As Birmingham’s season reached its conclusion, there were several overriding emotions shared by all fans. One, the massive relief that they had avoided relegation and thus, will be spending another season in the Premier League and two, that they have put themselves in a position to push forward next campaign and appear to have all the necessary facets to do so. They will recognise that with Alex McLeish in charge, they have a man who has the ambition to keep the club from stagnating or even worse, digressing. That said there should be no arrogance around the club just yet. Of course, they have completely embarrassed the early August predictions of last year that suggested they would struggle to stay away from the relegation zone. They have succeeded their closest rivals (Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers, the two clubs that came up with them from the Championship) and in the process, have seemingly joined a new group of teams in the process.
To avoid arrogance, they should take note of Hull City’s decline this season and indeed, at the end of season prior to now. Hull fans took huge pleasure at seeing their team ascend up the league table and dared to believe that they could stay there; truthfully, Hull were never going to sustain a lofty position because the league is just too difficult a place to keep a high level of performance for a lengthy period of time if you don’t have the financial backing that the majority of the big clubs do. Birmingham should be wary of a similar fate. Whilst they have succeeded where Hull failed in keeping their top half place by the end of their first season, they still have to pay close attention (the club, board, team and manager) to the dangers that will be posed by this summer and next season.
The fans should not become arrogant and the club should not become complacent. If the support begins to believe that next season will be much of the same, if not better, then they are incredibly disillusioned. Although money has been promised and it seems that McLeish is aware of the deficiencies in the squad, performing as well as they did this season will be very hard. On paper, there are at least eight teams that have better squads and a plethora of others that can easily compete for spots. Teams like Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers could all replace Birmingham in 9th place. If pragmatism and patience is taken, fans will be equally happy with a 9th – 14th place position as they were with this seasons efforts.
The oft-quoted business mantra, ‘run before you can walk’, resonates largely with Birmingham. The idea of gradual progression, rather than quick ascendency, should be adopted by everyone associated with the club. Hopefully, for all those fans, the board will be sensible enough to avoid running and complacency at the same time. Both are dangerous entities and for Birmingham’s development, it is pivotal that they eschew both; if they try and climb up the table too quickly by spending irresponsibly then it could hinder the clubs progression later on, should the money spent not reap rewards immediately. Indeed, complacency poses an equal amount of threat. It has been mooted by Alex McLeish that he will have around £10million to spend in the summer; that amount of money is a paltry sum in today’s footballing world and will just about keep the equilibrium with the money spent by those around them. By having such a cautious fiscal approach, City are running the risk of having a stagnated squad which will slide down the table. Of course, it seems highly contradictory to immediately suggest that they should not spend only £10million after suggesting that massive investment could be a mistake but there is a fine balance between the two that the club should aim for.
In the summer, McLeish and the board will assumedly sit down and discuss their aims for the season ahead and the players will be required. Every single fan that has followed the club fervently this season, or even the distant observer, will be able to decipher what is needed and what isn’t. If McLeish does indeed only have £10million to spend then fringe players are not needed; the signing of Michel from Sporting Gijon is already looking a little wasteful and that £3million cannot be spent in such a manner this summer. A striker is an absolute must; failed attempts to bring in Ryan Babel and Roman Pavlyuchenko heralded disappointment in the January transfer window but fans will be eager for McLeish to show similar ambition in an effort to sign a forward man; their goals tally this season, 38, intimates that scoring is where they struggled most. Although it is a big statement, they should not buy Christian Benitez. He has, barring endeavour, been a disappointment and given the amount he’d cost, would be a waste of money and would bring nothing new to the attack. Who they should sign is down to McLeish but your thoughts would be highly welcomed in the comments section; in this writer’s opinion, said striker must be plying their trade in the Premier League or have played in the league before. Players like Robbie Keane, Carlton Cole et al would be good options and given their clubs difficulties (in Keane’s situation, the difficulties between him and club), could be goers.
Elsewhere, Joe Hart appears to be on his way back to Manchester City and subsequently an epic gap will be left in the Birmingham’s defence. Ben Foster has been suggested as a replacement in some quarters but the one certainty is that the club cannot put their faith in Maik Taylor; the ever ageing Northern Ireland goalkeeper no longer has the capability to be a starter for a club like Birmingham. His age is not the only factor (indeed, Brad Friedel and Edwin Van der Sar cope). Too often, he looks to be lacking in the necessary ability to save shots; two appearances this season culminated in five goals being conceded. All five of those goals came against Manchester City; the most goals Joe Hart conceded in one game all season was three. He also kept twelve clean sheets. So, two signings are a must (and that is just to keep still, more would be necessary to move forward) and if the club wants a high level of players, they will need to spend more than £5million on each player. It may be the case that another loan has to take place; City seem reluctant to let Joe Hart go back out on loan and Harry Redknapp has said that Robbie Keane will not be available for loan.
However, all of those worries should be harboured for now. The club should just be basking in the delight that they have done so well in their first year back in the top flight; whilst high expectations may rule supreme as the new season begins, those overriding emotions are understandable for now. With new seasons come new expectations but hopefully, the fans will review their season and not compare those thoughts with their expectations for the coming campaign. A lot can change in a summer; desires for what occurs next season should be kept quiet until several games pass. Then, and only then, should fans begin to say what they want for the season.