Gianfranco Zola’s honourable resignation speech was the mark of the man. In an era in which many managers wait for a pay-out, he recognized that his position had become untenable and did what was best for all parties. While he lacked the leadership to instil order and discipline, he gave everything for the football club amid political unrest and it is pleasing that the parting has at least been amicable.
Zola’s main downfall in his ill-fated four-month tenure, as discussed in February, was his search for tactical revolution, rather than evolution. In hope of making Blues better with the ball, they changed only to become worse without it. There was a mishmash of old players who were more comfortable with Gary Rowett’s defensive methods and new ones, who struggled to settle. This, combined with off-field issues created anarchy and therefore a disjointed, divided team.
For that, the players themselves must take some responsibility. We have seen Sheffield Wednesday and Reading take a similarly bold change in approach and both are in the top six this season. They could have seen change as an opportunity to expand their skill set and strive to become better all-round footballers. Instead, Birmingham players appeared overly aware that any defeat would put much of the scrutiny on Zola, rather than themselves.
There were some games in which the team created chances but were not clinical enough in the final third, such as Nottingham Forest and Leeds at home plus Sheffield Wednesday away. However, those types of games were followed up by woeful performances in which the team showed no heart or creativity, namely the last two against Rotherham and Burton.
Regardless of chances created, defending has always been little short of suicidal. No successful possession team leaves huge gaps between their centre-backs when without the ball and while Zola’s tactics carry some risks, there should be individual accountability for sloppy failure in basic defending.
Discipline is required and new manager Harry Redknapp could be the man to provide it. While he may not be everybody’s favourite – and possibly not the right man for Birmingham beyond the next three games – he does not suffer fools gladly. The club, in its current state, is in no position to sniff at a man with his experience and achievements in the game.
He will have the respect of the players and could give them the kick they need, going into the derby game against Aston Villa. Birmingham’s players have let their fans down too often this season – a spirited, hardworking performance that befits the scale of Sunday’s derby is the least they can offer.