Rowett turned Blues’ fortunes around but performances this season haven’t been great, though appointing Gianfranco Zola has mystified fans
16 December ~ It was commonly thought that once Carson Yeung’s association with Birmingham City finally ended, and new owners arrived in the form of Trillion Trophy Asia (TTA), some stability would return to the club. How wrong we were.
Just two days after three of TTA’s representatives were appointed to the board, and Gary Rowett, a popular and promising manager, was summarily dismissed. The decision took everyone by surprise. Blues are currently eighth in the Championship table, a point outside the play-offs, and had beaten Ipswich Town 2-1 the night before his sacking.
Rowett had been in charge for just over two years and it’s important to remember how drastically things have changed in that timeframe. When he joined Blues were second bottom, having required a last-minute goal to avoid relegation to League One the season before.
He inherited an almighty mess from Lee Clark and swiftly restored order. A side that had lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth in the match before his appointment were able to grind out a doughty goalless draw away to Wolverhampton Wanderers a week later.
In stark contrast to his chaotic predecessor, Rowett had a clear plan and presented himself with measured self-assurance. We’d climbed to tenth by the end of that season, and started the next with the same sturdy defence and potent counter-attacking threat.
By January we were well-placed to challenge for the play-offs and Rowett brought in Diego Fabbrini, James Vaughan, Kyle Lafferty and Will Buckley to bolster our attacking options. The costly gamble didn’t pay off and we slumped into mid-table once more.
Results have generally been good this season, although, with one or two exceptions, performances have not. It’s hard to reconcile the often passive way we have played with the claim Rowett made in one of his first interviews as Blues manager – that he was never afraid of losing a game, but of his side not being brave enough to try to win.
Despite these stodgy displays, there was no sign that the manager’s position was under threat. The vast majority of supporters were pleased with Rowett, at most wanting him to adapt and begin incorporating some of the attacking players he had signed into a largely functional team. Fabbrini, Che Adams and Greg Stewart have notably been underused.
The sense that money has been wasted, and the new owners were unwilling to trust Rowett with more funds, is one of the more popular theories on why he was dispensed with. Another is that his rumoured interest in other roles, which had previously been used as leverage to secure a better deal, meant that they weren’t convinced of his long-term commitment.
Such speculation has inevitably filled the void left by a move that, on the surface, is so unsatisfactory and seemingly inexplicable. The choice of replacement, Gianfranco Zola, is even more mystifying. Beyond a higher profile and reputation for playing more expansive football, it’s difficult to see what the attraction is.
Zola’s managerial record could favourably be described as patchy. It’s three years since he last managed in England, and he was most recently sacked by Qatari side Al-Arabi. Regardless of whether or not the decision works out, it sits uneasily with supporters of a club more accustomed to indulging failure than renouncing what many perceive as success. Sean Cole