Five reasons why the Birmingham City board should commit to Pep Clotet amid Mark Robins rumours

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 02 December 2019, 07:22

There have been rumours – and only rumours at this stage – that Birmingham City are looking to replace Interim Head Coach Pep Clotet with Coventry City boss Mark Robins.

Robins is doing a great job at Coventry, but here’s why the Blues board should stick rather than twist...

Flashes of excellent football

When Birmingham beat Middlesbrough 2-1 in early October, some of the football on show was on a different level to what has been seen in previous eras at St Andrews.

Even in games in which Blues have not won, like the 1-1 home draw with Bristol City, the 3-2 loss at Derby and 4-2 at Cardiff, they controlled for long spells with excellent link-up play and showed serious potential.

Of course, there have been some less than inspiring displays mixed in, but there is a lot to like about the direction in which Clotet is taking this team and he has managed the evolution shrewdly.

Changing the culture

The club’s five most successful managers this century - Steve Bruce, Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Gary Rowett and Garry Monk – have all looked to organise the side out of possession, then get the players to either go long to a target man or counter-attack.

Culturally, Blues have often felt like a gritty, working-class alternative to the perceived glamour outfits nearby.

Of course, there has been the odd strong individual technician in B9 like Jose Dominguez, Chris Marsden, Christophe Dugarry, Mikael Forssell, Jiri Jarosik, Chris Burke, Ravel Morrison, Jon Toral and Jota.

None of those players, however, have sustained any form for more than one full season - albeit with mitigating factors in some cases.

By contrast, honest but limited grafters like Jeff Kenna, Damien Johnson, Liam Ridgewell, Cameron Jerome, Stephen Carr, Jonathan Spector, Paul Caddis, Paul Robinson and Harlee Dean have retained their influence for more than one full season and, in some cases, been loved by fans for their badge-thumping passion.

That shows there may have been a deep-rooted mentality at the club which helps strong characters perform above their natural level, but makes it harder to develop enigmatic technicians who may carry a higher sell-on value.

Clotet of course wants Blues as a club to retain traditional values and its sense of identity, but he also wants to alter the culture slightly and create a climate in which more skilful players – like Dan Crowley and Fran Villalba – can thrive.

That’s a hugely important contribution towards the club’s chances of progression over the next decade – but it will go beyond bare results.

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 Transitional season

Since Chris Hughton led Birmingham on that Europa League adventure in 2011-12, it has been mainly downhill.

After a forgettable 12th-place finish in 2012-13, Blues have gone into the final day fearing relegation in three seasons out of a possible six.

Despite the brief resurgences under Rowett and Monk, the bigger picture tells us that this is a club in decline.

For that reason, it seems naïve for the board to expect Clotet to lead Blues into the top six this season, without any recognition of the wider context.

Of course, the long-term ambition is to get the club back into the Premier League and rightly so but Norwich and Sheffield United, who won automatic promotion last season, finished outside the Play-Offs in 2017-18 and entered 2018-19 with the same manager.

Just because a certain objective might not be being fulfilled now, does not mean it won’t be; the key thing to look at is whether the building blocks are in place.

Short of a quick striker

Were Birmingham to swap Alvaro Gimenez with last season’s 22-goal top scorer Che Adams – or a striker very similar – they would likely be in a much stronger position.

That is not to say that Gimenez has not contributed anything; his movement is decent, and he can be selfless at times - he pounced well for the opener in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday, too.

The Spaniard, however, is short on pace, as is strike-partner Lukas Jutkiewicz.

That is not such a problem when Blues are executing their ideal game plan accurately, but when the midfield gets forced back, they have two strikers who are completely out of the game.

If the board could support Clotet by bringing in a mobile forward, Birmingham will give themselves the option to play through the press quickly and pose a threat in games, even when they are not on top.

Robins underwhelming outside Cov

A lot of things about Mark Robins may appeal to the board.

He has developed young players, he has evolved his Coventry team to get them playing out from the back more – and he has proven he can get good results at St Andrews!

It may be worth noting, though, that Robins’ record as a manager outside the Sky Blues – whom he has managed across two spells - leaves something to be desired.

He did quite well at Rotherham and ok at Barnsley before leaving over a reported budgetary dispute, then had a mixed stint at Huddersfield.

While Robins deserves credit for preserving the club’s Championship status at that time, the quality of football turned sour towards the end – and he walked out after the opening day of the 2014-15 campaign.

With the Terriers, Robins was not quite able to get the best out of the likes of Nahki Wells and Joe Lolley, who would become strong Championship performers under different managers over the subsequent half-decade.

He came under even more criticism at Scunthorpe, where he used many players, changed the team frequently and could not establish a clear identity; he often shoehorned a natural goalscorer in Paddy Madden out wide, for example.

If Blues were to replace Clotet with the perfect candidate, then that would be understandable because the Spaniard is by no means proven or perfect.

In the absence of the perfect candidate, though, he has earnt the opportunity to further hone his craft, tweak the culture of the club and lead Blues through this transitional period. 

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