It’s fair to say Karanka took a kicking on social media following the game for the substitutions he made. I didn’t see the game so I can’t comment on what happened but based on what’s gone on this season I can understand why fans might have been angry about San Jose coming on, or Jutkiewicz only entering the fray when both wingers have been taken off.
However, there does seem to have been some thought in the changes. Brian Dick wrote an excellent piece in the Birmingham Mail that took offered some proper insight into the Spaniard’s thinking.
One of the things that stood out to me was Karanka’s issues with the squad depth. When Brian asked the Blues boss if he had enough options on the bench to change things, Karanka replied
“No, because especially on the wings we don’t have the player that can replace Ivan [Sanchez] or Jeremie [Bela]”
The insinuation is clear – that despite bringing in 16 players this season, Karanka feels he has no strength in depth on either wing.
This concurs with thoughts I’ve had about how imbalanced the squad is, and how despite such a huge turnover of playing staff Blues are in a position where there might be demands from fans this summer to do so again.
I’ve long held the opinion that mass turnovers of players is detrimental to the club, and if I’m honest I think one of the reasons Blues are in the position they are is because of just how many players and managers the club has burned through in the last few years.
What’s worse is that Blues are burning through these changes against a worsening financial background which is going to make it even more difficult to balance the books.
In his radio interview with Richard Wilford, Blues CEO Ren Xuandong was keen to state that Aitor Karanka was making do with a playing budget of £18M – less than half of what Harry Redknapp had in that infamous summer of 2017 when Blues splashed the cash in an attempt to buy promotion to the Premier League.
Back then, the Blues wage budget of £37M meant that the club paid out £2.02 in wages for every £1 in turnover it brought in.
While £18M seems much more in line with keeping the budget on an even keel, one has to take into account that there are no ticket sales this year due to Covid and that commercial revenue will also be somewhat smaller.
It’s difficult to work out how that will affect the club, not least because the accounts for last season have not been released yet. However, we can approximate things using the accounts from 2019.
In those accounts, Blues had a turnover of £23M. This was split £5M from match day receipts, £8M from broadcast revenue and £10M from commercial income.
Using those figures, it’s not hard to imagine that £18M in playing budget is going to be at least 100% of turnover, if not more. What that means in real terms is that every penny the club makes from normal operations is probably going out in wages; everything else like transfer fees and paying bills is going to have to come from somewhere else.
This is why the Jude Bellingham sale was so important. I understand why Ren was reluctant to talk about it in his interview, but the bald facts are that without that money, the club would be somewhat desperate from cash, ensuring that the money owed to the owners of the club would just grow further.
It’s also why it’s important that Blues have to do better with recruitment.
It’s all well and good saying that Karanka has had to make do with “free transfers”, but free transfers are anything but. Players such as Adam Clayton and Mikel San Jose will be on decent wage packets following their moves to the club; I’m led to believe that Alen Halilovic’s wage isn’t insubstantial either.
When a club signs a player, they’re effectively committing to pay the entirety of the contract. Players have every right to sit out the whole of their contract without accepting a release; this can lead to clubs having expensive bomb squad players who aren’t playing yet are still very much a part of the wage bill.
Throw in the new rules which limit the number of over 21-year-old players a club can have in the Championship and it seems obvious that clubs can no longer afford to have players just as “bodies” on their books.
I think Karanka’s comments expose another issue the club has, which has also been picked up by Ren in the same radio interview.
While I accept that Karanka might feel he’s struggling for squad depth on the wing, I’m disappointed he’s not looked to some of the younger fringe players as answers.
For example, it seems criminal to me that Steve Seddon cannot be given a place on the bench following his recall from his loan at AFC Wimbledon. I freely accept that my knowledge of football isn’t that great, but I’m sure that it might be worth trying Seddon as a sub option on the left flank.
Likewise, after a few good performances this season I’m surprised that Josh Dacres-Cogley has been dumped from the squad and forgotten about when he could offer an option on the right.
For whatever reason, Karanka seems loath to turn to the club’s stock of under 23 players as options for players who have struggled at first team level. The only real reason I can accept would be that he doesn’t think that they are good enough; which would only go to reinforce my thoughts on the issue the club has bringing players through.
When quizzed on the academy setup, Ren was quick to make sure that we understood his issues with the academy setup weren’t with the younger levels but rather with the way the older levels are run.
He made it clear that he thought the intensity of the Professional Development League was not high enough to give young players the tools to step up to the Championship.
I agree with Ren on this point.
Although it’s been some time since I last saw an u23 game, I used to be a regular attendee and I can easily understand the gulf in class between those games and games played by the first team.
Likewise, we saw in the “Project Restart” games just how hard it was for younger players coming into the team to make their debut.
Yet if the club is to become self-sufficient, it’s imperative that it is able to produce players ready for the first team through the youth setup. Even if a player doesn’t quite make it, there is an opportunity to bring in a little bit of money through sales to other clubs to help keep the funds ticking over.
While I’m not sure how to go about improving the standard of under 23 players, I think if the 25-man squad remains a thing then it’ll be important for any club in the Championship to be able to call on resources that have emerged from their youth setup.
How Blues achieve that is a big question going forward, and an important one to get right.
Whatever happens to the club this season, I think this summer Blues have to learn from their mistakes and improve how they go about making signings.
Right now, the club are in a better position financially than they might have been thanks to money banked from the sale of Jude Bellingham. It’s important that they do not waste that any more than they have done by continuing to bring in players who do not deliver value for money.