BCFC: New Year, New Manager, New Hope?

New Year, same old Blues. A 3-0 defeat away to Leeds on New Year’s Day was evidently the straw that broke the camel’s back for Tom Wagner and Knighthead, with Wayne Rooney receiving his marching orders less than 24 hours later. Blues now seek their tenth permanent manager in just over seven years, as once again the R word hangs in the air like a bad smell.

Pre Match St Andrews

It’s not been a vintage couple of days for Blues fans either.

The increased public glare on the club brought about by the hiring of Rooney has ensured that there’s not only all manner of jounalists writing their thoughts on the sacking, but also many clout-hunting social media weirdos making stuff up to try and reel fans in.

That, coupled with the odd fan baiting 14-year-old Kai Rooney on Instagram has made Blues social media place a very un-fun place to be and I feel almost blessed that my current man-flu state has kept me away from large chunks of it.

I’m going to be honest right here, right now and say I have no idea who the board want to bring as the new manager, or how long it will take.

I don’t think anyone outside of the powers that be at Blues have any idea either, and it appears right now that Tom Wagner et al are holding their cards so close to their chest that they’re three inches behind their sternum.

Because of this, I thought it best to think more about the search itself – and maybe to reflect on our reactions as fans to news that has dribbled out.

The Search

The big thing I took from the sacking of Wayne Rooney that this was a reactive sacking rather than a proactive one.

This has been backed up by the lack of immediate replacement, which suggests that someone made the decision that things could not continue and Rooney had to go.

As harsh as it seems to Rooney, I do not believe he can have any complaints.

While there were flashes and glimpses of what could be achieved in some games, the capitulation to Stoke City was horrific and the dour must-not-lose-at-all-costs set up vs Bristol City was awful.

The swift sacking of Rooney confirmed my belief in Knighthead that while they might make mistakes, they won’t be scared to do what is needed to rectify them.

There was no long drawn out debacle like Zola, Karanka or Bowyer; instead the board clearly seized the opportunity of the gap to the next league game and pulled the trigger.

I’m reminded by what I’ve heard repeatedly from senior figures at the club – that in all this, it’s about trusting Knighthead more than anything else.

They are going to make mistakes, it happens – but they’re smart enough to understand when they have and work out how to rectify it.

I think that while Blues CEO Garry Cook’s ego might be a little bruised in all this, he will come out of it unscathed and those fans calling for his head are going to have to accept that.

It’s my belief that the replacement for Rooney won’t be announced quickly.

I think Knighthead have learned from their mistake last time and that this time they hopefully will make a more data-driven approach to appointing a manager.

I think this is the way it has to be. There may be social media clamour for Steve Cooper or Graham Potter but I think neither have any desire to come to the club whatsoever which means that the club are going to have to be smart in their recruitment.

Where this falls down a little bit is that Knighthead have only been in charge since July, and I doubt the background work to match the true masters of the data-driven game has been anywhere close to completed yet.

As someone wiser than me has said,

…it’s all very well and good talking about “World Class staff” but they’re not just waiting for Blues to give them a call. They’re going to already be working elsewhere.

This means that Blues are still going to be somewhat at the mercy of searching through Craig Gardner and Garry Cook’s contact books to see who is available, rather than having a database of potential candidates ready to go.

The logical progression of that is that maybe Blues will go for “Mr Right Now” rather than “Mr Right”; something that seemingly makes even less sense of binning off John Eustace in the first place.

I can agree that prospect isn’t particularly exciting but it might explain why journalists like Neil Moxley are suggesting that Gary Rowett or Tony Mowbray are front runners for the position.

The Cost

One of the big things that was being asked before Rooney was given the boot was the question how much it was going to cost Blues to move the former DC United and Derby County manager on.

As always, it’s a question which gets lots of answers based on assumptions, many of which are probably wrong.

The biggest assumption is that if sacked, a manager gets the remainder of his contract paid off as a lump sum.

Three years or so of a contract remaining in the realm of a million plus per annum makes for a hefty chunk and many were worried that sacking Rooney would blow us out of the water with regards to FFP.

The truth is we don’t know anything like enough about how much Rooney was being paid, let alone the clauses in his contract to know how much he could be entitled to, let alone how that would be paid out.

Rob Dorsett of Sky Sports News reported that Blues have yet to agree a compensation package with Rooney.

To quote Dorsett’s report:

Rooney signed a three-and-a-half-year contract at St Andrew’s in October, and it is normal practice for that legal document to contain a framework of payments, should the manager be relieved of his duties.

However, Sky Sports News understands no discussions around compensation have been held as yet.

I found this quite interesting as I’d read up already on things like underperformance clauses.

According to this website article noting the expert opinion of legal firm Mills and Reeve:

it has therefore become increasingly common for clubs to include so-called ‘underperformance clauses’ in a manager’s contract, which cap potential compensation to protect clubs from having to splash out in the event of prematurely sending their manager packing.

This struck me as being very interesting, but it’s the clause is not going to be based on something as vague as “the football being played is crap”.

While I’m in no way a lawyer, I would imagine any clause like this would have stringent conditions for it to be activated.

It strikes me that a clause like that would require a set number of games to be played either in the season or in the manager’s career before a KPI of something like win percentage or league position is assessed.

The quote from Dorsett’s report makes me think that Blues potentially did have a clause like this in Rooney’s contract, but the lack of agreement on a compensation package makes me think that if there was a clause it wasn’t met.

Assuming that is true, it would then suggest the club acted to resolve a situation before it got too bad, rather than allowing it to drift in an attempt to save face or money.

If that is indeed true, then that needs to be admired.

I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure how much the Rooney reign has cost the club, but I am confident that a decision was made for the long term benefit of the club rather than the short term benefit of the owners.

It might be hagiographic of me to keep saying this, but having had to write about the misdemeanours of the Carson Yeung, Paul Suen and Mr King for the past twelve years this kind of professionalism is somewhat refreshing.

The Fans

Having watched what has happened online over the last 48 hours, I think as fans we need to reflect on the whole Rooney saga and what has gone right and wrong.

It might not be the most popular thing to say, but I do think there is a minority of Blues fans who have behaved appallingly in the last three months.

I never thought that I would see the sense of entitlement I’ve seen from some quarters, but it’s clear to me that either some fans are really good at making up trollish personas online or they’re deeply unlikeable people – to me at least.

I get that people were unhappy with the Eustace sacking.

As I said at the time the statement made by the club was so blunt that Snoop Dogg wanted to smoke it, and the buzz words used when Rooney was appointed were the millstones hung around his neck until his departure on Tuesday.

Social media is a place where people vent their opinions, and while I don’t have to like them I accept that people are going to say them anyway regardless of what I think.

I’m also aware that the internet brings out the worst in many people; the lack of direct and immediate consequence to words shared on the internet encourages some to go further than they might dare face to face.

I’m further aware that the number of people saying truly entitled things isn’t that high compared to the number of people going to the games and that most people are not like that.

However, I’m not going to lie, the game against Bristol City disappointed me in how Blues fans treated their own players and manager.

Frustration and anger is one thing; shouting highly personalised insults at our goalkeeper because you’re incensed he’s not hitting huge clearances to a front line with an average height not that dissimilar to that of an Oompa-Loompa is maybe beyond the pale.

John Ruddy wasn’t the only player to cop it either. The sparseness of the crowd ensured that those lone voices carried and I can’t believe that it did much to help morale or confidence.

Likewise, I get that people boo poor performances.

That being said I’ve seen with my own eyes fans at the Ipswich home game calling Rooney all the swearwords under the sun, at half-time, even though we were leading 1-0.

No new manager is going to make the whole fan base happy. There is going to be some fans who are not going to like who is appointed, it’s the way it is.

I’ll be honest here myself and admit my own bias; should the club go for Neil Warnock my trust in the powers that be in the club would be incredibly diminished and I would struggle to support that appointment at all.

All I ask is that whoever is appointed, that we give them a chance to succeed. I promise if it is Warnock I’ll swallow the bile and keep my own mouth shut.

We’ve shown how divided and toxic we can be this season at some points; we now need to show how we can unify behind the badge to help the team to win both home and away.

On another note, this whole process is going to be exhausting if every single dodgy rumour is retweeted and discussed by fans who believe everything they read online.

I implore everyone reading social media to please check accounts and make sure they’re somewhat legit before believing everything that they say.

The new year is a great time for new beginnings and fresh starts.

The last three months have been somewhat of a blip in what has been a sea change at St Andrew’s since Knighthead took over.

Let’s all hope for a better 2024, a more successful 2024 – and hopefully an end to the revolving door of managers we’ve had to get used to for the last decade or so.