BCFC: One Down, One to Go

Based on results alone, it seems inevitable that the reign of Aitor Karanka had to come to an end. While it’s not been confirmed at the time of writing, practically every outlet has reported that the 47-year-old Basque has departed Blues. So what next?

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

There’s been nothing official from the club itself but we’ve had the next best thing – a Wilfbomb.

Richard Wilford confirmed on Twitter on Sunday that an announcement was to be made on Monday by the club, and that hopefully a new manager will be in place for the visit of Reading on Wednesday.

I’ll be honest and say I’ve got no clue as to who might come in. Right now, I’m willing to accept almost anybody because I think things have got that bad.

On Saturday I couldn’t argue with the team, and they made a bright start. But once Bristol City scored, we all knew what was going to happen. We knew heads would drop, we knew that Blues players would be allergic to creating chances let alone scoring goals and we knew that there was zero inspiration from the sidelines.

As happy as I was that Blues had appointed Karanka, and that they were seemingly looking to end the cycle of going through managers, I shed no tears for Karanka’s departure.

The post-match shrugs said it all. He had no confidence in players and no clue of how to fix things.

For me, whoever comes in the job is simple. The team needs a bit of organisation and a lot of belief.

We’ve seen Gary Rowett do it, we’ve seen Garry Monk do it; hell, we’ve even seen Harry Redknapp do it. It’s possible for a new boss to turn things around enough to get us away from the bottom three.

However, I think that while in the short-term things are fixable, there are longer term issues at the club.

You might have seen the van that was doing the rounds on Saturday.

It’s not the way I would do things, but I admire anyone who takes the initiative to do something – and then has the bollocks to put their name to it online.

Sure, people could and will argue that the van had nothing to do with Karanka being sacked. That’s not the point in my eyes. What I think it did was it gave people a rallying point – something to share and say this is how I feel. In an age of apathy, anything that stirs feeling in people is a good thing, in my opinion at least.

What’s intriguing is that even now Karanka is gone, I don’t think the organisers of that van are done. There have been images shared on Twitter that affirm the target of their protest – Blues CEO Ren Xuandong.

It’s possible Ren is in trouble too. John Percy of the Telegraph wrote yesterday that Karanka was gone, and intimated that rather than Ren pulling the trigger, it was Birmingham Sports Holdings Chairman Zhao Wenqing.

The last time Zhao pulled the trigger when Ren wouldn’t was the sacking of Steve Cotterill. For a short period then it looked like Ren was gone too. Unfortunately, thanks to the incompetence of other directors Ren made a Lazarus-like comeback to the boardroom.

For what it’s worth I don’t think Ren will get the push this time either; at least not in the short term.

That worries me because I cannot see how the club can be a success with Ren as Chief Executive Officer.

So far Ren has chosen three first team coaches – Steve Cotterill, Pep Clotet and Aitor Karanka. Every one of them has been a disaster and has resulted in the club flirting with relegation.

Just a few weeks ago Ren was telling us that Karanka was the man to lead the club, that relegation was not going to happen. He might have deluded himself that was the case but the facts speak for themselves; Blues are bang in trouble right now. Had Rotherham not had such issues with Covid causing postponements it’s more than possible Blues would be in the bottom three already.

Ren has also been responsible for alienating senior members of staff. In 2019, Blues lost four members of the senior management team (Jo Allsopp, Roger Lloyd, Garry Moore and Julia Shelton) who could no longer work under Ren.

Of the three people appointed to replace those staff, only Chief Operating Officer Lungi Macebo remains. Club Secretary Ciara Gallagher handed her notice in last week leaving the club scrambling to find a replacement for another senior role, while former Financial Controller Asif Khawaja left last year.

Beneath the senior management, we’ve seen the club haemorrhage experienced staff due to cost cutting and redundancies. As former Blues under 23 boss Richard Beale said on the Blues Focus podcast last week, it felt like anybody who had the temerity to stand up to Ren and offer a dissenting opinion has been booted out the door.

What we’re left with now is a senior team whose sole requisite ability appears to be obsequiousness of their behaviour to Dong rather than actual competence in their role.

While I understand it’s important to have a staff that is willing to work for a boss, I also believe that a good boss leads by having the respect of his staff rather than subjugating them.

The toxicity behind the scenes has to change – and I believe that change has to come from the top.

I’ve made no secret in my worries about the ownership of the club in the longer term, but right now it’s about fixing the immediate problems that Blues face.

One of them is gone; it’s time to remove the other.