BCFC: The Injury Crisis

Saturday saw Birmingham City not only lose 2-0 to Huddersfield Town, but also two players to injury. Montserratian striker Lyle Taylor pulled up in the warm-up to leave Blues with one fit senior striker while Maxime Colin’s injury during the first half ensured Blues now have only one fit defender.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

Throw in Kristian Pedersen walking a disciplinary tightrope with a two-match ban hanging over his head if he picks up a booking in the next couple of games, and it’s not hard to see how this injury crisis has become an absolute nightmare for Lee Bowyer.

Thankfully Blues have two weeks without midweek games which should help with recovery and give Bowyer a chance to have a stronger squad for each.

Although the hope is that both Teden Mengi and Marc Roberts should return soon, Lee Bowyer does have other options available to him should there be any issues.

One of them is trialist Andre Wisdom, who played 90 minutes for the u23 side at St Andrew’s in the 4-2 win over Middlesbrough u23 on Sunday.

Wisdom can play at either right back or centre back and knows the division well having made 97 appearances over four seasons in the division with Derby County.

However, Wisdom has not played a first team game since playing for Derby in their 3-0 defeat to Preston on April 20, 2021.  He lasted 34 minutes in that game,  coming off with a groin injury in the first half.

I think it’s possible that Blues are at a point where they just need bodies, and that if Wisdom could hold up for 90 minutes in a u23 game it’s easily possible that he could handle being on the bench for a Championship game.

However, it’s not just a question of Wisdom being fit enough or good enough.

Obviously, for Wisdom to play for Blues he will need to sign a contract and I think this is where the rub could be.

I will readily state that this is guesswork on my part, but with Blues Technical Director Craig Gardner having been open about the contract status of Pedersen and Jeremie Bela, I imagine that Blues will be wary of what contract they offer Wisdom.

I can understand fans who might think that as Wisdom is an out of contract player, he will accept a low wage as low wages are better than no wages.

I don’t think it’s that simple though.

I think any negotiation is going to be about not just wages, but also contract length. Pre-Covid, a short-term contract to the end of the season wouldn’t be all that bad – especially as it could lead to a longer-term deal. Even if that wasn’t forthcoming, there was always a possibility of putting oneself in the shop window so another club would take a look with the summer transfer window in mind.

However, post-Covid I think the landscape of Championship football might be changing a bit. I don’t think Blues are the only team looking at lowering their wage bill and I suspect that there may be more players available on frees than usual.

If that is the case, then it makes sense that Wisdom would want a longer deal – say until the end of next season – to guarantee himself some stability.

While Blues have players coming off the books in the summer, I’m not sure if they would have the appetite to offer him a longer-term contract than just to the end of the seaon – especially as Wisdom is 29 in May.

If Blues have players coming back in the next week or two then Wisdom might not be needed for more than the bench; if Blues can quickly confirm their safety from relegation then it might be Blues will look to younger players such as Nico Gordon to fill out the first team squad.

All that might mean that Blues are right to think carefully before committing to signing Wisdom.

As one could expect there has been more criticism from fans about the injuries, and more people asking questions of Lee Bowyer’s training methods.

It’s clear it’s getting to Bowyer, considering his response to Birmingham Mail reporter Brian Dick in his post-match interview.

“No it’s not, that’s rubbish. Trust me I have trained myself for 18 years and I know if we are over training or the intensity.

“If you can’t train the way we train then how can you perform the way we perform, with the intensity? We don’t over-train at all, no. Not at all.

“If anything now we are probably going the other way because we are so scared because we keep getting injuries. We are coming off them more.

“We train an hour a day, that’s including the warm-up, so not, that’s not the reason.

Judging by some comments on smallheathalliance.com, this has not gone down well. Fans who were concerned about players being trained too much are now concerned that they aren’t being trained enough.

I can’t pretend to know that much about how players are conditioned for match fitness; anyone who has seen what I look like will know that fitness and my body don’t belong in the same sentence.

However, I remembered reading a piece in the Athletic about a team going through a mad spell of games and how they coped with it.

On talking about facing nine games in a period of 29 days as manager of Middlesbrough, Neil Warnock said:

“It’s a nightmare for managers, this. It’s a nightmare for clubs. Having said that, it’s a nightmare for the country. It’s going to take an enormous effort in the next nine games. I don’t think a lot of people will realise what is going to hit ‘em.

“We’ve got four Wednesday games, so we’ll either have Thursday off and Friday preparing — or travelling if it’s an away game. Recovery is going to be so important. We had a tough session on Tuesday (November 17) and that’ll be the last tough session until next year, probably February. No training anymore. All it is now is recovery for a day, preparation for a game and off you go again.”

I’m no fan of Warnock; he’s up there with Harry Redknapp in the list of managers I detest.

That being said, I respect the sheer number of games Warnock has managed and I will happily accede that he probably knows more about training footballers than I do.

If Warnock says that training is not needed during a spell of games when there is heavy workload, I’m willing to accept the same of Blues and Lee Bowyer.

Blues have had a heavy workload recently – 11 games in 42 days up until Saturday is going to be a test for any team.

Therefore, is it any surprise if Bowyer is not working his team too hard in training?

If all they are doing in training is a bit of recovery work and maybe some work on shape and tactics, surely that would be all that was needed?

At the Q&A held last week Gardner said that the club were investigating everything about training to see if there was anything they could do to lessen the number of injuries that the squad sustains.

I’m guessing that might be more than just what training the players do; for example I’d hope they’d look to see if the standard of the training pitches need improvement, or if there is a need for another specialist conditioning coach.

After all, I’d much prefer improvements which affected the bigger picture than a knee-jerk reaction.

As I’ve seen other people say, we’re at the point of the season now where most of us wish it was over.

It’s not been a great campaign, but it does at least seem to be one where Blues don’t have to worry about relegation on the last day.

We all know that the team needs an overhaul this summer with loan players returning to their clubs and others with contracts coming to an end.

I’d expect Gardner is already looking at what players the club wants in the summer and working out what budget the club have to do that with.

What I hope is Gardner is also going to the board to let them know what money is needed to improve things at the training ground so that the team is the best prepared it can be.