The season has been put on hold for circumstances out of are control but if we restart or not one thing that will have a lot of people’s eyes is the transfer window when it opens with one high profile transfer in the English window being sixteen-year-old Jude Bellingham, having major clubs interested in the young talent with the likes of Dortmund and Manchester United to name a few.
This blog will be based on the specifics of how City can change the culture of the club and how they reinvest some of the significant amount of money they will receive into improving the team tremendously with some shrewd signings. First, I break down the style of how the team plays and suggest requirements and a style of football that benefits the club and players moving forward.
Style and Roles
The team under Pep Clotet have predominantly being played in a 4-4-2 compact formation that presses high up the pitch with Jutkiewicz being the first to engage. Then his partner more recently Hogan shifting to press on the full backs. The midfield is quite compact with the wingers pressing when forward line pushes. Once the midfield line is broken from the opposition attacking out wide, the full backs Pedersen and Colin push up to press allowing the centre backs to cover them and also the centre midfielders to drop back into the space.
In the passing side of the team is more direct playing style, this shows in only averaging 46% ball possession as a team so far this season with the focus on the central defenders wasting no time in getting the ball up the pitch with long balls to forwards or majority of the time playing balls out wide to the creative midfielders and overlapping fullbacks. This has shown to be somewhat effective with 15.23 crosses per 90 and adding that they sit 3rd highest in the league with 10.13 progressive runs per 90.
When in attack there are two different roles the wingers play in Clotet’s system, having his left winger coming inside to become the number 10 and join in the attack with his two strike partners. This also allows his full backs to join in with link up play and his right winger being the out and out winger trying to go behind the oppositions back line. These roles are critical to the attacking play of the team because he likes his fullbacks to be a threat. This shows up in both Colins and Pedersen stats that they have 12 combined assists and goals.
Having his two central midfielders playing different roles with Sunjic being the “enforcer” and breaking the attacking plays up with laying of simple passes to the more creative midfielders. The other centre midfielder usually Bellingham or Gardner being a consistent part of the team that help in the pressing side of the game in engaging the opposition when they are trying to play through the middle. They also push forward in helping attacks with overlapping runs from deep also providing a link between defence and attack by performing a wide array of tasks while Sunjic usually stays deep and anticipates counter attacks.
His two center forwards play different roles but also working in a cohesive partnership with Jutkiewicz being the target man when using his physicality to disrupt the opposition defense and having long balls played up to him. He attempts to bring the midfield and attack into play by dropping deep into space and laying simple balls off to teammates. Hogan likes to drift around, looking for space to provide a extra passing option that intern confuses the opposition defence. This provides Hogan to being allowed to sit on the shoulder of the last defender, latching onto through balls and staying in the box to put any chances away coming in his area.
BIRMINGHAMS POSITIONAL AND SYESTEM REQUIRMENTS
To start this process you have to get a sense of how the club wants the philosophy of the football to be and making it the identity of Birmingham City going forward. In an interview with Birmingham Mail, Pep Clotet come out with these comments on the style of play in pre-season July 2019:
“Like trying to be solid, trying to establish good counter-attacks, having a good set-play system. We worked a lot on finishing. We cannot go away from any of that. They are our fundamentals. Obviously, we have to keep growing and evolving these characteristics”.
I picked out some key stats for the team that has had a mixed season so far:
- Scored 48 goals- This season with only 2 goals scored from counter attacks (sitting 14th in table of goals scored) of the 48 goals 17 of them where due to set pieces (3rd best in the league).
- Conceded 57 goals- Having the (6th most conceded goals) in the league its evident that this season Birmingham have struggled in the defensive department.
- 46.8% possession-This can also be said about the team not being able to keep possession in games (5th bottom of clubs in Championship).
Obviously, the manager has had great success in the set piece department but improving in other departments would clearly be beneficial. To do this I would suggest changes to the formation and style of play of the team because watching Birmingham it seems to be a perfect quote for this team “square pegs for round holes”.
They have potential top championship players at the club they just need to be put in a system that suits their best attributes. This will insure it won’t make such an impact once the coaching staff leave. Therefor the club can bring in a new manager that suits your already made style. These are the suggested improvements that I think would get the best out of the playing squad and something that fans could get behind.
- Changing formation to 4-1-4-1/4-3-3.
- Passing style of patience and creativity in attacking movements.
- Pressing from front high tempo.
- Pushing fullbacks up pitch.
- Playing out of defence.
- Focus play through middle/overlapping fullbacks.
- Improve possession percentage with slower build up play.
Having got the specific needs of the team I have produced profiles of players in to three categories, targets for future investment and recruiting low-cost value for first team starters that have sell on value in seasons to come and finding key loan signings.
FIRST TEAM RECRUITS
Age: 21 Nationality: Sweden
Position: Winger/Attacking Midfielder Club: BK Häcken
The recent Swedish international has been making waves in his home country with his performances. He has predominantly been played in number 10 role in between the oppositions midfield and defence making himself available for his teammates to get the ball to his feet. Turning on a ten piece he can lift his head and pick out the defence splitting pass. He shows that he is no slouch in helping in his defensive duties with winning 51.5% of them when playing as a winger with pressing the opposing fullbacks to win the ball high up the pitch to create crossing opportunities or a pass.
Irandhust has very good technical ability running at opponents or receiving the ball in the final third completing 45.1% of his dribbles. Having been deployed as a right winger he is used in an inside forward role which is where is best abilities are prominent, cutting inside from the flanks and running directly at pace making surging progressive runs into the penalty box with 3.13 per 90 with fast direction shifts looking like a young Mesut Ozil keeping the ball tight to his left foot. Daleho also provides his team dynamism in his off the ball movements finding the best space to receive the ball and linking up with his full back or his centre forwards creating 5 assists and scoring 4 goals for his team.
Fitting the Model
Daleho Irandust will provide a much-needed creative influence from out wide for Birmingham City with end product. Giving the fact he is already a full international and adding the low value of £2.5million his club is asking for it would be no surprise if Birmingham did complete this transfer. It could well be the bargain of the window and would potential make the club more than treble on this investment in the next couple of seasons.
This season Irandust has been given two roles in the Hacken set up being a 4-3-3 and one of the roles is being the number 10 of the team, drifting into space to become the attacking outlet for his team creating opportunities for the team in breaking the oppositions defence. He has also been played on the winger as a inside forward and this I think is his best position, with the way he sees the game and having him come in side he could create a very good partnership on the right side with Colin making the runs into the space Daleho will create.
Age: 20 Nationality: Scotland
Position: Centre Midfield Club: Aberdeen
The box to box midfielder has been one of the stand out performers this season in Scottish football. A dynamic footballer who uses his abilities to contribute in defence helping his side with 56.6% winning of his defensive duels, also adding he aggressively closes down his opponents in winning the ball back with 4.15 interceptions per 90.
Ferguson uses great technical skill having completed 50% of his dribbles when running from deep in midfield and in tight spaces creating chances for himself also assisting other team mates in the final third with 4 assists. The scots man shows he is very adaptable to play in a deep-lying playmaker role, operating between defence and midfield he has shown how comfortable he is in playing long pinpoint passes to players in the final third hitting 47.3% accurately.
Fitting the Model
Lewis for the reported value that Aberdeen have put on him would be a steal for a player of his age, showing his trajectory is on the rise and potentially a very good replacement for the gap Bellingham will leave. I’m sure he would become a fan favourite already having connections with the club in his uncle Barry Ferguson so it seems like the perfect step for him to take at this point in his career.
Aberdeen have this season played predominantly in a 4-2-3-1 and Ferguson’s role which has him switching between 2 roles in this system either playing as the box to box midfielder playing higher up pressing opponents or playing more of a deeplying-playmaking role. The best fit in the system is he could play very well with Sunjic behind him giving him the licence to go hunt for the ball and joining in attacks or if the team want to play more attacking could drop in the number 6 to be able to dictate the play.
Age: 21 Nationality: England
Position: Centre Back Club: Ipswich Town
Standing 6ft 4″ Woolfenden come back from his season long loan at Swindon last year and has shown all the capabilities of being a highly promising defender. Comfortable bringing the ball out of defence with either foot averaging 9.48 progressive passes per 90 and hitting diagonal long balls across the pitch averaging 7.43 per 90. His strongest assets are his defending abilities having 68.9% of defensive duels won with 5.66 interceptions per 90. Showing he has the positional awareness to sniff out the danger dropping back seeing forward runs or passes and can also press opposition high coming out of defence.
Fitting the Model
Luke would give the team versatility in the fact he has not looked out of place in playing 6 games in a full back position. Giving the lack of centre backs at Birmingham Woolfenden with Ipswich allowing him to leave in repots for £3million and only being twenty one, he possess the necessities needed for the team to be a lot more assured at the back and with Marc Roberts being a senior player it would be beneficial in Luke’s development in progressing at the club.
The systems he has been placed in at Ipswich have varied a lot but the main formations have been between a 4-4-2 and more recent in the second part of the season in a 3-4-1-2 set up. The role given to Woolfenden in playing in a partnership is to be the ball playing centre defender and this would be a key part in how Birmingham could build from the back with him starting attacking plays to break the opposition down.
Age: 21 Nationality: Poland
Position: Winger Club: Lech Poznan
The polish U21 international is one of many highly regarded prospects coming out of Poland in this generation. Powerful in his attacking style of play with running in the oppositions final third with 2.39 progressive passes per 90. With the ball at his feet the only aim is to beat his man on the outside and drive to the by-line with producing 2.39 crosses per 90. When playing in his role as a winger he presses his opposing full back to win back high up the pitch and creates opportunities for team mates with a quick cross or pass.
His versatility puts him ahead of others in his age group being able to play on either flank with cutting inside from the right side or being an out an out winger on the other, showing he is very effective in taking on opponents with 56.04% being successful. When playing as a full back he is very consistent and defends and attacks on the flank making dangerous overlapping runs into attacking areas without compromising his defensive duties which he has successfully won 55.56% of them.
Fitting the Model
The attributes Puchacz has suits the English game very well, the power and directness he shows in his game would cause a lot of championship sides a lot of issues. With a potential transfer value of £3million-£4million the investment in this transfer is perfect for the model that I am trying to create for Birmingham.
Puchacz has been playing in a Lech Poznan system of 4-2-3-1 being the left side of the three and playing the role of a out and out winger with him being attack minded in the final third producing crosses and passes into the box. The versatility in his game has also given him the role of being on the other side of being the inside forward and playing at fullback position. This would be a major asset to a Birmingham side that will be reducing its playing squad even more this window, being his main role as a left winger in the side he has the ability to cover other team members weather injured or when the manager feels he would be suited better in other positions than players under-performing.
Age: 24 Nationality: Croatia
Position: Centre Forward Club: NK Osijek
The Bosnian born man comes alive in the penalty box with brilliant running off defenders for team mates to find simple passes to him. With 39 goals in his last two seasons and producing a 0.6xG per 90, Maric for the last two seasons at Osijek has become a goal scoring machine of the division winning the golden boot. Mirko has shown in his performances that he is a complete forward holding the ball up waiting for his team mates to join him in the final third, adding the fact he also likes dropping deep into space to link up with midfield and turn trying to find the space between the lines.
The surprising thing about Mirko is he has the pace to run the channels for his team and stretch the oppositions backline hitting 2.33 crosses per 90. For a man who stands at 6ft 2″ and having balls played to his feet he shows how technically very good he is with using his frame a physical attribute to hold off his opposition, creating the space needed to turn and dribbling past successfully completing 48.8%.
FITTING THE MODEL
Mirko Maric is the perfect replacement if Jutkiewicz leaves the club this summer. Having out grown the Croatian league it would be a very good investment with reports suggesting he is available at £3million. If he carries his form into the Championship it would be hard to see at his age any striker getting close to what he can produce for many seasons.
Playing in an interesting formation in a 3-4-2-1 Maric is the focal point of the attack, playing the number 9 with many roles in the system being a target man to poacher he has thrived over the last two seasons. The two systems I have suggested would show the best strength Maric has, dropping deeper to allow Puchacz or Irandust to run in behind and creating a partnership with playing one twos allowing Crowley to run at the defenders or pick him out with a defence splitting ball.
Age: 22 Nationality: England
Position: Left Back Club: Jahn Regensburg (Loan from Freiburg)
The Bayern academy graduate has been enjoying life in the German second division. Okoroji showing in his performances he is becoming a very good modern-day fullback having confidence in his ability going forward in his progressive overlapping runs down the left side averaging 2.61 per 90.
The other side to his game is he doesn’t shy away from his defensives duties with winning 58.2% and showing he is strong in the tackle hitting 5 interceptions per 90. A strength that Chima has shown this season is his abilities in set pieces giving his team an added threat. He isn’t just a danger from dead ball situations. His abilities in finding a man in open play has produced 3.32 crosses per 90. The technical side to his game with receiving the ball in his own half and having the ability to run and beat his man in 1v1 dribble is one of his strongest attributes acquiring 3.13 per 90 and successfully completing 54.8%.
Fitting the Model
Having one year left on his contract at Freiburg it is the sort of under value signing that this model is looking for. The team would get a ready-made replacement if Pedersen decides to try his luck at a higher level,the perfect situation on a financial side. Chima has shown he has a very high ceiling in his fledgling career and giving him the right environment, Okoroji would develop into a very good fullback in this country and wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the international stage with Nigeria trying to acquire his services due to the fact his dad is from the country.
Jahn Regensburg have been playing in a 4-4-2 (double 6) with the full backs providing the width of the team and Okoroji has played very well in this system. Bringing these attributes to the style and formation I suggest would be very beneficial to who his wing partner is with him linking up well with under-lapping or over-lapping runs. Obviously, he will have more defensive responsibilities giving he will only have just one defensive midfield covering the space he has left. Chima needs time to adjust to the league and still giving him the opportunities to contribute in attacking situations.
Age: 20 Nationality: Romania
Position: Winger Club: Universitatea Craiova
The interesting prospect from Romania has been highly praised this season from many in the country. The powerful runs and arriving late into the box from his more favored left side having really caught the eye with him scoring 12 goals and 2 assists in all competitions.
His addition to the team would be very beneficial for a season to acclimatize to the league coming off the bench and playing cup competitions. Mahaila could develop into a top 5 league player in few seasons playing in a tough league like the Championship would be a very good investment with reports coming out the club that they will be seeking around £4 million for a player who could bring the club a windfall of a transfer like Bellingham in the near future.
Age: 17 Nationality: Scotland
Position: Left/Right Back Club: Hearts
The young Hearts player has shown an attitude and showing mutuality beyond his years this season with some fantastic displays of him running forwards creating attacking threats with his crossing abilities and overlapping runs.
The dynamic Hickey can play either full back roles and surprisingly strong with either foot and solid at the back with some impressive stats this season, one of them being him winning 60.7% of his defensive duels. Aaron would be a fantastic option from the bench this coming season and with a transfer of just £1 million it shows how low the financial low risk with adding when the time comes for Maxime Colin to leave the club, Birmingham would have the perfect replacement to take over the role.
Age: 21 Nationality: Bosnia
Position: Goalkeeper Club: Sarajevo
The highly regarded goalkeeper from his home country Bosnia has come on the radar from his performances in the UEFA Champions league qualifying games against Celtic and Bate in the Europa League. Sarajevo weren’t much of a match for the Scottish giants but the composure and commanding from the back that 6ft 4″ Kovacevic showed in the matches were very pleasing to the eye with facing 27 shots and only conceding 7 in the four games played.
Vladan’s ball distributions having been very good averaging 7.11 long passes per 90 and completing 69.5% of them. Another one from a league that isn’t on many clubs agenda but Kovacevic could be the future keeper for Birmingham, if getting a work permit passed with a low risk value of around £1 million to get him through the door and adding to the fact Lee Camp could leave the end of the season and Truman not being trusted by the manager having started the season.
Age: 19 Nationality: Slovenia
Position: Centre Defender Club: Celje
Stojinovic would have gone under a lot of radars of clubs with coming from a league that doesn’t get looked at for prospects but this under 21 internationals caught the eye on many occasions. Comfortable can play on either side of a two or anywhere across a three.
The young Slovenia has shown he could mix it at a higher level with playing against England and Portugal u21 teams with solid performances in both. There haven’t been many reports suggesting what his value currently is but coming from a league that isn’t necessarily a catchment area for top 5 leagues it wouldn’t surprise me if city could get a deal for around the £2 million mark and if this could happen it would be a very shrewd transfer for the blues to take advantage.
(SUGESTIONS FOR LOAN/FREE TRANSFER SIGNINGS IF NEEDED)
- Albian Ajeti (CF)- West Ham (Add if reinforcements needed in Centre Forwards)
- James Garner (CM)-Manchester United (Add if Boyd-Munce/Stirk get loans)
- Stephy Mavididi (CF)-Juventus (Add to centre forwards if Adan George loaned)
- Johnathan Panzo (CB/LB)-Monaco (Replacement if Steve Seddon leaves)
- Wes Foderingham (GK)-Rangers (Lee Camp doesn’t sign new contract)
FUTURE AMBITION AND BUDGETING
Birmingham City’s board and fans have the ambitions of ending the run of 10 years of none top flight football since the days of Alex McLeish. Times have changed with Birmingham struggling in recent seasons only in some cases escaping relegation on the last day that also includes a nine-point deduction given over breaching EFL rules.
Financially they have tried putting money into the team when Gianfranco Zola and after him Harry Redknapp where given money to strengthen the squad. Together they spent £31.2million in the years of 2017-2018 recording losses of £37.5million. this came about due to the fact that the wage bill risen from £22million to near £38million after a huge number of 14 players where bought.
Last season Birmingham made a profit of £12million in transfers due to the fact they sold their prize asset Che Adams to Southampton for less than what his transfer cost should have been. The situation that will help is the club getting the suspected transfer money of near £50milllion potentially coming this transfer window. This will give the club breathing space from FFP AND EFL rules.
They can’t keep to the same model of spending big money on players aged between 26-30 with no sell on value and signing players on loan who have big wages. If players become available of this age group it has to be financially viable with little risk and a logical signing to benefit the squad.
The investment that the project I have put in place would need the board to re-invest in the region of £20million to spend on new playing staff with going off the projected figures in the selling of players the profit of around £30million in transfer fees would be a significant figure for the club.
The future solution that would be suggested is to take an approach in the market of looking for players in the age group of (19-24) with key investments into smart loan signings and lesser known younger talents across Europe. This will have higher risk factors but ultimately they will have increased transfer value over the coming seasons and bring sustainable revenue into the club for it to progress in the league.
There is also the issue of the wage bill with having over the last season payed £32.8million. This strategy will help the club in the issue of reducing the wages with having players coming from lesser known leagues and lower league competitions. It’s quite clear the club cannot sustain the rate of spending it has done over the years having reports come out over the last 10 years with a total income of £297million with player costs coming to £325million. That is not sustainable and the project I am proposing is the best viable option to keep this club potentially going under and give it the right structure it needs to progress on the pitch and off it for many years to come.
CONTRACTS AND SELLING PLAYERS
This summer could be a very important window because it isn’t just the prospect of losing Bellingham they have 9 players leaving with 6 of them running out their contracts with 3 of the other players at the club on temporary basis.
- Wes Harding (CB/RB) Expires 2020.
- Craig Gardner (CM) Retiring.
- Kerim Mrabti (AM) Wouldn’t take up option.
- Kieftenbeld (CM) Expires 2020.
- Jefferson Montero (LW) Loan expires.
- Clarke-Salter (CB) Loan expires.
- Maghoma (LW) Expires 2020.
- Johnathan Grounds (LB) Expires 2020.
- Lee Camp (GK) Potential contract renewal.
- Kristen Pedersen (LB)- (£10m value).
- Lukas Jutkiewicz (CF)- (£6m value).
- Harlee Dean (CB)- (£2.5m value).
- Jude Bellingham (CM) (£35m+ value).
- Josh McEachran (CM) Surplus to requirements, loan or sell.
Reports in January linked another couple of star players in Kristian Pedersen and Lukas Jutkiewicz with a move to Watford and Nottingham Forest after having very good seasons so far.
The fact Harlee Dean hasn’t had a great season though had lower championship sides interested in his services in January. This can be seen as great for the club adding more to the budget but also giving the headache to the backroom staff of finding more replacements for first team players. Unfortunately, this club will have no choice but to have another major summer transfer window of a lot of turnover of players incoming and outgoing.
- Connal Trueman (GK)
- Geraldo Bajrami (CB)
- Jack Concannon (AM)
- Odin Bailey (SS)
The club should implement routes for the academy players to first team with all age groups at the club playing the same style of football that the first team have implemented. This will benefit massively if the current manager ever left the club it wouldn’t have any effect on the academy system. Adding loans to teams who play similar or find teams who would suit the attributes of the player.
Another solution would be creating partnerships with teams in lower leagues of England or in Europe that would give opportunities to the players to develop in league competitions with older players. The example I would use is Chelsea and Vitesse Arnhem with many of Chelsea’s academy graduates going through the route of spending a year in Holland.
The club needs to have some stability over the next coming seasons with many players coming and going with some very poor decisions from board level in past seasons. The club have tried like many other clubs have done to throw as much money at the situation and hope some of it sticks. The report and structure I have put together in my opinion would be the best decision to stable the club in the league and get a good revenue stream through buying and selling the types of players I have suggested.
It won’t necessarily bring overnight success because football doesn’t work like that but it could however put pieces in place for the club to not have to hoard out the volume of players it has been every season. Over the course of a five year plan it would be ideal for the club to be buying and selling two or three players with having this system in place. This would be easier to find specific needs of the team and give Birmingham the advantage over other teams in the competition who don’t take the approach of not having a similar plan in place and picking up players who don’t fit the style or create a financial burden on the club.