It was December 14th 2016. I came home from college and looked on the BBC Football website to see what was going on in the football world. The first thing I saw was ‘Birmingham sack manager Rowett.’
I was in complete shock. Why would a club sack a manager when they are seventh in the table and three points off of third?
Since that day, Birmingham City have become a shambles. Through three more managers, over 16 million pounds spent on rebuilding the squad and one disaster after another, the club is stuck in the Championship relegation zone.
Gary Rowett was appointed Birmingham manager in October 2014. Birmingham had just lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth and only had two wins all season. In his first game in charge, Blues kept a clean sheet against high-flying Wolves at Molineux. They would go on an a fantastic run picking up 52 points in the 32 remaining games propelling them to a tenth place finish, a position that had seemed impossible at the start of the season due to the start they had with the lack of funds.
In the 2015-16 season, Birmingham once again finished 10th. The club finally had some sort of stability and the new owners had been given exclusivity of the club. All that was needed now was the takeover to be completed. They had the manager, the stability and now all that was needed was the backing.
Trillion Trophy Asia finally completed their takeover on October 17th 2016. Birmingham had a good start to the season, sitting in and around the play-off places, punching way above their weight due to their limited budget compared to other clubs and the ability of the playing squad, which under Rowett had massively overachieved but had no doubt proved they were capable of playing in the Championship.
However, Birmingham had no chance of competing financially with Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Brighton, Newcastle, Norwich, Fulham, Wolves, Forest, Derby, Bristol City and Leeds. They had one of the lowest budgets in the division that season.
But the week he was sacked was a week for change for Birmingham. On Monday 12th December, three new directors were appointed to the board. The next day Birmingham beat Ipswich 2-1 at St Andrews. The next day Rowett was sacked along with his backroom staff. When Rowett told the players, they were apparently furious over the decision.
Later that day Gianfranco Zola was appointed manager. He had apparently been approached for the job a while ago.
That Saturday was Zola’s first game in charge at home to high-flying Brighton. After hitting the post in under a minute and Lukas Jutkiewicz giving them the lead, Stephen Gleeson, who was playing fine in the centre of midfield was bought off for Josh Cogley. This defensive tactic worked against and Brighton won the game 2-1 in the 90th minute.
This foreshadowing of tactical ineptness would plague Zola’s reign and it took him nine league games and eleven overall to win his first game in charge. He would only win one more game, a 2-1 win away at rivals Wolves.
Zola resigned after a 2-0 home defeat to Burton on Easter Monday. Blues had only won twice in twenty-four games, drawing eight and losing fourteen. Their goal difference had gone from -1 to -21 and they had dropped from 7th to 20th. A meeting with all club staff in the middle of Zola’s reign did nothing to help the morale of the team.
Zola had tried to do too much too quickly and the owners had expected too much as well. They had expected Birmingham to compete with teams who had bigger budgets in the Championship, completely showing their inexperience as directors/owners and showing their lack of knowledge of the English league and game.
Birmingham were still in no position to be promoted or be challenging for place in the Premier League. They needed to continue to stabilise as they had, had next to no money to spend for so long and a squad, which was assembled with a limited budget. This immediately showed TTA that success isn’t guaranteed when you appoint ‘a big name.’ TTA’s stubbornness to get rid of Zola and their unwillingness to own up and admit they’d made a huge mistake derailed the 2016-17 even further and it dragged Blues from potential play-off contention to a relegation battle.
Harry Redknapp was appointed the day after and came to the rescue with two wins in the final three games to stay up. They finished 19th. He worked this entire period, free of pay. He carried on as manager in the summer and overhauled the squad so he could play his passing style of play. Gary Rowett’s side was more used to his tactics of more long ball and counter attack, which suited the side.
Thirteen players arrived in the summer: David Stockdale, Marc Roberts, Cheikh N’Doye, Isaac Vassell, Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin, Jota and Jason Lowe all arrived permanently. Whilst Cohen Bramall, Carl Jenkinson, Sam Gallagher, Jeremie Boga and Liam Walsh arrived on loan. The club now clearly had a squad, which could compete at least for a play-off place. But like all teams which have a squad overhaul in the summer, in needs time to gel.
However, only two games after the summer transfer window, Redknapp was sacked. This made no sense as he had bought 13 players in the transfer window (6 in the last 3 days) and they had been given only two games to gel. It was clear the team needed time and they had lots of time. Even after the loss at home to Preston, they still had another 38 games to go. But again the owners showed their inexperience and lack of knowledge and got rid of him.
The clear ignorance of the fact, the team needed time to gel and that Birmingham were in a transition period on and off the pitch. The budget had increased; the style of play had changed and the squad was overhauled to accommodate this change in style of play. The team needed time but the owners didn’t have any patience. Redknapp needed longer in charge to make his plans work.
Steve Cotterill was appointed manager later that month. Blues won 1-0 against 2nd placed Cardiff in his first game in charge. However, Birmingham had only scored 7 goals in the first 11 league games before his appointment and Cotterill’s defensive style of football has started to wear thin.
For a team that needs to start scoring a lot more goals, defensive football should not be needed. An attacking style of play is needed for Birmingham to start scoring more goals and winning games. His record at Championship level isn’t great and this once again, like the Gianfranco Zola appointment, brings into question the decisions made on managers by the directors, their lack of knowledge of the English leagues and game, their unwillingness to learn from their mistakes and the direction the club is going in.
Zola’s CV wasn’t really glittering with him being sacked from West Ham and Qatar club Al-Arabi whilst also resigning from Watford. Cotterill’s record at Championship level isn’t good with him being sacked by Bristol City after 4 wins in his opening 26 games.
For me, comments about the squad not being good enough are ridiculous. This is the best squad Birmingham has had since they dropped down from the Premier League in 2011. The squad is clearly good enough to compete. The problems lay with Cotterill’s style of play and the bad decisions made by the board leading up to this season. If TTA aren’t careful they could may be forced to swiftly move out of the club very soon if things carry on.
A creative midfielder must be bought in January and the team needs to start playing more attacking football to ensure more chances are created, more goals are scored and more are games won. Birmingham always needed a manager to play attacking football and have a focus on team togetherness.
It’s been a year since Birmingham sacked Rowett and since that day, funnily enough, they have played 46 league games, the equivalent to an entire season. In that time, they have won 8, drew 11 and lost 27. That means over an entire season, the club would have picked up only 35 points. Enough points to be relegated from every season of the Championship since it’s inception in 2004-05.
The reasons why Birmingham have had such turmoil over the last year:
- The sacking of Gary Rowett who bought stability to the club
- The owners and directors expecting too much too soon and expecting Birmingham to compete with teams who had far bigger budgets and the fact they were in no position to be promoted.
- The appointments of Zola and Cotterill when there were better managers out there.
- The owners and directors expecting too much too soon in terms of the playing squad gelling resulting in Redknapp’s sacking
- A defensive style of football when the team needs goals
- Dressing room unrest and the big egos of some of the players
Blues need a clear ears on the ground man. A person who knows the football club inside out and who knows what the championship and the English leagues are about. Someone like Paul Devlin or Michael Johnson. Someone like this would immediately do a good job with engaging with the Blues fans because of their previous history with the club, their popularity would get them on side.
Birmingham are a big club and the fans deserve so much better. There is potential at the club that is yet to be unlocked and hopefully the club can unlock it and fulfil it but for now things need to change.