Often Partisan

Squad Numbers

Lee Clark told the Birmingham Mail today how he didn’t want to rely on loans at Birmingham City; that he wanted a squad of players contracted to the club as a core group to build around with younger players from the academy to pad it out and to continue emerging as they have done in the last few years.

On the face of it, it’s easy to sympathise with Clark. In just under two years as Blues boss he’s signed 21 players on loan and a further four on short-term deals – five if you count Paul Robinson before he earned a full contract. Since relegation from the Premier League in 2011 Blues have had to sell every prize asset to the point where the team is essentially loans, freebies, journeymen and Nikola Zigic.

However, having read

“It’s a tough one. I don’t want to rely on loans, I want to have my own players. I would love to do what Burnley have done and just have 16, 17 contracted senior first team players so every day you are working with the same group.

I had to stop and think about who was in the first team squad. If we take “contracted senior first team player” to mean anyone who is contracted permanently to the club and is over the age of 21, how many do you think Blues have?

The answer is seventeen – the number identified by Clark above. For the record they are Darren Randolph, Colin Doyle, Neal Eardley, Paul Caddis, Paul Robinson, Chris Burke, Jonathan Spector, Hayden Mullins, Wade Elliott, Darren Ambrose, Andrew Shinnie, Tom Adeyemi, Olly Lee, Lee Novak, Peter Lovenkrands, Matt Green and Nikola Zigic.

This doesn’t take into account young pros like Callum Reilly, Will Packwood and Mitchell Hancox who are first team regulars but aren’t 21 yet; or short-term signings like Brian Howard and Aaron Martin.

I’m not trying to nitpick what Clark has said, but more to identify what one of the real problems are. I don’t for one second believe that he has to be infallible in the transfer market; even the greats such as Ferguson will buy a few duds and it has to be accepted that not every signing will come off. The problem is that when a club has little to no money, every mistake is amplified because the club cannot afford to waste a single pound.

So, while Blues do have 17 senior pros contracted to the club, the fact three are out on loan (Ambrose, Elliott and Mullins) and two are long-term injury casualties (Green and Eardley) make that squad a lot smaller – and it becomes easily understandable why Clark has had to bring in so many loans to fit into the squad.

The end of this season sees six of those players above come to the end their contracts (Burke, Elliott, Ambrose, Mullins, Lovenkrands and Zigic) in addition to the short-term contracts and loans ending and it could be that Clark has said what he has to remind the owners – whoever they will be come next season – that the team will require investment in permanent signings to compete. What I think is important – whoever is in charge at board or manager level is that Blues have done their homework to ensure that as many players as possible who are brought in make a positive impact.

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