Inevitably, when runs such as the one Birmingham City are currently suffering occur in a season, particularly so early in the campaign, attention turns to what happened in the summer.
Were the new recruits who arrived in the transfer window the right ones? Are they good enough? Do they fit the system? All perfectly logical and understandable questions.
That’s three of the eight the former team-mates made, all without paying a free. Four others appeared on the bench, only one – Juan Castillo, did not feature at all.
At this stage it might be instructive to revisit the starting XI, paying particular attention to the managers/head coaches who brought them to St Andrew’s.
Matija Sarkic (Lee Bowyer)
Marc Roberts (Harry Redknapp)
Harlee Dean (Harry Redknapp)
Kristian Pedersen (Garry Monk)
Maxime Colin (Harry Redknapp)
Ryan Woods (Lee Bowyer)
Ivan Sunjic (Pep Clotet)
Jeremie Bela (Pep Clotet)
Tahith Chong (Lee Bowyer)
Scott Hogan (Pep Clotet)
Lukas Jutkiewicz (Gary Rowett)
Notice anything missing? Let’s look at the bench.
Connal Trueman (Home grown)
George Friend (Aitor Karanka)
Dion Sanderson (Lee Bowyer)
Riley McGree (Aitor Karanka)
Jordan Graham (Lee Bowyer)
Chuks Aneke (Lee Bowyer)
Troy Deeney (Lee Bowyer)
A new name appears, that belonging to Bowyer’s predecessor, Aitor Karanka.
One final exercise before we get into the meat of the article, let’s compare how many goes at improving the team/squad the respective head coaches had.
Lee Bowyer, eight new players in one window
Aitor Karanka, 14 new players in two windows
Pep Clotet, nine new senior players in two windows
Garry Monk, six new players in two windows (Blues’ activity was limited by an EFL business plan)
Steve Cotterill, zero new players in one window
Harry Redknapp, 13 new players in one window
Gianfranco Zola, six new players in one window
A few points worth considering
Hogan was brought to Blues first during Pep Clotet’s tenure, on loan from across the city. Karanka turned that loan into a permanent, so it’s a moot point whose player he actually was. The one constant between the two deals is deposed CEO Xuandong Ren.
Indeed Ren’s fingerprints are all over any of Clotet’s transfers, the Spaniard repeatedly pointed out he only coached the players given him by the board, ie Ren.
For a couple of years Ren indulged in his experiment with lower league Spanish players – both working over Clotet and with Karanka.
Other than Redknapp’s summer of 2017, when Blues paid in excess of £10million for three Brentford players alone, it’s difficult to know which of his successors spent what on fees and wages.
Monk paid one fee, for Kristian Pedersen and that landed the club in hot water.
Ren spent money for Clotet, not least on Sunjic but also on Alvaro Gimenez, Gary Gardner and Dan Crowley.
Karanka/Ren forked out on transfers for Jonathan Leko, Scott Hogan, Neil Etheridge and Sam Cosgrove – by recent standards – and in comparison to Bowyer and Gardner, he was handed something of a war-chest.
And yet, not one single one of his players started for Blues against Forest on Saturday. Ivan Sanchez and Neil Etheridge might have, had they not been respectively injured or ill – but of the 14 who came in the hectic, shortened summer of 2020, very few are making significant contributions to the current squad.
Where are Karanka’s signings now?
George Friend – a sub on Saturday and a valuable senior member of Bowyer’s squad.
Jon Toral – released after one season, now at OFI in the Greek Super League
Ivan Sanchez – currently injured, will return soon to battle for a place in the match-day squad
Jonathan Leko – currently on loan at Charlton
Andres Prieto – moved on after just one season of a three-year deal, now at Dinamo Tbilisi.
Adam Clayton – registered with Blues but not training with the first team squad
Neil Etheridge – yet to play in the Championship this season after being struck down by Covid-19
Mikel San Jose – lasted just one year of a two-year contract, now back in Spain with SD Amorebieta
Alen Halilovic – left at the end of his short term contract and now at Reading
Sam Cosgrove – a big money signing, now on loan with League One Shrewsbury Town
Riley McGree – brought back on loan – but a fringe player and is set to leave in January
Jake Clarke-Salter – still a Chelsea player but on loan at Coventry
Rekeem Harper – sold by West Brom to League One strugglers Ipswich Town
Yan Valery – returned to Southampton and has made two Carabao Cup appearances
It’s difficult to conclude that Karanka’s two chances at bringing in players were anything other than expensive, wasted windows.
Friend has been a positive influence, Etheridge is a very good Championship goalkeeper and Sanchez will hopefully recover from surgery to play a prominent role for the rest of the campaign.
There is a hope that the investment in Cosgrove and Leko will eventually pay dividends as they seek to kickstart their careers in League One.
But as things stand, three from 14 is a lamentable success rate and the resource that was tied up in these deals hasn’t yet worked its way through the club’s books.
What do you think are the big issues facing Lee Bowyer at present? Have your say in the comments section here
As a result in his first few months as technical director Gardner had to engineer his own budget, pick up shrewd frees and add quality through the loan market.
Perhaps the first 15 games under Bowyer raised expectations to levels that are unreachable given the tools with which the football department was given to do the job.
However, one thing is becoming clear, that to turn expectation into a reality, the resources given Karanka would be greatly appreciated by his successor. And that’s on the owners.