It will hurt like hell when Adam Wharton leaves Blackburn - but Crystal Palace will get a gem of a player

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Crystal Palace are bidding for Adam Wharton - and for Blackburn fans, his departure will be painful for many reasons.

You know you love a player when you can remember their full debut in detail, and remember being blown away by practically every touch. As a Blackburn Rovers fan, I can recall Phil Jones’ first Premier League game against Chelsea in far more detail, and with much greater clarity, than I can for many more important games – and it happened again with Adam Wharton. Now, Crystal Palace are trying to take our brightest home-grown talent away from us. The sad truth is that we should probably let him leave.

The Athletic have reported that Palace have had an £18.5m bid turned down by Blackburn, which is in itself remarkable. Blackburn are a selling club, and not a wealthy one. Only two other teams in the Championship, Rotherham United and Plymouth Argyle, have smaller wage budgets - Leicester City’s is more than six times as large. Selling Wharton at that price would make him the biggest outgoing transfer in club history, exceeding the £17.7m earned from the sale of Damien Duff back in 2003.

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Blackburn are also sat atop a substantial amount of debt and have been hobbled by recently-introduced legislation in India that prevents the owners from investing as much as they would like. The Venky’s corporation are having to go through the Indian courts on a routine basis to free up funds just to keep the engine running, and one defeat in those courts could spell ruin for a club that is just one year shy of its 150th birthday.

For all those reasons, selling Wharton makes all the sense in the world– but god, it would be a crying shame to see him leave. Blackburn fans haven’t seen a talent of that kind of level since Mark Hughes was manager and the club was regularly challenging for European qualification, and it’s hard to let something so good go. But it’s more important that the club survives, and £18.5m would go an awfully long way.

It is inevitable that he leaves eventually, but Blackburn are holding out for more cash and are reportedly only interested in a deal that sees him remain at Ewood Park on loan for the rest of the season, which Palace are less than keen on given the need for immediate reinforcements to their midfield, a need which has been sharpened by a serious injury to Cheick Doucouré. Rovers, of course, have their own needs to service, especially given that a campaign which saw them flirting with the play-offs a couple of months ago has now turned into a relegation dogfight following a run of seven league games without a win. Losing Championship status would be far worse than losing Wharton.

It doesn’t take a professional talent scout to see why Palace, and other clubs in the Premier League – Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers have both been linked with him - are prepared to pay such a monumental fee. He showed the second tier what he was all about from the beginning, back in August 2022 against Blackpool. He had come on as a half-time substitute against Stoke City a few days earlier, but this was his first start and, as it turned out, his calling card.

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Blackburn won 1-0 at Bloomfield Road and Wharton was the best player on the pitch, and not by a fine margin. He was everywhere across the midfield, making huge tackles, shutting down passing moves, and spraying crisp, clean, accurate passes all over the field. He was 18 years old, and it felt like we were watching Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso rolled into one little, local ball of energy, grit and technical excellence. He was magnificent, and everyone who wears the blue and white halves fell instantly, deeply in love.

He hasn’t been quite that good in every game since – he is still just 19, after all – but he has still been one of the best players in the squad this season, starting 22 league matches and running the midfield in many of them. Whichever Premier League club wins the bidding war will get a player who can do just about everything.

Off the ball, he’s industrious and effective, averaging four turnovers per game and making a right nuisance of himself all over the heart of the park. He doesn't look like much, and at first glance you'd think a stiff breeze could prove fatal, but he's made of steel. With the ball, he is technically impressive, elegant, and constantly looking for killer balls to the forward line or out wide – he averages nearly six-and-a-half successful progressive passes every game (balls that either make it into the box or get play at least ten yards downfield) and is generates over three shots a game. Those are fine numbers for a teenager, and as he progresses and matures, those raw statistics are only getting better.

But for Blackburn fans, Wharton is about more than stats and pass completion rates and dry marks on a chalkboard. The squad is stuffed full of academy products and local lads – Wharton’s own older brother, Scott, plays at centre-back – but Wharton means that little bit more. Him being 'one of our own' may not be quite such a big deal when that also means being one of many, but few of those young players have the towering ceiling that Wharton does. Blackburn born and bred, with the club since he was just six years old, and probably the most gifted central midfielder to emerge from the youth teams since David Dunn almost a quarter of a century ago. A loss like that will never be easy to take.

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But while his departure will hurt like hell, but what hurts far more is the knowledge that, for all of the club’s history and for all of its many past glories, Blackburn are now a side which needs to sell just to pay the bills and keep the motor running. Hopefully, he will see out the season at Ewood Park, be it on loan or as a permanent member of the squad, and get the appreciative send-off he deserves. But for now, at least, Blackburn is simply not a club where truly glittering prospects can afford to stay, and nor can they afford to keep them.

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