Lee Bowyer: Going back to Birmingham 'the right thing to do', says new boss

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Lee Bowyer's first night back at St Andrew's in midweek against Reading proved to be a winning one
Lee Bowyer's first night back at St Andrew's in midweek against Reading proved to be a winning one

Lee Bowyer knows better than most that a week is a long time in football.

As a player, he created more than his fair share of unwanted headlines.

This time last week Bowyer was still busy trying to steer Charlton Athletic back into League One play-off contention. But, back as boss of Birmingham City, one of the six clubs he represented in his playing career, he made the right sort of headlines when he inspired a fine three points against promotion hopefuls Reading.

Inside 48 hours, he had left Charlton, waited 48 hours for Aitor Karanka to catch up with the rumour mills and leave Birmingham, finally got to conduct his first training session, then picked the crucially altered team that earned Blues three crucial points.

A week ago, Bowyer, promoted with Charlton two seasons ago, then relegated back to third tier level last season, was leading a pack of clubs trying to take Blues' place in the Championship.

Now he has not only swapped the right end of League One for the wrong end of the Championship, he has already in just one game given hope to Blues fans many of whom appeared to have lost all hope.

And Bowyer says it was his affection for Birmingham that made it not too hard a decision to make.

"I know the club," he told BBC WM. "It's really simple.

"I've come from a club that I cared about and gone to a club I cared about.

"I felt that it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it and what better than to do that then with a club I care about.

"I know the expectation, I know the possibilities. And I already have a relationship with the fans."

That rapport is the unbreakable sort of bond created by being part of the best day in Blues' history - the 2011 League Cup final win over Arsenal at Wembley.

Lee Bowyer played a big role in the biggest day in Blues' history - the 2011 Wembley win over Arsenal
Lee Bowyer played a big role in the biggest day in Blues' history - the 2011 Wembley win over Arsenal

It was also a season when Blues were relegated from the Premier League. Bowyer left for Ipswich at the end of that campaign - and Birmingham have not been back to the top flight since.

Only one near miss in 10 attempts, in fact - and for five of those 10 straight seasons at second-tier level, they have been fighting relegation battles, in and around their owners, Trillion Trophy Asia's, off-field financial woes.

But Bowyer knew what he was walking into. He already knew a lot of the backroom staff, most notably Craig Gardner, who was alongside him in the Blues midfield that memorable day 10 years ago.

"I knew Craig Gardner was here," he said. "I know him and some of the other staff from when I was here, the chefs, the physios. It was like for like. It was easy for me to come in."

When he looks at the players available to him, Bowyer knows he has a squad that should be higher in the Championship table - but he was also reluctant to criticise his predecessor, Karanka, as to why.

Week after week, the Spaniard would complain that his team had lost simply because they had made too many errors. In fact, by the end he even appeared to be boring himself with the same post-match press conference answers. Yet all Bowyer said diplomatically, when asked whether he thought Blues should be higher than 21st, was: "Yes, in a sense, they should be.

"On Wednesday night, they showed what they are capable of. From the games I've seen, I felt the intensity was a lot higher and there was a lot of quality."

Birmingham City skipper Harlee Dean's winning header earned Lee Bowyer three points in his first game as Blues boss
Birmingham City skipper Harlee Dean's winning header earned Lee Bowyer three points in his first game as Blues boss

One of the immediate revelations was the work-rate and defensive diligence shown by their playmaker Alen Halilovic, the man who has maybe in the past simply not lived up to being tagged the Croatian Messi.

Bowyer's message to him had been simple.

"Of course he has to run back," said Bowyer. "You have to be some player to get away without doing any running and think you're still going to stay in the team. You'd have to be scoring hat-tricks and creating four goals every week.

"Not many teams can carry a luxury player.

"That's why we won the other night. We didn't carry one person. Every single player from front to back had to work hard. It's a team game."

Another to benefit already from his arrival is on-loan West Bromwich Albion forward Jonathan Leko, who did well on loan at Charlton last season under Bowyer's watchful eye.

"I took him there as a wild card," he said. "I don't know what he's going to do next and neither does he. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, but he's always going to give you something."

Bowyer knew had a tough job on when he started - his first four games all against clubs in the top six. They have already beaten Reading, face Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday, then Swansea City and Brentford.

And although Bowyer is under no illusions about the scale of the immediate challenge ahead at Watford saying "they're a Premier League club with Premier League players" - suddenly, there is something a bit more like Mr Blue Sky over Small Heath again.

Lee Bowyer was talking to BBC WM's Richard Wilford.