BCFC: Transfer Window Reflections

Transfer deadline day was a quiet one for Birmingham City with only Alex Pritchard signing and three young players departing. Indeed, for some Blues fans the biggest successes of the window were ensuring that Jordan James and Jay Stansfield remained with the club until the summer at least.

Main Stand St Andrews

If anything, Blues’ transfer window was a microcosm of the English game as a whole.

Profit and Sustainability rules have come to the fore in recent months with the Premier League cracking down on clubs breaching thresholds, causing many clubs to hold their powder for fear of getting into trouble of their own.

I’ve written before about the issues Blues face staying within profit and sustainability rules this season.

While the naming rights deal signed by Blues will have eased some worries, it was very much still players having to leave before they could come in.

However, like the Premier League the P&S rules are only the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve put together this piece to dive deeper into some of the issues the club faced in the window just gone, and how this summer will change things for the better.

Profit and Sustainability Rules

It shouldn’t be new news to anyone that the Profit and Sustainability Rules are an issue for Blues this season.

Regular readers of this website will remember that I mentioned back in May of last year that this season was going to be a tough one, due to the losses of the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons amounting to £25m or so each.

As I’ve continually said over the season, the approach to the P&S requirements has shifted significantly at the club since Knighthead took over.

Rather than cutting outgoings further and further in an attempt to get within the limits, Knighthead have done what they can to bring in new money.

I’m of the belief that the naming rights deal was the main factor in the club being able to reject lowball bids for Jordan James.

Indeed, I’m willing to go as far as to say thanks to the BTS obsessives on Twitter who seem to be trying to ensure that Blues hit their social media bonus targets in double quick time.

The £3M that Blues can potentially earn from that part of the deal will go a huge way to ensuring that the club will not be in trouble come the end of the season.

While it’s good news that the club are probably closer to the straight and narrow than they were at the start of the month, it didn’t mean that Blues could go crazy in the transfer market.

As much as I understand why fans will want Blues to get as close to the line as possible, it’s important that there is some buffer space to cover eventualities that we might not have initially thought about.

However, it wasn’t just the P&S rules that prevented Blues signing players after Alex Pritchard.

Squad Rules

It might be due to the number of injuries there have been at the club this season, but it’s hard for me to think that the Blues first team squad is somewhat bloated.

Yet the size of the first team squad was very much the problem for Blues as they looked at other transfer possibilities on transfer deadline day.

Championship rules dictate that Blues can name up to 25 players over the age of 21 in their first team squad. Players on loan at Blues have to be named in that 25 man squad regardless of age.

I’ve been tracking Blues squad data for some time, and among other things I keep note of is the number of players Blues have who are over 21.

The signing of Alex Pritchard took Blues up to the limit of 25 players, and I suspect it was for this reason more than any other that made the club stress players had to leave if any more were to come in.

As Tony Mowbray said in his press conference on deadline day:

“You can’t force people out of a football club. In my mind these are professional footballers doing their job. You can potentially try to coax them into taking a move that might give them an extra year or two on their contract. But if they don’t want to go, and they don’t see that as an option for them, then you can’t force them out.

The only way a player can be forced out of the club is if their contract is paid up in full; something that the club would no doubt be unwilling to do due to the P&S restrictions already discussed.

It is possible for players to leave “by mutual consent” as Zach Jeacock did, but that will involve the player agreeing to a payoff by the club which probably isn’t the same value as the rest of his contract.

This left Blues in a tough position.

Signing a sixth player on loan would have been tough financially and would have meant some matchday squad decisions would have to be made.

However, it’s not as bad as it seems. It doesn’t have to be the same player left out each game, and things like injuries and suspensions can render the decision of which player to leave out moot anyway.

Not registering a player as a player in the 25-man squad is a completely different story. That would effectively rule that player out for the remainder of the season, without any option to switch them for anyone else.

If Blues were going to go down this route, they might as well pay off a player anyway to get rid of them.

Thus while it would have nice to bring in a new keeper or a striker, it just wasn’t going to happen.

As negative as this feels, it’s only a temporary situation. The summer will be different – and will give the owners the opportunity to build a new squad as they see fit.

The Summer

For the last few months, the message I’ve heard coming from my contacts inside the club has been the same – get through this season and then the summer is going to be huge.

It’s not that hard to understand why either.

Not only does one of the huge loss years drop off the end of the P&S calculation, but the amount of money coming into the club goes up.

Not only are there new sponsorship deals to look forward to, but the new television rights deal signed by the EFL kicks in next season which will boost the amount of money the club receives in broadcasting rights.

Throw in the end of the last of the more expensive wage deals and the release of some players from the squad whose time has come to a close at the club, and there should be significant wiggle room for the club to do transfer business.

It’s for this reason I’m fairly happy that the club held it’s powder in the transfer window, even with the financial and squad rule constraints in place.

I know that there were a lot of complaints about Blues not signing a striker, but I think that was inevitable.

I’ve long thought that the winter window is a poor time for clubs to sign forwards; something that was backed up by a piece by Matt Slater in the Athletic last week which quotes Omar Chaudhuri, who is chief intelligence officer for the sports consultancy Twenty First Group.

Another interesting one … is my colleague did some analysis that looked at strikers bought in January since 2012 and found that 40 per cent of them didn’t even score a goal in the remainder of that season.

Now while this was for Premier League clubs, I had a think back to some of the players Blues have signed over the last few seasons.

I’ll admit there have been some success.

Scott Hogan was red hot when he first come to Blues, scoring seven times in eight appearances on loan before lockdown in the 2019/20 season.

Then there is Lyle Taylor, who managed five in 14 appearances for Blues in the 2021/22 season.

Yet I’m not sure either player is seen as much of a success for Blues by fans in hindsight.

It’s not hard to find a deadline day failure either.

Sam Cosgrove was signed on 31 January 2021 as Blues floundered looking for additional firepower up front.

The former Aberdeen man failed to score in any of his 12 appearances for the club that season – or indeed in any of his 17 appearances for the club before he was finally released at the end of the Summer 2023 window to allow him to join Barnsley.

As much as I accept not signing a striker doesn’t leave Blues in a great position right now, I’m hopeful that not throwing money in desperation will allow us to recruit sensibly in the summer.

In fact, it feels like Blues are doing everything they can to get the team into a place where there will be a supply line in place for a striker when they do get one, to help ensure success.

Patience is a word I use a lot at the moment about Blues, but I think it’s important that we do keep ourselves in check a little bit.

For the first time in a long time, Blues have owners in place where the future looks bright and there seems to be an obvious plan as to where the club is going.

I have a feeling over the next few months we’ll see the next few chips fall into place which will give us the opportunity to build a much better squad in the summer.

If that means having to deal with things as they are for a few months, so b