Often Partisan

Players without position

With the advent of football management simulators such as the excellent Football Manager series by Sports Interactive, it appears people have become more rigid in the way they see players – instead of a player being a midfielder they’re now an “attacking midfielder” or a “defensive midfielder”; you hear of players being “water carriers” or “playing in the hole”. Formations are more flexible now, and it’s given rise to a perceived problem within the Birmingham City team – the player without a position.

Right now, there are a couple of players within the Blues team that fit this description. For example, Belarusian midfielder Aliaksandr Hleb – he doesn’t seem to score enough to be an attacking midfielder for Blues, yet doesn’t work hard enough to be in the middle of a flat four and putting him out on the wing seems to push him entirely to the periphery. Then there is James McFadden, who doesn’t score enough to be a striker but doesn’t seem to be be pacy enough to be a wide midfielder. In the past there was David Dunn, who whilst being very talented couldn’t seem to fit into the Blues team in a defined position.

Yet I don’t believe this is down to the players. The Blues team of the last few seasons has been one built on a sound work ethic, where every player has a defined role within the team; a job that they have to perform so that the team works as a whole. It calls for a fairly rigid structure, which means players of the ilk of Hleb, who are much more talented than many of the others are denied the freedom to play to the best of their abilities. It’s one reason Blues don’t score many goals; whilst they’re hard working, they don’t have perhaps the flair of other teams and it shows when trying to break down a team that has set up to not concede. The difference between last year’s 9th placed team and this season’s relegation candidates has been our defence – we’ve conceded more sloppy goals this year and it’s cost us points.

It’s a knotty problem; Bruce once tried to rip up the team and bring in some quality, and Blues plummeted down the table faster than a lead balloon. Despite trying to go back to basics, the damage was done and Blues went down that year. Despite what people say, staying in the Premier League is vitally important to Blues because of the financial aspect – thus the pressure is on to maintain that position and it turns managers overcautious – “must not lose” becomes a mantra, and so the need for a hard working, grafting team goes on.

People point to teams like Blackpool and say, “Look, they’re entertaining, and they don’t have as much money as us – why can’t we be like them?” The problem is, for all their goalscoring exploits, Blackpool have a single point more than Birmingham City having played a game more, and are three goals worse off than Blues are. In twelve Premiership games this calendar year, Blackpool have won 2 and have gained seven points. In the same time frame, Blues have won three in ten games and have picked up twelve points in total. Twelve from thirty possible points isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than seven in thirty six, and is one reason why many are tipping Blackpool to still go down.

It would be easy for me to say that Blues should just sign players that they know can slot into the team, but it’s not like that in real life. For one there is only a limited pool of players ever available to Blues, and for two we just don’t know how a player will fit in until we play them. For our long term future, it would be nice if Blues could get to a point where they could accomodate one or two luxury players, but right now I struggle to see how we can manage it.

Talking Points sponsored by John Hicken Industrial roofing and cladding materials

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