Birmingham: Big transfers could disrupt record run

Carson Yeung’s ownership of Birmingham began in October with

skepticism about his financial clout and a loss to Arsenal that

left the team only above the Premier League relegation zone on goal

difference.

Almost three months later, Yeung and his team of Chinese

executives can hardly believe the extent of the club’s rapid

transformation, with Birmingham enjoying its best topflight run in

101 years.

A 1-0 victory over Stoke on Monday extended Birmingham’s

unbeaten streak to 11 matches since the Arsenal loss.

That lifted the central England club, which hasn’t won a major

title since the 1963 League Cup, to seventh in the standings, three

points below the places that win a spot to play in Europe next

year, though they fell back to eighth when Liverpool won on Tuesday

at Aston Villa.

“We initially hoped to succeed by just remaining in the Premier

League this season,” vice chairman Peter Pannu told The Associated

Press on Tuesday. “Now hopefully we will create history here by

not being another yo-yo club. The down mood has disappeared and

there is a completely rejuvenated environment.

“To suggest we don’t have aspirations of Europe would be wrong,

but we don’t want to set targets too high so we keep our feet on

the ground.”

Yeung’s takeover was a fraught affair, with an initial attempt

to buy the club two years ago foundering over concerns about how

the Hong Kong businessman would fund the deal. Manager Steve Bruce

quit when Yeung refused to sanction the contract that the club had

offered him and relegation to the League Championship ensued at the

end of the season.

“After the club went back up, the talk was whether the time was

right for Carson to try and buy the club again,” Pannu said.

“This has proven to be wrong.”

Since the $130 million takeover, the spotlight has not been on

Yeung, but the remarkable form of manager Alex McLeish’s side.

Now there’s room for even more improvement in the January

transfer window, with McLeish having nearly $64 million at his

disposal to strengthen the squad.

However, while the club is eyeing a new striker, there is also

concerns about upsetting the chemistry of the team, which has

started the same lineup for the last eight matches

“We have noticed that the good run and the position we are in

has been very conducive to attracting players of the highest

caliber who might have thought again if we were position No. 18,”

said Pannu, who is in charge of the finances and works with McLeish

on transfers.

Schalke forward Kevin Kuranyi and Liverpool’s Ryan Babel are

believed to be high on the target list. Another priority would be

signing up goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has kept eight clean sheets

this season during his loan from Manchester City.

“Rather than disrupting the whole thing by bringing in many

players, it’s wise not to interrupt the current players,” Pannu

said. “We don’t want to demoralize the current players having a

great run. Having said that, we will wisely support the current

team and there is general agreement that to support (Cameron)

Jerome and Chucho (Christian Benitez) we need a good striker.”

A downside to Birmingham’s rejuvenation is that rival clubs

believe Yeung will spend with abandon. Schalke has apparently been

upping Kuranyi’s price tag in line with Birmingham’s soaring

fortunes, jeopardizing a deal.

“Prices for players have shot up because clubs and agents

realize we want to source players in January,” said Pannu,

steering clear of discussing specific transfers. “Alex says he

will spend prudently and we won’t be blackmailed into paying more

than we should be. If a good player is available at a good price we

will spend it. If not we will have to reconsider.”

“In the summer will be look to strengthen and that’s the proper

time to go to market to get better deals.”

The transfer kitty will be boosted by the revenue being

generated by rising attendance and sales in the club store.

“With every week, every victory, every good performance, then

the expectations rise,” McLeish said. “From the start of the

season, when we were getting written off, we have changed a lot of

people’s minds and opinions, and that’s no small feat.”

The same could be said of Yeung’s ownership.

“Everyone was skeptical after what happened two years ago with

the takeover,” said Linda Goodman of the Birmingham City

Supporters Club, who has been attending matches at St. Andrews’

since 1967. “But Yeung has tried to allay these fears by

interacting with fans and taking notice of us.

“We will just wait and see whether the transfer deals and money

are forthcoming – and how much. Look at the team on the pitch and

there isn’t much backup on the bench to continue the run

going.”