A lot of the reason for a change in feeling is the change in manager. The arrival of Lee Bowyer as head coach at St Andrew’s has added an air of hope to Blues fans, while on the pitch the mental fragility that typified recent performances under Aitor Karanka seems to have faded somewhat.
Change isn’t just taking place on the pitch either.
While Bowyer and his players celebrated a win on Wednesday against Reading, Blues CEO Ren Xuandong cut a disconsolate figure in the Main Stand. It had been a painful few days for him.
On Saturday night Ren had been telling people that Karanka was going nowhere, that he retained full confidence in the manager he appointed back in July. Within 24 hours, he had no choice but to change his tune, telling players at his belated birthday lunch that Karanka was to leave.
Despite being quoted on the official website welcoming Bowyer, there is no doubt that Bowyer was not Ren’s choice.
In fact, Ren was happy to tell anyone who’d listen pre-game on Wednesday that Blues wouldn’t win another game this season. Lining up in the 4-4-2 formation is anathema to the Blues CEO, and Ren was confident in his prediction that Blues would lose 3-0 to Reading that night.
It’s no wonder that Ren’s faced resembled that of a smacked rear-end when the camera focused on him.
They had been critical of Karanka for weeks and were ecstatic to be proven right so quickly. It’s true that one win doesn’t make a season, but the performance on the pitch was volumes better than the team had produced in recent weeks.
I’ve seen comment from some that this was the start of a power shift away from Ren but I think it’s far too premature for that to be confirmed. While I have no doubt that Ren is currently somewhat out of favour, I also believe that there is stuff going on in the boardroom that is beyond our comprehension.
There’s been brief mention on some messageboards of Shayne Wang Yao becoming the ascendant force in the boardoom, but I can’t believe it. Formerly an interior decorator in Beijing, Wang was brought into the board due to his connections to the elusive Mr King rather than his business and football knowledge.
Unlike Ren, Wang is quiet and unobtrusive. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t notice walking by in the street; something I can attest to myself having taken a moment to clock who he was when I bumped into him in Brindleyplace not long before Karanka being hired last July.
While I didn’t expect Shayne Wang would be able to tell me anything about who was being hired, he was keen to point out that Ren was pushing hard for his choice as manager. I can remember saying that Wang needed to tell Ren to speak less and listen more to other people, which made Wang laugh as he said it was Ren’s character to be the person he is.
As it turned out, Wang was the one at the time pushing for Bowyer to be appointed.
If Bowyer can do a good job and ensure Blues don’t go down in the next nine games, regardless of his background Wang is going to gain some “face” from this episode in the Blues saga.
Ren’s discomfort continued on Saturday.
As Blues did their best to try to contain Watford on the pitch, a plane appeared in the skies above Vicarage Road. Towed behind the plane was the message “By order of Blues Fans, Dong must go.”
Having focused on the message, Sky switched their camera to the CEO in the stands. While his mask made it hard to see his expression, it’s clear that the plane had caught his eye. Two seats to Ren’s left, Shayne Wang remained focused on the game.
While there have been the usual complaints of protest smacking of those B6 types, along with some discussion of how cringeworthy it is to co-opt the language of Peaky Blinders into the message, there is no doubt that it has been seen by many.
On Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports News, Paul Merson waded into the discussion.
A plane’s been going over the top with ‘Dong out’ – is that his name, Dong – yeah, by order of Blues fans Dong must go. I mean wait til the end of the season, don’t do that with eight games to go. The bloke’s put in all his money, I know it hasn’t worked out and he hasn’t done anything really, not been great so far, wait til end of the season, doing that is just going to wind up the owners. So for me – poor.
Although I will grant that I wouldn’t expect Paul Merson to have any idea of what is happening at Blues, Merson’s lack of knowledge about Ren’s role at the club only highlights how difficult to understand the ownership situation is.
Even now, I see people on Twitter with “TTA OUT” as a hashtag, despite the reality that Trillion Trophy Asia is second to Vong Pech in actual percentage of the club owned, and the fact that neither TTA nor Paul Suen has put a penny into Blues in at least three years.
Likewise, there is a divide between fans who think momentum needs to be seized upon and protest against Ren needs to continue, and those who think it’s distracting from matters on the pitch and that it should be saved until Blues are safe from relegation.
I’ll be honest and say that in the past I’ve definitely held back from publishing things online because I didn’t want to be seen as a distraction from focus on the pitch.
During the first matches of Monk’s reign I’d heard that it was likely Blues were going to be embargoed that summer, but I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t think it was the right time to say anything.
As people will recall, Neil Moxley caught the flak for that for publishing a piece about it on the final day of the season.
However, I think there is a point where the problems off the pitch are affecting the stuff on it. Last summer we saw protests against Ren as the team struggled in the “Project Restart” period as it became apparent that Ren had been interfering with training and pressurising Clotet on team selections.
While I think the main problem on the pitch has been resolved with the ouster of Karanka, I can also see reason in the idea that it’s daft to give up when momentum is there and when media attention is somewhat focused on the club.
As it happens, the international break has probably come at a good time for us all.
For Lee Bowyer, it’s a two-week period to get a proper look at the squad; to maybe play some of the fringe players in an u23 game or behind closed doors friendly and to instil some confidence and belief in the squad.
For the board, I think they should use this two week hiatus to reassess the club as a whole and maybe consider if it would be an idea to spread the load a bit from Ren – or even to bring in some outside assistance to help ensure better decisions can be made.