BCFC: The Kieftenbeld Gamble

The departure of Maikel Kieftenbeld to Millwall has caused no end of angst on Blues social media. The loss of the Dutch midfielder has been keenly felt, with many thinking it’s a huge mistake to let the player go. Is there any possibility that something positive can come out of this transfer?

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

I understand why people are miffed. For many people, Kieftenbeld personifies what we want from Blues players. Although not the greatest technically, Kieftenbeld was a player who could be counted on to give his all on the pitch; to use that dreaded buzzword, he has “passion”.

He was also a player who continually came back from adversity to prove himself time and time again.

He’s already been sold before, but his transfer to Derby County in 2017 was voided due to documentation errors. Kieftenbeld spent the rest of Redknapp’s short reign on the sidelines before coming back into the team under Steve Cotterill.

In April 2019, Kieftenbeld ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament keeping him out for 10 months. The club stuck by him then and activated his option year as a show of loyalty. While he was back on the bench by February 2020, it wasn’t until “Project Restart” where he properly came back into the team, playing five of nine matches in the extended end to the season.

The arrival of Aitor Karanka saw the Dutchman on the sidelines again, but rather than moan about it Kieftenbeld continued to train hard and found his effort rewarded with a recall to a squad that lacked energy without him.

Kieftenbeld’s departure now puts a heavy weight on the players left in midfield to replicate that energy and enthusiasm with the club needing to put together a run of results to avoid another relegation scrap. Pressure is now on new loan arrival Rekeem Harper to hit the ground running as Blues cannot afford for him to take time to find his feet.

From a financial standpoint, it’s worrying that Blues have let Kieftenbeld go.

No transfer fee has been involved, with Blues only saving £300-350k in wages that would have gone to Kieftenbeld this season. I can understand the argument that it would have been more worthwhile to spend that money on Kieftenbeld than to save it and gamble on someone else.

Indeed, if Blues needed to let Kieftenbeld go to save wages, then things at the club are much worse than one would think. I honestly don’t believe that is true but with things like the current CCJ problem Blues have it’s not hard for people to be scared that finances are that bad.

While I’m not happy to see Kieftenbeld go, I do think I can see some rationale for it – and it comes back to the 25-man squad situation.

At the moment, the 25-man squad thing isn’t a problem as during the transfer window a club can add and remove players to the squad listing at will. However, one the window is over next week it’s pretty much cast in stone; and therein the problem lies.

As it stands, the departure of Kieftenbeld allied to the deregistration of Josh McEachran means Blues have 24 players on the list. Of those 24, I can see Connal Trueman also being moved out of the 25 man listing and sent back out on loan once one of Prieto or Jeacock are fit.

That leaves one, maybe two spaces to bring players in.

While Kieftenbeld has been a good player for Blues of late, there is no denial that Blues do need to bring in some fresh blood up front at the very least – and to do that, they need to create space.

The fates of McEachran and Davis show how hard that is to do. Despite being removed from the squad and offered out for free, literally no other club wants them. That means to remove them from the picture entirely, Blues have to pay them off to let them go – wasting wage budget which could have been spent on a better player.

I’m sure that there are other players Blues fans would like to see moved on, but that presupposes that another club wants them. I agree that the timing is not good and the lack of fee stings but I can see why Blues moved on Kieftenbeld at this time.

Whether that is a good decision or not I think comes down to who we replace him with. I want to make it clear now, I’m not talking about a direct like-for-like replacement, but who comes into the 25-man squad.

If Blues can bring in someone who makes a good contribution in the next six months, then however much it wasn’t nice, moving on Kieftenbeld will have been a good move. However, if the club brings in someone who doesn’t make a contribution, it could be end up being a horrific gamble lost.

Blues are in this position because somehow the squad feels both bloated and light; bloated in that the 25 places are almost full yet light because it seems obvious we need at least two or three new players.

I think that bloatedness comes down to the lack of under 21 players who are seen as able to step up to fill in gaps due to injury and suspension. This is where the difficulty in loaning out players comes in; on the one hand someone like Odin Bailey is getting useful first team experience, but on the other hand Blues have less cover for forward positions.

Likewise, that lack of cover from under 21 players causes other issues.

Blues have to name a homegrown player in the matchday squad; if they can’t then they have to have one less sub on the bench. For a long period in the autumn due to injuries and loans out only Josh Dacres-Cogley fit the homegrown rule; at least now we have Steve Seddon and Connal Trueman who are also homegrown, plus Zack Jeacock and Caolan Boyd-Munce who are coming back from injury.

If there are under-21 players in the squad who can step up, it reduces the need to have “bodies” in the squad as cover. A 25 man squad realistically means over a 46 game season there can be no room for passengers if there is no youngsters to come through.

Realistically, what we need to see in the longer term is an end to the slap-dash high turnover recruitment we’ve seen of players in recent years, and an emphasis on bringing in players to fit roles and to build a more balanced squad.

The continual change in managers and “transitional” status of the squad in recent years has left Blues having to take gambles like the one they have taken here.