Difficult times ahead for the Blues

August 6, 2007
By Phil Holland
(Archive)

If Birmingham City surprised a few people last season by achieving their primary objective of securing an immediate return to the Premier League, it is fair to say those same people will be even more surprised if Birmingham can achieve this season's primary objective; staying in the Premiership.

GettyImagesBluenose boss Steve Bruce

That is not discredit manager Steve Bruce or the supporters of this ambitious club, particularly after the success of last season, but rather to underline the size of the challenge ahead of them in the 2007/08 campaign.

Although ultimately successful, the 2006/07 season proved to be difficult for the Blues on and off the pitch and will prove to an invaluable experience.

On the pitch there were two rather unpleasant blips which threatened to scupper their hopes of automatic promotion to the Premiership. The first came in the autumn when the club took just one point from a possible twelve; the second arrived in April, when City were hit by two moral-sapping 1-0 defeats in the space of three days to relegation threatened Burnley and Barnsley.

In both instances Bruce's leadership qualities came to the fore helped galvanise the beleaguered team and ensured their ultimate goal was achieved; resilience of this sort will be vital in the coming season.

Away from the field of play disquiet at boardroom level only served to create instability and uncertainty throughout the club.

After months of speculation regarding a takeover Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung bought a 29.9% stake in the club in July 2007. The deal was reported to be worth around £15million and Yeung has stated his intention to acquire the club in its entirety in a £50million takeover in the New Year.

In the meantime the club is still steered by managing director Karen Brady and presided over by David Gold and David Sullivan. City fans will hope that Yeung can either complete a swift takeover of the club or that personality clashes in the boardroom do not hamper Steve Bruce's plans, as they threatened to during the club's promotion campaign.

If all goes smoothly, a takeover by Yeung should be a positive move, not least because it should mean funds are made available for new players, but also because it should mean there will be no repeat of last season's anxiety.

Unfortunately the relationship between the manager and the new majority shareholder did not get off to a perfect start.

After Yeung commented that he had earmarked certain Chinese players as targets for Birmingham, Bruce reacted by saying while he was open to the suggestion of players from the Far East he would 'not be railroaded' into signing any player against his wishes.

Although only a minor incident, which came before the two men had actually been introduced, it was hardly an ideal start for Bruce and the club's prospective new owner to be communicating through the media in such a way.

In order to survive in the Premiership a club must have a large, dedicated, talented and healthy squad which to a man is unfazed by the prospect of mixing it with some of the best players in the world.

Unfortunately for the Blues on paper there are a few question marks over as to whether the Birmingham squad has the necessary strength in depth.

Players like Daniel de Ridder and Oliver Kapo boast promising pedigrees; with De Ridder having starred in the Netherlands' UEFA U-21 championship and Kapo having played for Juventus and Monaco, but they are both unknown quantities in English football and much will depend on how soon they can acclimatise to life in the Premiership.

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Similarly the form and fitness Mikael Forssell remains in question. City fans are hopeful that he can return to the form he showed a few season's ago, but after years of serious injuries, including operations on both knees, it remains uncertain whether Forssell will able to get the goals City need.

One man who certainly won't be getting goals for City will be Mido, after a protracted transfer saga the temperamental, though undoubtedly gifted striker ended with the Spurs man turning down a move to St Andrews, with wage demands thought to be the main problem.

Strikers like Gary McSheffrey and Rowan Vine have proved themselves to be perfectly adept in the Championship, but whether they have what's required to step up to the Premiership is a serious concern.

Alongside, Forssell, McSheffrey, Vine and youngsters like Sone Aluko and Cameron Jerome, the other striker on Birmingham's books is Gary O'Connor, who signed in the summer of 2007 from Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow in June 2007 for £2.7million. O'Connor scored well in the SPL for Hibernian and for Lokomotiv, but like Vine and McSheffrey this question must be does O'Connor have the game to make it in the Premiership.

GettyImagesA vital season for Forssell

Elsewhere in the squad Bruce has not been shy about wielding the axe; he has jettisoned DJ Campbell, rightly judging that the Premiership would be a bridge too far for the former non-league star, while club captain and a hero in the promotion season, Stephen Clemence, has also been offloaded.

It was hoped that the £3million acquisition of Hossam Ghaly should go some way to filling the hole left by Clemence, but that Spurs fans were glad to the back of the Egyptian suggests Bruce should have known he had not unearthed a diamond in the rough. However, the disgraceful behaviour of Ghaly which led to his transfer being scrubbed out before the work permit was processed could not have been expected by even the most pessimistic of fans.

At the back Stuart Parnaby's arrival from Boro should see him forge a partnership with Radhi Jaidi, the Tunisian central defensive giant, a competent and tight pairing they should be.

After ousting Maik Taylor as first choice keeper towards the end of their promotion campaign young Irish stopper Colin Doyle will be hoping to retain his starting position, though Bruce will be happy that a seasoned profession like Taylor will be available as back-up in cast he young Irishman is found wanting.

Whether or not Birmingham have enough firepower or enough defensive depth to retain their newly reclaimed Premiership status must be serious doubt; it would be an enormous surprise if Birmingham are not involved in a relegation scrap from the season's start

If Bruce, by sheer force of personality, can keep the club in touch with the other teams at the bottom of the league the January transfer window could prove vital, as could the financial resources of Mr Yeung.