Editorial: The Cook Report

As expected after a weekend of rumour, John Eustace parted company with Birmingham City on Monday morning, followed by his assistant head coaches Matt Gardiner and Keith Downing on Tuesday evening. While at the time of writing Wayne Rooney has yet to be named as successor, it is only a matter of time before the former Derby County and DC United head coach takes over at St Andrew’s.

Wagner and Pals

Since the departure of Eustace, approximately 17 billion words (positive and negative) have been written online about the changing of the managerial guard in B9.

The news that Wayne Rooney is due to come to Blues made the back pages of four national newspapers as well as the front page of the Sun in the UK alone on Tuesday.

If Wagner and his colleagues desired publicity, they’ve got it in spades.

The backlash online was something else.

While I didn’t see anyone burn a shirt or their season ticket, there was a lot of angst and at least one petition.

Flame wars erupted on Blues messageboards between Wagner futurists and Eustace loyalists; crossed words and statistics of the like rarely seen since Gary Rowett was unceremoniously binned.

As much as it would be a bit of fun to write more about this while seeing how many oblique Blues news references I can cram in, I thought it might be more interesting to talk about why this has happened, and why Eustace is just a casualty in the revolution Blues CEO Garry Cook is bringing to St Andrew’s.

The Letter

As a CEO, there’s a lot to admire about Garry Cook. While the statement confirming Eustace’s departure was so blunt Snoop Dogg tried to smoke it, it was honest about the ruthlessness we are to expect from this regime.

Like most, I thought that statement lacked a bit of class and such I must give credit to Cook for fronting up with a letter to fans in what felt like an attempt to answer some of that social media backlash.

It’s tricky for a CEO to communicate in such a way if I’m honest.

Everything that is said gets analysed to the nth degree and people tend to infer what they want to believe about what has been said.

With limited information about what has happened at the club, people have to rely on their own experiences and biases to make up their mind about what has been said; something that can often lead people down the wrong path through no fault of their own.

If people cast their minds back to the previous ten years, they might remember me harping on about how Chinese business culture is different to our own and how that makes Chinese people talk and act in a different way to the way we would.

It’s a bit more subtle, but I believe the same is true of American business culture. And yes, you might point out that Garry Cook is a born and bred Brummie but his years of working for companies like Nike will no doubt have rubbed that culture off on him somewhat.

This is typified by a story I’ve heard from a few differing sources about the attitudes Cook and co have brought to the day-to-day offices behind the scenes at St Andrew’s.

While I’ve heard a few varying paraphrases of the story, the gist of the tale goes that Cook has addressed Blues staff and told them that they all fall into one of three equal-sized categories.

One third of staff will be of no use to the regime and are best served preparing their CV for their inevitable departure from the club.

Another third of the staff will come into work every day and carry on doing a decent job to earn a living to provide for their families.

The final third of staff who would relish the change that is afoot and would use it as a springboard to push on and achieve great things.

Now I’m not sure I believe that Cook honestly believes that staff can be divided up so easily; instead it’s my opinion that this statement is made to trigger people into action.

I think on hearing Cook say this some people would act positively and see themselves as someone who can and will succeed. On the other hand, some would act negatively after being told this and will start to look for another job immediately, convinced that they’re on their way out.

In effect, I think making this kind of statement to staff is designed to weed out those people who are not comfortable with the new way of thinking while pushing on those who see it as a huge opportunity.

If you think that’s ruthless and maybe even Machiavellian then I wouldn’t disagree.

However, I also think it’s absolutely indicative of the way things are going to change.

I suspect from the “misalignment” between Eustace and the ownership, Eustace had failed to convince Wagner and co that he was going to grasp the bull by the horns. Such is life.

The Fallout

I was quite surprised by just how vehement people were regarding the original statement. There were so many opinions expressed that it didn’t take the views of fans into account, that it was too much, that it wasn’t fair.

As true as much of the above is, the fact remains that professional football is brutal and often completely unfair. Anyone who has seen how quickly academy footballers can go from the next big thing to Burger King will know just how football can be a very, very cruel sport.

I completely agree with those who have opined that Eustace was probably a decent guy and maybe it’s true that he didn’t deserve to be let go quite in this way. All that being said there is no nice way to tell someone that they’re not your guy and that they need to move on.

Just like when Rowett was canned, we’ve had the classic lines about how Eustace has been sacked despite Blues being in a playoff place.

It’s a line reinforced by lazy pundits who know nothing more than the superficial about Blues and who are looking for an easy line for their Radio Five Live or TalkSPORT interview.

The fact is that while Blues are 6th right now, at one point on Saturday the club lay 10th, moving four places up the table in ten minutes or so without playing.

Fans also might point to the fact that Blues are two points off third place in the Championship currently. However, by using the same logic it’s also factually correct that Blues only three points from dropping to 15th.

It’s almost as if the season has barely started and that places in the table are pretty meaningless as it stands.

If you REALLY want to be ridiculous about it, on 16th December last year a 3-2 win over Reading put Blues into seventh place.

Rather than think about sacking Eustace, Blues kept him in employment … and duly finished the season 17th.

In short, the season is unwritten and nobody knows for sure just how well it will turn out. To paraphrase investment commercials, current performance is not necessarily an indicator of future results.

I’ve also seen people take the whole sacking literally and deciding that only a finish in sixth or above could be deemed a success for Rooney.

I don’t think this is true at all. I’d be surprised if Rooney has even been given the goal of playoffs this year, although I think it would be seen as a “nice to achieve”.

I think the viewpoint taken by the owners is that 6th place in the Championship is about the pinnacle of what Eustace could achieve and that inevitably the club would have fallen back down the table as the season continued had Eustace stayed as boss.

The corollary of that is that the board must also be convinced that Wayne Rooney has a higher potential “ceiling” as a coach, and as such have taken the gamble to see if that is true.

Providing we don’t go on some crazy long winless streak that once again sees us circling the relegation plughole come Spring, I think Rooney will get at least a year to prove himself as the man to lead Blues forward.

Some people will question if the current owners have the patience to see that through. What worries me is if fans will give Rooney that time, especially considering the angst caused by that blunt statement.

It’s that impression of ill-feeling and potential lack of a honeymoon period that concerned me most yesterday and I only hope that the gap between now and the next game give things a little time to settle down.

After all, you’re only as good as your last couple of matches; nine points from our next three games and it could well be “John who?”

The Rebound

There is one other consequence in this that I hope Garry Cook and the Blues board have considered this week.

While it’s undoubtedly good that Blues are in the press more and will undoubtedly lead to more commercial propositions, it will also bring additional focus on everything that the club does.

Take this tweet by football author Martin Calladine, posted on Tuesday morning.

It might not mean much to many, but what Martin has found is that the club have technically breached an EFL rule by not correctly providing up to date ownership details on the website.

In days of yore, the only person who would notice or even interested in this kind of stuff would probably be me… and despite some people’s views to the contrary I’m unlikely to kick off publicly about something so small that could potentially rock the boat.

As it happens, I did pick up on this issue among a couple of other irregularities on the website and took it up privately with a contact at the club back at the start of August. I even mentioned that it was a good idea to fix it if only to stop anybody having a go unnecessarily.

I appreciate that it’s not Cook’s job to update the website; however the problem with being the CEO is that the buck always stops with you. For someone at the club to promise that things will be sorted out in a few weeks and nothing to be done more than two months later isn’t world class – and has potentially left the club open to criticism that it didn’t need to. I’m sure Cook wouldn’t appreciate that either.

As I said, the problem isn’t if I notice it – it’s if other people do without the love for the club that I have.

My experience of the English press is that while they can be easily supportive if they want to be, they can also be happy to knock you flat on your arse if they feel that you deserve it.

Because of this it’s vitally important that Wagner and co don’t give anyone the ammunition to take potshots at us; there’s enough paranoid fans out there convinced the media and the EFL hate us without actually making that a reality.

I know that I’ve gotten very verbose in this piece, but I think it’s really important that we as fans understand how things have changed with our club.

In some ways the last few days have almost been a trauma response from fans who are still metaphorically recovering from the way things used to be at St Andrew’s.

We may not agree with decision to sack Eustace, to appoint Rooney or both. However, we must believe that this decision has been made for the right reasons and to take the club forwards and at least have some patience to see if it might work.

The alternative is a return to the toxicity and alienation – and nobody in their right mind wants that.

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