West Brom on brink but there can still be hope at The Hawthorns
West Bromwich Albion, 13/5 to be relegated, have already been tipped as one of the clubs to go down this season, which is no surprise considering last term’s managerial roundabout, and a series of dispiriting decisions, including the dismissals of Steve Clarke and Pepe Mel.
Any successful side needs to have the supporters, players, head coach and board pulling in the same direction, but the cracks had already begun to show before new boss Alan Irvine had even seen his team kick a ball.
Fans were so disgruntled by the former Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday coach’s appointment that they wrote in to the Baggies to complain. In a move to appease supporters, the West Brom board then reportedly offered to refund the season tickets of anyone who had written in within a week of Irvine’s appointment.
Whilst the gesture was a fair one, it could be seen to indicate the Albion hierarchy have a lack of conviction in their decisions, and perhaps not as much confidence in their new coach as they claim. Not a fantastic signal to send out to a man already somewhat undermined by the fans’ reaction to his arrival.
A much more unified approach will be needed in this campaign if the Baggies are to avoid the drop. After clinging to Premier League status by the skin of their teeth, winning only seven games last term, joint lowest with relegated Cardiff, West Brom require a significant boost in the transfer market.
This season represents a fresh start for the West Midlands outfit, after somewhat of an exodus, and a sprinkling of stardust amongst the first-team could lift fans, who seem to feel their manager lacks the required panache.
Promising young midfielder George Thorne departed The Hawthorns to join Derby County, where he starred on loan last term, after apparently submitting two transfer requests.
Uruguay centre back Diego Lugano, defender Liam Ridgewell, and midfielders Scott Allan, Zoltan Gera and Steven Reid have all been released, leaving Irvine’s side in need of several new recruits.
Controversial French forward Nicolas Anelka had his contract terminated by the Baggies during the season, following a series of events stemming from an ill-advised gesture performed during a draw with West Ham. This left the club with a lack of striking options, but young academy product Saido Berahino emerged as one of the brightest spots of the season.
The talented 20-year-old made 35 appearances for the Baggies and netted nine times, including the winner in a memorable 2-1 victory at Old Trafford, West Brom’s first over Manchester United for 35 years.
Fans will be hoping that his progress does not stall after the reported £10m club record signing of frontman Brown Ideye, who will wear the number nine shirt. The Nigerian poacher has arrived from Dynamo Kiev with a record of 33 goals in 74 league games, but Baggies boss Irvine has revealed he would like to start the season with a quartet of strikers.
Irvine admitted it would “be lovely to have another one”, and it seems wise to plump for another option up front, considering the possible departures of Ideye and compatriot Victor Anichebe to the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
That would leave West Brom with Berahino as the only recognised out and out striker in the squad, despite the hype surrounding highly-rated English youngster Adil Nabi.
Considering Anichebe’s poor record of three goals in 16 outings last term, coupled with Berahino’s relative lack of experience, and Ideye possibly requiring time to adapt, another reliable forward option would not go amiss.
To their credit, the Baggies have already secured the future of two of their top performers. England stopper Ben Foster and Scotland attacking midfielder Graham Dorrans, who were crucial in helping West Brom secure their top flight status last season, have signed new deals that will keep them at The Hawthorns for the foreseeable.
West Brom have also been smart with the low cost additions they have made so far. On the surface, the acquisitions of Chris Baird, Craig Gardener and Joleon Lescott, all on free transfers, are far from inspiring.
However, the versatile duo of Baird and Gardner can be used to plug several holes in the squad, and Lescott, who only made 10 league appearances for Manchester City last term, will be hungry to re-establish himself.
After dismissing reports he was unsettled by the lack of a marquee signing, the 31-year-old revealed his hopes that first-team football could bring him out of the international wilderness. Speaking to reporters, the centre back admitted: “I’m confident that if I play to the best of my ability and maintain high standards then I have a chance of getting called upon…I would never give up on playing for England”.
If the ex-Everton man was disappointed by the lack of big-name additions, there could be morale-boosting news in the pipeline.
Belgian left back Sebastien Pocognoli looks a relative steal at a reported £1m, and reports suggest Costa Rica World Cup star Cristian Gamboa is also expected to join the Baggies imminently.
The flying full back was part of side that wowed audiences in Brazil, springing counter-attacks down the right wing as his nation made history by reaching the quarter finals. Gamboa is now rumoured to be arriving at the Hawthorns for £2m from Norwegian side Rosenborg, pending a work permit.
Another former Toffees player could also link up with Lescott, as Jack Rodwell has been continuously linked with a move to Albion. The 23-year-old has seen his career stall since his move to City two seasons ago, but could reignite under Irvine, who worked as a youth coach for three years.
In midfield, big seasons will be expected from anchor Youssouf Mulumbu, who only has one year left on his contract, and versatile attacker Stephane Sessegnon. The talented African pair are proof that West Brom do possess quality in their ranks that could see them improve on last season’s 17th place Premier League finish.
A return to their recent glory days, when the Baggies finished an impressive eighth in the league in 2012/13, seems highly unlikely, with West Brom at 7/2 for a top 10 finish. However, there is no reason why Irvine’s team, with a few additional signings, and a show of team spirit, cannot avoid the trap door once more.