With no win in nine games and the worst opening games record in Birmingham City managerial history, it is hard to see how and why Gianfranco Zola still has the Birmingham City managers job. The underlying reason from the boards perspective was to get the team to play a more attractive brand of football. This is all well and good if, with the style, there comes substance in the form of wins. Although the brand of football may have changed slightly the results have dramatically declined. Under Gary Rowett the football we played would never set the world alight, but results were being ground out and wins were being amassed. The appointment of Zola has been a major oversight by the board who had otherwise been building, slowly but steadily, a club we can all be proud of. The sooner this mistake is rectified the better. It is seemingly impossible that we get Gary Rowett back as manager, which would be a dream for all fans of the club. The least we expect though is a manager who has some form of decent managerial pedigree…something that Zola does not have.
Leeds United are one of the biggest clubs in English football having won FA and League Cups, the first division no less than three times, and reaching the final of European competitions. However, since their relegation from the Premier league in 2004, Leeds have become somewhat a sleeping giant, spending their time in the Championship and League one for coming up to thirteen years. Despite a few play off finals and promotion back to the championship in 2010, Leeds fans have had nothing much to shout about, especially with the ownership of Massimo Cellino.
This season though has proved to be very different, with a recent string of results that has amounted to a six game unbeaten run, with five of these coming as wins. Towards the business end of the season Leeds find themselves in a solid fourth place on 48 points. With a quality young manager in Garry Monk and Chris Wood firing on all cylinders, it is easy to see why this year may just be their year to gain promotion back where they belong.
The third round fixture of the FA cup has traditionally been one of the most exciting days in the footballing calendar. The minnows of football mixing it with the big boys of the Premier League with the potential for some huge upsets and opportunities for non league teams to make some life changing revenue. It has always been a huge occasion.
However, in recent seasons the cup has lost some of it’s charm. The oldest club competition in world football has seemingly turned in to more of a chore and an inconvenience for many teams, rather than a privilege to be a part of. Admittedly the lower league teams still get the opportunity for their dream ties away at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool etc, but you get a sense that the magic surrounding these ties is somewhat lost as soon as the team sheets get revealed. Take the recent tie of Liverpool vs Plymouth. Premier League vs League Two. A massive tie for Plymouth and the 9,000 travelling green army. However, when the team sheet got announced, and the Liverpool squad was revealed, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed for the Plymouth fans and players. Liverpool had chosen a team with an average age of just 21, leaving the majority of their stars on the bench. The game felt less of an occasion than it would have done if Liverpool had gone, even half full strength. It was highly underwhelming. Fair play to Plymouth, they got their draw and their replay, a brilliant achievement, but the magic and glamour just wasn’t there.
It appears to me that the bigger clubs are to themselves, more important than the competition. Like the whole thing is an inconvenience to them that requires further incentive than the glory of winning such a prestigious and historic competition. Fielding reserves and youth team players with no apparent desire to progress and win the trophy. A kind of ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
As much as the clubs are at fault for the decline of the cup, the same can be said for the fans. I will leave out league one and below as there is genuinely a level of excitement from supporters of those respective clubs, reflected in the following from Plymouth as previously mentioned.
Whilst watching the highlights of the cup, I couldn’t help but notice the appalling attendances at St Andrews and the Cardiff City Stadium to name a select few. Birmingham City drew a total of 13,171 fans, whereas the Cardiff/Fulham game drew a measly 5,199. The atmosphere is disappearing and for such an iconic competition this is very sad to see. In terms of a solution for the problem, there doesn’t seem to be one as yet. It appears that tradition is old fashioned and something new and more exciting is needed to capture the imagination of clubs and fans alike. Perhaps the idea of a Champions league place as a reward for the winners will improve the appeal of the FA cup, however until something is done about this, football traditionalists such as myself will have to deal with the competition they love being neglected by the clubs who have gained so much success from it.
I’ts the 13th of December 2016. Birmingham City have just put two defeats behind them with a characteristic 2-1 to Ipswich town. A dogged,persistent performance that encapsulated what Gary Rowetts side were all about. With the team sitting in seventh position, three points off third place, one could forgive the Birmingham City supporters for perhaps becoming a little over excited about what might become of their season. With new owners coming in, the management were clearly going to have some significant (for Birmingham City at least) financial backing in the January transfer window. The club hadn’t received a transfer kitty this big since the days of the premiership, and now with a cult hero as manager, and a team that worked for each other and the fans, there was finally going to be some funds made available to add some much needed quality to the squad. The apparent final piece of the promotion chasing jigsaw, as many Bluenoses saw it. Life as a Birmingham City fan had been fairly dismal in recent seasons. Narrowly avoiding relegation to league one on the final day of the season, and the season after getting hammered 8-0 at home to Bournemouth were low points to name but a few. However with the arrival of Gary Rowett came a new wave of optimism. The bond between players, manager and fans had slowly but surely been repaired and results were improving. Two successive tenth placed finished in the league had bought back a much needed stability to a fragile club. Couple this with the end of the ownership of Carson Yeung and Blues fans definitely had a reason to smile. It is however clear that Birmingham are a bigger club than one which settles for mid table mediocrity. Enter new owners, Trillion Trophy Asia limited. An ownership that filled fans with optimism and provided Gary and his backroom staff with the tools they needed to bring the club forward. Investment in the squad soon followed, with exciting young forward Che Adams added to the team to provide much needed competition to heavily relied upon striker Clayton Donaldson. Diego Fabbrini, Robert Tesche and Greg Stewart all became permanent signings and Blues were ready to start the season with high hopes. Indeed the club were right to have such big ambitions, with the team on the fringes of the play off places towards the festive period, things were looking promising…..And then the bombshell hit.
The day after Blues home win to Ipswich, the news broke that Gary Rowett had been relieved of his duties as Birmingham City manager. Birmingham City fans and the football world alike had been left stunned. One of the best young English managers in football, working off a shoe string budget for two seasons and working miracles, had been sacked. I’ve had some dark moments in my time as a Birmingham City fan, but this moment is right up there with the worst. The man who had come in and rescued a perilous situation, steered a club from the depths of despair to once again believing that the premier league was in reach, the man who gave Birmingham Fans their club back and created an identity and passion about the team had been rewarded for his efforts by getting the sack. As the news of this slowly began to sink in, and the social media backlash hit, I could only hope that there was a damn good reason behind the decision. Perhaps an exciting new manager, with a strong pedigree and attractive brand of football was being lined up to replace Rowett, who with all due respect did not have the most exciting style. If this was the case then maybe, just maybe all could be forgiven.
And so the waiting began and the names were linked. Names such as Michael Laudrup, Nigel Pearson and Ryan Giggs were being banded around, but then from seemingly nowhere, Gianfranco Zola had become odds on favourite for the job. Don’t get me wrong, Gianfranco Zola is a huge name in football. He is a Chelsea legend and was an incredible footballer. But to appoint him as manager when he has next to no experience…I found this ludicrous. Within 24 hours the board had destroyed two years of hard work. The reception from the fans was hostile and the players, a select few anyway, seemed devastated. Other first team players such as David Davis and Clayton Donaldson also tweeted their discontent.
With very little communication from the board the fans were left perplexed. A new manager for no apparent reason and senior players openly reacting negatively to the news. This was not a good move.
Skip ahead 4 days to the 17th of December, Zola’s first game in charge. This was the chance to see what, if anything had changed. After a fairly even first half, we found ourselves 1-0 up after 55 minutes. We looked good on the ball and clearly there were some signs of a change in our style of play. However the managerial ability of Zola came in to question after 73 minutes, bringing on a defender for a midfielder during a spell in which we looked comfortable. A spell in which we were moving the ball around well and keeping good possession. To bring on a defender at this stage of the game seemed strange to me. Two minutes later and the balance of play had shifted. Brighton enjoyed more of the ball and put us under severe pressure and even with our extra defender this looked like something we wouldn’t be able to cope with. Sure enough Brighton equalised, a great goal in truth, but prior to the sub, a goal we looked like we wouldn’t concede.
The game finished in a 2-1 loss, and in fairness that did not reflect the way we played. Brighton are a solid outfit and will be there or there abouts come the end of the season but a defeat is never a good start to a managerial reign.
Three games and two defeats later, only picking up one point from a possible twelve, and already questions are being asked. The change in style seems non existent and the spirit in the dressing room seems all but forgotten about.
The old saying holds true ‘don’t fix what ain’t broke’. A solid league position and money to spend in January with one of the best young English managers in football, and boom the belief is gone in as little as four games.
I’m not saying that I won’t give Zola time, and I’m sure the majority of Blues fans are prepared to give him time too, it’s just that with recent results and the unity of the club before Zola arrived, it’s hard to make that decision and not leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the fans. It’ll be interesting to see what Zola’s movements are in the January transfer window, but until then it would be appropriate of the board to provide the fans with some answers. Why did this happen? What was the reason behind it? Until questions like these are answered I cannot fully accept the decision of the board. Whatever happens though, we will be sure to Keep Right On.
Thank you all for taking the time out to read and follow my football blog. I’m a Law student at the moment but my passion lies in sports journalism, thus I have created this blog in a bid to channel my thoughts. The blog will be mostly about football, anything and everything to do with the sport, and hopefully if the page develops, I will be able to field ideas from you to give me inspiration on what to write about. I am a big Birmingham City fan and so a few of my posts will be dedicated to them, but don’t worry I won’t bore you with daily posts about them!
It is not only football that I will be talking about. Boxing is another passion of mine and so occasionally I will take the time to write some posts about that, particularly on the issues of doping, and the current state of the heavyweight scene. I’m going to keep this post short and sweet, this is just a small introduction to welcome you to my page and a thank you for taking the time to check it out. I sincerely hope that you enjoy my ramblings and I look forward to providing you with a blog post in the very near future. Once again thank you for your time.