Why Rowett’s Birmingham exit could suit both parties

Gary Rowett

Gary Rowett

Gary Rowett’s departure from St Andrews and Gianfranco Zola’s arrival, has been greeted with anger from supporters and bemusement from the wider footballing world.

Rowett had turned Birmingham City from relegation contenders in October 2014, to a team chasing a top six berth over the following 26 months. He had stabilized the club and brought back to the fans a sense of pride – for that, he deserves eternal gratitude.

However, The Football Lab would argue that, despite appearances, this could be a better move for both parties than one might think. The last opposing manager Rowett shook hands with was Mick McCarthy, who had initially worked miracles on a tight budget at Ipswich. That club has stagnated since reaching the play-offs in May 2015, fans no longer feel excited and the manager’s reputation has declined. Despite being out of a job, Rowett is now in a better position than McCarthy, because he has left his club while results were going well – the latter may become an unfortunate victim of his own previous success.

Some feel the former defender has been treated with disrespect, because it is obvious that the board had dialogue with Zola prior to his dismissal. However, pre-planned appointments are more common in football than we would like to believe and those upstairs would not have approached the Italian without good reason, which we are not privy to.

When results were going badly for Birmingham, Lee Clark took stick but more fans rightly piled the blame on Carson Yeung and Peter Pannu. In the interests of fairness, now results are going well, it is important to recognize that Panos Pavlakis and co have stabilized matters at boardroom level.

They have shown care for the club and, to my knowledge met with fan groups on many occasions to provide some transparency. If Pavlakis and co. had just taken over and sacked the manager straight away, it would be fair to see them as the villains and Rowett the hero, but in this case matters may be a little more complex.

It could be that the board are planning a spending spree for forthcoming transfer windows but were unwilling to trust Rowett with a large budget. Not many Blues fans will agree, but there may be merit in that view. Of the attacking signings made under the 42-year-old, how many have been indisputably successful?

Jon Toral was excellent on loan last season, yet even he started only 28 games with eight substitute appearances. Diego Fabbrini, Greg Stewart and Che Adams were all brought in for not inconsiderable sums and neither have been given a run of starts. Lukas Jutkiewicz has looked good since joining on loan from Burnley, but the sustainability of his form is questionable due to his reliance on headed goals. Nikola Zigic, James Vaughan, Kyle Lafferty, Nicolai Brock-Madsen, Will Buckley and arguably Lloyd Dyer did not quite deliver.

Rowett has built a hardworking team. He brought in an excellent goalkeeper in Tomasz Kuszczak and assembled one of the Championship’s best centre-back pairings in Ryan Shotton and Michael Morrison. Until the recent heavy defeats against Barnsley and Newcastle, Blues were rarely beaten over a lack of effort – if at all, with five defeats in Rowett’s last 25 games in charge.

However, Zola might expand on the solid foundations Rowett put in place. The ex-Chelsea forward’s Watford team played some sumptuous counter-attacking football the year they reached the play-off final. At Vicarage Road, he worked with diminutive playmaker Fabbrini, who has the potential to be one of the most creative players in the Championship with the right tactics and man management.

Blues fans should fondly remember Rowett’s time in charge and be grateful for all he has done, but also show faith in the current team and regime. The post-Rowett era could end in disaster, but it could also turn out to be an exciting, new adventure for the club.

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