The Unthinkable – By Russell Dempsey

I think even the worst pessimists agree we’ll at least make the play-offs this season, and with it – assuming Derby County and Sunderland (the present teams most would fear) have an excellent chance of going up (it would appear to be West Bromwich Albion, Preston North End and Wolverhampton Wanderers our opponents in the Play-Offs at the moment) as our record against those teams so far has been good.

However, I was wondering what people thought about our chances of keeping our squad together, should we not make it.

Forget the Bruce In/Bruce Out debate, what about the players?

Maik Taylor, Colin Doyle, Adam Legzdins, Artur Krysiak, Sam Oji, Matt Sadler, Stephen Clemence, Mikael Forssell, Julian Gray, Neil Kilkenny, Neil Danns, Bruno N’Gotty, Matt Birley, Sone Aluko, Stephen Kelly, Martin Taylor, Sebastian Larsson, Cameron Jerome, Mehdi Nafti, DJ Campbell, Olivier Tebily, Rowan Vine, Damien Johnson, Radhi Jaidi, Gary McSheffrey, Nick Wright.

Andy Cole, Fabrice Muamba and Nicklas Bendtner, I think we can all safely assume will have gone back to their ‘parent clubs’ should we fail to achieve promotion… some would question whether they’d stay even if we go up.

I think Maik Taylor would go, and we’d keep the other three keepers. I’d imagine Forssell won’t be happy to stick around should we not be offering him Premiership football next season. Julian Gray and Neil Kilkenny have already been making unhappy noises about the lack of opportunity. I imagine their grumbles may cease if they enjoy Premiership salaries once more, but for now I’d imagine Kilkenny could do better elsewhere, and Gray may even be tempted by a smaller Championship team.

There was an interesting point made by fellow ‘J & S poster’ Kym Smith, that she wasn’t exactly sure Stephen Clemence was a logical choice for a Premiership Captain. He’s done arguably a better job than Damien Johnson in the Championship though, so it’d be great to see him still here, should we not go up. I’d hope he took the armband off DJ too, and I suspect Jonty would be only too happy to say goodbye to being the fall guy, and the stress…

I think Mat Sadler was being touted for huge things when he was playing in the Premiership, which may cause him to look elsewhere, but I think he’s been unlucky having to play second fiddle to McSheffrey on the left wing, so I can see him staying.

McSheffrey is our ‘crown jewel’ at the moment, and after Pennant, Heskey, Dunn and Upson, I don’t think any Bluenose would bet against him leaving us for a ‘bigger’ Prem team if we didn’t gain promotion. Some would argue he’s not necessarily a sure-fire success for the Prem, but the likes of Derby and Sunderland would definitely be willing to gamble on him, if no-one else.

Jonty himself I can see wanting to stay at Blues. If we went up to the Prem, I wonder if his age would catch up with him, but in the Championship – despite those who would knock him – I think he has found his level, along with Tiny Taylor and Tebs (who I would hope we’d release should we get to the ‘Promised Land’).

Neil Danns and DJ Campbell would no doubt relish the challenge to pit themselves in the Premiership, but I can’t see a bigger club than Blues coming in for them, should we stay down. The jury’s out on Danns even at the Championship level, and I think DJ Campbell struggling to hold down even a place on the bench at times wouldn’t bode well for his Premiership dreams…

Jaidi and N’Gotty are coming toward the end of their careers, N’Gotty in particular seemed to suggest he’d retire after one more ‘Prem season with Blues’ that quote from him suggests to me he’d leave should we fail to get promotion. Jaidi’s recent decision to re-enter the Tunisian national team probably suggests he’d be ready to continue playing, but I’m again not sure a bigger team would come in for him, or pay his salary. Mehdi Nafti was a promising Premiership player before his season-long injury stopped him being our ‘bigger and better Robbie Savage’ but this season he’s been solid but average for the Championship, held out of the team by Fabrice Muamba. I can see him staying at Blues for another season.

Matt Birley, Sam Oji, Sone Aluko, and Nick Wright have all made their names in the Blues reserve sides. If they’re not released as seems a common fate for their ilk I think they could even break into the first team, should we stay in the Championship. Oji, Birley and Aluko perhaps even regular bench spots in the Prem in the future.

Nick Wright looked excellent to me, a match for Pennant at times, for the reserves last season, but his impact seems to have lessened this season, and he certainly doesn’t seem to have caught Bruce’s ‘first team’ eye.

Stephen Kelly I believe is good enough for the Premiership, and if we don’t go up, I’d expect him to head up a division.

That leaves Larsson, Jerome and Vine.

An interesting bunch of players. Arguably all capable of making it in the Premiership, but all recently signed to Blues. I’d think Jerome could say he has least to lose by leaving Blues, after he’s played second fiddle to Bendtner, DJC, Vine and now Andy Cole this season, but would he be offered a Prem spot? Again, perhaps the newly promoted teams would give him more than a cursory glance?

Larsson and Vine I would have thought should want to prove themselves for longer than the half seasons they’ve been permanent Blues players. Larsson isn’t proven in the Prem at all, and neither is Vine.

I would have thought – without transfer window buying – our Championship team for 07/08 (as unthinkable as that may be) would consist of….

GK: Colin Doyle
LB: Matt Sadler
CB: Martin Taylor
CB: Radhi Jaidi
RB: Olivier Tebily
LM: Sebastian Larsson
CM: Stephen Clemence
CM: Damien Johnson
RM: Neil Danns
ST: Rowan Vine
ST: DJ Campbell
SUBS: Adam Legzdins, Sam Oji, Nick Wright, Mehdi Nafti, Sone Aluko

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR : Artur Krysiak and Matt Birley

Krysiak let in six goals (Blues were down to 10 men mind) for the U18’s last night so hes ‘one for the future’.

I actually think – taking Bruce out of the equation – IF we don’t go up this season, we have a bloody good squad to get us there or thereabout next season. With the right investment, we can only get stronger, surely?

Any opinions on a postcard to….Joys and Sorrows, PO Box blah blah blah!

Keep Right On, and hope my unthinkable stays just that…

Steve Bruce, Promotion & Derby County – By Russell Dempsey

Karren Brady has just come out in public, declaring her undying love (tee hee) for Wor Brucey.
It made me think.

I’ve been sitting firmly in the Pro-Bruce camp since before we were relegated. I’m still firmly of the opinion Bruce was let down badly by the players. And that includes Kenny Cunningham. I was at the Norwich and Liverpool humiliations, and have still backed Bruce 100%.

However, at the beginning of the season, I made the rather bold (for me) statement that Bruce could go with my blessing (as though it’s needed) if we didn’t get promoted this season. I think most fans, for or against Bruce would suggest the same. I think all pro-Brucers and some anti-Brucers would want him to stay if we got to the Prem, too.

This is the crux of my post. What if we miss out on promotion on goal difference? Lose the Play-Off Final 1-0 to a penalty EVERYONE concedes wasn’t deserved? Such is the thin line between success and failure. It made me realise promotion isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of Bruce’s campaign.

I think the Board have done a tremendous job of ’sticking with their man’ and rightly so, but would they be so brave if we didn’t go up? I was convinced Bruce would walk if we missed out on promotion, but would he be so willing if he felt we were HUGELY unlucky not to be enjoying Premiership football with him??

I think we’ve hit good form at the moment (much better than Derby or West Brom, only really outdone by Wolves and Sunderland.) Well, Sunderland couldn’t beat us, and I don’t think Wolves will either. I’m hoping for a 0-0 draw between Wolves and the Baggies this weekend, too.

This game against Derby really COULD decide the future of the Club… and the Boss. If we lose, I don’t think we’ll be able to go up as Champions. If we can’t beat Derby, our run-in against the likes of Wolves, Preston, Coventry will look a lot more difficult. If we do beat Derby, we’ll feel we can beat any team we’re up against for the rest of the season. Beat Derby, and Bruce will stay, lose against them and he’ll go, I can almost sense it.

I don’t mean go now, but I can’t see he’ll be with us beyond the end of the season. If he takes us up automatically though, I think it will be a job well done. Credit where credit is due, he really will have succeeded in a Football Manager 2007 fan’s dream, constructed a new team from the ashes of a previous manager’s arson attempt, and taken them to the Promised Land, only this time, it was Steve Bruce who had suspicious quantities of empty petrol cans in his boot…

I think we have the very young makings of a successful Premiership side, but if we don’t go up this season, Muamba and Bendtner will head back to Arsenal, McSheffrey may be made a Premiership offer he can’t refuse, N’Gotty and Jaidi may well call it quits. Julian Gray is out of contract and may well not be willing to stick around after the lack of starts he’s had. Mehdi Nafti isn’t the tower of strength he used to be. Martin Taylor and Stephen Clemence have proven themselves this season, but do they have the heart for another year’s Championship grind? If Bruce stays, the team may well keep its heart, but if a new manager is brought in, I’d have thought they’d want their own players in.

Anyone ever wonder why Martin O’Neill keeps all his Celtic annuals?

All I know is the claims ‘no-one has a divine right to automatic promotion’ are right, and – even if we finish third – there’s no guarantee we’ll win the three games necessary for Playoff victory. The truth is, I haven’t got the guts to put money on us going up this season, but I wouldn’t bet against us either. If we win against Derby, I think the belief will return and the fans will be firmly behind Bruce and the boys. If we lose against them, I think the fans and the team will be unsettled, and the results will follow suit. That’s how important this game is, and how irritating is it that it will be on Sky? A guaranteed poor turn-out will ensue, the fans who do go will be the ones who’ll feel most dejected if we don’t put on a performance ‘why didn’t I watch this on TV?’ and the team won’t have their desired ‘twelfth man’.

I think it will be Derby and Sunderland or Sunderland and Blues in the top two. The play off places will be West Brom, Wolves, Blues/Derby and Preston.

As for Blues v Derby, I can stick my neck out and say we’ll beat them 1-0, but it won’t be a great game of football. I hope the Blues prove me wrong, but only in scoring more goals. If we can only beat them, we’ll be on top of the table with a game in hand over them, and the psychological advantage from doubling them. They should be tired on Friday, after having beaten Norwich (why Norwich couldn’t keep their lead only Delia Smith must know) and we should be in good spirit after our resilient win against Cardiff. Come on you Blues!

McUpson Or Is It Matty Sheffrey – By Russell Dempsey

I was fuming about the whole Upson (sorry – whoowhoooooooo?) affair, when it suddenly struck me that Coventry fans probably felt the same way about McSheffrey.

I actually spoke to a Coventry fan on a residential trip with school. She said she was ‘glad’ McSheff had left. I truly think – looking at how well he did for them and how well he’s played for us since – that it was a case of sour grapes.

Looking at the two situations though:

Both players were still under contract
Both managers turned down offers and said he was not for sale.
Both players were sold – seemingly by the Board – against the wishes of the manager.
Both players ‘had their heads turned’.

Which makes Karen Brady’s ‘ugly betty’ article more interesting reading:

No doubt West Ham feel they have done a clever piece of business buying Matthew Upson from Birmingham.

No doubt Blues feel they’ve also done clever business getting GMcS from Cov…

I don’t think it’s clever at all. The truth is I feel as if we have been mugged.

So do Coventry presumably. See how they’ve plummeted since he left.

Strange kind of mugging, you might think, being held up at the point of a chequebook and forced to accept £7.5million.

Yeah – only £3.5/4m here to be fair.

But anyone who has been in our position knows what it is like to see your contracted agreement with a player being insidiously undermined in a football version of a CIA operation.

McSheff wasn’t available on a Bosman, yet we didn’t even accept Micky Adams suggestion we’d be wasting fax paper.

With Upson in the team the manager believed we had a better chance of promotion to the Premier League than without him.

With McSheffrey in the team, Micky Adams believed Coventry had a better chance of promotion, and – ultimately – must have realised his loss would lose him his job.

So what are the FA doing about illegal approaches to players? Sweet FA.

Perhaps just as well, as we’d possibly be investigated for the same reasons, for the McSheffrey deal?

The Upson affair was no auction, I can tell you, even though the price went up in stages from the original £4m Upson’s agent had assured West Ham was our target. With each hike came tightening pressure by way of the Press, the hangdog player and his Mr 10 Per Cent.

I told the West Ham managing director repeatedly that Steve Bruce was determined to keep the player and so were the board.

It was too much to hope that even an intelligent lad like Upson could work out a few things himself when someone was dangling a massive contract in front of his nose.

This paragraph is the one that smacks most of hypocrisy. We bid in £1m intervals if I recall correctly, and they were the public ones. Weren’t we told repeatedly by manager and board alike that the answer was no? The only difference seems to be Upson publicly stated his desire to leave, where McSheffrey didn’t. I’m sure McSheffrey had an amazing contract dangled in front of his nose probably by Karren Brady herself, seeing how she concedes she’s in charge of the money at St Andrews.

Who should we be angry with? The Joys and Sorrows site currently has a poll running. Over 60% think it’s Upson and his agent at fault.

The problem I feel lies in football itself. A contract should be just that. A player should be ‘expected’ to honour it unless ever forced to retire. That would save ‘poaching’ and ‘backstabbing’. As players are ‘allowed’ to be bought whilst under contract, why shouldn’t they ask to leave??

Upson was foolish to talk about ‘wanting to help Birmingham achieve promotion’ though he could suggest he did his bit while still will us. His refusal to sign a new contract – in my view – sets him a level above Mr Savage who had just tied up his future with the Blues. A quote rings a bell with me, something along the lines of ‘no-one should doubt my commitment to Birmingham City’ a week before he signed for Blackburn.

Even Savage going to Blackburn was well within the realms of acceptable in the eyes of the FA, and Birmingham have benefited as well as suffered as a result.

Danns? Vine? Kelly? All players who were under contract.

The difference appears to be Danns at Colchester, Vine at Luton and Kelly at Spurs all appeared to have Boards who were willing to admit they would sell them at the right price.

At one stage, Birmingham City, on the other hand, seemed to be saying (it may actually have been Steve Bruce, but he’s the mouthpiece of the club in MOST interviews, surely?) we wouldn’t sell Upson, even for £20m.

That seemed ludicrous to me at the time. I felt Upson wasn’t worth even half of that but still feel a tad concerned about what he actually DID go for.

Especially when rumours abounded we’d turned down £8m. Alan Curbishley also seemed to suggest – at one stage – that he was giving up on the purchase due to our stubbornness.

I see – even before his premature injury – Upson wasn’t recalled to the England squad, even with Ledley King out injured.

Adrift of safety in the Premiership, some would stop and ponder would Matty Upson feel he’d made a mistake? You can only say no, he’s tripled his salary, and is no longer having to play at all. Even when he comes back, he’ll be playing in ‘glamour’ matches against Manchester United, Chelsea and, erm, Fulham (ahem).

Can anyone truly blame Upson? He never appeared to make a secret of his ambitions to play in the Premiership. If Steve Bruce is so certain we wouldn’t go up without him, there’s two causes for concern

a) We won’t go up now, cos we DON’T have him
b) Upson must have thought ‘bloody hell, he has no faith in the rest of the team’

That’s why I get miffed when Bruce labels certain players ‘best in the squad’. How is that good for morale??

Damien Johnson has held that plaudit, and seemingly holds the more talented (on his day) Seb Larsson on the bench. Upson also held that ‘honour’ yet Jaidi and N’Gotty had played more recently in the Premiership, and weren’t on their way back from lengthy injury lay off. I understand there’s a level of spin involved. Make Matty feel valued, etc, but it certainly didn’t work, did it???

For a club Ms Brady is trying to assure us ‘doesn’t sell its best players’, I would argue we only have Mikael Forssell left from that category from last year.

Dunn, Heskey, Pennant, Upson all gone. Even Marcos Painter (tee hee). Talking of whom, he was Prem quality (though admittedly lacking experience) last year, yet now seems happy at Swansea?

If Forssell wasn’t injured, I think we all know he’d have gone by now too. With Vine, McSheffrey, Campbell, Jerome and Bendtner in the squad, I don’t see Mikael fitting into Brucey’s plans again anyway. I’m not thrilled at the idea, but – to be fair to Bruce – he really didn’t impress in the first few games, when he actually played. I just hope his last meaningful contribution for Birmingham City wasn’t that missed penalty.

In a nutshell, I think we need to realise the market is about money, in football. We love to kid ourselves loyalty is everything. They make new shirts for us every year to help us staying fresh looking, it’s NOT money, oh no. Season tickets grant us ’special privileges’ not ‘money for the Board’. Players are ‘loyal’, the Board ‘loves the fans’ and the Manager ‘doesn’t want his ‘best players’ to leave, but ultimately it’s ALL about money. It’s only the fans who have passion. Sure the players can convince us for 90 minutes (and more this season than the last two put together) that they have passion, but would they have the same commitment without the money??

I think Matty Upson was great when he played with Kenny Cunningham, but their day is gone. Many more players will come and go, and you can bet money will play a HUGE deal in every single one of those comings and goings.

Let’s concentrate on the players we do have, and kid ourselves they’re with us cos they’re loyal, and would even turn down £10m from Chelsea.

Keep Right On, and see if we can’t claw our way back above Derby…..perhaps we could buy Paul Peschisolido back?

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Explanation!

You have arrived at the archive site of the Birmingham City blog Joys & Sorrows. If you were looking for fresh, meaty stuff then this way, please.

This section of the site covers the blog portion of J&S from 26th April 2006 - when the site returned after a catastrophic hosting failure causing the loss of over 500 articles - to 28th April 2008 - when I decided to have a prolonged rest from the site.

Here, if it so takes your fancy, you can find every single article, totalling over 1,000, written by myself and many others over that two year period.

Unfortunately, the formatting on some of the posts is a little rough but since this is an archive, it doesn't matter too much. Nothing is unreadable although a great deal of the links will now, sadly, be broken. So internal Joys & Sorrows links will lead you to 404 errors.

I decided to archive them in this way because I wanted to start something fresh for the main part of the site. Hopefully you'll be able to see that up on the main portion of the site now.

Commenting for the archive section has obviously been switched off. You can flick around the archives by using the 'Find It' function in the middle column or the respective 'Categories' or 'Archives' headings in the sidebars

- Aff, 03/08/08.