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.