New Burn FM Sports Team recruit and die hard West Brom fan, Dan Payne, takes a look at the curious situation brewing over the road at the Hawthorns. This article is part of his new blog regrading all things Albion.
‘Be careful what you wish for’
This phrase is particularly applicable to the modern football fan. West Brom fans need not look far for examples. Wolves had just dropped into the relegation zone when they sacked Mick McCarthy, following a 5-1 home defeat at the hands of their nearest and dearest. His successor Terry Connor didn’t win a game. Where are they now?
1492 days on from that day at Molineux, The Albion hotseat has seen Hodgson, Clarke, Mel and Irvine. One of these is now England manager. The other three didn’t fare so well.
On New Years’ Day 2015, Tony Pulis answered Jeremy Peace’s call for help. Albion had 17 points, four above bottom side Leicester. In the second half of the season, we won 27 points. That form across the season would’ve propelled us to 9th, our best ever Premier League season.
At the time of writing, The Albion sit in 11th, 1 point away from the magic 40 and all-but safe. The last 10 games are a mixed-bag, but given Albion’s nack of picking up points against teams you wouldn’t expect, it’s difficult to see us finishing up on 39.
Yet a sizeable majority of fans want Pulis’ head. Why?
In short, the ‘Pulis way’ of playing ugly is starting to grate.
A back four consisting of four centre halves has become commonplace.
Salomon Rondon playing up front on his own, another regularity. Before finding some form recently (which has coincided with Saido Berahino’s return), Albion fans were left puzzled as to why a man who has succeeded in Spain and Russia was failing to do the same in the Premier League.
All in all, a lack of creativity. A lack of attacking intent.
Albion’s possession stats are also indicative of negativity.
Season Average – 45%.
Number of games with 50% or more? Four. (It’s worth noting that Albion won all four of these games, 1-0).
Pulis has recently given some signals that he will be reviewing his position as Manager at the end of the season. It is plausible that he will take his survival bonus and walk, in the knowledge that in the next twelve months, another team in English football’s highest echelon will panic and come calling for the man who has never been relegated. Tony Pulis cannot guarantee survival, but he is the closest thing to it. Given the ever increasing riches in the Premier League, this is a valuable commodity whose value will continue to rise.
When Pulis signed as manager, Peace gave him more powers than his predecessors, slowly unravelling a complex web of appointments that had been made post-Dan Ashworth. The club’s recent announcement that they are looking for a Director of Football is a sign that they are looking to revert to this old structure. It is hard to envisage Tony Pulis being a proponent of such a move.
Such developments make it increasingly hard to envisage Tony Pulis being in charge of West Bromwich Albion on the opening day of the 2016/17 season.
Many fans will not be sorry to see him go.
However, there is a need for some caution.
Pulis has brought stability to the club. Success in football is winning matches. By this measure, Pulis is the most successful manager the Albion have had since Roy Hodgson, himself a cornerstone of stability.
Manager Win %
Roy Hodgson 37.04
Steve Clarke 31.67
Pepe Mel 17.65
Alan Irvine 22.73
Tony Pulis 36.21
Pulis has also not been dealt the best of hands.
Saido Berahino. A well-advised, mature Saido Berahino stays at West Bromwich Albion this season. He is the first-choice striker. He scores goals. The Albion have a good season. Saido goes to the Euros and promptly gets his move. If only Saido was better advised… It is no coincidence that the form of the team and Salomon Rondon in particular have picked up since Saido’s return.
Recruitment. Tony Pulis was in charge. In came Salomon Rondon, Jonny Evans, James McClean, James Chester, Rickie Lambert and Anders Lindegaard.
The first three? Decent. The latter? Questionable. Albion had spent £30m, but so had everyone else. Newcastle (£49.25m) and Villa (£52.5m) both spent more. Spending does not guarantee success, and £30m now is not what it was 5 years ago.
Arguably, Albion’s best team would still consist of Ben Foster, Jonas Olsson, Chris Brunt and James Morrison. All of these four were brought in before Hodgson. This says a lot about their quality, but also says much about The Albion’s recent recruitment. Below par. Albion are certainly better off from Pulis’ signings. Let’s not forget Darren Fletcher, too. Given another summer, would Pulis be able to improve the squad? Perhaps.
This season has been mixed for The Albion. Southampton (A), Crystal Palace (A) Bournemouth (H) and Villa (H) all stick out as negatives. And as for the cup performances, let’s not go there.
However, home wins against Manchester United and Arsenal. Another cup run, not bad, on the face of it. And, let’s not forget, we look to be safe with nine games to play.
There is one final question. Who next?
Premier League managerial recruitment last summer was a mixed bag.
Quique Sanchez Flores, Claudio Ranieri, Slaven Bilic. Successes.
Any prospective manager is looking at a Premier League club with a strong-willed Chairman, who is looking to sell, a newly-appointed Technical Director and the fact that no manager since Tony Mowbray has spanned more than two seasons. Hardly an enticing prospect.
Nevertheless, we are a Premier League side. That alone is attractive, I guess.
The atmosphere amongst Albion fans at times this season has been heated. I will admit, I have come away from games in frustration about why we took a striker off for a centre half, why we showed no attacking intent, why Tony Pulis is so negative. The negativity has got to us all.
However, I for one think we could do much much worse. And we need not look far for examples. We will be the only West Midlands side in the League next season.
Should we be careful what we wish for? Perhaps.