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Birmingham City’s record £6m investment never worked after recent development

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Ivan Sunjic’s tenure at Birmingham City encapsulates the team’s past five years.

Sunjic joined the Blues in 2019 after winning the top division twice and making appearances in the Champions League and Europa League for his childhood club Dinamo Zagreb, for a hefty sum of £6.3 million on a five-year contract.

The 19-year-old midfielder, who captained his nation at the 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championships, was one of Croatia’s most promising young players before he traveled to England.

Despite spending five years at the club, he has failed to win over Blues supporters, and for the 2022–2023 season, he was even leased out to Hertha Berlin, where he was relegated to the German second division.

Now that Sunjic’s contract has expired, he has been released. The club and the player will undoubtedly agree that this was a bad move, since he will be remembered for a few strong but unspectacular displays, mediocre team performance, and ultimate relegation to League One.

Ivan Sunjic’s Birmingham City stint has been unsuccessful
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Following the unexpected dismissal of Garry Monk due to differences with the Blues board, Sunjic signed as a marquee signing in July 2019 with the intention of ushering in a new era under manager Pep Clotet.

The aim was that Sunjic, who was 22 at the time, would have the same impact on the Blues that Adams, who was heading to Southampton, had during his three years at the team. Che Adams’ departure made it possible for the club to finance Sunjic’s transfer.

On the last day of the season, Sunjic scored his third goal for the club in a 3-1 loss to Derby County. Despite the fact that Sunjic made 44 appearances across all competitions in his first season with the Blues, the team was unable to build on a strong start and narrowly avoided relegation.

With 45 appearances in all competitions in the 2020–21 season, the Croatian made a return to the team’s lineup following Aitor Karanka’s dismissal, and Lee Bowyer took over as manager. However, the team could only finish in eighteenth place.

In 2021–2022, Sunjic scored three goals in 44 games, and the Blues finished 20th in again another dull, disappointing season with little development under Bowyer.

Although Sunjic’s first three seasons with the team were not very successful, he was at least a reliable player who rarely missed time due to injury and gave it his all for the uniform.

But it is the very least expected of a player who cost the team so much, and Sunjic was just not good enough to elevate Blues to a higher level.

Ivan Sunjic’s Birmingham City Stats (all competitions)
Appearances 173
Goals 7
Assists 6
Stats Correct As Per Transfermarkt

In July 2022, John Eustace loaned him to the Bundesliga team Hertha Berlin. However, he failed to make a significant impression in the German capital, appearing in just 18 league games before a fallout with manager Pal Dardai prevented him from playing in any of the final 10 games of the season, as Hertha were demotion to the 2. Bundesliga.

He came back to Birmingham for the 2023–24 campaign and started playing regularly again under Eustace. However, the Blackburn boss was unexpectedly fired in October in favor of Wayne Rooney, which led to a turbulent season at St. Andrew’s under six different managers.

In his final season, Sunjic made 31 league starts—the fewest of any of his full Blues seasons—as the team was demoted from the Championship for the first time since 1994. On May 18, the team’s end-of-season retained list officially announced Sunjic’s departure.

Ivan Sunjic’s Birmingham City exit was the right move for all parties

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As he approaches his peak at 27, Sunjic is unlikely to want to play for the team in League One. He will now search for a different opportunity to revitalize his career, ideally one that benefits both the team and the player more than the one at Birmingham.

Under a new management, the Blues want to start over in the third division in order to quickly return to the Championship after Tony Mowbray announced his retirement as manager to concentrate on his health.

In defensive midfield, they still have Krystian Bielik under contract. If Bielik stays with the team, the new manager at the Midlands team will probably look to bring in younger players to replace Sunjic.

The 27-year-old’s pay would have also been a problem in League One; according to Capology, he was the club’s joint-fourth top earner in 2023–2024, at an estimated £17,500 per week.

The club shed similarly high-paid players Neil Etheridge, Scott Hogan, and Marc Roberts before the summer, so the midfielder was never going to be any different.

The lack of fuss around a player’s departure after five years with the club may say more about Sunjic’s tenure in Birmingham than anything else. All in all, the significant investment in the player has not helped improve on the field.

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