Craig Gardner: Birmingham City midfielder to retire to become Blues coach

Boyhood Blues fan Craig Gardner has so far made 125 appearances in his two spells at the club
Boyhood Blues fan Craig Gardner has so far made 125 appearances in his two spells at the club

Birmingham midfielder Craig Gardner is to take on a player-coach role at St Andrew's before retiring at the end of this season to become first-team coach.

The former Aston Villa, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion midfielder is in his second spell with the club he supported as a boy.

But the 33-year-old has struggled with injuries and has made just one appearance this term.

"To be given this opportunity is a privilege," said Solihull-born Gardner.

"When you are a kid you dream about becoming a footballer. To play for the team you support, in the Premier League, win a cup, finish your footballing career here and then to start a new chapter as a coach, I couldn't have wished for more."

Gardner has so far scored 42 goals in 390 appearances - 125 for Blues - since coming through the ranks at neighbours Villa to sign his first contract under David O'Leary in 2005.

His career highlight was helping Birmingham beat Arsenal to win the League Cup at Wembley in 2011.

Craig Gardner's career highlight was helping Blues - and first goal scorer Nikola Zigic- beat Arsenal to win the League Cup at Wembley in 2011
Craig Gardner's career highlight was helping Blues beat Arsenal to win the League Cup in 2011

Having already taken on some coaching duties, Gardner will now officially become part of the new backroom team boss Pep Clotet has built since the summer departure of previous manager Garry Monk, who is now at Sheffield Wednesday and due to face Blues for the first time since he left at Hillsborough on Wednesday night.

"You can see over the past four or five months what the club wants to do," said Gardner, who will take on the title of first-team coach at the end of the season.

"The way we are training and preparing with Pep, Paco Herrera, Xavi Calm, Darryl Flahavan and the staff."

Former Southampton and England striker James Beattie, Monk's assistant at all his previous clubs, is still employed by Blues as first-team coach. His role encompasses scouting duties on the opposition as well.

""It is a great place to be around," added Gardner. "Everyone is buzzing. The players are smiling, they are happy - you can see that on the pitch as well.

"I have enjoyed my career, every bit of it. Now I want the players to enjoy theirs. I will give every single thing I can to help them do that, help them improve and get this club back where we should be."

Birmingham, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2011, are currently 15th in the Championship, six points off the nearest of the play-off places.