Often Partisan

The Fear

One thing that has been extensively argued on Birmingham City messageboards this season has been the dour football that the Blues have dished up on a regular basis for the fans. Whilst the team is high on work-rate, and on battling for points, it’s low on creativity and fashioning chances, let alone goals. The accusation is often levelled at Alex McLeish that he is too negative with his tactics, and too careful in the teams he sends out.

Without getting into the argument of how cautious McLeish is, I think it’s worth taking this a step deeper, and looking at the root causes. The fact is, whilst a cup win was brilliant for the club, in monetary terms at least finishing 17th or above in the Premiership every season is more important. Relegation would cost Blues massively; the lack of money from Sky would mean a massive downshift in what Blues could pay for players etc, and thus if Carson wants to make money from the club as a club and as a brand, he needs it to stay in the top flight. This transmits down to McLeish in the form of pressure not to lose games; every point is valuable and whilst expansive attacking football might be good, at our level of money it’s difficult to get players who can do this and graft hard enough to park the bus against the bigger teams.

So what are the answers? The most obvious one is to buy players who can do both – who can graft and play with flair. The problem is that players who can do both consistently are rarer than hen’s teeth, and often cost a fortune – money we don’t have. There are players out there who are affordable, but it’s a lottery being able to find them – this year WBA were winners in picking up Peter Odemwingie for £1million, whereas we paid a similar amount in loan fees for a proven talent in Aliaksandr Hleb, who hasn’t delivered. Likewise David Bentley came with a big reputation, and has currently shown very little of his undoubted talent. If Blues struggle to pick a winning ticket with just these small amounts of money, can McLeish afford to gamble a huge sum on purchasing someone to take us to the next level?

Another option is to remove the money problem. What I mean by this is to take the approach Blackpool did this year; ie not paying massive amounts at all for players, taking chances on players from lower divisions and thus having a much smaller wage bill to support. This then means that the pressure of relegation isn’t so high, because the club isn’t paying out nearly as much money – and thus “the fear” of relegation isn’t there, and it allows the manager to push for more wins knowing that if the club goes down, all isn’t lost. Whilst I like the idea of buying younger, hungrier players and mixing them with some good kids we’ve brought through and a couple of seasoned pros, I don’t think Blues fans would go for it. Past transfer windows have shown a lot of fans who have been disgruntled at the lack of money being spent, regardless of who it was spent on.

In essence, it leaves McLeish between a rock and a hard place. It’s down to him to find the signings who can improve the team without breaking the bank, and he will know that next year we have to improve our forward play. He’s got the owners who will demand return on investment on players that are signed, and fans who will demand marquee players as proof of the club’s ambition. It’s been said by many that this summer could be the breaking of McLeish; some good transfers and maybe things will look rosy. Another summer of chasing players who don’t eventually sign (cf Cacau, Miccoli, Dembele, N’Zogbia etc) could lead to more disgruntlement, and eventually McLeish being forced out. What makes it even harder is it will only be possible to judge if a gamble on a player has paid off when it’s too late. Football these days is a huge gamble; the fear is that McLeish will remain overly cautious as others up the ante beyond what we can call.

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One Response to “The Fear”

  • Pete says:

    Some good points to be fair. I think several of the players who chose not to sign for us may be swayed by the Europa league… I hope so anyway. We really don’t need that many new signings – a striker who can put the ball in the net AND who can run is a must though. They don’t have to be able to finish like Philips or run like Jerome but they most not have the finishing ability of Jerome or the pace of Philips!

    We need to keep Jiranek so we have 3 decent centre backs although its more than possible that someone will come in for Dann or Johnson. Carr isn’t showing signs of slowing down and has another season in him and Ridgewell still seems good enough at left back. We need someone else who can play there though.

    If Larsson goes, we have a good oppertunity to change things around and get some pace on the right hand side and with a full pre season, we’ll have Beausejour and McFadden on the left.

    I wonder if Eck will play McFadden up front more bearing in mind we have Beausejour on the left who still seems to be improving as a player each time he plays.


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