As the transfer window grew to a close, there was a mixture of feelings towards the first month of 2010 for Birmingham. They lost to Chelsea, ending their magnificent unbeaten run in the process but rather than roll over and continue an expected slide in form, the team produced a gritty display to hold Tottenham at St.Andrew’s. So, whilst on the footballing side, January has been a good month as their three league games came against three of the league’s best teams and two points was a respectable return, the business side brought a month of disappointment.
A window that promised so much with a purported £40 million transfer budget available, only Craig Gardner and Michel have been recruited for a fee of £6 million between them – not quite the lavish spending expected. It was not through a lack of trying on McLeish and the board’s behalf, but perhaps the clubs stature has finally caught up with them. Attempts to sign strikers Roman Pavlyuchenko and Ryan Babel failed for various reasons, the main one being that McLeish was reluctant to spend close to £10 million on strikers that have potential but have never shown the ability to succeed in the Premier League. It was rumoured that Aruna Dindane was on his way to St.Andrew’s but that deal fell through which, in hindsight and after looking at his record in the league, was probably a good thing.
Behind these failed acquisition efforts there lies a much bigger reason – Birmingham just aren’t that big a club. Their season suggests that players like Pavlyuchenko and Babel would fit in well, but when the club’s history is brought in to context, they aren’t a top half side. Although a mistake, Birmingham’s inclusion of Aston Villa’s cup successes in a game programme as their own triumphs serves itself as a sign of the gulf between a club like Birmingham, and a club like Aston Villa that could attract Babel et al. It is an aim of the new board, and every single Birmingham fan, to one day surpass Aston Villa. Surpassing their history will take sustained development and improvement but in the short term, Carson Yeung’s investment will boost the club and keep it from dropping – as long as Yeung is there are has the same level of interest as he appears to have, Birmingham will not stagnate as a club; they will grow and develop, gradually they will attract more fans and popularity and if consistent league positions follow this, they will attract players normally reserved for the top six or seven clubs in the league.
What makes Birmingham’s transfer window particularly strange is not that they have failed to bring in big names, but that the players they have brought in are going to be kept out of the squad by the in-form Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer. Strength in depth is a fantastic medium to have in the Premier League as it can keep a squad ticking over throughout the season, but for a team like Blues, it is not necessary to have six, including Keith Fahey and Lee Carsley, central midfield players. Gardner’s versatility is praised and Michel’s technical ability will bring something to Birmingham that they lack but, with Bowyer and Ferguson doing so well their signings seem slightly unnecessary and more of a luxury rather than the desperate need for a striker. As well as this, the same 11 players have been picked for the last 11 league games, so introducing a player in such a vital area of the pitch in the middle of a great run of performances will be extremely risky.
Blues fans will point to the fact that the two signings were only £3 million each and that both players are young and will hopefully progress under McLeish’s expert guidance but, the question as to whether Birmingham are a big enough club to do this yet has much resonance. Spending £3 million on players that seem to be squad players is usually something clubs like Birmingham do not do – perhaps it is a sign of the massive inflation in the market, perhaps it is a sign of McLeish’s inadequacies in the market and lack of nous when signing players but it is definitely £6 million that could have easily been kept and pumped in to financing the extra money Liverpool seemed to want for Babel, or the extra money Tottenham wanted for Roman. Birmingham are in need of a striker and although neither Babel or Pavlyuchenko are prolific, signing either of them would have shown the fans that the club means business.