BCFC: The Return of Rowett

Late on Tuesday evening Birmingham City confirmed that Gary Rowett has been appointed as interim manager for the remainder of the 2023/24 season. The decision was taken by Blues after it was confirmed that Tony Mowbray was to take a formal medical leave of absence until the start of pre-season 2024/25.

Gary Rowett

For those who have not seen the official statement on the club website, it can be viewed at this link.

The news shouldn’t come as any surprise, having been reported by both John Percy and Neil Moxley on Tuesday morning.

However, the statement confirmed that Mark Venus will also take a leave of absence from the club to return at the same time as Mowbray. Venus had led Blues to a return of a solitary point in his six matches in charge of the club.

This leaves Rowett with Ashley Cole and Pete Shuttleworth as first team coaches and Maik Taylor as goalkeeper coach.

I’m going to be honest from the start and say while I accept the necessity of appointing Rowett as interim manager, it’s not an appointment that I personally like.

However, personal bias aside, Rowett is a sensible choice.

Not only does he know the club from spells as both player and manager, but he’s walked into a difficult situation before and immediately made impact with what he had.

The first time Rowett took charge in October 2014 Blues were struggling. The club had only stayed up by the skin of its teeth the previous season in the “Miracle at the Macron” and had just suffered the humiliation of an 8-0 defeat to Bournemouth at St Andrew’s.

Yet within five games under Rowett a reorganised and rejuvenated side took 11 points from 15, including a creditable away 0-0 draw at Molineux in Rowett’s debut game as Blues manager.

Although it’s been nearly seven and half years since Rowett was unceremoniously sacked, it’s not like he’s a complete stranger to the club either.

Indeed, current chief scout at the club Joe Carnall is a long-time compadre of Rowett, having worked with him at Derby County, Stoke City and Millwall. It wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility that Carnall put in a good word for Rowett with Tom Wagner and Garry Cook.

And while Rowett only has eight games to ensure Blues do not fall into the relegation places, his appointment at the start of the international break should ensure that he has the maximum time possible to get to grips with a squad which seems bereft of leadership and confidence.

Clearly that lack of leadership was something that had come to the attention of the board, with references made to Rowett’s experience and strength in leadership made by both Wagner and Cook in the statement put out by the club.

Rowett’s appointment does add an additional salary to the equation at the club which I think is still fairly close to P&S boundaries, and it’s for this reason I’m not 100% sure he will be allowed to bring in anyone else to aid him for the next couple of months.

The decision to take a formal medical leave of absence must have been a tough one for Tony Mowbray.

In interviews with Mark Venus in recent weeks we’d heard how Mowbray had stayed in touch with him and other members of the coaching staff, and how Mowbray wanted to stay involved.

Yet without wanting to speculate about Mowbray’s health, it must have been a situation akin to limbo.

While I know it’s not much like the same situation, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has logged on to work from home while not feeling 100%.

Every time I’ve done that it’s been done out of a sense of duty that work got done and that my colleagues weren’t let down.

Yet I’ve frequently found that it’s been difficult to ensure tasks have been done properly in that situation and in the end I’ve only prolonged the amount of time I need to rest and return to full health.

It’s because of that I feel much happier that Mowbray has now got the responsibility of the club lifted off him and can just concentrate on getting better.

I can only imagine how much added stress it caused Mowbray as the club’s position got worse and I fear that he would have felt duty bound to do more than he should in an effort to help improve things at Blues.

It might feel harsh that Mark Venus has been effectively put on gardening leave until Mowbray returns but I think that was a situation with only one real resolution.

Taking Venus out of the training ground equation ensures that there is no confusion over leadership roles or responsibilities between coaching staff.

It’s not great but realistically there has to be only one boss calling the shots.

Trying to be positive, the break could also be good for Venus.

I imagine it’s been hard for him too recently due to how close he is to Mowbray, and maybe having a bit of time and space without stress would be good for Venus’ well-being too.

Assuming Rowett does what is required and keeps Blues in the Championship, I think it’s going to be interesting come the summer.

I have no doubt that if Rowett is any kind of success there will be a number of fans who believe he should be given the job full-time, regardless if Mowbray can return to the club again.

Just seeing the support for Rowett from fans online has been eye-opening.

It’s clear many fans held a candle for Rowett since that fateful day in December 2016 and in some ways it’s the biggest reason for the board to appoint him; the knowledge that he’d be accepted by most Blues fans from the off.

However, my concern is that short-term success should not be seen as a guarantee of long-term prospects.

We’ve already been down that road once before in 2017 when Harry Redknapp was given a long-term contract after keeping Blues in the Championship the season before.

Blues lay in 20th place in the Championship at the time of Redknapp’s appointment after Rowett’s successor Zola metaphorically fell on his sword following a pathetic 2-0 home defeat to Burton Albion.

Redknapp led Blues to two wins in three games to ensure a 19th place finish and safety, leading the  “Axis of Incompetence” including then-CEO Ren Xuandong, Edward Zheng Gannan and Jeff Vetere to push for Redknapp’s instatement as permanent manager.

We all know how that ended up.

Redknapp was only to win two more of the 10 further games he served as Blues manager before he too was given the Spanish archer.

I’m willing to accept that Rowett is a different kettle of fish from Redknapp; for one I don’t have the visceral loathing for the Bromsgrove man that I do for ‘Arry.

However, it’s a similar situation in other ways.

Like that fateful summer, Blues apparently will have a wad of cash to spend come the end of this financial year and an urge to spend it.

Like that summer, the signings made this summer could shape the club’s trajectory for the next five years or more.

Blues need to be absolutely certain that they’ve got the right manager not only for the now, but also the medium-term future – and they cannot be blinded by either sentimentality or fleeting fortune to choose who that manager will be.

Thankfully, the one main difference to 2017 is that now in Tom Wagner I think we have a Chairman who is not only smart, but ruthless in his competence.

Hopefully, the appointment of Rowett will be the right move to ensure Blues do not finish this season looking forlornly at League One.

Equally hopefully, Rowett’s appointment will be the catalyst to a resurgence of hope and belief in the fans in the stands.

Right now, it’s not worth worrying about what might be in the summer. With a bit of luck it’ll be a tough decision for the right reasons.