The sale of midfielder Fabrice Muamba to Bolton Wanderers for £5 million was an offer Birmingham City could not refuse, manager Alex McLeish has explained.
The sale of the promising 20-year-old to the Trotters came on the back of the departure of fans’ favourite Mikael Forssell to German Bundesliga side Hannover 96, and speculation that Newcastle United and Wigan Athletic are preparing to test Blues’ resolve in keeping midfielders Sebastian Larsson and Olivier Kapo respectively in the coming weeks. Newcastle have reportedly had a £4.75 million offer for Sweden international Larsson rejected and McLeish has moved to dispel any fears the club was willing to sell off the family silver.
McLeish has vowed to invest the Muamba transfer fee, which will rise by another £750,000 depending on appearances and Wanderers’ ability to avoid relegation, in a new, ball-playing midfield player.
Portsmouth’s Sean Davis has already been linked with Blues, but McLeish said he would not be rushed into replacing Muamba until he was sure he had found the player with the appropriate quality.
“I spoke with Fabrice and we agreed it was a good move for him and good for Birmingham City,” said McLeish. “But in losing Fab I now have to make sure I can get the midfield as strong as I can. It’s important to replace him with someone I think can enhance the team.
“Fabrice is a driving midfielder with great athleticism and I’m sure there’s plenty more he can learn in the game. It was good to work with him because he’s very committed, but in the end it was an offer we couldn’t refuse and we wish Fabrice well in the next chapter of his career.
“We’re a very lean as a squad in terms of numbers and I would hope by the start of the season we’ll be a little bit stronger on that front.
“We’d also like to exploit the loan market, which can be an effective way of adding quality players to the squad.”
Muamba burst on the scene two years ago at St Andrew’s as an all-action, battling midfielder, but his ability and composure on the ball was his Achilles heel. Ideally, he would have been the perfect foil for Spanish midfield schemer Oubina but after he seriously injured his knee at Liverpool on his debut last season, Blues were left without a play-maker and the responsibility seemed to fall on Muamba, a role he is just not suited to. However, the England under-21 international is a rough diamond and he hopes the move to the Reebok Stadium will help him polish his game, and give him the opportunity to play European football.
“Bolton are a big club and have been in Europe before. We can do that again especially with the players we have here and those the manager is trying to bring in,” Muamba said.
“I am very excited and looking forward to the challenge. I had my first taste of the Premier League last year and I wanted more. As soon as I knew of the interest from Bolton I was ready to come here.
“I had a good year in Birmingham but this is a new start for me and I am looking forward to it.”
Davis is a player McLeish has long admired. Blues failed in a bid to bring the 28-year-old to St Andrew’s in January but after the midfielder was told he could leave Pompey, Blues’ interest could be revived and a £1 million offer could be successful.
As he has repeatedly indicated, McLeish could also look to bring a couple of young midfielders in on loan from the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal, who first loaned Muamba to Blues at the start of the club’s last Championship campaign.