Carson Yeung’s (楊嘉誠) ownership of Birmingham began in October with skepticism about his financial clout and a loss to Arsenal that left the team above the Premier League relegation zone only on goal difference.
Almost three months on, Yeung and his team of Chinese executives scarcely 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 below the places that win a spot to play in Europe next year, though it 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 reporters 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,” he said.
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 ensued at the end of the season.
“After the club went back up [from the League Championship in May], 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 £81.5 million (then US$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 next month’s transfer window, with McLeish having up to £40 million at his disposal to strengthen the squad.
However, while the club is eyeing a new striker, there is also concerns about upsetting the harmony of the team, which has been unchanged 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 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.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
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