Garry Monk's exit symptomatic of leadership problems at Birmingham City

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 18 June 2019, 20:02

Birmingham City have parted company with manager Garry Monk in hugely controversial circumstances.

The 40-year-old deserves immense credit for his work in B9; his exit is likely to re-open the divide between the club and supporters.

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We look at the work Monk has done, how his exit impacts the club, and where Birmingham go from here...

Monk’s miracles

Monk took over at a time when Birmingham were in danger of relegation; third-tier football for the first time since 1995 looked a genuine possibility.

The former Boro boss led Blues to survival thanks to a hugely spirited final day 3-1 win over Fulham who, lest we forget, would have won automatic promotion with a victory.

The following summer, Monk was held back by transfer restrictions imposed by the EFL due to overspending during periods that had nothing to do with him.

The club were only able to back their manager with one permanent senior addition, as left-back Kristian Pedersen arrived from Union Berlin.

With an imperfect squad, Monk delivered effectively a 14th-placed finish – the final position of 17th is only due to the nine-point deduction.

As well as positive results, he made a clear effort to engage with supporters.

Monk has done a lot of community work, he has helped disadvantaged children, shown he understands which aspects of performances fans respond well to, he has tweeted out messages with the #KRO hashtag, he has shown he has a sense of humour…

As well as working tirelessly at his job, Monk has been extra keen to present the caring, passionate, human side to him.

Whether that behaviour is entirely altruistic or partly clever PR, it’s an aspect of management that some of his predecessors did not quite grasp and it has helped create a feeling of togetherness.

Style of play

One of the main reasons why CEO Xuandong Ren fell out with Monk was the style of play..

On some level, this is understandable.

Culturally, Blues have long valued qualities such as passion, aggression, commitment and desire; rightly so, but sometimes too much at the expense of clever use of the ball, natural ability and tactical discipline.

As modern football evolves, the club collectively may at some point need to undertake a slight shift in mentality.

Equally, it is also important to be realistic about the calibre of players available; attractive football will not work without the right personnel to start moves in deep areas.

Goalkeeper Lee Camp, who had his most successful season in a very direct Rotherham side in 2015-16, is not proficient with the ball at his feet.

Michael Morrison, whose physical qualities have declined slightly over the last two seasons, does not relish spending long periods in possession.

Although Maikel Kieftenbeld is one of the best basic ball-winners in the Championship, neither he nor either Gardner brother has composure or vision to truly influence games from deep.

The strikers available were a target man in Lukas Jutkiewicz, who was one of just three second-tier players to grab double-figures for both goals and assists in 2018-19, plus a powerful predator in Che Adams who bagged 22 times in the league.

The style of play that Monk devised, which was essentially to go direct from deep, or attack swiftly in transition if the ball was turned over in the opposing half, gleaned the absolute most out of the group of players available.

Ren’s petulance

Given the above, it seems petulant of Xuandong Ren to pick fault in the style of play, when the imperfections are arguably a by-product of his own financial mismanagement.

If his concerns are valid at all, they should be handled in a way that is as respectful as possible to Monk.

Ren should have met with the manager, praised him for the great work he has done to comfortably keep the club up twice in one season, thanked him for building bridges with fans to take the heat off Trillion Trophy Asia, offered him an improved contract as well as a generous budget, then politely asked about the possibility of evolving the style of play.

Instead, Ren reportedly discussed the possibility of sacking Monk behind his back when speaking to other staff members.

After March’s 2-0 home loss to Millwall, he was apparently in a rage in the Directors’ Box – it seems a very irresponsible way for a supposed guardian of the club to behave, especially towards somebody who has done him a huge favour.

What next?

Pep Clotet is the current 6/4 favourite to be the next Birmingham manager.

With Monk’s backroom team – James Beattie, Daryl Flahavan, Sean Rush and Ryan Needs – still in place, the internal option of Clotet seems sensible, if that is a word that can still be used in connection with Birmingham City.

Clotet, named caretaker head coach, is highly-respected as a coach across Europe, having worked in four different countries.

Born and raised in Barcelona, he is likely to have independent views on how the game should be played and may look to evolve Blues’ style of play.

The 42-year-old studies in meticulous detail, he is reportedly settled in Moseley, Birmingham and already has an affinity with fans.

Last time Clotet worked as a number one manager, however, he received criticism at Oxford for certain aspects of his work – learning to correct his conduct in stressful situations and make more impactful substitutions in difficult games will be important as a number one.

Although, it should be factored in that at the Kassam Stadum, he was hamstrung in terms of recruitment by being appointed as late as July.

Five of his 29 games in charge resulted in a victory by three or more goals and he left with the team 10th, six places higher than they ultimately finished – so there is potential for him to be a good number one.

However, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the Birmingham board could come to regret their poor treatment of Monk.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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