The squad may be training in Malta because of a break in their schedule, but the ever growing media coverage they are getting is still fervently bubbling away.
The main transfer saga of the winter for Birmingham has been whether Craig Gardner will make the leap from Aston to Small Heath – a saga that appears to be coming to the expected conclusion. The rumoured transfer fee of £3.5 million shows that Alex McLeish is particularly interested in acquiring Aston Villa’s young central midfielder. However, the burning question that must be dominating the thoughts of Blues fans is – do they really need him?
Sporting Gijon’s Michel has recently signed to add impetus to Birmingham’s central midfield and so they currently have four central midfielders that are arguably more glamorous and obvious choices than Gardner. Perhaps it could be argued that McLeish is looking at life after the partnership of the ageing Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer loses its effectiveness. If that is true then perhaps McLeish is pre-empting future success by already signing a player for later seasons.
Another hypothesis could be that McLeish is interested in the versatility of the 23-year-old. During last season, Gardner from time to time found himself covering at right-back similarly to Nigel Reo-Coker. Although Birmingham are not left wanting at the right back position, the medium of versatility is a much sought after ability in modern football. It would mean that McLeish could change the formation at will- on occasions that Birmingham need to be defensive, the ever reliable Stephen Carr could retain his position, but when Birmingham need to play attacking football, which is still a faculty that the fans desire but have yet to witness, Gardner could slot in a Beckham-like position, or quarter-back as the media and Press donned his England position. Having Gardner just behind Sebastian Larsson would not only give Birmingham an added attacking threat, it would allow Larsson to press forward more often and, hopefully give Birmingham the opportunity to add more goals to an otherwise fantastic record. Craig Gardner’s career so far has been extremely interrupted. He has always shown promise through appearances for Aston Villa and England’s Under 21 team but whenever it seemed like his career was going to take the next step, it has stalled.
Perhaps a move to Birmingham is exactly what he needs –Birmingham are an exciting prospect and although their football is not particularly pleasing on the eye, it is exactly that facet of the team that may attract Gardner to the club. He is known to be quite a dogged midfielder and would fit in seamlessly. He is known to be an Aston Villa fan which would mean he would have to change the opinions of passionate Birmingham fans, but, recently other players have had to do a similar thing. Lee Bowyer was looked upon with much suspicion on arrival but now, through a string of very impressive performances and goal scoring knack, Bowyer is somewhat a fan favourite. Liam Ridgewell, although not a fan favourite, is no longer vilified by Birmingham fans for being an ex-Villa player, nor is he called “Agent Ridgewell” by disgruntled fans. This is exactly the sort of impact McLeish will, assuming Gardner signs, be hoping he will make at the Midlands club.
Gardner aside, Birmingham are facing a trio of unenviable games. An away trip to in-form Everton in the F.A. Cup could bring Birmingham’s first defeat in 14 games, or a place in the fifth round of the much coveted national treasure. However, their two league fixtures in this period are even tougher. Away to previously unbeaten at home this season Chelsea, Birmingham face what is debatably their toughest game of the season. Even if they come out of that game unscathed, Tottenham will be waiting with their attacking nous at St.Andrew’s ready to pounce. For all Birmingham’s recent excellence, their run will come to an end but any harboured hopes of European football next season will stay alive until that run ends.
By the end of this month, we will know a lot more about what the future holds for Birmingham – their run could have ended and sent them on a downward spiral, Craig Gardner and others could have joined, and most importantly, the ghosts of the David’s and Karen Brady may finally be vanished forever.