Summertime Blues: A look across the pond
What's happening at Birmingham City?
We haven’t reported any news coming out of England’s Midlands since the team survived relegation at the end of the 2020-21 season and it’s high time we did that, because it’s been a pretty busy off-season for the Blues.
The first big item was the resignation of CEO Xuandong Ren (known, even by himself apparently, as Dong) in May. He was the appointee of the club’s current owners, Trillion Trophy Asia. TTA has owned the club since later 2016 when it acquired a majority stake out of receivership and is based in Hong Kong and controlled by the fairly reclusive Chinese businessman Paul Suen.
Dong was not much loved by Blues fans, who generally saw him as responsible for many of the club’s failures over the past few years. His departure was widely welcomed as a positive move. Most notably, the team had seven head coaches in the four and a half years he managed it. Ironically, Lee Bowyer, the current head coach and architect of the team’s survival this season, was probably the best of them by far.
It should also be noted that the Blues are no strangers to bad ownership: the club went into receivership after its former owner, Carson Yeung, was charged with money laundering.
With the season over, Lee Bowyer went immediately into rebuilding mode. In May the team announced the release of thirteen players, although only three were first team regulars (Dan Crowley, Ryan Burke and Jon Toral. The team has also lost two strong midfielders – Spaniard Mikel San Jose, who returned to Spain, and Croatian Alen Halilovic, who was offered but declined a contract extension and is looking to get picked up by a major club. Other recent departures include the termination of backup goalkeeper Andres Prieto. Spanish midfielder Fran Villalba is also probably on his way out (he has been loaned out most of his time with the Blues).
Incoming players include several big prospects. Forward Chuks Ameke from Charlton Athletic, midfielder Ryan Woods from Stoke City and midfielder Jordan Graham all signed permanent contracts. Brought in on loan are defender Juan Familia-Castillo (who is Dutch despite the name) from Chelsea and the biggest signee to date, Manchester United academy product winger Tahith Chong (also Dutch).
More signings are reportedly in the works, but time is now short: the season opens August 7th (2:00pm Central), with the team visiting Sheffield United. The Legion is away that day in Tulsa (7:00pm). The most likely addition appears to be defender Dion Sanderson, who would join the club on loan from Wolves, who have turned down full deals from Newcastle United and Sunderland.
A new development, and a potential big problem, is that #1 goalkeeper Neil Etheridge just today was hospitalized with COVID.
That news comes right as the club is set to play its pre-season schedule (and no, that does not involve any transatlantic travel). The first game is away at newly-promoted League One side Cheltenham Town this Saturday. The game kicks off at 9:00am Central and you can in fact watch it on a pay-per-view basis for the princely sum of £4.99 ($6.90) by signing up here.
Lastly, and this is a matter of club pride for most of its fans, is the success story that is Jude Bellingham. The 18-year-old midfielder was with the Blues since age 8, finally making it to the first team in 2019-20. After that season he was snatched up by Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, becoming a regular starter almost immediately. The deal was reportedly the largest ever for a 17-year-old: initially £25 million ($34.5 million) with performance-based add-ons amounting to several million more. Bellingham has appeared for England at various age levels, including 7 caps already for the senior national team, most recently in the Euro 2021 campaign.
That’s it for now; we’ll keep you posted with any further pre-season news.