Aitor Karanka’s time at Birmingham City this season will go down as one to forget, with the Spaniard unable to get the Blues away from another relegation battle.
There was much hope amongst supporters when he arrived in July as a man who had promotion from the Championship with Middlesbrough on his CV, but it turned into a nightmare very quickly.
Just eight league victories came under Karanka’s management and when he was sacked last month, Birmingham were 21st in the league and staring at the prospect of playing in the third tier of English football for the first time since 1995.
Lee Bowyer has changed things though since his arrival from Charlton, winning five of his eight games in charge and losing just once to a free-scoring Watford side, and they’re now safe from relegation.
Focus can now be shifted to next season and who will be staying at and leaving St Andrew’s, and up until this past Saturday one of Karanka’s signings may have been on the ‘get rid’ list.
Mikel San Jose arrived earlier in the season with a big reputation, having played regularly for Athletic Bilbao for 10 years until his final season, where he featured less regularly, but he looked like a classy signing for a Championship club.
After showing some early promise, performances soon deteriorated though and a mistake that led to Norwich’s third goal in a 3-1 win for the Canaries at St Andrew’s in February seemed to be the final straw for Karanka, who didn’t select 31-year-old in his squad for his final four games in charge.
Birmingham City quiz: Does St Andrew’s have a higher or lower capacity than these 18 grounds?
And it initially looked like Bowyer wasn’t a fan either, keeping San Jose on the bench for all but one of his first seven games – but he may have given himself a clean slate to start from in the summer after his cameo against Derby on Saturday.
San Jose came on in midfield with the Blues 1-0 down and pulled the strings from deep, completing 25 of his 28 attempted passes (Sofascore) as Birmingham turned the game on its head and by all accounts from the replies to his post-match tweet, he was a real game-changer.
What next for San Jose then? With performances like what he showed against Derby, there’s definitely still a future for the Spaniard at St Andrew’s and he may have given Bowyer something to think about going into pre-season – and he could perhaps even start the 2021/22 campaign as first-choice defensive midfielder.