was a bright spark for the now Eerste team. Byrne dominated in a number of games despite the limitations of his team. Key performances came against heavyweights such as PSV and Ajax.
Byrne’s spell heralded four goals and saw several inclusions in the Eridivisie team of the week. What made his performances even more impressive was the poor displays by Cambuur with Byrne showing a fearlessness and technical capability in his game. It is important to remember that Byrne was only 19 during this spell.
The Dubliner was keen for a further loan spell with a number of Championship clubs interested. Blackburn Rovers came calling and the opportunity to work with ex-Irish international Owen Coyle seemed a perfect fit. With Irishmen Anthony Stokes, Derick Williams and Irish under-21 teammates Tommie Hoban and Darragh Lenihan on Blackburn’s books, it looked like a great opportunity for Byrne to even attract scouts from the senior Irish set up.
Byrne played in Blackburn’s two opening games putting in some very impressive shifts. He made a half hour cameo in their opening game against Norwich City. With Rovers already 4-0 down, Byrne made and decent impact showing composure on the ball and the willingness to drive forward. This brief game time earned plaudits from Blackburn fans who called for a start in the next game.
This start came against Wigan where he partnered Irish under-21 captain Darragh Lenihan in the centre of midfield. Blackburn lost 3-0 but Byrne was again their standout player. Only two further league appearances ensued for the Dubliner and he was effectively frozen out of the team despite his early promise.
It seems mysterious that Coyle would drop the impressive Byrne. Many who were not Championship viewers could not be blamed for thinking Byrne was not up to scratch but essentially he stood out whenever on the pitch. With Rovers struggling and now serious contenders for relegation Byrne could have been the man to give them some control in midfield.
This season, Owen Coyle has shown a preference to a 4-4-2 with a flat midfield. Danny Guthrie, Jason Lowe and Corry Evans have ultimately been preferred in this system with Byrne a more attack minded player. Evans for example is not as technically gifted as Byrne but has a better engine and pressing game. Evans himself has been one of Blackburn’s better players in a dismal season.
With Byrne more of an attacking midfielder capable of playing behind the striker, Coyle simply did not see him as a piece in the jigsaw of what was essentially a failing system. Although quite a physical player, Byrne was not seen as a viable option in a flat four given his slight frame. Yet it is a shame that the young Irishman was not at least given an opportunity to prove Coyle that change might have been of benefit to the club.
Essentially, it seems that the move to Blackburn is not one that suited either party. However that is not to say that Byrne will not be in demand. He is highly rated at City and although a breakthrough to the first team is a challenge, they will want to arrange a move that will ensure he gets game time and develops well. A move to a club like Birmingham or Nottingham Forest could be a good match. They are two mid-table sides who play an open game of football and both employ an attacking midfielder in many of their games.
With Byrne one of Ireland’s great hopes, many Irish fans will hope to see him secure a positive move and kick start his career in the second half of the season. Still only 20, Byrne not only has the ability but also the self-confidence to recover from this spell to kick on. His spell at Cambuur and couple of starts for Blackburn showed his talent and he will no doubt be coveted. However whatever Byrne’s next move, it must be a carefully thought out one that will allow him to fulfill his tremendous potential.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena