Blackburn and Ben Brereton Diaz facing a January dilemma

Ian King
Ben Brereton Diaz attacks for Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn Rovers are moving within sight of a place in the Premier League, but the player whose goals have put them there is attracting considerable interest.


From the angle of his face as the ball bounced in he probably knew it wasn’t his, but confidence can do wonders for a striker and Ben Brereton Diaz – one of the surprise hits of this Championship season so far – is hardly short of confidence. It was a critical goal too. Bournemouth had started this season at 100mph but have slowed of late, having won just one of their last seven matches, while Brereton Diaz’s team Blackburn Rovers had come out of a poor run which came to a head with a 7-0 home defeat against Fulham, but had since embarked on a strong unbeaten run which lifted them into the play-off places and within touch of the automatic promotion places.

Blackburn’s first goal had a little luck about it. Midway through the first half, Darragh Lenihan’s header was pushed out by the Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers. Brereton Diaz reacted the fastest but couldn’t control his shot, which came down off the crossbar, smacked into the Bournemouth defender Ben Pearson, and bounced over the line. But despite this slice of good fortune, Blackburn were good value for their win. Jan Paul Van Hecke’s header midway through the second half, his first goal for Blackburn, sealed the win and continued their excellent run. Blackburn have won five of their last six matches and have closed the gap on Bournemouth to just four points.

Ben Brereton Diaz has possibly had the most extraordinary year of any footballer on the planet. It was only last season that Blackburn supporters playing the Football Manager video game noticed that Brereton, who’d played 19 games for the England under-19s and once for the England under-20s, was eligible to play for Chile through his mother and started an online campaign to get him selected for the Chilean national team.

He’d begun his career with the Manchester United youth academy before signing for Stoke City, and when they released him, Nottingham Forest picked him up. Making his debut for Forest in January 2017 and ending that season as the Championship’s Apprentice of the Year, a weight of expectation came to hang over him after Blackburn Rovers took him on loan and then paid a reported £7m to take him to Ewood Park. That weight of expectation hung heavily, and he has admitted himself that locking down worked in his favour after he scored just two goals for Blackburn over the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons. Behind closed doors his form started to pick up, and he managed seven goals in 40 games for Blackburn last season.

The online campaign worked, and in May, Brereton – who took the ‘Diaz’ from his mother, first for Chile matches and then permanently – was selected for the Chilean national team squad. A supporter had noticed an interview he gave to the Blackburn match-day programme three years earlier in which he’d confirmed that his mother was from Chile. The fact that he’d played for a couple of the England development teams didn’t make any difference; having not played for the England first team, he was still free to play for Chile. After the campaign caught the eye of a Chilean streamer, the Chilean FA started to monitor him and Brereton was notified through his agent, Ben Corbyn, who is the son of the former Labour Party leader.

So Ben Brereton Diaz ended up in the Chile squad for World Cup qualifiers against Argentina and Bolivia, and made his debut from the bench against Argentina. He impressed sufficiently to make the squad for the summer’s Copa America, and made his first full start in that tournament against Bolivia, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win. Chile were knocked out in the second round by the hosts Brazil, but Brereton Diaz was one of the surprise stars of the tournament, even appearing in a Pepsi advertisement in Chile. He has now scored three goals in nine appearances for his national team.

Meanwhile back in the somewhat more mundane surroundings of the EFL Championship, Brereton Diaz has sparkled for Blackburn so far this season. He’s scored 17 goals in 22 league games for his club and is second in the divisional top scorers table behind Fulham’s Aleksander Mitrovic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is creating interest from above. With the transfer window due to open in three weeks’ time, there is reported interest from both Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United. In the case of both clubs it’s not difficult to see why, with Brighton’s much-reported struggles in front of goal and Leeds’ injury record so far this season.

All of which leaves Blackburn Rovers in something of a quandary. They’re reported to have put a price on him of £25m and this might be enough to put off suitors, but losing Brereton Diaz in the new year would be a massive loss to the club, all the more so with a chance of winning a place in the Premier League starting to loom on the horizon. In strict monetary terms, winning promotion to the Premier League would be worth five or six times even a £25m offer would bring into the club, but there are other factors at play too.

Blackburn’s owners have managed to repair their reputation after a disastrous start which saw numerous supporter protests against them. Would they be prepared to jeopardise that again for a ready £25m? And then, of course, there’s the small matter of what Brereton Diaz might think of it all, particularly if he was to be denied a move to a Premier League club. The buying and selling of players is always a gamble, and the stakes in this case seem particularly high to the owners of this particular club.

But Brereton Diaz has a dilemma of his own, too. The temptation to rush headlong towards the Premier League is obviously tempting, but at 22 and in the form of his life, perhaps the January transfer window wouldn’t be the best time to go. Perhaps his career would be better served by keeping that momentum going at Ewood Park, at least until the end of this season. It’s a dilemma for both the club and the player but a bloody nice dilemma to have.