Boss John Eustace accepts success will take time at Birmingham

Birmingham have been in the Championship since 2011.

Nick Mashiter
Thursday 03 August 2023 10:00 BST
Birmingham boss John Eustace knows success will take time (Simon Marper/PA)
Birmingham boss John Eustace knows success will take time (Simon Marper/PA) (PA Wire)

Birmingham  boss John Eustace is prepared to remain patient as he aims to bring success back to St Andrew’s.

It has been 12 years since the Blues were a Premier League side and on Saturday they travel to Swansea for their Sky Bet Championship season opener with renewed hope of returning to the top-flight.

July’s Shelby Companies Limited’s takeover, which also reunited the club with St Andrew’s, ended 14 years of Chinese ownership, firstly under Carson Yeung and then Birmingham Sports Holdings Ltd.

American financier Tom Wager’s tenure offers the belief Birmingham can return to the Premier League for the first time since relegation in 2011 – just months after winning the League Cup.

Those years have seen final day survival scraps – surviving on goal difference in 2014 – and they have not finished higher than 17th in six years but while promotion is the ultimate goal there is realism to the ownership’s plans.

“They understand the challenges of the Championship,” said Eustace.

“Success isn’t given to you overnight. When I came in I said I wanted to build something special here, we started that last year. It was important we laid a lot of foundations last season.

“I’ve spoken to Garry (Cook, chief executive) who has set out the plans and what he wants which has been great. Everyone is on board, everyone knows their jobs, roles and responsibilities.

“The club has been taken over by some very passionate and powerful people and they care deeply. They want to grow this club and make it a force.

“That’s going to be done over time, it’s not over a short period. It’s done over two, three, four or five years. Eventually it’ll be up there. It’s about stabilising again this year.”

It has not been an easy journey for Eustace since his appointment last summer.

A fire at Blues’ Wast Hills training centre in March forced the first team out and they have largely trained at Wasps’ former base near Henley since, although they have managed to return occasionally.

It remains unclear when the players will be there full-time while the lower tiers of the Kop and Tilton stands at St Andrew’s have been closed to fans since December 2020 because of safety concerns. That they will reopen this season is an early sign of Wagner’s intent.

Last season ex-Barcelona and AC Milan striker Maxi Lopez was involved in a consortium, including Blues fan and businessman Paul Richardson, who claimed to be close to buying a 21 per cent stake.

That bid failed and Lopez, Richardson and Matthew Southall admitted breaching EFL owners and directors’ test rules by taking control of the club without going through the proper procedure, a process which saw the club given a two point suspended penalty.

So for Eustace to guide the club to 17th, avoiding last-day drama amid a backdrop of uncertainty, remains an underrated achievement – even if there is a tinge of frustration having been seventh at Christmas.

“The problems, for me, haven’t been a problem. On the pitch the players last year were exceptional. We went through a lot of tough times but we had a lot of good times,” he told the PA news agency.

“The atmosphere we created with the staff and the players was excellent, that’s why we got through what we got through.

“There was always a ‘no excuse’ culture. There were no problems for me last year, I was very privileged to work with a very good group of players.

“It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. I managed for two years in the Conference North (with Kidderminster). There are the same difficulties, you still have to manage people, expectation.

“It was about the football club growing, coming in last year I wanted to get the connection back with the fans and the players.

“Now we’ve got that. Now it’s important we get that connection back with the football club and the fans. They can see the owners are the real deal.

“The recruitment side from Frank (McParland, director of recruitment) and Craig (Gardner, sporting director) has been very good. There are a lot of new players who have to get used to the environment and the settings.”

Nine have arrived this summer with Dion Sanderson, Tyler Roberts, Ethan Laird and Siriki Dembele among them.

Krystian Bielik is one of Eustace’s key recruits, signing permanently after last season’s loan from Derby – his second at St Andrew’s.

Having spent four years at Derby – being relegated to League One in 2022 – the defender knows all too well what it is like to play for a chaotic club.

Yet that is no longer a brush which can tar Birmingham.

“We have proper owners, finally,” says Poland international Bielik. “They are not saying something and doing something different. It feels like they know what they are doing and what they want to achieve.

“We want to push for that promotion, that’s the aim for Birmingham. It’s the Second City and it should be in the top league. It’s not going to happen just like that but that’s the plan of the owners.

“At Derby it was about the deduction, 21 points, and then when it happened you have to agree with reality, that we would probably go down.

“We had a good go as well but as a player you have enough stress – although don’t get me wrong people like doctors and firefighters have stress in their jobs – we are doing the best thing in the world so we shouldn’t be stressed that much. Here we can focus on our football.”

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in