January 6, 2015 by bluenosebible
By Nat Peters
Blues fans have viewed the last few January windows with nothing more than trepidation. With the club perpetually in desperate need of cash ever since we got relegated from the Premier League in 2011, January has been seen as time to bring in a sizeable lump sum or two to cover running costs. Players being brought in have been brought in simply to try and plug the gaps in the squad left by players leaving the club.
But the noises coming out of the club now suggest that we aren’t under any economic pressure to sell players. Whether that actually is the case remains to be seen; I still remember Peter Pannu insisting a couple of years ago that our best players wouldn’t be sold unless we received bids that were “eye popping” in value; in the months that followed Jack Butland, Curtis Davies and Nathan Redmond were sold for a combined value of under £10million. The only thing eye popping about that was the shock that we sold them off so cheaply. Seeing is believing with regards to whether we need to sell any of our players or not.
Even if we aren’t under any great pressure to sell, what if a club comes in with an offer for a player that is genuinely tough to refuse? The prized foal in our stable is undoubtedly Demarai Gray, who by all accounts has attracted scouts from all over the country to our games in a volume Baden Powell could only dream of. When he’s been linked, tenuously or not, with moves to the likes of Man City and Liverpool then it was something of a surprise to many people to hear that we have rejected a bid of £1.5million from AFC Bournemouth. In fact it was probably a bigger shock to receive such a derisory bid for him in general; £1.5million is a pretty paltry amount for someone who is a key cog in Gary Rowett’s team and for someone with such undoubted potential.
His true value at this moment in time is a figure quite hard to establish in my opinion. How do you value his undoubted potential? How do you measure that potential against the fact he’s still a very inexperienced player with relatively few appearances for Blues and having never played in the top flight? When you think that it wasn’t too long ago that Wilfried Zaha was signed by Man United for a deal worth in excess of £10million, then how would Gray (a player playing in a similar sort of position with many similar attributes) compare to that? Then again Zaha’s subsequent lack of any kind of success at United may put clubs off making large bids based in the main on a player’s potential. And what would be the best sort of deal for Blues; a deal where a club pays a bigger lump sum, or a deal where a club pays not as much up front put promises greater add-ons based on how well he does and a bigger chunk of any future transfer fee he generates? I think the answer to that question depends on how eager the hierarchy at Blues are for cash right now.
Hopefully, all these questions are hypothetical and Demarai Gray is a Blues player for a good while yet. He himself has a big decision to make. I hope he does stay, I really do, because he has been a pleasure to watch this season and there have been teams who have found him unplayable. But if these big clubs do come in for him, with the offers of big money and the chance of ‘progression’ in his career then it would only be natural if his head was turned a bit. I emphasise the word progression because if he does leave for some big fish then he has to evaluate how hard it would be to play in their first team any time soon. Here he is always going to be in and around the first team, and playing competitive football week in week out is going to be far better for him than playing in the reserves for Liverpool or Man City or any other side that may take a punt on him. He has to decide whether he really is ready for the step up to a big club who may come in for him; the story of Wilfried Zaha’s time at Man United should act as a warning for him.
I think there are other players in our squad who will potentially be being eyed up though. Darren Randolph has enjoyed some very good form in recent times, and with just six months left on his contract he strikes me as being quite an easy target for a club in need of a goalkeeper. Would he be the first choice at a Premier League club right now? Probably not, but as the aforementioned bid from Bournemouth for Demarai Gray and the sales of players such as Jordon Mutch and Tom Adeyemi have shown, even clubs in our own division can view us as ripe for picking and you could see a lot of teams in our division being interested in having someone like Randolph between the sticks – with there being a very real prospect of him going for nothing in the summer, then I could see us being more than willing to sell him should the right bid come in. Then there are the likes of David Cotterill and Andy Shinnie; two players who have excelled in recent weeks, again they could both be of interest to many clubs in our division.
My advice to those sorts of players would be similar to what I would say to Demarai Gray – yes there are many clubs even in our own division who can offer better wages than we can and the chance of immediately playing higher up the league than where we are now, but at Blues at the moment they are playing in a team and for a manager that seems to be getting the very best out of them. Would it be the right decision for their development as players and for their respective careers to move on at this point? That’s what they have to consider.
As well as players you wouldn’t want to lose there is of course natural wastage, players who are surplus to requirements. There will be few tears shed if/when the likes of Neal Eardley and Olly Lee depart, but I can’t see us getting much in the way of revenue from selling either of those players. One player who I do think we could get a half decent fee for but who I don’t see as fitting into the way we are playing right now is Lee Novak. Lee has silenced a lot of critics since he arrived, and proved himself at this level last season when he was our top scorer and had a massive hand in us staying up. But the way we are playing under Gary Rowett, where we are set up to attack quickly on the break, is a way of playing that I don’t see him being suited for. It’s a shame because I’m actually very fond of him as a player, and you can’t help but love his work rate and determination every time he pulls on a Blues shirt but I get the feeling if we received a good enough bid Gary Rowett wouldn’t be in a hurry to stop him leaving.
On the other hand, signing Michael Morrison permanently was a welcome piece of news because he has been fantastic since arriving on loan from Charlton. His signing, and Gary Rowett’s comments in the local press, seem to indicate that there may be some money to spend on transfer fees should the right opportunity arise (and possibly indicate that things are improving financially at the club in general). A definite upgrade from recent years where we were shopping almost exclusively in the frees and loans market; it’s fair to say our previous manager wasn’t often given the luxury of cash to nab other clubs’ players. The addition of Morrison means our defence is strong enough to see out the season in my opinion. Jonathan Grounds has come in for stick in some quarters but I think he’s solid enough for the team we have and the way we play at this point. There are also those who until recently had written off Robbo for a fair while now, but at the moment he is shoving that down their throats with some sterling performances at the back. Improving the backline may be something we look to do in the summer, but right now I think we should be content with what we have.
In midfield, I think we could do with another Tom Adeyemi type player. David Davis and Stephen Gleeson are tidy enough, but they aren’t exactly what you would call powerhouses and in the case of Gleeson in particular you wouldn’t exactly call him a tough tackling midfielder. Callum Reilly can put a foot in, but again he isn’t the biggest. Guy Moussi is built like the proverbial outhouse, but has so far looked way off the pace from what has been seen in his Championship cameos off the bench and his ninety minutes at Blyth. With more game time he may get up to speed, but his short-term deal runs out here soon so Gary Rowett has to weigh up whether extending his stay is a viable option. If we don’t keep him on, then I would certainly look to bring in a big, athletic centre midfielder to offer something different for our midfielder.
Further up the park, I would love us to sign a left footed winger to give us a different dimension; at the moment we are constantly playing with two right footed players on the flanks with one cutting inside from the left, and whilst that does work to an extent it can also be twigged by opposition defences who could then find it easier to close us out. Having a natural left footed player to let fly down the left hand side would give us another option and let us play in a different way. Michael Jacobs at Wolves has been one name touted as a potential signing soon and I would be very happy with that; quick and skilful with that aforementioned left foot, he can also play in behind a striker giving us more cover for someone like Andrew Shinnie.
Right up top, if you disregard the uber unfortunate Matt Green (who I very much doubt we will see in a Blues shirt again), we have three out and out strikers to call upon. Clayton Donaldson is a big powerful guy who can hold off defenders like a human battering ram, Wes Thomas is a pacy striker who will run all day for you and Nikola Zigic is Nikola Zigic. But whilst all of them have something to offer a team at this level none of them are what you would call a poacher, someone who will sniff goals out of nothing and bury the majority of chances that come his way. Those sorts of strikers are worth their weight in gold and finding a really genuine out and out goal scorer without paying top whack can be difficult. Kiko Macheda is someone who isn’t getting much game time at Cardiff and is someone I would love to see back at Blues, but whether even a loan deal would be affordable to us (Cardiff reportedly offered him seven times as much in wages as we could this summer) is debateable. Someone who has already been out on loan at another Championship club this season is Palace’s Glenn Murray; Alan Pardew’s appointment as manager there has seen him recalled from Reading at this point, but if Pardew decides the striker is surplus to requirements in their fight against dropping out of the Premier League then he is someone I would love at Stan’s; it was only a couple of seasons ago that he hit thirty goals for Brighton in this league. I imagine we could afford him even if he was only on loan – Reading could afford him and by all accounts they aren’t exactly flush with cash right now.
Whilst everyone has been impressed with how Gary Rowett has reinvigorated a team made up of players he has inherited (bar Michael Morrison), this month is his first chance to make changes and to bring in players who he sees as fitting into the way he wants his teams to play from here on in. If any additions he makes this window perform as well as Morrison has, then we won’t go far wrong.
Where should Blues strengthen in the transfer window?