Editorial: Pep vs Dong

Birmingham City brought their winless streak to an end with a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup on Saturday. Jeremie Bela’s deflected last minute winner ensured that Blues are in the hat for the fourth round draw to be made on Monday evening. However, pressure remains on Pep Clotet with reports of Blues potentially looking at former manager Chris Hughton to return to the club as manager.

Birmingham City FC

I’m going to straight off the bat here what I’ve said on social media this weekend – that I do not believe Hughton would come back to Blues in the current climate.

I’m of the personal belief that this rumour is an attempt by Blues CEO Ren Xuandong to deflect criticism away from himself and to try and regain popularity with the fans.

To explain why, I want to put together what the situation at the club is from what is known publicly, from what information I’ve picked up and what I think.

The obvious place to start is what we already know – the information in the public domain.

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to work out that right now both Clotet and Ren are about as a popular as a pork chop in a synagogue with many Blues fans on social media, with large numbers demanding one or both is removed from their position.

The reasons for both are fairly obvious too.

For Clotet, the stats speak for themselves. The club are in a poor run of form; cannot stop conceding goals and don’t score many. The win against Blackburn in the Cup was the first win at home since October and was fortunate in many respects.

The reasons for the antipathy towards Ren are a bit more convoluted, but I think it’s safe to say many are unhappy with the fact he got rid of a popular manager in Garry Monk for what seem to many to be spurious reasons.

We also know that while Clotet is unpopular, that Birmingham Sports Holdings Chairman Zhao Wenqing gave his support to the Blues head coach when asked after the BSH AGM last week.

I think the big question for many has been why the club have been so reticent to fire Clotet bearing in mind how trigger happy they have been in the past.

The assumption I made – which I think many also agreed with – was that as Clotet was in effect Ren’s man after Monk was fired, Ren would not fire Clotet as it would show that he had made a mistake in appointing the Catalan head coach and that he would lose face.

However, I have now reason to believe that it’s not that Ren won’t fire Clotet – it’s that he can’t without the permission of Zhao or the owners.

As long as Clotet retains the confidence of Zhao, Ren can do nothing.

With this piece of information, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

Firstly, that it’s no longer a matter of face; I believe Ren would chuck Clotet under the metaphorical bus if it meant he might face a little bit less of the visceral hatred he must see on social media.

Secondly, while Ren can’t say anything in public about Clotet – because that would be not only terrible PR but against the wishes of his bosses – there is nothing that stops him from putting out information that puts Clotet under more pressure.

So therefore it might be in Ren’s best interests to make people aware that he is interested in bringing in someone else – particularly a name that has been banded about by Blues fans – even if it’s not actually true.

Of course, I might have got things wrong here – I often do. However, it seems a bit convenient that this particular rumour has come out at this time.

For what it’s worth, I can understand the reasons why fans want an end to Clotet’s spell as head coach.

The football on the pitch has become increasingly insipid and the substitutions increasingly bizarre. Like Gianfranco Zola, Clotet has seemed to abandon his plans from earlier in the season in an attempt to just pick up points – and as with Zola, it’s just made things worse.

However, I’m of the belief that it’s not just Clotet who should be under pressure.

There have long been rumours from around the club that the board in general and Ren in particular have wanted a bigger say in what team is picked and how the club are set up.

This isn’t particularly unusual in football; if a Chairman has spunked a large amount of money on a player they’re going to be fairly pissed off if the manager doesn’t pick said player.

That being said, there are degrees to how involved a board can get with a team.

What worries me about Blues is that I think it’s more than the owner just wanting to see his investments being utilised.

In the summer, the Chairman’s office was moved from St Andrew’s to Wast Hills. While Zhao isn’t in Birmingham often, Ren is and he uses the office as his own workplace.

Although it’s not great for the board to have an office at the training ground, it’s even less inspiring when you know there is a tactics board on the wall in the office – as was seen in the video when Ivan Šunjić signed for the club.

In addition to this, Edward Zheng Gannan has been seen taking notes with a miniature version of a tactics board while sitting watching the games in the directors area.

Now this could all be innocent – it could be that both Ren and Zheng are doing their best to make the most accurate notes to forward to their bosses in the far east about what is happening.

However – and this is the crux of the whispers coming from the club – they also could be used by Ren and Zheng to formulate their own ideas to pass onto the coaching staff to be implemented.

If these rumours are true – and I believe that they are – then the question is just how much pressure there is on the coaching staff to accept this advice.

Furthermore, if it’s true, then the next question would be if Clotet did leave, which manager would come into the club knowing that this is happening.

I get that people call me a doommonger, and will (rightly) point out that there is a lot of rumour in what I’ve written here.

That being said, I really do think it’s time that pressure was put on the board and the owners of BCFC to answer questions about the way the club is run.

A change in coaching staff might instigate an improvement of matters on the pitch; however until things off the pitch start to get better it’s my opinion at least any footballing improvement will be fragile at best.

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