BCFC: Media Lessons

Blues CEO Ren Xuandong spoke to the press for the first time since October 2017 in the wake of sacking Garry Monk. In two explosive interviews with the Daily Mail and the Times, Ren explained that the conduct of Monk’s agent James Featherstone was instrumental in the sacking of the popular manager.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

If you’ve not read the pieces, they are here and here. The Times piece is behind a paywall but registering for free will get you access to one article per month.

Both articles lay bare just how bad things had got.

Ren confirmed that communication with Monk had slowed to a halt and outlined his concerns over the amount of power James Featherstone wanted in connection with transfers into the club.

“We gave Garry everything he wanted,” Ren said. “There was only one thing that triggered this. I made it clear that we did not want his agent involved in every single deal. I’m not 100 per cent sure he was trying to get fired, but I know he didn’t really care about this job.

What Ren said is, as far as I can tell true.

I’d heard for some time that James Featherstone was heavily connected with regards to Blues transfers.

However, there is a bit missing from what Ren said.

Although it would be against the rules for Featherstone to be employed by the club, he was given a retainer (potentially in the same way Darren Dein was) of around £10,000 per month.

This retainer was put into place by Ren, and it was Featherstone who brought Monk to the club rather than the other way around.

During Gianfranco Zola’s tenure Featherstone was involved in all deals to bring in players in that winter window, including the transfer of Lukas Jutkiewicz.

While I’m against it from a personal perspective because of the potential conflict of interest, it’s not an uncommon thing for a club to pick an agent they want to sort out deals.

Unfortunately, that conflict is what did for Featherstone in the end and it took Monk with him.

There have been rumours that younger players have been pressured to sign deals with Omni Sports to further their Blues career and I know of two formal grievances that have been put in to the club with respect to this.

The most shocking involved a player who is much younger than most.

One such player, claimed Ren, was England Under 16 skipper Jude Bellingham. Ren said Monk was ‘even going to a meeting with Jude Bellingham’s parents trying to get this deal done, trying to get Featherstone to represent Jude’.

The Daily Mail include Jude Bellingham in the players that were pressured by Omni Sports, and it’s another part of the story which I unfortunately believe is true.

It was the furore around Bellingham that precipitated the events of Tuesday – and it won’t be surprising if we see an announcement very shortly confirming Bellingham has now signed a contract with the club.

One thing that has struck me about this is that Ren has actually learned from past mistakes.

The sacking of Gary Rowett was unpopular at the time and the stories of Rowett interviewing for other jobs and pushing for raises weren’t believed when they filtered out.

This time Ren has gone on the offensive, briefing national newspaper journalists to hit Monk hard where it hurts – in the ego.

It’s a very strong card to play – and I’ll be honest, in the club’s shoes it’s the one I’d have gone with too – but it does expose a lot of dirty laundry that could really hurt the club.

The problem with doing this is Ren has had to be careful with what he has said, and that could get him into trouble with more than just the authorities.

By saying it was Suen who pushed for a change in style could cause Ren to really lose brownie points with the titular owner of Birmingham City.

The fact is that Ren could not say it was Mr King, because Mr King does not have an official connection to the club. Right now club officials are still denying King’s existence in correspondence with me.

As I said in an interview with Paul Franks on Radio WM on Wednesday evening, there is a lot of pressure on the club to get things right in the early part of the season.

Last season Blues fans in the stands were patient with Monk as the team struggled to find a win at the start of the season; can you see a new manager being afforded that same patience?

What worries me is that rather than focusing on getting business back to normal and trying to rebuild stability, the club will go down the route of trying to whip up excitement with rumours and news of transfers.

As we found out in Summer 2017, while transfers are exciting in the close season the excitement wanes fast when the team doesn’t gel and looks lost and unfit on the pitch.

My single hope is that Ren has learned more lessons than how to play a popular manager in the media.

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