Did I think Gary Rowett had done a good job at Blues? Yes, a very good job at Blues on the whole. Was I surprised when I heard that he’d got the old tin tack? Yes, staggered. There hadn’t been an inkling it was coming.
However, I can’t say I was all that upset when I heard either. I felt that Blues had been drifting for a while, and all I foresaw for this season was the same slide down to mid-table that was the hallmark of last season. To be honest, it didn’t feel like we had many progress from last season; the football was often still turgid and we were still struggling to dispatch even the poorest sides in the division. So far this season we have played all of the bottom seven – we have beaten two of them and lost to three of them. Rowett’s last game as Blues manager was on Tuesday night against the team directly above that bottom seven in the form of Ipswich Town; they were a poor side, but to be honest we were fortunate to hang on to our 2-1 win. Despite bringing in numerous new players, we were still no more ruthless or effective this season in these sorts of games than we were last season. When you cannot build the base of getting points from the bottom feeders in the division, then mounting a proper play-off charge becomes very difficult.
Talking of those new players, Rowett’s transfer record leaves a lot to be desired especially with attacking players. James Vaughan, Will Buckley, Kyle Lafferty and Nicola Brock-Madsen were all brought in last season; between the four of them, they managed to score two goals. Diego Fabbrini, brought in to much fanfare as being our most expensive signing in years, has barely played. You could argue that Rowett has got unlucky, that fans weren’t complaining when we signed these players – you can get unlucky once or twice, but five times? And even so, the though process which led to some of these players being brought in is puzzling. Why sign James Vaughan on a permanent deal when he hadn’t scored a goal in nearly two months on loan? Why sign Diego Fabbrini when we had Jon Toral to play in the Number 10 role but had other areas of the pitch that desperately needed refreshing? And this season has looked like turning into a similar story; Che Adams looks a hell of a prospect but GR seemed unable to decide where and when to use him, whilst Greg Stewart, bar one very promising cameo against Sheffield Wednesday, has barely got a look in. Let’s face it, the bloke who was our main goal scored by a distance during Rowett’s time was Clayton Donaldson. The bloke who created more goals than any other player by a distance during Rowett’s time was David Cotterill. They were both signed by Lee Clark for a fraction of what Rowett has unleashed both in fees and wages on numerous attacking players.
Rowett’s success as Blues manager was not to build a ship, but to fix the holes of one that was looked like it was sinking faster than the Titanic when he took over. Lee Clark got the base design of the ship right, got the right materials but couldn’t fix the holes that water was seeping through no matter how hard he tried. Rowett fixed those holes and the ship sailed seamlessly thereafter, but our Board doubted his ability to build a faster, more powerful ship to run at a rate of knots to the Premier League.
So to the new man – it’s fair to say that Gianfranco Zola hasn’t exactly been given the warmest of receptions. Some of this is due to fans being angry that Rowett was sacked, but more worryingly there are some that regard Zola as a busted flush of a manager or a bloke who has contrived with our owners to stab GR in the back and feel it’s justified to pour the proverbial all over him. His record as a manager in this country is actually fairly ambiguous. West Ham were awful in his second season there (after being fairly good in his first), but you could argue he did well to keep them up with the hullaballoo going in the Boardroom there at the time (as arguably shown by his successor Avram Grant taking them down). Watford played sublime football when he was in charge there (they ripped Blues apart twice in one season) but ultimately he fell at the final hurdle of the play-off final and was unable to get them up. His time in the dugout at Cagliari and Al-Arabi is pretty irrelevant for analysing what he has to offer, but it is fair to say that despite some promising signs the jury is out on whether he will turn into a manager of real ability in this country. However the idea he has been responsible for Rowett’s sudden departure is frankly absurd; despite the fact talks between Blues and himself started evidently started before Rowett left, if he hadn’t have taken this job when offered it someone else would have done. Rowett, for whatever reason, was a goner in the eyes of this Board and that is not Gianfranco Zola’s fault. Looking at the internet though, it seems like some of our fans want him hung, drawn and quartered come Saturday teatime.
I just get the feeling that this sort of scorn being placed on GZ would not have happened way back yonder – an era when there was no social media to whip up a mass hysteria in the blink of an eye. I can only imagine what the players of yesteryear make of it; what would the real Joe Bradford or the real Bob Latchford make of our fans tweeting abuse at our Gaffer before a ball has been kicked under his management? Besides which it is completely futile to take pops at the Board, the new manager or whine about the fact there is no Gary anymore; akin to a landing a H-Bomb in the Saraha, no-one who you want to affect will actually be remotely affected.
The vitriol poured on the Board and GZ is a symptom of what I call the “newblue effect”, and it started when a few of our fans (usually the ones that turned up during the halcyon Premier League years and not a fat lot before and after) decided to hound out Messrs Gold, Sullivan and Brady after being spoiled rotten by the work those three did at Blues. Those fans had all of the cake, but they wanted an ice-cream sundae as well. It cropped it’s ugly head notably a couple of years ago; Paul Robinson was slightly below par in a defeat at Bournemouth, and got all kinds of abuse from a band of reptillious keyboard warriors as a result and even more when he dared to respond to the initial tirade chucked at him. Thankfully our Captain, Leader, Legend put a Spike right in the heart of that bubble of hatred and popped it out of sight with his sterling work last season. Sadly, when our fans hounded out the two Davids and Karren they got rid of the best owners we’ve arguably ever had and unleashed all kinds of idiocy at Boardroom level at Blues for years. I just hope the internet abuse some have given GZ (and the new Board) doesn’t transfer to Stan’s on matchday.
And you have to beg the question, does Rowett deserve such undying devotion and loyalty? Does a man who was all but going to Fulham last November until we bumped up his wages, a man who was apparently touting himself to other clubs in an intermittent basis really have any grounds for complaint when his employer decide to look after themselves in the way he was looking to take care of himself? I don’t blame him for looking to better himself, but nobody should be crying if our Board, even if rather ruthlessly, look to look after what they see as the club’s best interests as well.
Roll on Brighton, a very tough game. Our Italian Stallion couldn’t have had a much tougher start with that and then a trip to Derby after Christmas. But sometimes it is better to be thrown in at the deep end in life.
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Words by Cecil Parkinson