In all my time as a Blues fan I’ve never seen the crowd turn on the manager so quickly. Trevor Francis knew his time as gaffer was up as much as everyone else did. I was there vs. Norwich in 2006 for the relatively muffled ‘we want Brucey out chant’. There were the sporadic groans under Alex McLeish, and absolutely nothing under Chris Hughton. But genuinely, I’ve never seen or heard a crowd turn like the current inhabitants of St. Andrews have on Lee Clark.
I for one, feel very sorry for him. Let’s just take away all the players, all the tactics; let’s take away the football generally. Lee Clark is the subordinate of a complex regime that’s gone completely to pot financially. He has to work within severe constraints of what we can and cannot afford. You cannot blame Lee Clark for the financial constraints, it doesn’t put him on the back foot; it puts him in a wheelchair when compared to a lot of clubs in this division. The three relegated clubs, Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves have either kept together the squad or added to it; Bolton have kept it together, to a large extent so have Blackburn but then have signed players such as Jordan Rhodes, Colin Kazim-Richards and Leon Best this summer. Wolves have reinvested the money they made on Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis on players who will do well in the Championship; Tongo Doumbia looks a brilliant signing, whilst they’ve still kept hold of Wayne Hennesey, Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle. Imagine two years ago a team in the Championship with those latter three players; they would have been at short odds to win the league. Yet there are more clubs with financial muscle: Nottingham Forest, Leicester, Cardiff and Huddersfield are just another four teams that will have spent more than Birmingham this summer.
Now look at the team. Clark inherited a lot of them from Hughton or before. The first thing I have to say about the team is that Birmingham could put out an XI over thirty years of age (if fit) that wouldn’t be a million miles away from our strongest side; Lucas, Carr, Pablo, Caldwell, Robinson, Elliot, Mullins, Bouba Diop, Lovenkrands, Zigic, King. Only Jack Butland, Curtis Davies and Chris Burke and maybe Keith Fahey could automatically complain at not being in that team. If I was to have one firm criticism of Lee Clark, it is that he didn’t help this situation by signing the likes of Lovenkrands and Mullins, but then you think maybe his hand was forced by the financial situation. When Birmingham were tormented by Barnsley the other week, the one thing I noticed is the speed at which Barnsley attacked at times, they completely overawed the Blues defence – they couldn’t cope. It seems as if a fair few Blues players are simply too old and battle weary after a very long season last term, in my honest opinion. Their juice was sucked through a straw last season.
In addition, the injuries Birmingham have had are horrendous. Captain Stephen Carr is out for the season; his replacement (and, in my opinion, a very, very good replacement) Paul Caddis is out for a while. Curtis Davies has had spells on the sidelines, so as has Pablo Ibanez. David Murphy’s fitness has caused enough concern that the terrible Paul Robinson has been signed up. The signing of Papa Bouba Diop for a month is another example of trying to fit rectangles into square holes; in the past, this caliber of player would’ve been handed at least a half-season deal. But Birmingham are desperate, just like Doncaster last season when they signed the likes of Habib Beye, El-Hadji Diouf and Pascal Chimbonda on short deals, and consequently, Doncaster ended up being relegated to League One.
But generally, that doesn’t matter. For a lot of this season, the performances simply haven’t been up to scratch. Marlon King hasn’t been anywhere near as sharp as he was last season. Chris Burke hasn’t been skinning people like he used to (perhaps he has been instructed to shield the right-back more?). Signings such as Darren Ambrose and Hayden Mullins, even if they were cost-constraint signings have been very lackluster. Some players need to find form.
All in all, Clark deserves the chance everyone else received. It isn’t Lee Clark’s fault some of the best players have left the club, it isn’t Lee Clark’s fault that some players are on big money at Blues. He has had no real chance to shape the squad through injuries. I just don’t see why people are blasting him so prematurely; he has taken a job no-one else really wanted. I just hope he is given time to prove himself.
Perhaps after a great season under Chris Hughton, Birmingham fans’ expectations are too high? We are only 10 games into a 46 game campaign, and I feel Clark will turn things around in the coming months.