What do you do when your soccer team is on an upward trend and is having the best start to a season after years of poor performance?
What do you do when, after a decade of hardship, the fans are finally on the club’s side and are happy with the club’s direction?
Of course you fire your manager.
Wayne Rooney is an attractive hire in Birmingham and this is by no means a dig at the former Manchester United and Everton man, but parting ways with John Eustace might be one of the stupidest dismissals in recent memory.
As we know, championship owners and directors are trigger-happy even at the best of times. This column argued three weeks ago that Middlesbrough boss Steve Gibson should be patient with a struggling Michael Carrick and they have won every game since. Thank me later.
Wayne Rooney is Birmingham City’s new manager – but have the Blues made a colossal mistake?
John Eustace was ousted despite a strong start to the season, making way for Rooney
Your browser does not support iframes.
But if Boro had sacked Carrick they would have at least had a basis to do so as the club was in the relegation zone. Birmingham, on the other hand, are in sixth place in the table and are full of confidence after defeating local rivals West Bromwich.
As far as the start of the season goes, Birmingham’s 18 points after 10 games is better than this point in the last six seasons.
Rewatching some of their games and assessing the expected goals stats as research for this column, it’s fair to say that Birmingham have also been unlucky in dropping points in some cases.
“It is important that the board and football management are fully aware of the importance of implementing a winning mentality and a culture of ambition throughout the football club,” it said in a statement on Monday.
“A new first team manager will be announced in the coming days who will be responsible for creating an identity and a clear fearless style of play that all Birmingham City teams will adopt and embrace.”
But Blues fans are now terrified that this dismissal could derail a positive start to the season and point out that players will be angry that the popular Eustace is gone.
It’s reminiscent of 2016 when Gary Rowett was sacked in favor of Gianfranco Zola.
“Except for Eustace,” says Blues Breakdown, a Birmingham-focused social media channel. “He took on the role when the club was at a real low point. He motivated and stabilized the club, built a connection with the fans and gave us our best result in ages (yes, the bar was low).’
Birmingham opted for another big name in Gianfranco Zola in 2016 and sacked Gary Rowett – but the Italian won just two of the 24 games he took charge
Rowett was dropped with Birmingham in seventh place in the Championship before they collapsed
In fact, the circumstances of Rowett’s sacking couldn’t be more similar: the team potentially overachieving under a popular, up-and-coming manager, who is then replaced by a man who was one of the all-time greats of his time on the pitch.
Let’s take a look at how things turned out in December 2016. Rowett had the Blues in seventh place after leading them to tenth place in two full seasons at St Andrew’s.
It is worth noting that they have not finished in the top half since the departure of Rowett, now Millwall manager.
Zola won just two of 24 games and retired on Easter Monday that season after a heavy home defeat to Burton left them just three points clear of safety. “I fired myself,” said the Italian. “I’m sorry because I came to Birmingham with great expectations.”
That brings us to Rooney, who comes in with huge expectations given his reputation as one of the most influential English footballers of the last two decades.
He has faced challenging circumstances in his roles at Derby and DC United, and if Eustace had left of his own accord – Rangers showed interest last month – and Rooney had been signed from Birmingham, many would argue that it was an ambitious, but decent appointment was about the Blues’ new American owners, co-led by NFL legend Tom Brady, of course.
NFL legend Tom Brady became co-owner of the championship club earlier this year
A combination of Rooney and Brady will capture the attention of sports fans around the world
Despite points deductions and a lack of transfer activity at Pride Park, Rooney did an admirable job playing attacking football. Liam Rosenior was Rooney’s assistant there and some suggested the overzealous Hull boss was the mastermind of the operation.
“Rooney’s ability to get more out of a threadbare Derby squad was astonishing,” says Ryan Conway, who this week released a book about the Rams’ modern turmoil, “Pride Before the Fall.”
“He was a good motivator. And he showed that he was agile. When he replaced Philip Cocu, he took back much of the tactical framework.
“Rooney wanted direct football down the flanks, bodies in the box and incoming crosses. He was more concerned with effectiveness than beauty.” Sometimes they could be weak defensively. Especially in standard situations. It frustrated Rooney.
“Just when it looked like they were going to take a corner, they would concede a soft goal from a corner or a throw-in.”
The appreciation of Rooney and the opinion that Eustace was unfairly dismissed should not be mutually exclusive. But looking back to when Zola replaced Rowett, you get the feeling that this one could come back to bite Birmingham.
Probable, questionable calls are not limited to the major leagues
All eyes have been on refereeing errors and PGMOL apologies in the Premier League over the last month, but there have been some shocking decisions in the Football League too, starting with Dan Neil’s red card for Sunderland against Middlesbrough for… well, nobody’s really sure.
Black Cats boss Tony Mowbray was furious at the incident that changed the Tees-Wear derby – Boro won 4-0 – and said it appeared to be because Neil, from 20 yards out, called “That’s a bloody foul “Referee” had shouted.
Mowbray accused Jarred Gillett of “spoiling the game” and said: “We’ve got a derby here with 45,000 players and he gives a red card for gesticulating.” No grinding tackle with raised studs. Gesturing. He spoiled it for the fans.’
Sunderland were beaten 4-0 by Middlesbrough after Dan Neil was sent off for dissent
Another embarrassing decision to spoil a game came at Salford’s Peninsula Stadium on Saturday when Crewe Alexandra were denied a goal due to an offside call.
It clearly looked negative, but that wasn’t why Alex boss Lee Bell and fans were fuming.
While Courtney Baker-Richardson and her team-mates celebrated in front of the traveling Railwaymen fans what they thought was the goal to make it 2-1, referee Teej Kirk allowed Salford to restart the game and they went ahead and scored at the other end .
Crewe’s players were out of position and Matt Smith’s goal, which came after a four-on-two attack, put them 2-1 behind – seconds after they thought they were 2-1 up!
While many EFL players are jetting off on international duty, I would like to briefly turn your attention to AFC Wimbledon striker Ali Al-Hamadi, who is in the Iraq squad for Friday’s game against Qatar.
Al-Hamadi, who has four goals and three assists in the second division this season, fled the war-torn country at the age of one.
His father Ibrahim was imprisoned for protesting against Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime.