It has been many years since Birmingham City fans have fallen in love so suddenly with the appointment of a new manager. Lee Bowyer has become a hero at St. Andrew’s for the second time in a decade. The man who helped Birmingham lift their first trophy in almost 50 years has now saved the club from what seemed like probable relegation.
To know exactly why the Blues jumped out of danger so quickly, eyes need to be cast towards the contrast of performances during both Bowyer’s tenure and also Aitor Karanka’s, the previous coach. However, it is not only the on-field successes that has filled the Bluenose fanbase with hope and excitement. With Xuandong Ren’s departure from his post as Chief Executive, what is next for Birmingham City?
The Birmingham City Rebuild
Winning five out of his first eight games, Lee Bowyer has turned Birmingham City into a team that fans are excited to watch. With a style of play that is hellbent on pressuring the opposition, there has been graft and grit in Birmingham’s performances that far surpassed the dreary, slow-paced football that was seen under Karanka.
Numerous accusations were made about the former managers’ approach to this Birmingham team, failing to utilise key strengths and exposing weaknesses in the team by seemingly playing a style of play that was never suited to the current crop of players. A slow-building tactic that requires strict positional play was simply not fit for a team seen as a “classic Championship” type. That one is much more about fight than flair.
The embodiment of Blues is being shown a lot more by Lee Bowyer, illustrating passion both on and off the pitch. His communication in pre and post-match interviews has made bluenose fans feel represented within their team. The expectation of performances, rather than wins, takes precedent. Although this can be seen by the more sneery football fan as “lower league play” or “passion merchants”, it is the exact style of play that has seen the likes of Leeds United finish ninth in their first season in the Premier League, or has made Burnley remain as a solid Premier League team for years.
An extremely successful style of play that does not need multi-million-pound players to implement, which also leaves fans feeling that passionate connection with the players. This is something that is missing in many clubs in the modern-day game.
How Has “Dong-Out” Changed Things?
For what feels like the longest time, Blues fans have been consistent with their demands when it came to their Chief Executive, Xuandong Ren. After years of continuous fallouts with the fans over managerial decisions and financial mismanagement, Birmingham’s faithful got their wish.
On May 11, Ren resigned from his position after weeks of uncertainty from the BCFC owners at Trillion Trophy Asia. With debt racking up to terrifying amounts, which included fines and previous point deductions from EFL, the club owners were finally stepping in.
This seemed to coincide with two things. Firstly, Karanka’s worst run since joining, leaving blues deep in relegation trouble. This was accompanied by the announcements from Ren of potentially reducing the size of Birmingham City’s youth academy. The same youth academy that produced Jude Bellingham, who was sold to Borussia Dortmund for an estimated £25million. This alone saved the Small Heath club from even more dangerous financial positioning.
After Dong’s long-awaited departure, Birmingham City fans saw something from their owners that has not been seen at the club, (and many other clubs for that matter) in year’s – good communication. On May 18, the club provided an official update on the current situation on multiple topics that have left Blues fans in the dark for a long time. A key statement was that the youth academy, of which previously stated, was in a risky position. However, the club declared the revival of Birmingham’s chase of “Category 1” academy status, one that is usually reserved for the biggest clubs in England.
The recent sale of Bellingham clearly establishes why this academy is so important to the Blues and why it is so important for their financial wellbeing. Only a few days later, the finalisation of Category 1 youth development was confirmed. The newfound communication on topics such as this and others is another breath of fresh air that leads to Blues fans questioning what could go wrong?
The Very Bright Future
The performances of individuals have massively improved since Lee Bowyer’s introduction. Players such as Harlee Dean, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Kristian Pederson are looking miles ahead of their previous displays throughout Karanka’s tenure. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge is now looking very solid in goal, with Birmingham City struggling for years to have a commanding shot-stopper.
Players such as Ivan Sanchez and Jérémie Bela have been looking skilful all season, yet now have the in-form attackers and comfortable defence to help increase their productivity. To top it off, Croatian signing Alen Halilovic is looking crucial for the future.
If these players can keep up the passion and determination into next season, the idea of pushing for the top six places may not be as impossible as first thought. Is this just the idea of over-hopeful Birmingham City fans? Well, maybe. However, it wouldn’t be the first time the Blues have beaten the odds. With what seems like a revamp of on the pitch performances and behind the scenes leadership, along with an invigorated fanbase behind them every step of the way, there may be a very bright light at the end of next season.