West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Irvine came into the club under heavy scrutiny with the overwhelming initial reaction of the fans being annoyance and frustration. General consensus was that if previous head coach Pepe Mel had been given time to implement his high pressing, quick counter attacking game, he may have been a success at WBA. The players he had were not good enough, not fit or fast enough to play how he wanted and he paid for their downfalls.
After the dismissal of Pepe Mel, Albion then bumbled around without a manager for a while, being linked to a few average names, and then the club finally offered Tim Sherwood the job. Great! Ambitious, young, English and outspoken, Sherwood seems to be his own man, a manager to shake up the dressing room and revolutionize the club, which would have been ideal for Albion. Just when WBA fans thought the club were on the brink of getting their man, the Baggies announced the appointment of Alan Irvine on a rolling 12 month contract.
Who? That’s right, Alan Irvine. The same manager who lost his job at Preston North End, and then got Sheffield Wednesday relegated from the Championship. My reaction, and the instinct of most West Brom fans was, “what the hell was going on?” It’s no secret that chairman Jeremy Peace likes to keep his arms short and pockets deep. Irvine was without question the cheap option.
However as time has elapsed, the appointment of Irvine is looking slightly more promising. It turns out Sheffield Wednesday were in all sorts of financial trouble when they were relegated, and the season before Irvine got the boot at Preston North End he actually took them to the play-offs in his first full season in-charge. He has no direct Premier League experience, but has lots in the youth system at Everton as academy manager. He also worked at Preston as assistant to David Moyes. Alongside those slightly reassuring nuggets of information, the players he’s managed to acquire give West Brom fans a glimmer of hope.
Speaking of transfer signings, Craig Gardner was the first man that signed his name for West Brom next season. Albion fans are pleased with this deal. He’s a born Brummie that has years of English Premier League experience. Sunderland picked him up for £6 million and used him sparingly. Hopefully West Brom can coax the best out of him. Time will only tell if Irvine can help Craig recapture his form.
Joleon Lescott is the highest profile English Premier League player West Brom have managed to sign. He penned a two-year contract with a one year extension. Lescott is a strong centre-half with 26 England appearances. Despite being an ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers footballer, he was welcomed by the supporters. The defensive combination of Olsson and McAuley at the club is on borrowed time. Both defenders are aging and lacking pace, so the addition of Joleon will inject new life into the back four.
Chris Baird is another free agent that joined the club. He’s another footballer with penty of experience, although it would have been nice to pick him up five years ago. Still, he’s a decent utility man nonetheless.
The only loan signing so far is Andre Wisdom from Liverpool. The youngster played for Derby last season and impressed for the club as they reached the play-offs. He has taken his opportunity to test his skills on the biggest stage at West Brom. He converted from a centre back to a right back over the last two seasons, which is where Wisdom will be filling in for the Baggies.
On the other side of defense, 26 year-old Sebastien Pocognoli has joined for £1.5 million from Hannover 96. The Belgium left-back was selected for the preliminary 23-man Belgium squad for the World Cup in Brazil. However he missed out on the final selection. With a delicate touch and quick nimble feet, Pocognoli could well be Albion’s signing of the season.
Last but not least is the signing of Brown Ideye or ‘Bobby’ for short. At a club record signing of £10 million, the Nigerian striker will be the man relied upon to stick the ball in the net. Ideye has been handed the number 9 shirt, a shirt synonymous with goal scorers across the world. Ideye is just under 6 foot but he has a leap and the frame of a strong athlete. A hero at Kiev Brown, he has a blistering pace. Ideye scored 33 goals in 74 games at Dynamo Kiev in his time there. Yes, £10 million is a big signing for Albion, so the hope is that he can deliver the goods (and goals).
While West Brom has brought in several new acquisitions, the club released a large number of professionals. Opinions about the players released were split amongst supporters.
Steven Reid left the club to join Burnley. He was a loyal servant to Albion. He adapted his game over the years to become a right-back. There’s no doubt he cared about the club, but his lack of pace cost him and the team on a few occasions. It was time for him to move on.
Goran Popov‘s loan at the club has ended. His only gift to the club was a chant that supporters made about him, to the tune of Popeye The Sailor Man: “Popov the Albion man, he lives in a caravan, looks like a killer and he hates the Villa, Popov the Albion man.”
Despite his inability to cross or pass a ball, Liam Ridgewell left the club to become a Designated Player at Portland Timbers in MLS. Ridgewell, who played as left back for Albion, was consistently awful.
Markus Rosenberg, meanwhile, never had his chance at WBA. He left on a free transfer before the end of the season without ever really showing why the club signed him in the first place. Albion fans will never know if he would have been a success. It’s hard to tell if a player does not play or get a run of games, especially as a striker.
Shane Long really divided opinion when he left the Albion for Hull City. Many fans idolized him as their favorite WBA striker. He was a hard worker and had a quick turn of pace but for me he was never good enough. His inability to provide quality in the box meant he could never be a good striker. He had one stand-out game his entire WBA career, against Aston Villa, but other than that he was over-rated.
After his loan spell ended, Scott Sinclair rejoined Manchester City. A couple of seasons ago the Chelsea youngster bossed it at Swansea and got himself a move to the blue side of Manchester for £6 million.
Diego Lugano came in from Paris Saint-Germain. He was slow, clumsy and error prone. Despite being Uruguayan captain, it seemed the footballer had forgotten how to play the game. Scapegoated in an embarrassing defensive display against Aston Villa, he never found any form at the Albion and the card magnet found himself without a club after Albion swiftly showed him the door.
Morgan Amalfitano was another player that the WBA faithful were split when rating the player. Possibly the best two goals of Albion’s season were scored by the little French winger — his delicate chip after a mazy run at Old Trafford and his looping volley against Cardiff at The Hawthorns. Other than a few moments of brilliance, Morgan did little else. Amalfitano had a habit of taking extra touches and getting closed down, either having the ball stolen from him or the cross being blocked. The club made the correct decision in letting him go back to Marseille.
Matej Vydra, much like Rosenberg, never had a fair chance at The Hawthorns. He had pace, movement and could finish. He scored a couple of goals and looked dangerous whenever he played. The coaching staff may have seen something different in training, but for me, he should have been given another chance.
In the case of right back Billy Jones, it’s tough to criticize the club or player in the decision to let him leave on a free transfer to Sunderland. I liked him as a right back. He was suspect in a tackle but gave everything and went forward with pace. West Brom offered him a new contract but he decided to move to The Stadium of Light.
Last but not least, Thievy Bifouma is the only player that the club should have fought hard to keep. The sole signing of the departed Pepe Mel era looked like a dangerous striker. He was strong and fast with an imposing physical presence. He scored a couple of times. I won’t be surprised if we see Bifouma again at the top level somewhere in Europe. A talent like his is too special to ignore.