By Alex McLeish’s own frank admission another finish in the “Top 17” next season would be progression in itself for a Blues side looking to establish themselves in the top flight after their best place finish for 51 years upon their return to the Premier League. Whilst the Scotsmen is right to quell any over-exuberant and somewhat premature whispers about Europe..
Just how do Blues go about building upon such an excellent campaign?
1.Retaining the services of “Big Eck” – Alex McLeish’s signings last summer were as good as any, typified by the additions of Scott Dann and Roger Johnson from Coventry and Cardiff respectively as well as Barry Ferguson from Rangers but after such a startling season that saw Blues go 12 games unbeaten typing up McLeish’s contract may prove to be their best piece of business this time around.
2. Scoring more goals – Whilst there defensive performances took justified plaudits, Blues were a bit shy in front of goal scoring just 38 goals in 38 games and another striker to feed off 6ft 7inch Nikola Zigic may be essential if they are to try and match their achievements last term. Blues had been linked to Bobby Zamora for most of the summer and have more recently turned their attentions to AZ Alkmaar’s Moussa Dembele.
3. Looking to the future – Despite their experience the likes of Lee Bowyer, Stephen Carr and co will not be around forever and perhaps McLeish would be wise to take a closer look at January acquisitions Craig Gardner and Michel. The Spaniard has only featured nine times since arriving at St Andrews but his arrival was not without praise from SkySports Spanish correspondent Guillem Balague who described the former Sporting Gijon man as a good passer of the ball whilst comparing him in style to Javier Mascherano but with better passing range. After being given time to settle in, Michel may flourish this season under the guidance of a man who was so patient in the chase for his signature and he may add some much needed energy and elegance in the absence of Bowyer and Ferguson. Gardner made 13 appearances for Blues after the short trip from Villa Park, the last six matches on the right side of midfield due to Sebastian Larsson’s incline in form. A ‘bluenose’ himself, he endeared himself to the St Andrews crowds earning special praise for his performance against Aston Villa in an unjust 1-0 defeat. If Pre-season is anything to go by McLeish certainly seemed impressed with Gardner towards the end of last season and he may be used more frequently for Blues.
The addition of Crystal Palace full-back Nathaniel Clyne may also be a judicious signing if Birmingham are willing to stump up the £3million the club insist on for a player with such a bright future. Stephen Carr was resolute amongst the Blues back four but the eulogies about the young defender from the Championship tend to suggest he will one day play for a side in the top four and his natural pace and stature make him ideal to push Carr for a place in the first-team.
4. Continue to improve the infrastructure – If Birmingham are to progress on the pitch, progression off it may also be key and Peter Pannu’s pledge to invest heavily in the scouting network and the academy will be certainly enhance the club. Clubs like Everton and Fulham invest around £1.5 million into their scouting department in comparison to Blues’ £200,000 in the most recent past. If Blues are to stay in the Premier League for years to come, the right model for the academy set-up is required so that the club can prosper in future.
5. Hope that Foster can emulate Joe Hart’s season – The signing of Ben Foster from Manchester United is perhaps the best Birmingham could have done after Manchester City denied them the chance to keep hold of Hart. Hart was integral in Birmingham’s sensational return to the Premier League and this was reflected in his emotional farewell at the Reebok Stadium on the final day of the 09/10 season. They will hope that just like Hart, who struggled initially, Foster will exhibit his talents when thrust under the scrutiny regular first-team football will put him under and this may be key for Birmingham if they are to get anywhere near last season’s dizzy heights.