So here we are, it’s official. Thirty-six hours after the most of Birmingham knew and 3 hours after the national media announced it, the club has announced the departure of Steve Cotterill. If we’re honest the writing has been on the wall for a fair few weeks now, and some have been calling for his removal for much longer than that.
Although the general feeling amongst fans is jubilation and excited anticipation about the prospect of Garry Monk’s imminent arrival, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that Steve Cotterill is just a bloke doing a job. He’s not particularly good at that job and the termination of his contract is definitely the correct decision at this stage, but he is just a guy trying to be successful in his role. This article will discuss his failings and minor successes but I think it’s important to start with a level head and remember that although we were in dire need of a new direction, a man has just been very publicly removed from his position whilst the rumours that his replacement has already been courted have been flying around in the background.
Right, now that I’ve lost the “Don’t care, he’s a this, that and the other” crowd, let’s take a look at Stevie C’s short 5-month reign.
Behind The Scenes
Regardless of what people will claim now, Cotterill was a strong favourite for the role once Redknapp had packed his bags. His name was top of most opinion polls and many fans were convinced that any success ‘Arry had was down to the man behind the manager. There was a positive vibe surrounding Steve’s appointment and speaking personally, I was impressed with his touchline energy and enthusiasm which was a far cry from Zola’s crossed arms and Redknapp’s frowns. It has since become clear that the club was in greater turmoil than we appreciated at the time and perhaps the task of guiding a squad of disgruntled players through a successful campaign, whilst carrying a pair of Dein and Vetre shaped leeches and dealing with a naïve group of board members, was too big a task.
A lot has been said about the entire internal structure of Birmingham City; none of it good. The first clue that all was not as it should be being the stepping down of Panos Pavlakis shortly after TTA took control. Panos failed to give a specific reason for his departure, stating only that he was off to “pursue other opportunities”. Other than hints and rumours from tight lipped journalists, further evidence of the general behind the scenes incompetence came recently as Zhao Wenqing flew in from China for emergency meetings. Got no idea who Zhao Wenqing is? No, neither do most other people. All we really know is that he is the Don Corleone of BSH and his arrival is the equivalent of making a £3000 loss on The Apprentice and having to explain yourself to Alan Sugar whilst Claude rolls his eyes and Brady looks down her nose judgingly at you.
Where did it go wrong? Steve was starting on a back foot with this lot. We can only hope they’ve learnt from their mistakes and now that they’re shook off the parasitic Vetere and Dein hopefully they’ll find more adept advisors.
Could things have been different? Not really. Steve was handcuffed by those above him from day one and he isn’t a strong enough character to throw his weight around and make demands.
It’s been said before and it’ll be said again; the players are far from blameless in all of this and many of them deserve just as much criticism as Steve. The lads have looked disinterested at times, unfit at others and have underperformed all season. They are also an inheritance that Cotterill may never have wished for.
Famous for his deadline day dealings, Harry broke the bank and bought just about anyone with a Twickenham postcode. Whether these were desperation buys, transfers forced upon him by those above or purchases leading to a nice little earner in back handers for Redknapp; we’ll never know. What is certain though is that the wages and transfer fees being thrown around were well above average and far beyond our financial capabilities. Rumours have circulated that the disparity in earnings may have caused ripples in the dressing room and the seemingly randomness of the signings left the squad unbalanced.
We have an eclectic mix of styles and abilities in the squad at the moment. They are all capable of performing at Championship level and anyone that says otherwise is being overly critical, however it has been a real challenge finding a starting 11 that really gels.
One thing that certainly didn’t help was Cotterill’s obscure team sheets. 9ft tall target man Gallagher on the wing? Record signing Jota warming the bench? Bull in a China shop N’Doye being allowed into St Andrews at all? So many strange selection choices. I’ve written numerous articles about Cotterill’s crazy team selections so I won’t harp on about it too much here, but at times the starting 11 looked as though they may have been pulled out of a hat. Perhaps the most puzzling of decisions was the freezing out of Che Adams who was tipped to be the star of our season back in the summer.
In addition to player selections, Cotterill’s tactics left a lot to be desired too. The insistence on passing the ball around the back often incited fan uproar, especially deep into the second half when we were desperate for a result. Steve was insistent on playing slowly and defensively with a typical route-one hoof up to a surrounded Gallagher that inevitable amounted to nothing. Yet we wonder why our top scorer only has 6 goals to his name.
Such tactical ineptitude often culminated in a deer in the headlights impression as Steve steadfastly stuck with his starting 11s for the majority of each match; making most substitutions around the 75/80 minute mark. Everyone loves a super-sub and a last minute goal is the best feeling in the world, but maybe relying on such an occurrence in every game is not the most efficient tactic!
Where did it go wrong? Steve inherited an unbalanced squad which he may not have chosen and was not given the opportunity to improve during the transfer window. However, his obscure team sheets and baffling tactics ultimately led to our downfall.
Could things have been different? Undoubtedly. If we had focussed on the basics and judged players such as N’Doye by their performances at the weekend, not just on the training ground, then we would be in a much better position. We have a squad of capable players, we just need someone to put all the pieces in their correct places. We had an arguably worse team under Rowett but he recognised each man’s strengths and weaknesses and built his squad around those characteristics. Harry was right when he said we have a good squad, we’re just crying out for a strong leader to make everything click.
I think we can all agree that the Blues have been blighted by injuries this season. For me, there have been 2 very big blows, 2 slightly smaller ones and various other niggles. Firstly, the loss of Isaac Vassell has been massive for us. We only got to see him in a limited number of appearances but he looked strong and pacey and had the fire of a young player with a point to prove. When he comes back from his treatment, he could be massive for us and was one of Harry’s better finds.
The other big loss for us has been Jonathan Grounds. It may just be a coincidence, but the end of our mini win streak began with Grounds’ injury. He has had a barrage of unwarranted criticisms over the last two seasons but a case could be made that Grounds has been our most consistent and reliable player this year and even though we may not see him again, he is still a top runner for the POTS award. Losing Grounds has been particularly damaging since we don’t have any other left backs of Championship quality to take his place.
Two other injuries that have plagued us on a slightly lesser level are those of David Davis and Che Adams. It has been reported that both men have been carrying knocks throughout the season and these have flared up on occasion. Davis has certainly struggled to find form and it’s very possible that his playing whilst injured has been a contributing factor.
Aside from those four, we have lost Maxime Colin, Jason Lowe, Gardner, Jenkinson and Stockdale for extended periods of time. We’ve had 9 players in and around the starting 11 that have been unavailable due to injury. That’s enough to hinder any team, but it can cripple a squad with our lack of depth.
Where did it go wrong? Blues do not have coverage for all these injuries, especially when they occur simultaneously. Cotterill has reportedly worked on fitness during the week but the guys continued to drop like flies. Especially concerning is the fact that we hired two specialist coaches whose sole task was to prevent these injuries. The bigger problem emanating from said loses is Cotterill’s inability to think outside the box and reshape his team to fit the circumstance.
Could things have been different? Injuries happen and sometimes luck just doesn’t go your way. Any honest analysis of Cotterill’s tenure must take the obscene number of injuries into account. Had we been at full strength throughout the majority of the season, I seriously doubt we would be languishing in the relegation zone still. However, a competent manager works with the tools at his disposal in order to find a solution.
PR & Fan Interaction
Here’s where Steve Cotterill lost the club and forced the boards hand. We as Blues fans have had our fair share of ups and downs. We’re not like Arsenal fans that complain about reaching cup finals and qualifying for Europe each year. We are realistic in our expectations and have learnt to take the rough with the smooth. Although we have our breaking point when it comes to frequent loses, we accept that they’re part of our lives. What we will never accept though is disrespect from players, board members, coaching staff, managers or anyone else that may be associated with the club. Unfortunately, Steve fell foul of Blues supporters and made no attempt to repair the damage.
Steve’s press conferences were always littered with excuses and what ifs, but once he blamed the fans’ frustrations for the teams’ performances, the gig was up. Cotterill claimed that his team was scared to play in front of us and insinuated that our negativity was the cause of losses. There was no coming back from this insanity and Steve quickly became one of the most hated managers in recent history.
Away fans; some of the most loyal supporters at the club, also lost patience with Cotterill’s lack of acknowledgement of their efforts. Fans driving the length and breadth of the country just to sing their hearts out for 90 minutes don’t need to be thanked but a little appreciation goes a long way. A wave, a nod, a clap or a verbal sign of gratitude is all that was required but Steve very rarely bothered.
A final nail in the coffin was Cotterill’s refusal to walk past fans after the defeat to Barnsley. His players were forced to face the outraged crowd as they walked down the tunnel but Steve was escorted down an escape route in order to hide from his problems.
Where did it go wrong? Once Steve lost the fans, he lost his grip on the club. Cotterill gave us nothing to be proud of in interviews, constantly referred to the Blues as “their club” instead of “our club” and persisted in blaming us for poor performances whilst taking as little ownership as possible. Zola lost favour at St Andrews too, but it was never personal. A lot of the distain for Cotterill is borne of the disconnect between him and the fans.
Could things have been different? Yes. Things could have been very, very different. Confident, forthcoming interviews could have helped to fire up the players. When the leader looks defeated at every turn and shows a distinct lack of belief, what cause do the squad have to believe in themselves? As the captain of the ship, Cotterill’s attitude directly affects those around him. Is it really any wonder why the team’s heads dropped as soon as things started to go wrong every Saturday?
As for fan opinion, it’s arguable that Steve would still have a job right now if the anger and frustration wasn’t being felt so explicitly throughout the club. It’s hard for owners to ignore the scenes at home over the last couple of weeks and fans’ voices are so easily heard in this age of social media that TTA had no option but to listen to them.
The Next Chapter
So here we are at the dawn of a new era. In reality Steve was never right for the job but it would be disingenuous to lump all of the blame at his door. The rumour is that Garry Monk is due to be the next man through the door and for the first time in a long while, he is being allowed to bring his own backroom staff. The Steve Cotterill months have hopefully been a very steep learning curve for TTA and their advisors and we can only pray that this dark period in the clubs’ history will all be worth it in the long run. We are not out of the woods yet and it would be foolish to believe that a change in manager will suddenly catapult us up the table. We can always dream and be optimistic though, God knows we deserve some positivity right now.
Words by @MarkWatson1875