Club Focus – Birmingham City – Keeping it real

Ever since club president Carson Yeung and his team took control of the Birmingham, the Midlands outfit have seen their fortunes dramatically change. Since their defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates, Yeung has seen his team go seven games unbeaten, winning five of those.

This statistic makes Birmingham the form club of the league in the last six games, something many fans would not have predicted after seeing the Blues pick up just seven points in their first nine games. One of the biggest problems that Birmingham manager Alex McLeish faces now is how to temper expectations. Currently level on points with Liverpool, it would be easy for fans to get carried away and start planning for European football next season. McLeish is trying his hardest to diminish such expectations: “Our target at the start of the season was to stay in the Premier League” he told the Press. “If we’re in the Premier League at the end of May we will be just as delighted.” McLeish’s brutally frank analysis of the Blues’ chances should not be seen as a lack of ambition, but more of realism.

Realistically, McLeish’s side will not be able to sustain such a level of performance throughout the season – there are just too many factors that suggest they can’t keep it up. A central defensive partnership of two Championship players, a young goalkeeper and a misfiring strike-force, are just some of the reasons to suggest that they will falter, and soon. However, any fan could point to the truly amazing things that are happening in the league this season and say, in truth, very little has happened that was previously expected so why can’t we continue this form. If Liverpool can struggle for so much form, if Everton can find themselves in the lower regions of the table, Burnley can play so well at home and Chelsea can struggle to defend any ball that comes anywhere near Petr Cech, then maybe, just maybe, this is the season that Blues sustain their attack on the footballing elite.

For this to happen, McLeish needs to be backed up in the January transfer window, something that so far, it seems is likely to happen. Sammy Yu, vice-chairman, has suggested that McLeish may have a big budget to work with: “if a top-class player is keen…we might concede that we need them.” This appears to be the same philosophy as Yeung, who shortly after his takeover told the Press: “I will talk to Alex about his needs first. My first plan is to support the club with £20million to £40million.” Yeung most likely said this in order to please sceptical Blues fans that he had the right intentions and was willing to take the club forward. Unfortunately, it is an extremely risky strategy. It’s all well and good telling fans that McLeish could potentially have £40m to spend on new talent, but what message does this send to other clubs? Surely such a revelation of financial power will only allow clubs to hold Birmingham to ransom and make them pay inflated fees for players.

Blues fans need to have realistic expectations in the upcoming transfer market, any expectations of signing players like Aiden McGeady and Kevin Kuranyi should be put on hold. Although the club is doing very well, players like McGeady will attract clubs of a bigger stature than Birmingham so it is unlikely that they will sign until Birmingham becomes more established. Perhaps the summer transfer market, providing everything continues as it has been, is the time for big signings. As mentioned before, McLeish is trying to keep expectations low, but even he is subject to a little bit of excitement. Shortly after their victory over West Ham, McLeish let the Press know of his current evaluation of his side’s season: “After 16 games, to think we would be level on points with Liverpool is stuff that dreams are made of.” Of course, McLeish is not taking their position too seriously: “But we know this league is so unpredictable in terms of results…You can’t rule anything or anyone out and we have got to earn the right to win.”

Up next are Blackburn Rovers in a game that Birmingham could easily emerge from victorious. If they do, it will be an incredible eighth game unbeaten – even better, another clean sheet would also give them their eighth clean sheet of the season. Even if the season does tail off, Birmingham fans can look back in fondness at the lofty heights they have reached.

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