Birmingham City begin their sixth successive season in the Championship when they officially kick off at home to Cardiff on Saturday with high hopes and a renewed confidence around the club that there is light at the end of the tunnel – both on and off the pitch, after years of uncertainty following Blues’ fallout from the Premier League in 2011.
A takeover bid from Trillion Trophy Asia has been set back a number of times in the past month, but more is expected to be learned on August 5th ahead of the EGM which will determine the success of a possible takeover, which would officially rid the club of the much berated former owner Carson Yeung.
Whilst the ownership issues at the club continue to rattle on in the background, Gary Rowett has continued to bolster his squad with the signings of Robert Tesche and Ryan Shotton – both previously at the club in separate loan stints, with the promise of more new faces at the club to follow. Though there has been a great reception to the two signings made so far, both of which were transfers many fans were hoping for, there is also a frustration that the club has been unable to strengthen further before the season gets underway in a few days time.
The potential takeover has perhaps had a knock on effect in delaying improvements to the squad being made but only time will tell whether any of the rumoured targets in Sheffield United’s Che Adams, Juan Villar Vazquez and Leandro Cabrera of Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza respectively, or any fresh faces in the pipeline yet to be mentioned will eventually make the move to St. Andrews.
Here he is a rundown of the key players, factors and predictions to preview the new campaign for Blues:
After the attempt in last summer’s transfer window to land Nottingham Forest’s Robert Tesche on a permanent deal ended in frustration, there was no such disappointment this time around as the German midfielder made the switch from the East to the West Midlands on a free transfer after his previous deal at Forest expired. Considered a real coup for Gary Rowett’s men, Tesche displayed his class during his 2014/15 stint at the club, a mere matter of 12 games, enough time to convince the Blues faithful that the former Hamburg player was deserving of a return to the club.
It took a year longer than most would have wanted for this deal to happen but now that the dust has settled, the German can continue where he left off by bringing a steel and consistency to the midfield, bringing others into play with his excellent passing ability whilst offering Blues some composure in the centre of the park, something which Rowett’s side was clearly lacking last season.
Alongside last summer’s arrival from FC Groningen – Maikel Kieftenbeld, the two are likely to form a solid partnership in the holding midfield roles, a tantalising prospect for Blues fans that will not only make the side more defensively sound at the back, but also aid things going forward thanks to Tesche’s ability to start attacking moves from within his own half of the pitch.
It is set to be a big season ahead for the Italian playmaker, as Diego Fabbrini embarks on his first full season at Birmingham City after his January switch from Watford for £1.5 million. The first few months as an official Blues player were not all that memorable for Fabbrini, as he was often left on the substitutes bench to the benefit of Jon Toral – a loanee from Arsenal who would go on to pick up last season’s award as the club’s best player.
With Toral no longer at the club, Fabbrini can concentrate on stamping his mark on the time at long last, with the expectation that he will fill the number 10 role that Jon Toral previously occupied for most of the campaign. The Italian showed glimpses of his talent at the back end of the 2015/16 season, but having been played out of position on the wings, this talent was not displayed often enough as Blues’ playoff hopes slowly diminished.
The club have not hesitated to make Fabbrini’s worth to the club more clear than by handing Fabbrini the number 10 shirt for the forthcoming season and judging by his promising performances so far in pre-season in his preferred role, he could well be the biggest factor in whether or not Blues meet or exceed their expectations for 2016/17.
One to Watch
One name who has quickly risen to the precipice of Blues fans minds in pre-season has been 18 year old Jack Storer, a player who rose through the Blues ranks at academy level until 2012, where a succession of moves saw the young talent emerge at Stevenage Borough in League One in 2014, only making a solitary appearance before being snapped up by Birmingham at the end of last season on an initial six-month deal.
The fee was reported to have been in the region of five figures and as until a few weeks ago, not many fans would have known much or seen what Storer is capable of. Fast-forward to the final few days before the season opener against Cardiff, and he is the name on everyone’s lips involved at Birmingham City. In seven appearances in pre-season for the under-21 side and for the first-team, Storer has found the net seven times at a time when the failure and frustration at striker’s Clayton Donaldson and James Vaughan’s ability to score has left many fans baying for the arrival of a new striker.
Storer’s rise to prominence to the Birmingham City first-team in recent weeks however has led many to claim that the young talent and proclaimed Blues fan should get the nod over the other misfiring forwards and that a striker really isn’t needed if Storer can replicate his pre-season form during the Championship campaign. These notions are understandable and it will be very interesting to see whether Gary Rowett throws the striker straight into the first-team whilst he is in confident goal-scoring form, or whether he opts to gradually impose Storer into the starting 11 over a longer period of time in his first senior season at the club.
Final Position Prediction
A second successive 10th place finish in the league for Birmingham did not quite tell the story of just how close and how likely the team looked at one point to be mounting a serious bid for the play-offs until the latter few months of the season, as the form and momentum that the team carried began to ebb out and amount to little to show for the valiant efforts of everyone at the club.
This time around however with two amendments to the squad in key positions, the imminent announcement of a possible takeover along with a rising new talent in Jack Storer and a host of other promising talents in Josh Cogley and Reece Brown, it could be a very promising campaign for Birmingham City and one of the most decisive seasons in recent history for the club going forward. The current squad at manager Gary Rowett’s exposal will have to over-achieve if they are to get promoted, but a play-off spot is by no means out of the club’s reach as was shown by performances last time out.
Factors such as the removal of emergency loans in the Football League could play a significant role on the season ahead not just for Blues but for the other 23 clubs in the Championship, to the benefit or detriment of Blues’ ambitions, therefore a lot of weight could be placed on the younger players on the fringes of the squad. They could possibly determine whether the club meet expectations or exceed them, but will have to step-up to the rigours of the most challenging league in the world outside of the Premier League.
Do not understimate the impact that new fan initiative ‘The Tilton Alliance’ could have either, as St. Andrews turned into a hostile environment for the opposition and notably improved player’s performances during the debut of the group in the final home game of the season in a 2-2 draw with promoted Middlesbrough. The influence of the ‘Alliance’ could well bear a positive energy for the team from the stands if the atmosphere created in the Middlesbrough game can be replicated at every home game going forward.
Final League Position Prediction: 6th
Pictures credited to Birmingham Mail, BCFC.com