Can Gianfranco Zola Help Birmingham to Win Promotion?

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It is that time of the year again when club owners start to get itchy feet about their team and begin sacking their managers.

Not very Christmassy! Anyway, this time it was the turn of Birmingham City who decided to give their manager, Gary Rowett, the chop after some inconsistent results.

Despite that, Birmingham are still eighth in the league standings and a mere 3 points off a play-off spot.

It’s a classic case of the new owners not having the manager they want. Rowett had been with The Blues since October 2014 and was appointed following the success he experienced with Burton Albion.

However, after fully completing their takeover bid in October, the new club owners Trillion Trophy Asia (TTA) felt the time was up for Rowett.

The man to replace him was none other than Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola, who was clearly the club hierarchy’s first choice and was hired within 7 hours of Rowett being relieved of his duties.

Zola has managed in England twice before; managing West Ham in the Premier League and Watford in the Championship.

The new Birmingham boss is known for implementing flair into his sides and trying to play entertaining football just as he did at West Ham. Despite a shaky start with The Hammers Zola led them to a 9th place finish.

The West Ham faithful took to the Italian in his first season as they could clearly see what Zola was trying to bring to South London.

However, his tenure ended during the 2009/10 season when he was sacked after finishing 17th in the league.

Zola has a tendency to put his faith in young players. At Upton Park, he integrated the likes of Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines, Jack Collison and James Collins into West Ham’s first-team set-up.

The former Chelsea forward was also the assistant manager of the Italian under 21 side who were managed by his former Chelsea teammate Pierluigi Casiraghi.

The pair took Italy’s youth side to the 2008 Olympics; only to be knocked out by an impressive Belgium team in the quarter-final.

Zola was impressive at Watford as he led the Hornets to a 3rd place finish in his first season, but his side fell victim to a resurgent Crystal Palace, who grabbed a 1-0 win in extra-time of the Championship playoff final.

On Saturday, Birmingham came up against the impressive Brighton & Hove Albion, who are currently on a 15 game unbeaten run and it could not have started better for Zola’s men as the Blues took the lead through Lukas Jutkiewicz.

However, they could not hold on as Brighton equalised in the 82nd minute and then scored the winner from a corner in the 95th minute.

This was a hard pill for the Gaffer to swallow but he was undoubtedly pleased with the side he had inherited.

This season, Birmingham have the third lowest average possession (45.4%), the 2nd fewest amount of goals scored in open play (10) and have conceded ten goals in the past four games.

The Italian tactician will be keen on implementing more of a focus on the central midfield position as he looks to dominate games in the middle of the park.

Zola needs to bolster his side’s defence and will be on the lookout for defenders as Birmingham have shipped ten goals in the past four games.

He will also be looking for a leader at the back to organise his men and bring solidity in front of goalkeeper Thomas Kuszczak.

It is evident for all to see that Gianfranco Zola has been brought in to play entertaining football at Birmingham as they look to become a global brand.

Gary Rowett did not fit the look that TTA were looking for. Zola, though, is a recognisable name who will attract, entertain and influence players and fans alike.

However, it is a risky strategy from TTA to favour entertainment over results and could well find themselves in a tricky situation should the Zola experiment fail to pay dividends.

Zola has been in the playoffs before but will have to put personal heartache aside if he is to guide Birmingham City back to the Premier League.

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