BCFC: Dare to Dream

Birmingham City came down to earth with a bump on Tuesday evening following a 3-0 defeat to Burnley at Turf Moor. Victory would have seen John Eustace’s men climb to fifth in the table; however the loss means that Blues lie in 15th place at the bottom of a pack of 11 teams separated by just three points.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

The Championship has always been a tough league to get out of and this season it feels tighter than ever, with only Burnley and Sheffield United managing to break clear at the top of the table.

The possibility of sneaking into the top six has given many Blues fans hope of promotion in May with some of the more expectant fans online demanding investment for a top six push.

Although defeat has served as a reality check for many, I think it’s still a good time to talk about the “P” word and what chance Blues have of achieving it.

Is Promotion a bad thing for Blues?

Whenever Blues manage to manoeuvre themselves into a position in the table where promotion is a possibility, there always seems to be a discussion to be had on whether we actually want promotion or not.

The against view is one that is borne out of scepticism from long years of following the club.

It’s not hard to understand either given Blues’ recent history and ownership travails. For example, there is a feeling often expressed by some Blues fans that promotion would somehow see Premier League riches siphoned off to the far east.

That leads into fears of a lack of investment in the squad should the club manage to be promoted, creating a season of absolute struggle for the squad and a danger of setting unwanted records for points totals and goals conceded.

There are also the more esoteric views surrounding the way the Premier League runs, for example fans being unhappy at the thought of VAR being used in games.

As much as I understand those views, I think that they are part of the reason football is tainted these days.

Sport has always been about trying to win and succeed; to hope not to be promoted runs counter to every reason to play the game.

Likewise, while cynicism about money in football may well be justified, I think it’s difficult to be mad about the possibility of money being siphoned away before it’s actually happened.

I do realise that I’m to probably blame for some of this cynicism following years of reporting the ownership issues at Blues and I can only hope people understand that I believe we as fans have to give people the benefit of the doubt until we know better.

Regardless of what our expectation is of how the club will perform, I think we have to go into every season hoping for success. Indeed, I feel our aim for the club should always be promotion, even in seasons like this one where my expectation was that it would probably be another season of struggle.

That tempering of expectations rather than our hopes is important when we consider the January transfer window.

Speculate to Accumulate

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen me post a couple of emails I’ve received recently from a Blues fan demanding that I make use of my contacts to demand the owners invest in the squad so that we will be promoted in May. The argument then goes on that with promotion comes a lot of money, which will repay the investment in spades.

As much as I’d like to think I’m an influential figure, we all know I’ve as much chance of convincing the owners of Blues to spend millions on the club as I have of convincing Natalie Portman to leave her husband for my charm and good looks.

However, even if the owners did somehow decide to splash the cash this winter I think we’d need to be wary of what to expect.

I don’t need to remind people of the fallout from the trolley-dash of summer 2017, which caused Blues to be deducted nine points for breaching Profit & Sustainability regulations.

What made that trolley dash worse is that even though Blues spent a lot of money on transfer fees and player contracts, the club only just squeaked staying up at the end following a disastrous season on the pitch.

Parachute payments in the Championship have created a massive imbalance between clubs, which makes life even more difficult for Blues.
A good example of this would be Brandon Thomas-Asante.

In late August Blues made a move to try and sign Thomas-Asante from Salford City, only to find themselves gazumped by a West Bromwich Albion side that could afford to offer the player triple the wages Blues could.

Massive contracts handed out to players in the days of Ren Xuandong being CEO of the club has hamstrung the wage budget, forcing the club to become ever more creative to bring in players who can help improve the squad.

Technical Director Craig Gardner has been keen to reinforce at various fans forums that the wage budget still needs to be brought under control, which would ostensibly preclude a splurge this winter.

The reason the wage budget needs to be kept under control is that Blues still lose an incredible amount of money each year; so much so that without careful control Blues could feasibly breach P&S regulations again at the end of this season.

Even a change of ownership may not help; my understanding from talking with people connected to the failed Maxco deal was that there would have to be a maximum wage for incoming players of something like £15k a week; a sum that doesn’t get you a lot in this division.

With so many teams so close together, there is no guarantee of success with a splurge in the transfer market. However, this doesn’t mean that all hope should be lost.

Making a run for it

As much as I am sure Blues cannot afford to splurge on players, I do not believe for one second that we should abandon all hope of positivity in the second half of the season.

There is no denying that on the pitch John Eustace has got the team performing to a far higher level than many of us expected at the start of the season.

Shrewd signings like John Ruddy in goal have strengthened Blues defensively, while an improved attacking approach has meant Scott Hogan has flourished once again up front.

Defeat to Burnley was hard to take and knocked the team down a bit, but the tightness of the division means that a couple of victories can quickly change the way we look at the table.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s my feeling that every year there is a team put a run together in the second half of the season which carries them into the top six and gives them the momentum to get through the lottery that is the playoffs.

What Blues really need is to do if they are to succeed is to try to find a way to become that team.

It will require not only effort and guile on the pitch, but also some luck to avoid injuries or suspensions taking important players from the team.

Indeed, right now the injuries to Scott Hogan and Harlee Dean have caused Blues some issues and have exposed just how thin the squad is.
I think the job for Craig Gardner has to be to not only to try to bring in reinforcements if possible, but to ensure that Blues can hold onto the players they have.

There has been talk of Krystian Bielik being recalled by Derby County in January but it’s my feeling that will not happen unless Derby can find a club willing to meet their transfer valuation for the player.

Bielik is on a substantial wage at Pride Park, and his recall would ensure that Derby would once again be responsible for all of it; something I think they cannot afford if they are to meet their own aspirations.

Those wages coupled with the two-club rule preventing him from playing for another team if he plays a match for Derby pretty much ensures the Polish midfielder stays at St Andrew’s unless Derby can sell him.

Sadly, as much as I’d like to see Blues shell out to sign Bielik permanently I don’t think they can afford the desired fee at this time.

The other player whose future at Blues seems to be up in the air is young midfielder George Hall. The 18-year-old has been linked with various moves away from the club, with reported fees varying wildly depending on the outlet reporting it.

My gut instinct here is that Hall’s agent is feeding the press rumours with the aim of maybe trying to force a move.

At the fans forum I attended at the Mackadown, Gardner was forceful in his statement that Blues did not want to sell Hall without a real fight to keep him.

There have been some figures touted in the press which seem incredibly high for a player with as little experience as Hall has and I think the test this month will be for Blues to at least hold out for a big fee.

It’s important to remember here that figures in the press are often including all add-ons; for example while it was reported Blues paid £2m for Sam Cosgrove the actual transfer fee without contingencies was far, far lower than that.

January feels like it could be a crossroads in the season for Blues; a good month and maybe we can dare to dream a little bit more, a bad one and I think the anger towards the owners could return in a big way.

Whatever happens, I hope people will continue to be positive and back John Eustace and the team.

On the pitch at least it does feel like we’ve got something to believe in – and that faith that the club can succeed is surely one of the best reasons to support it.