Birmingham set to survive another expensive relegation scrape - Interview
Thursday, 26th Apr 2018 17:33 by Clive Whittingham
Birmingham City regulars and Crown and Sceptre occasionals Matthew Elliott and David Jackson explain why Harry Redknapp’s promise of a late play-off push for the Blues hasn’t quite materialised.
A huge amount of money spent and players signed last summer, including some very good ones at this level (Jota, Gallagher), and yet another season of struggle – why?
ME: I think there are multiple reasons to be honest. Five managers in 18 months certainly hasn't helped. Then you've got players from various regimes that didn't get on. The club still isn't being ran particularly well behind the scenes. Power struggles between board members, managers and high paid advisors/consultants have caused issues and I think it trickled down on to the players. Unfortunately, there was a lot of unrest within the squad. We brought in too many (some good, some not so good) players on differing wages, factions were forming and there was a lot of unrest between the players. Until recently, there has been no togetherness or team spirit. We can also point to a poor pre-season and Harry allegedly cancelling training or not turning up sometimes (you may be familiar with that). We also had a few lengthy injuries throughout the season which haven't helped.
DJ: Football fans will bemoan injures and bad luck as the reason for any team languishing in the relegation zone. However, the reality is five managers in 14 months has had a devastating impact on the club. Mangers and backroom staff have come and gone and – regardless of differing managerial ability – there’s been little stability or consistency as well as no end of rumours of infighting and bickering among players. Oh, and it turns out we’re (still) rubbish at scoring goals as well. That hasn’t helped. (Fewest goals scored by any team outside of the PL).
Given the amount of money spent, the size of the contracts handed out, is this going to be another case of a club facing financial and FFP hardship after making the mistake of hiring Harry Redknapp as manager?
ME: I know Harry has a history of making loads of signings on stupid wages and putting clubs in trouble, but, on this occasion I don't think he can solely take the blame. The chief instigator was Darren Dein (poor man’s Jorge Mendes), he was advising the board and supporting on transfers, but he used the club as a way of just lining his pockets. Brought in numerous players, some that we didn't really need and made sure he got a cut on top of his £25k per month retainer from the club.
With regards to FFP, a lot of Blues fans will bury their heads in the sand on this one, but I think we are very close to the line. The business in the January transfer window indicated that the club knew they could be in trouble. We saw no signings, despite previous promises and comments that we'd strengthen. So all we actually saw was people leaving the club and the squad getting trimmed down.
DJ: Possibly. Our interim financial results showed the club's parent company, Birmingham Sports Holdings, had loses of around £17m between June and December last year which is concerning. I’m pretty sure LoftForWord’s Tweet when Harry was appointed manager at Birmingham was something like ‘hahahahahahahahahaha’. I’m also sure I said something along the lines of, ‘but, but it’ll be different this time’ in a reply. Turns out you were right. Who knew it'd work out like that?
‘Arry swore blind you’d be the team to make the late run to the play-offs this season (actually it’s Millwall and Brentford), why hasn’t it happened?
ME: Absolutely, there was hope that we'd be able to do something early doors, but we did some poor transfer business, and despite 15 signings, we didn't get the centre midfielder we have craved for some time. One that can actually pass a ball! That hasn't been the only reason, to be honest, I can probably point to the answers I've already given you for this one.
DJ: He probably promised that to you lot once and probably told Jordan they’d reach the quarter finals of this year’s World Cup… But seriously, simply don’t score enough goals.
Steve Cotterill just wrong all round?
ME: Senile Steve. Absolute carrot-crunching, tractor-driving helmet. No time for him at all. Negative tactics. Very rarely played Jota despite our lack of creativity. Nothing was ever his fault. Blamed players, blamed the fans, blamed the previous regime's. Nearly got into a fight with a fan towards the end of his tenure. Odious little man. He'd fight himself given the chance. Good riddance.
DJ: Yes. If Zola was a "WTF" appointment, ‘Arry was "Seriously", Cotterill was probably met with resigned sighs of "Why?". Fans didn’t take to him, I’m not entirely sure he knew how to manage and I’m generally suspicious of any grown man who wears a gold chain.
We were quite surprised Garry Monk took the job on – what do you make of the appointment, how’s he done so far?
ME: The board had liked him for a while. I'd heard he'd been approached a few weeks before Cotterill was given the boot. I didn't think he'd want it, but he allegedly had a few things he wanted the club to agree to and here he is. You'll hear stories that it was all done very quickly, but I'm very certain they'd been talking for a while.
I'll be honest, I really didn't think Monk was the person to save us. I wasn't sure he was cut out for a relegation battle in the Championship. I thought he was all hype, you know young English manager and all that. That said, I wasn't against it, as for me it was very much a case of anyone but Cotterill. Anyway, I am very happy to admit I was wrong! He's been absolute breath of fresh air. It took him a few games, but he has got the team playing some of the best football I've seen us play since Chris Hughton was manager. We're playing with desire, spirit and confidence, we look stronger at the back and we look good going forward. The team looks like they are enjoying themselves out on the pitch and we don't look like we are going to fall to bits if we go behind. He's also got no fear in playing youngsters and including academy players in the squad. It's fantastic to see.
Another important thing for me is his and his backroom's connection with the fans. They get us. They know how important this club is to the fans. They are engaging with us and increasing the positivity levels. It's really improved things, you can feel it in stadium and you can feel it on social media. Again, it's fantastic.
DJ: Since his appointment in March, Monk has somewhat steadied the club, won games, dragged Birmingham out of the bottom three and for the first time in ages transformed the team into one which seems to be capable of playing positive football. There's no way under Cotterill we'd have gone 0-1 to Sheffield United but won 2-1. Even in this relatively short time at the club, it feels like Monk has provided the most stability the club has had all season. Taking the job must have been a gamble for him but it seems to be paying off. Given his past experiences at Middlesbrough, Leeds and Swansea, coming to a club in dire straits was a bit of an odd move. You'd have thought he'd want somewhere relatively 'stress free'. Why would you come to manage Birmingham after our recent managerial track record?
Impact of relegation, if it happens? (Looking unlikely now).
ME: We'd be in the brown stuff big time. FFP, fire sale, a squad of youngsters. I think Monk would probably go too. Whilst we aren't safe yet, I think we're just about there so thankfully (hopefully) we won't be worrying about that.
What has to change for next season to be better than this? Another big summer overhaul in the offing?
ME: I think it's a case of letting Monk do what he needs to do within the financial guidelines to just get on and do his job. We don't need any further interference from the board or advisors. Monk is moving us in the right direction and that needs to continue. We need stability and we need continuity. I wouldn't overhaul the squad again and I don't really think it is on the agenda. We'll have a few players leave at the end of their contracts and the loan players will leave too. I can't see there being very much money to spend, if anything, so it may a case of free transfers, but I trust Monk and his staff to address the area's that need sorted.
DJ: No. Consistency, calm and getting through a season with the same manager would please a lot of fans. Birmingham have been flirting with a drop into League One for several seasons now, escaping by the skin of their teeth. The worry is our luck will run out eventually. A few new players to strengthen certain areas and a mid-table finish may be not be a very exciting, but it’s what the club should be aiming for over the next couple of seasons if it’s ever going to consider bothering the top six of the Championship again. Maybe try and keep Gallagher and hope Vassell returns from his season ending injury with the promise he came to the club with.
Player of the season candidates?
ME: In a season of mostly underperforming players (the last few weeks not included) Jacques Maghoma has been the standout player. Goals, assists, excellent work-rate and he cares about the club.
DJ: Maghoma has been about as consistent as you should hope for this season and while Jota is not a POTS candidate, he's starting to show signs of the flair he's capable of
Weak links in the side?
ME: Maybe.. Does Holloway read this? In goal, Stockdale has been a little bit shaky recently. He's been awful with what should be routine saves at his near post. We've got a right footer (Colin) at left back at the moment, who is actually quite good but I'm not sold on fullbacks playing on their weaker side. Centre midfield isn't particularly strong, battlers but no ball retention.
DJ: Still can't defend for toffee sometimes.
The Twitter @MatthewBlue1875, @DavidTJackson
Pictures – Action Images
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