Blues fans are a bunch that generally don’t ask a lot out of the club. This can work both for and against the success of the team. A bang average player who puts in 100% every week will always win the hearts of the fans over a top quality one whose effort varies from 50% – 80% each game.
The hard work ethic of this working man’s club resonates throughout performances – especially since Garry Monk took over. Monk took what seemed like a bunch of inept children more fussed about fighting amongst themselves than for the points on the pitch and turned them into what is (at the moment) a play-off aiming side widely regarded for its work rate and sheer heart.
Often in his pre-match press conferences, Monk talks a fair bit about ‘not giving up’ and exemplifying ‘hard work’.
Competing as a unit has been at the forefront of Monk’s tactics since he stepped into the club and it’s hard to argue that this is one of the most committed and united teams we’ve seen down at St. Andrews in a long while.
This kind of work ethic isn’t exactly newfound to this generation of Blues fans though, as it can be said that this kind of unity and team spirit was very much present in the two years Gary Rowett was the head coach. Rowett, much like Monk, took a relegation-battling squad and turned them into an overachieving bunch of misfits that other teams feared coming up against. With a team that had no real right to be challenging for promotion, Blues defied the odds and came out most weeks on top.
His tenure may have been short-lived by standards around the time, and his shock sacking was one that devastated most bluenoses, but I think the legacy of Gary Rowett runs deeper than just “He saved us in a dark time” – in fact, I think it’s a legacy that’s been lingering on far too long at this club and one that the Blues’ are overdue in leaving behind.
While being a respected manager in the footballing world, Rowett’s style of play itself has always garnered a fair bit of criticism from the fans – even when it’s worked. His name has become synonymous with ‘boring’, ‘route-one’ football and the teams he’s managed (all the way from Burton to Stoke) have identified themselves by their lack of possession.
Sound familiar? Under Monk in the 2018/19 season, Blues sit bottom of the possession stats leaderboard in the championship, with an average of around 42.9% per game. Now that isn’t something to particularly criticise given that we’ve proved to be so good at counter-attacking, but it is something worth noting when Blues fans have continuously complained that the atmosphere at the stadium ‘Just isn’t what it used to be’.
That’s where I think Rowett’s blood still, unfortunately, runs through this club. ‘It isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done’ was a common phrase when describing how Blues’ played under him, and though I’m not saying it’s even close to that now (the fact we have mostly higher quality players trumps that argument in the first place), I think Monk has acknowledged that Blues, for a while now, has inherently played the kind of football that gets said job done – ugly as it may be. It’s hard to get a crowd going – in particular, a home one – when your football is based on allowing the other team as much possession as they like until you spring the proverbial trap on them and hit them with a classic Jukey header or a Che Adams’ piece of magic. Only so many ‘Keep Right On’s’ can be sung when for most of the game we’re defending.
You could note it down to an obvious lack of natural ball-playing centre midfielder in the squad, you could even argue that our usual 4-4-2 formation doesn’t exactly allow for fluid passing across the park, but when clubs like Barcelona and Manchester City have set the precedent of a flashy, fancy style for modern-day football, you start to question if Gary Rowett could have cursed our club with embedding his style of play into our very nature and expectations as fans.
The likes of Kieftenbeld, Gary Gardner and Jutkiewicz are all perfect examples of players that get the job done. They’re not fancy, they’re not flamboyant – they’re hard-working lads who put 100% into every game. But I’ll be damned if every Blues fan with a season ticket hasn’t at least once looked to the stars and wished for a little bit of pizzazz at the end of the day. Like most, I’ll take a hard-worker over a half-arser any day of the week, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t believe us bluenoses deserve a little more sometimes.
I’ll reiterate that I’m not criticising Monk here, as many have said before me, he’s brought a feel-good factor to this club both on and off the pitch that we haven’t seen in a long time. What I mean to point out here is merely an observation and a possible answer as to why St. Andrew’s often gets taken the mick out of for being akin to a library during a lot more home games than any of us would like. For me, Rowett’s shadow still looms over this club in the form of what kind of football we see on the pitch, and while it looms we won’t see a spectacle that’s going to wow us week-in-week-out until we demand more.
But if there’s anyone that’s going to demand it for us; it’s Garry Monk.