August 4, 2016 by Shane Ireland
By Shane Ireland
Ah, the transfer window.
Usually a flurry of excitement, upheaval and new faces. The creation and curation of a new squad for the new season. Those hectic weeks of preparation for the big kick-off, used to bed in the recruits and sharpen the signings. The buzz, the discussion, the predictions.
It’s all very thrilling.
Except, that hasn’t exactly been the case at Birmingham City. Blues’ transfer business so far this summer has been less thrill, more nil.
Only two players have been signed to bolster the first-team ranks and both of those – Ryan Shotton and Robert Tesche – are former loanees.
Although Blues have been linked with a number of players, the lack of substance over speculation has fans concerned. The fact that the season gets underway in only a few days has only served to intensify those worries.
The emphasis has been on signing a striker to add to a goal-shy side, but a move is yet to materialise.
Supporters want to know the answer to why, after a summer of chasing targets, have Blues secured only two signings with the first Championship fixture quickly approaching?
The rhetoric from the manager Gary Rowett hasn’t altered a great deal over pre-season, with the boss remaining optimistic but cautious on the transfer front throughout. Although, the narrative has become more cautious over the course of the summer. Initially, the boss set out revealing that he wanted “three or four quality players” to improve the side. Remember that? Assuming Shotton and Tesche are two of those – that quest is only half complete and we’re in the final week of preparation.
As speculation mounted and bids were formally lodged and acknowledged, Rowett told us before the friendly against Hibs that “It’s not a case of not being able to do the deals,” indicating that although there had been problems with the prospective transfers, Blues were in a position to pull them off.
But as the saga to unearth a new forward pulled on and on, frustration showed and Rowett and the powers that be at Blues were the subject of criticism from fans desperate for a signing.
In response the manager told of his own frustration at the situation, and insisted that the club were working hard every minute to secure targets. He even added that Blues had made 200 enquiries for players.
But, still, we sit here without a new forward and without a new winger. And the season opener against Cardiff is less than 72 hours away. Blues fans are a patient bunch – we’re only just coming to the end of the Carson Yeung rigmarole which has been a number of years in the making – but in some quarters, patience with the club’s transfer policy is wearing thin.
Of course, that transfer policy is by no means dictated by Rowett alone. He is aided in that department by club director Panos Pavlakis and Ewan Chester, who joined as football consultant in June. Chester was recruited specifically to help identify targets and has a wealth of experience – so where are the results?
Football is a strange industry. The process of scouring leagues and matches up and down the country for the faint hope of finding one player who has something special is almost a bizarre practice, such are the variables in each situation. Just because a player looks a decent fit on the face of it, doesn’t mean he is in reality. However difficult it may be, Blues brought Chester into the set up for that very reason and, therefore, must have a shortlist of realistic targets from which to build on.
For the remaining man in that transfer trio, however, the story is a little different. Prior to being thrust into the limelight at St Andrew’s, Pavlakis had precisely zero experience of decision-making inside football clubs – and concerning transfers, that is beginning to show. He is not a yes-man within a wider set of personnel remember, he is calling the shots at a second-tier side, and all as part of his first experience in football. That can’t be easy, and is part of the reason why the club looked to Chester for help. While Panos’ inexperience must be taken into account, it does not dampen the frustration towards Blues’ transfer policy which this summer has failed.
Some criticism towards the club, though, has been unfair and some of the accusations unfounded. For example, the notion that Blues knew they would be a Championship club in 2016/17 back in April and therefore should have drawn up a list of targets from which to subsequently sign a small number is a little wide of the mark. Granted, the club were aware of which division they would be competing in before the season finished, allowing a little extra time for preparation. But the assumption that every target identified four months ago still remain viable options is silly. The player in question could have picked up an injury, already moved clubs, now be out of Blues’ price range, not be available for transfer, or simply fallen off Blues’ radar. It is hard to plan in such a rapidly changing and evolving sport.
The elephant in the room is the fact that the transfer window doesn’t actually shut until the end of August. Blues still have almost another month to secure new signings, and most clubs utilise the longevity of the window to its fullest extent. It is also worth noting that both Jon Toral and Maikel Kieftenbeld were late newcomers last season.
The nature of the transfer market which revolves around that window also shapes the business done by Blues. The market has been stodgy, with very few deals being completed in a swift manner – and that’s exactly what we’ve seen with Blues. Two names have dominated transfer-related headlines around St Andrew’s in recent weeks. The club have seen two bids rejected for Sheffield United’s Che Adams, and have reportedly been knocked back by Dundee in the chase for Greg Stewart. It is very much a seller’s market out there and the resolve of selling clubs has been plain to see. Blues have been caught up in that in regards to the Adams deal – the club’s bids of £1.4million with add-ons would have been enough to buy a similar player last summer, but fees have inflated not just in the Premier League but across the board. In fact, with Ciaran Clark’s move from Aston Villa to Newcastle, only 63 players have signed for Championship clubs on permanent contracts this summer (just over 2.5 per team).
The scrapping of the emergency loan system means that selling clubs hold even more of the cards.
Blues haven’t operated in the kindest of transfer markets this summer, but the tough circumstances do not excuse the club’s shortcomings in securing targets. I am not ignoring the fact that there are plenty of other teams in the league who possess far greater transfer budgets which can force the issue when chasing a player, merely stating that the policy at St Andrew’s is quite evidently not working anywhere near as efficiently as it should be. It is obvious that Blues cannot compete to sign the likes of Ross McCormack who is on the verge of a £12million move to Aston Villa, or Alex Pritchard who is set to join Norwich City for £8million. Those clubs have it easy when it comes to buying players. Money can’t buy you love, but it certainly can buy you the league. Blues are operating in a different kind of market; the market which is dominated by talents from League One and the SPL, but the same rules still apply and Panos, Rowett and Chester must ensure that the club is effective in that market.
Maybe Blues have spent too much time chasing the wrong players – Nelson Oliveira, the Benfica striker who is poised to sign for Premier League side Swansea City springs to mind. Maybe Blues are afraid of gambling a fee on a forward only for the move not to work out, as we saw with Nicolai Brock-Madsen. Maybe, as Rowett predicted, McCormack’s move will set the market racing and a flurry of deals will be made of the back of the transfer, including an arrival in the Second City.
But the hesitation and, so far, defeat in the race to sign a striker has exposed failings within the system at Birmingham. I have faith that what was promised will be delivered and new faces will indeed be welcomed – however, the patience at B9 is wearing so thin it is being shunned out of existence and the goods really do need to be delivered.