Prior to this interview, you said it was “all doom and gloom” at the club at the moment. How would you sum up the last few months, Brian?
It’s been a summer of upheaval at Birmingham, where the club have made a number of big decisions that will really affect the short to medium-term future of the club. One of the decisions has been to introduce a director of football stroke head coach scenario where, rather than an out-and-out manager, to try and take more control over transfer, while they’ve also made a pretty big decision to adopt a more expansive and possession-based style of football. They have every right to do that, but they probably need more to bring more players in to help them do that, which they haven’t done so far, but most likely will have done by the time the season starts. I would just say that the success of that style depends of the level of recruitment they are able to achieve.
With Pep Clotet having only taken caretaker charge of the club since Garry Monk was sacked in mid-June, is there a feeling they having some catching up to do?
I think what they’re doing is trying to reinvent themselves, but they haven’t given themselves a huge amount of time to do that this summer. I think evolution is more of a sensible way than never-lution and I think they’ve changed so much that there’s a real time pressure to try and make those changes. I really think they need a good start to the season to manage the pressure themselves; if it gets to the third or fourth game and things aren’t working then the pressure builds up and things become a lot more difficult. But if they can win two of their first three games, or something like that, that buys a lot of time to make those changes.
To date, Birmingham have brought in Gary Gardner and Dan Crowley – the latter of whom starred in a pre-season friendly against Swindon the day after he signed. What have you made of their business so far?
I’d say it’s a start! It’s a start, but it’s nowhere near finished and they probably need another three or four players and, as I said, by the start of the season, they may have done that. Crowley is a really interesting signing, I think he comes with a lot of ability, quite a decent pedigree and, I think it’s fair to say, something to prove. As a model, I quite like the idea of buying people with a high ceiling, as it were, like they’ve done with Che Adams and like Brentford do brilliantly, as well; they are probably the model club for that, really. I quite like that model, but that comes with risks as well because not everyone can be a hit. I get what they are doing in trying to add value and trying to replicate the Che Adams model, paying £1.9 million and selling for £15 million, but they need to do that several times over. The Gardner move was a bit of a no-brainer – I don’t think there was much prospect of him staying at Villa, he wanted to come to Birmingham and that made a lot of sense for everybody.
In selling Che Adams to Southampton, significant funds were generated at the expense of a player integral to the club’s attack output. How do you think he’ll fare in the Premier League?
I cautiously optimistic for him, actually. I did feel last season that he’d outgrown the Championship, so the next stage was, obviously, the Premier League. He’s got loads of natural ability and there still are rough edges, but as long as he’s given time to develop and the coaching staff and the fans don’t think that they’ve brought somebody in who is going to score 20 goals guaranteed, if they are patient with him, I think he could succeed. I think of all the clubs that were interested in him, Southampton were the one that made most sense in terms of their reputation for developing players. I think he’s definitely got a chance there.
As a result of the management change, are Birmingham likely to change the way they set up?
So far in pre-season, it’s been a 3-4-1-2 which they’ve played twice, but they’ve also played 3-4-2-1 with just the one striker in one game, as well. If the season were to start today, it would probably be the former, with three at the back, wing-backs and Crowley as a number 10, potentially. That’s what’s looking most likely, at this stage.
Birmingham are without a win at Griffin Park since November 2016; with this being their final league visit to the stadium, do you foresee them ending on a high? What’s your score prediction?
I would certainly take a draw now, can I say that? It depends on who they bring in, but an away draw at a ground that has been quite difficult would be a relatively positive start to the season.
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