Opinion: A Season of Calamity for Birmingham City, But Optimism Reigns

Birmingham City played Hull City four times in the 2023/2024 campaign: twice in the Championship and twice in the FA Cup. That in itself is unusual. Even more so, however, is the fact that the Blues faced the Tigers each time with a different man leading the dugout. And that right there reveals much of what went wrong for a team that ultimately finished the season facing relegation to the third tier for the first time in 30 years. And it’s a hard fate to face for a club and its supporters which welcomed the season with such optimism under new owners.

New owners

It was July 2023 when Knighthead Capital Management announced that its affiliate company Shelby Companies Limited (SCL) had taken over the Blues, who at that time were the Championship’s longest-serving club. The news brought excitement to the club’s supporters, who were further buoyed by the news that NFL legend Tom Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl winner, would be a minority shareholder. And the comments that came from the new owners were positive.

“The transition and implementation plans will take time,” said Tom Wagner of Knighthead in an open letter penned to the Blues fans. “There will be bumps in the road, but I ask that you get behind the leadership team guiding the club forward, be part of the alliance and continue to give every team that wears the shirt your passionate support.” It was a move designed to state the ambition of the new owners but, at the same time, create transparency with a supporter base who had lost faith in the previous owners. But those bumps in the road quickly became visible.

A controversial appointment

Birmingham started the campaign under the stewardship of John Eustace, who had guided the club to a 17th-place finish last time out. A positive start to the season buoyed supporters, with the club sitting sixth when, in a controversial move, the new owners replaced Eustace with a considerably more high-profile name: England and Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney. It wasn’t a surprise that Knighthead had gone for a big name to spearhead their ambitions for Birmingham,

Ominous signs

Rooney’s appointment was controversial to say the least. No one could doubt his pedigree as a footballer – Rooney was at one time England’s leading goalscorer – but his managerial credentials were weak to say the least. Rooney had previously led Derby County and MLS side DC United, where results were mixed at best. But it was a move designed to attract publicity, and it certainly achieved in that regard. The Blues were suddenly getting plenty of airtime, and the betting markets, in particular, were seeing plenty of business. But those watching astutely would have noticed that Rooney’s appointment didn’t exactly bring Birmingham into the equation of favourites for promotion. Indeed, plenty of punters were jumping on the bandwagon, utilising all manner of promotions famed with the sports betting sites, such as free bets uk and more. But those with an eye on the markets could see that little faith was being placed in Rooney’s coaching pedigree.

The merry-go-round continues

It quickly became apparent that Rooney was the wrong choice, with the club almost immediately sliding down the table. No one could have foreseen Rooney’s tenure lasting only 83 days, however. By the time the former England captain was ousted, the Blues were in 20th position in the table and clearly in a relegation dogfight. Next came Tony Mowbray, a coach with plenty of experience at this level, and he seemed to be turning things around by winning four of his first ten matches in charge before illness forced him to step aside. Mowbray’s assistant Mark Venus took charge for six games before Gary Rowatt – a man who has previously led the Blues to some degree of success – was brought back in to finish the season. Mowbray is still expected to return for the new season.

The merry-go-round in the hotseat combined with a lack of options on the pitch took its toll, and a final day home win against Norwich wasn’t enough to secure Birmingham’s position in the Championship. Uncertainty swirls around many of the current squad, but with many high-earners set to leave and money to spend, the future shouldn’t be too murky for the club. The new owners are still saying all the right things and look set to invest in infrastructure around the club. It could well be that the Blues’ stay in League One is temporary, and ambitions to get to the Premier League in the next few years are not necessarily a pipedream. We wait to see what the new campaign brings for an undoubted sleeping giant of the English football league.

 

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