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Karanka makes immediate impact at Birmingham - Interview
Friday, 23rd Oct 2020 14:09 by Clive Whittingham

Birmingham don't score, and don't concede, as you would expect of an Aitor Karanka side. For our Brum regular Matthew Elliott, it's an improvement on 2019/20 under grifter's grifter Pep Clotet.

How was last season?

Last season was a bit of mixed bag. After the sacking of Gary Monk, things just seemed thrown together and whilst there was talk of a plan and some of the recruitment was better it still never really felt like it was going to work. We had the pleasure of witnessing Jude Bellingham break a few records and we had some good moments, but it was mostly average throughout, and of course absolutely woeful after the restart.

Why did Pep Clotet leave? Were you disappointed?

I don't think many people associated with the club expected Clotet to be a long-term solution. His track record suggests he isn't cut out to be a head coach or manager, or certainly not at this level. He seemed to be more of the CEO and DoF's puppet, someone they could influence to do things their way. It didn't work for various reasons and I don't think the relationship was great. Ultimately, I think Clotet appeared to have had enough of things announced he would leave at the end of the season. Everything from there on in was a disaster. The majority of the fans turned against him and he was given the boot a few games before the end of season.

What did you make of the Aitor Karanka appointment in the summer? He’s not one of our favourites…

After the instability and dross we've had served up over the last few years, Karanka is definitely somewhat of an upgrade. The club have this idea that they want to play football, play out from the back etc. Last season they appeared to give up on that pretty early on. Karanka has a reputation for being defensive, but he does like his teams to try to keep possession too. To me it seems a logical appointment. After last season, the first thing the team needed to do was learn how to function and defend as a unit again. If they sort that, most will be happy. The natural worry is Dong (CEO) starts getting involved too much again, they fall out and Karanka walks. Difference here to Clotet is that Dong has wanted Karanka before, he admires him and holds him in high regard. There seems to be a level of trust there that Dong never had with Monk or Clotet.

How’ve you started?

It has been a fairly average start so far and pretty much as I expected. Many other Blues fans maybe disagree and have a higher expectation, but realistically it’s an improvement on last season with regards to defending and organisation.

Brum league results so far…
Birmingham 1-0 Brentford* Bela 37
Swansea 0-0 Birmingham
Birmingham 1-1 Rotherham Bela pen 90 – Sadler pen 87
Stoke 1-1 Birmingham Powell 86 – Dean 65
Birmingham 0-1 Sheff Wed Bannan pen 49
Norwich 1-0 Birmingham Vrancic 87
* - Still the best team they’ve played all season.

Impressions of Karanka so far?

He’s a difficult character to work out, but what is obvious is he’s pragmatic and meticulous. Confidence was at an all time low last season, the worst I’ve experienced, so he had a bit of a job on from that respect. He’s building from the back which is no surprise given how bad the defence was last season. Massive improvement there, very organised and every player knows their job. Worlds apart from Clotet.

Assessment of your summer transfer window?

The window was a good one. We brought in some experience, leadership and good characters. Signings like Leko and Sanchez both look exciting and it’s great to finally have a very good goalkeeper (Etheridge) that doesn’t scare the life out of me (sorry Campy, we’ll always have that last minute penalty save at....). They’ve all been astute signings without spending much. Addressed the majority of needs and we certainly look stronger for it. Could maybe have done with one more forward player or winger, but depending on the situation in January, that’ll probably be looked at then. At the end of the day this is about rebuilding a squad over a few windows, so we’ll see how things progress.

Ins >>> Jonathan Leko, 21, RW, West Brom, £990k >>> Scott Hogan, 28, CF, Villa, Undisclosed >>> Neil Etheridge, 30, GK, Cardiff, Undisclosed >>> George Friend, 32, LB, Middlesbrough, Free >>> Jon Toral, 25, AM, Hull, Free >>> Ivan Sanchez, 27, RW, Elche, Free >>> Andres Prieto, 26, GK, Espanyol, Free >>> Adam Clayton, 31, CM, Middlesbrough, Free >>> Mikel San Jose, 31, DM, Athletic Bilbao, Free >>> Riley McGree 21, CM, Charlotte (US), Loan >>> Jake Clarke Salter, 23, CB, Chelsea, Loan

Outs >>> Jude Bellingham, 17, CM, Dortmund, £23m >>> Alvaro Gimenez, 29, CF, Cadiz, £2.43m >>> Wes Harding, 23, CB, Rotherham, Undisclosed >>> Kerim Mrabti, 26, CF, Mechelen (Belgium), Free >>> Jake Weaver, 23, GK, Leamington, Free >>> Ivan Guzman, 29, RB, Cornella, Free >>> David Stockdale, 34, GK, Wycombe, Free Connal Trueman, 24, GK, Wimbledon, Loan >>> Fra Villalba, 22, AM, Almeria, Loan >>> Jacques Maghoma, 32, LM, East Bengal, Free >>> Jonathan Grounds, 32, LB, Swindon, Free >>> Cheick Keita, 24, LB, Released >>> Lee Camp, 35, GK, released >>> Craig Gardner, 33, CM, Retired >>> Odin Bailey, 20, CM, Forest Green, Loan >>> Agus Medina, 26, CM, Cornella, Loan >>> Steve Seddon, 22, LB, Wimbledon, Loan

Where is the team strong and weak?

It won’t be a surprise to you that we are much better defensively and so far look very difficult to break down. We also look fairly useful at set-pieces in both boxes. Again, it won’t be a surprise to you that the current weakness is creating and scoring goals. I do believe that will come though, we’ve got the players for it, I just think it was imperative to address the issues at the back first and foremost.

Expectations for the season?

Karanka has signed a three-year deal. This is a project. Even Dong in the Karanka press conference has said they will take their time to get this right. After a few years of being involved in relegation scraps that needs be the approach this season. I just want a season of mediocre consolidation. Anywhere between 10-14th will suit me fine and I think that's what we can expect before a bit more of push next season. It’s just a case of progression for me. Remain solid, be hard to beat and stay well clear of relegation and consolidate.

Links >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press

The Twitter @loftforwords, @MatthewBlue1875

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