Lee Bowyer says he does not envisage a repeat of the off-field chaos he endured at Charlton in his new role as manager of Birmingham City.
The 44-year-old endured a tumultuous start to life in management after taking charge of his boyhood club in March 2018, including absent owners, fan protests, boardroom infighting, a promotion to the Championship and immediate relegation.
Although life at the Valley has settled under new owner Thomas Sandgaard, Bowyer resigned last month to manage another of his former playing clubs; one he helped to League Cup silverware 10 years ago, while they were in the Premier League.
Since then Birmingham have had their own share of off-field crises including a nine-point deduction and transfer embargo in 2019 for breaching Financial Fair Play rules and four final-day escapes from relegation to League One – but Bowyer believes they have the ingredients now to push for promotion back to the top flight.
“I do like a challenge,” he told Sky Sports News. “But if I didn’t believe that this group of players could do more, and stay in this division, then I wouldn’t have come here. But I am here and I believe in them.
“I believe anything that gets thrown at me here will be nothing like what I’ve had to deal with in the past. I’ve come here and everything has been great, everyone has made me feel welcome in and around the training ground, and outside with messages. And I’ve got a group of players that are working hard every single day, improving every single day.
“I hope there’s not going to be anything here, and I can’t see it, like what I had to deal with in the past. It’s a breath of fresh air being here at the moment. Obviously I had to deal with a hell of a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been dealing with but it was either that or watch the club crumble so I had to step up and juggle a lot more things than I would have liked, but that’s not the case here.
“My glass is half full; I look at it as ‘can we stay in this division and where can I take them onwards?’ I know the potential of the club, I know that everything is place.”
Bowyer started at Wembley as Birmingham stunned Arsenal to win the League Cup in 2011 – but they were relegated from the Premier League that same season and are yet to return, having not finished higher than tenth in the past seven seasons.
They are currently 21st in the Championship and four points above the drop zone, and having played four games more than Rotherham below them, but the once-capped England midfielder set off with a debut-win over promotion-chasing Reading in a sign of what could be another great escape.
Ahead of Good Friday’s clash with another top side in Swansea, live on Sky Sports, Bowyer said: “You can’t come away from what’s happened since ten years ago when I was at the club, but firstly we have to stay in the league and then we take it step-by-step.
“Can we now start building and try and put things in position to take the club to the next level and the next level? The first task after staying in the division would be maybe to get into the top half and then we start looking at the play-offs.
“How many teams have been trying to get into the play-offs? Bristol City and Preston, they’ve spent a lot of money – and there are a lot of clubs (who have done the same), they’re just two that come to mind off the top of my head – but they’ve spent a lot of money just to try and get into the play-offs and keep falling short.
“So no club is guaranteed and Birmingham is no different, but we can just build on it steadily. I know there’s a good man in charge that is backing us financially, but we have to take it one step at a time.”