West Brom’s Transfer Activity: Moonwalking to Failure
The transfer window is now closed. Let that sink in as you peruse the current West Bromwich Albion squad list and see 24 names of assorted age and quality glaring back at you. I say 24 players in an effort to be kind to a club which, in reality, deserves to be afforded no excuses, neither to be given the benefit of any considerable doubt. The current situation is a shambles; inept; pathetic.
These 24 players are tasked with keeping a club looked upon by the wider football community—ridiculously it should be added as founder members of English football—as ‘irrelevant’, in contention until those in charge, whoever that actually is, get another crack at the transfer market.
The squad includes three goalkeepers. One is the undisputed and unrivalled starter; the other two are a career backup and a 21-year-old Academy graduate. In defence, two new additions have at least fleshed out areas of real concern.
However uninspiring the £3m addition of Watford’s apparently unwanted backup right-back Allan Nyom is, he adds depth to a position long manned by Craig Dawson, a centre-back doing his best, admirably to some but in less than stellar fashion to others. That he has been no worse than incumbents of recent decades speaks as much of their deficiencies as it does of Dawson’s suitability to the role. 16-year-old starlet Kane Wilson is next in line, further highlighting the necessity of Nyom.
On the opposite side, 20-year-old Brendan Galloway has been drafted in on a season-long loan from Everton. Encouraging signs in his opening matches reaffirm his parent club’s unwillingness to include a permanent buying option.
Centrally, this allows Albion’s best player, Jonny Evans, to play in his favoured, natural position alongside evergreen cult hero Gareth McAuley, with Jonas Olsson, whom time is not treating so kindly, out of the firing line in reserve. James Chester came and went without anyone learning anything besides the fact that a full-back he isn’t.
Albion’s midfield screamed out for attention and at times it appeared it would get it too as bids went in, ambitiously, for the classy Spaniard Ignacio Camacho and, slightly stranger, Portugal’s Euro 2016-winning destroyer William Carvalho. Neither came to fruition amid a late frenzy of activity which amounted to nothing other than embarrassment and finger-pointing. That transfer fees are grossly inflated should come as a surprise to nobody. That it apparently did to the Albion hierarchy should probably not, either.
Tony Pulis is left with Claudio Yacob, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gardner, James Morrison and, when fit, Chris Brunt as options in what is an incredibly unadventurous, one-paced midfield. That encouragement is again found in the form of 18-year-old graduate Sam Field, who showed his more experienced colleagues how to complete a pass on his full Premier League debut, tells its own story.
The one bright spot of the window was the club record addition of left-winger Nacer Chadli from Spurs. The pace, quality and goalscoring ability he brings will be invaluable, while any sobering second thoughts he may now be experiencing would also be understandable. Matt Phillips offers balance on the right-wing and it is now up to him to prove that he has the genuine Premier League quality Albion so desperately need.
In reserve, James McClean remains a huge question mark, both in terms of quality and temperament, while Callum McManaman failed to secure a move away from The Hawthorns’ shadows and must now try to force his way into the thoughts of the manager who both signed and excluded him. 17-year-old Jonathan Leko has shown glimpses of his undoubted pace and ability but it remains to be seen how involved he will be. Utilised out wide, this does not see him at his best with tracking back to cover at the forefront of his thoughts.
In the harsh world of the Premier League, you are often only as good as your strikers, which are words which should cause concern to anyone of an Albion affliction. Salomon Rondon has undoubted ability, but has rarely shown it to its fullest, in part down to a system which isolates him, reducing him to the unsuited role of back-to-goal target man.
Assistance was the top priority of many going into the window. Unfortunately, those at the top decided otherwise with a protracted move for Diafra Sakho the only real target identified. Later, half-hearted flirtations of a loan for Jay Rodriguez and the signing of Leicester’s Leonardo Ulloa came to nothing. Jeffrey Schlupp was also pursued from the same team for roughly a month, the result exactly the same.
The one man who was added was Wales’ Euro 2016 hero Hal Robson-Kanu on a free transfer, signalling the sheer desperation in the Black Country last night. Abuse of a player simply accepting a job offer is uncalled for. Abuse of those who sanctioned the move for someone who in reality is a Championship-calibre winger, regardless of his Cruyff-esque exploits in France, is anything but.
That just leaves the lingering elephant in the room: the never-ending story of seemingly each and every transfer window around West Bromwich, Saido Berahino. With his contract running down, he remains an Albion player, something Pulis clearly didn’t expect from his comments after the recent 0-0 draw with Middlesbrough. Bids have come in for him, good bids too, worth up to around £24m, each one dismissed in the same instant manner as offers of a contract extension have been.
The split is plain for all to see and nobody, not the petulant, irresponsible player, his manager or his employers emerge with any credit whatsoever from a messy episode. It is hard to envisage such a fiasco occurring under the old regime of Dan Ashworth, who used to iron out the wrinkles away from the harsh glare of public opinion.
With such limited options available, Berahino must now be tuned up and utilised much closer to the penalty area that he was once so predatory around, instead of merely obeying his boss’s defend from the front mantra.
If the Premier League prior to this latest TV deal and its accompanying riches was a difficult playground for clubs of Albion’s stature, with it, it appears to be as frightening to them as the outside world was to Brooks upon his Shawshank release.
The takeover needs to be ratified by the authorities as soon as possible, if for no other reason other than to allow the relevant person to be put under the spotlight for a full explanation of what exactly is going on and what the plan is moving forward.
From that point a decision must also be made on the future of Tony Pulis. Fully backed he certainly hasn’t been, but his abrasive manner and unswerving negativity are rods for his own back which are all of his own making. Should he be privileged enough to continue, his ‘Mr Guarantee’ tag will be given a thorough examination.
Tumbling crowds and a fan base divided like no other time I can recall both need addressing with immediacy. Whatever the person in control of West Bromwich Albion’s official Twitter account believes, that is no laughing matter.