It takes a hell of a lot to get out of Championship. As we’ve seen in the past 3 years, the most unpredictable league in the world demands a whole range of feats for a team to see success in parting from it. From Wolves spending spree and subsequent total domination of the league in the 2017/18 season to the hidden-gem-finding and late goal tendencies of Daniel Farke’s Norwich the season after, there is no concrete recipe book for guaranteed success in this league.
Blues know this first hand, as in the same season Wolves were plucking Portuguese prospects from every nook and cranny across Europe, Redknapp, Dong and their band of merry ‘football directors’ were happily doing the same – only with a wider array of nationalities. After a busy summer for both West Midlands clubs, the stage seemed set for that campaign to be a hotly contested one. What happened in actual fact is, well, all a part of history now.
What not only Blues fans but football fans of this league in general can take away from that saga is that, no matter what you do in you preparations for a season, it’s always somewhat of a gamble. You can hire managers with excellent records, sign strikers who’ve been banging in goals for fun in far off lands or bring through exciting youth prospects to add a slice of the dynamic to your game plan – but if you aren’t ready for the unexpected, you won’t make the cut.
In the end, the Championship will always have the last laugh.
Which brings us, two years after that insane summer, to Blues’ preparations for this season – one which has already begun in an unprecedented way. After parting ways with Garry Monk and the club’s CEO Xuandong Ren promising a new, more attractive style of play, it seems the blueprint was being rewritten on how this club was to head into a new season.
Pep Clotet, who was thrust into the head coach spot after the sacking of Monk, was joined by experienced head Paco Herrera earlier this summer – a name well known in Spanish football. Herrera’s job was simple, as he so put it: “I’m here to help”, and so he has.
After the exciting signings of Dan Crowley, Ivan Šunjić and Jake Clarke-Salter it was clear that Blues were going for youth over experience – just another gamble at success in the Championship. Following this however have been the most noteworthy and less predictable of the transfers made this summer.
Agus Medina and Iván Guzmán were brought in from UE Olot and sister club UE Cornellà, with latter being loaned back to Cornellà. Following this was the surprise signing of 19-year-old Moha Ramos from none other than Real Madrid, a promising young keeper with high hopes for his yet-to-develop career. After that was, just yesterday, striker Álvaro Giménez joined from Almería for an undisclosed fee and then to cap it all off Blues are apparently on the verge of signing Fran Villalba, a 21-year-old attacking midfielder.
Anyone able to put 2 and 2 together would see most of this as the work of Herrera, surely using his contacts across the country home to the powerhouse of La Liga. Not only does this signal an impressive contact list for our new assistant coach, but also it says there is a clear plan laid out for the footballing philosophy of the club going forward. The core of Spanish players within the side combined with the two Spanish heads at the top of the pecking order is a statement as to what the board and the management team want.
This should excite anyone who’s ever watched a La Liga game, as if we’re taking a page from their book then surely attractive football comes part-and-parcel. Even if the overall success of last season (given its circumstances) has been swept aside – at least we have a plan of what we want to do and are at least going about it in the right way in terms of transfer business.
On the other hand, like anything in this league, it’s a gamble. Taking the team with the lowest average possession of the 2018/19 season and trying to turn them into Britain’s Barcelona is a monumental task and not one I’m sure Pep’s entirely built for. As promising as the recruitment has been, things like this do not happen overnight.
You only need to look at the opening game stats to see that.
Like a fine Paella, this new-look Blues must be allowed to cook slowly, allowing time for all the necessary components to combine. The style may not be an instantaneous magic that sees Blues become a force within the Championship, but this does not mean failure. I believe the club as whole have gone about their business pretty well over the course of the summer and are building good foundations for the time ahead – so when we inevitably sit 3 places above relegation after our first 10 games I don’t think it would be the right move for Dong to reach for his trusty sacking axe that’s hidden under his office desk.
Blues still remain one of the favourites for relegation this season and I wouldn’t protest at someone for throwing a cheeky bet for us to meet League 1 come this time next year, but if we’re sensible and rational in our approach to affairs off the field, then I do think we’ll see growing success on it.
Pep and Paco need to teach this old dog of a club some new tricks – but they’re going about setting up their cards just right.