There's been a lot of anger aimed at the club and Gary Rowett, due to the perceived need for a centre-forward - which appears to directly contradict the clamour for Jack Storer and in some corners, Ronan Hale, to get game time. However, I'm going to make the case against signing a centre-forward, though I'm aware it might be controversial.
1. Donaldson is actually pretty good.
2. Wide forwards are an economically safer bet
3. Jack Storer
Let's start with the football side. Clayton Donaldson is a lot better than a lot of fans seem to remember. Yes, he doesn't score loads of goals - but 10-15 goals, or 0.27 per 90 as I prefer to use, is pretty damn solid in a team not set up to exploit the centre-forward in terms of goals. There is a reason that all of the attacking midfielders who got significant minutes took more shots than Donaldson per 90 minutes. Jon Toral was a more consistent goalscorer, David Cotterill scored at 2/3's the rate of the Jamaican international and Maghoma at the same rate.
What does this mean? That unless Blues change the way they attack, the striker isn't going to get 25 goals a season. Much of the striker's job in this Blues team is as a facilitator, a creator and a link-up man. Many Blues attacks start with a direct ball to Donaldson who finds a winger or attacker and push forward. He is, essentially, the quintessential target man.
It's entirely possible that we could improve on Donaldson, but it's also quite unlikely for the money we have. Donaldson, were he for example 27, would be worth £3-4m. A player with 0.49 goals + assists per 90 in over 3000 minutes, as well as his ability to link attacks and set off counter-attacks. How do you improve on that for £1-2m?
The answer is through smart scouting and youth development.
Blues cannot compete financially with the top 10 in this league. Everybody knows that. That means we're probably not going to go up this year - which would make spending money on a striker who might score another four or five goals this year a waste of what resources we have. In order to be able to compete with them you need to consistently raise funds by buying under-valued players and selling them on, turning our limited resources into larger resources so we can make a proper promotion bid in the long-term. Ask yourself - which players are worth the most in today's market?
Young, British talent; goalscoring wide players; and centre-forwards, are always worth more money than their counterparts. If Jacques Maghoma scores 15 goals next year, his price would skyrocket - a 28 year old, playing in England, with 15 goals from the wing would cost around £4m in theory if you buy from a top half Championship club. Derby paid around £6m for Tom Ince, who scored at around 0.33 times per 90 last year, though he is younger and English.
Centre-forwards who score goals are very, very difficult to get for cheap. Blues are a team that is set up to give wide men space to attack - so the smart thing to do, economically, is sign cheap, or under-priced, wide forwards and hope they multiply in price.
That's why I love the links with Che Adams and Greg Stewart. They make so much sense in footballing and economic sense. If Che Adams has a decent year, his price will double. If he gets 20 goals over 2 years, he would be worth 5 times the price we pay for him. He's fast, versatile, English, young and scores goals from wide. £1.7 or £2m sounds like an absolute steal, because even if it goes wrong you won't lose much.
Greg Stewart is older, and not English, but he's at the peak age, and should be worth more than £500k. This is a guy who scored or assisted 0.67 times per 90 in, albeit, the Scottish Premier League, from wide. It's a gamble from Blues, should they sign him, but one that makes sense. If he has a good year or two, scores a few goals - he'll be worth a lot more than that. You can sell that and then re-invest in similarly under-valued players. That's how you make enough money to compete.
The final point is the emergence of Jack Storer. It would make sense to give him game time as soon as possible, and signing a striker will only limit that. Storer is 18, and has impressed everybody in pre-season - it would only be fair to let him play at some point at the start of the season. As I've said so many times, young, English goalscorers are worth a LOT of money. He would only have to score a few times this year to be worth a few million, and if he's as genuinely good as Blues seem to think he is, he will be worth more than our entire squad in six months.
Playing Storer makes so much sense for the long term future of the club. Either: He is good, we mould him into the perfect forward for the team and we have the striker we've been looking for without spending much money; He is brilliant, and we sell him for £5m+ and re-invest, improve the squad and improve, slowly but surely; or he is not all that great and we lose... nothing. It's low risk, very high reward.
In summation, Blues aren't going up or down this year, so improving the squad a small amount doesn't really make that much sense. Instead, it makes sense to play young players (Solomon-Otabor, Storer, Brown) and sign young or undervalued players to sell on (Adams, Stewart) and build for the future. It's what Southampton do, it's what Dortmund do, it's what Brentford do (one of the lowest wage budgets, but consistently in the top half) and I think it's what we should do. Rowett is a smart guy, and I'd trust him to buy smartly and have a long-term plan; I just hope the young players get the minutes they need to improve this year - more important than signing a striker, for me.