Can Tony Mowbray revive a bleak Birmingham City?

16.01.2024 18:44:34 Ashlee Kiddell
Entrance gate at St Andrews Stadium, home of Birmingham City FC
  • Tony Mowbray has been appointed as the new head coach at Birmingham City with the club currently sitting in 20th place
  • The former Sunderland boss comes in to replace Wayne Rooney who had been in charge of the Blues for just 15 games 
  • Birmingham underwent ownership change over the summer with NFL legend Tom Brady becoming a minority owner 
  • Mowbray drew 2-2 in his first league game at home to Swansea City

 

It has been a fairly abject decade for Birmingham fans with the club finishing no higher than tenth in the Championship since 2012. Nevertheless, the 2023/24 season looked to be one of optimism before the campaign got underway. 

New American owners (Shelby Companies Limited) took full charge of the club back in July and seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady became a minority owner. Brady also became chairman of the advisory board at the club. The former New England Patriots quarterback was spotted in a local pub near the ground over the summer too, immersing himself within the footballing culture. 

On the pitch, the Blues got off to a solid start under head coach John Eustace. He was able to win five of the opening 11 league matches, guiding them to sixth place. Nevertheless, the board opted for a change, citing the want for their new man to have a ‘no fear’ playing style. Eustace was sacked at the start of October after recording a 3-1 win at home to West Bromwich Albion.


Wayne Rooney’s Small Tenure 

The club decided to bring in Manchester United legend and former Derby County and D.C United coach Wayne Rooney as their new man in charge. Alongside him included a host of well-established names such as Ashley Cole and John O’Shea. 

However, the appointment turned out to be a disaster. Rooney oversaw just two league wins from his 15 games in charge. That saw Birmingham fall from sixth to 20th in just three months. The former England captain had to deal with a multitude of injuries throughout his time in charge, but the board believed that results weren’t good enough. 

Rooney was without key players such as Keshi Anderson, Ethan Laird & Lee Buchanan for large parts of the campaign. Tyler Roberts had also been dealing with injury issues, alongside important defender Kevin Long. The Blues often had to play with a makeshift defence, especially when Rooney was in charge.


Mowbray’s Philosophy

Mowbray is a man with plenty of experience managing clubs across the English second tier. He has been in charge of huge clubs in the past as well, such as West Brom, Celtic, Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers and most recently Sunderland. 

With a Championship title on his CV, which he achieved with West Brom in 2007/08, the Birmingham faithful will be dreaming that he can deliver similar success. Certainly, Mowbray fits the criteria of a ‘no fear’ playing style. 

The 60-year-old is known for his sides to be incredibly entertaining. He wants a free-flowing, technical game, with a focus on retaining the ball and won’t often go against his principles. Mowbray likes to play on the front foot and utilise his attacking players, emphasising forward play. 

By doing so, he puts his trust in the players at his disposal to carry out his methodology and philosophy. That also allows them to be brave and take risks, in turn, resulting in his teams creating plenty of chances. It’s no wonder why Birmingham have decided to appoint him. 


Recent Managerial Performances

Having had past success in gaining promotions across the football pyramid, Mowbray knows what it takes. Not only did he achieve promotion with West Brom to the Premier League, but he also managed to guide Blackburn Rovers back to the second tier in 2018. 

Mowbray was appointed as Sunderland boss in August 2022 and guided them to the play-offs in his first season, securing a sixth-place finish. However, the club lost in the semi-finals against Luton Town. After a fairly underwhelming start to the 2023/24 season, he was sacked in December 2023 with the club in ninth. His removal appeared pretty harsh.


Are there any limitations to Mowbray? 

Mowbray fits the bill that the new ownership wants to achieve after the sacking of Rooney. Not only does he bring an assertive approach to football, but he treats his players and staff at each club like family. He is known to be an extremely warm, loyal and respectful man and is often loved by the fans and the players. He even takes time to explain to players why they haven’t been selected. 

The aim is to change the identity of Birmingham as he looks to impose his possession-based football. The Blues currently rank in the bottom five in terms of average possession so it will take time for Mowbray to see wholesale charges. 

Equally, his staunch offensive mindset does come with the opportunity cost of letting in too many goals at points and can lead to soft goals being conceded. His philosophy works when he has a squad that is capable of competing and contains players that are of better quality.  

Eustace proved he could get a tune out of these players. There’s talent there, it just needs to be unlocked. Players such as Jordan James have impressed this term and the 19-year-old has managed six league goals already this term. James also scored the dramatic equaliser in Mowbray’s first match against Swansea and has been linked with a move to Serie A outfit Atalanta

However, when Mowbray has faced stronger opposition in the past, like with his West Brom side in the Premier League, it didn’t work out. Sometimes, the need to be a little more pragmatic and defensive can help pick up more points. 

 

Will Mowbray be able to revive Birmingham? 

There’s no argument about how Mowbray is able to inspire his players to have confidence in themselves and believe in his style of play. His philosophy matches the board’s vision and, on paper, it looks like a fantastic fit. 

Rooney’s tenure was plagued by injuries, especially in defence. However, Birmingham are starting to get their players back now and even Ethan Laird who has been missing since the beginning of December could return by the end of the month. 

Fulham loanee Jay Stansfield has also impressed thus far and has managed to score a total of seven league goals. He has told Mowbray that his preference is to play out wide and so the likes of Scott Hogan and Lukas Jutkiewicz may start to see more playing time in the central striker role.  

Former Bournemouth winger Sirki Dembele has performed well at points too and has scored six league goals this term, also notching an assist. The Scotsman scored the Blues’ first goal against Swansea on Saturday.  

The squad is certainly talented. Now that the injury situation has improved, Mowbray looks set to inherit a solid foundation for success. It may take some time for things to work out at St Andrews, but the recent hire looks promising. 

 

 

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