Alex McLeish’s shock resignation on Sunday has left Birmingham’s preparations for their upcoming Championship season and Europa League campaign in tatters. Acting chairman Peter Pannu gave McLeish a vote of confidence in the aftermath of relegation from the Premier League and Birmingham now have to act fast to recruit a new manager to oversee a huge season for the club.
Fortunately, the core of the playing staff should remain intact, Alexander Hleb, Obafemi Martins, Matt Derbyshire and David Bentley have all returned to their parent clubs, Lee Bowyer is expected to join QPR and Sebastian Larsson is likely to head north, with Newcastle and Sunderland fighting for his signature. Stuart Parnaby, Kevin Phillips, Enric Valles and Marcus Bent have also been released, while James McFadden, Stephen Carr and Martin Jiranek have been offered new contracts. Nikola Zigic is a high earner and is likely to be shipped out if a buyer can be found, Ben Foster is unlikely to be short of suitors and Birmingham have already rejected a £5m bid for Cameron Jerome. Interest in the likes of Craig Gardner and central defensive pairing Scott Dann and Roger Johnson is likely, but rebuilding has already begun with the signings of free agents Chris Burke and Marlon King. Most of the squad were either part of the side promoted two years ago or have some experience of the Championship and on paper Birmingham look the best equipped of the relegated sides to make an immediate return.
Of last season’s contenders for the drop, Birmingham were regarded as the club most likely to struggle financially if relegated, with auditors claiming that “material uncertainty may cast significant doubt about the club’s ability to continue.” Significant sums were required from a share exchange on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, only a fraction of which appears to have been generated thus far, with future investment likely to prove more difficult post-relegation. Birmingham are believed to have had budgets approved by the Premier League in advance of the possibility of relegation and by UEFA ahead of competing in the Europa League, but with the absence of Premier League TV money, which equated to 75% of the club’s turnover last year, questions remain.
The Championship season will already be underway by the time Birmingham tackle the first leg of their Europa League play-off and the transfer window will be open for a further week after the second leg, when Birmingham will know if they have qualified for the group stages. The resulting financial windfall may prompt a late flourish of transfer activity, to ensure they have enough players to compete on four fronts, including a Championship season six games longer than a Premiership season, plus a further three if involved in the play-offs.
Whether or not Birmingham are willing to embrace a competition that will involve travelling all over Europe and could extend to 17 extra games will probably depend on league form, injuries and squad size. Pannu, Carson Yeung, Pollyanna Chu and company bought in to the club to expand its “brand” in China so may see the competition as their best chance of attracting investment and turning a profit. With between 50-79 games to play, including a Carling Cup to defend, compromises will have to be made and the right man appointed.