It has been quite an eventful two months from the end of the season (my last blog) to now (my latest blog). In that time, Roy Hodgson restored a bit of pride in the national team with some gutsy if at times uninspiring displays at the Euro's which culminated in of course the hoodoo that even Hodgson can't break, England losing on penalties. It has also been an eventful few months for Baggies fans.
We ended the season with a mixture of delight at a top ten finish with a tinge of uncertainty following the departure of Hodgson to England. After a lengthy search, West Brom appointed Steve Clarke as their new head coach on a two year deal. A lot has been said and written about the appointment of Clarke so I thought I'd best add my two pennies worth to the mix.
At first I was a tad disappointed by the appointment, I'd been lured in with the links to Claudio Ranieri and Ralf Rangnick, two big-name European coaches and to get someone who hasn't been the top man at any club was some fall-down from that. It's been suggested in some quarters that Clarke is a risky appointment due this lack of experience, but I'd argue that any of the candidates Albion looked at were risky choices.
Despite Ranieri's reputation, he has struggled to hold down jobs for more than a season and a half at most of his recent club which tend to result in him leaving the club or being sacked. In addition, how would he have dealt with the budget restrictions Albion work within? Rangnick has no experience of the Premier League and had well documented health problems at Schalke which led to him quitting, there was no guarantee he wouldn't have done the same to West Brom. Even the candidate who was probably considered the safest choice by the fans, Chris Hughton, has not had a full season's experience of Premier League management and was sacked, albeit harshly, from his one job in the Premier League.
The key part of Albion's appointment is that the role Clarke will be taking is not the traditional manager's role, but that of a head coach. Clarke arrives at West Brom with a pedigree of being one of the top coaches in the game, he has worked with some of the best players and managers in the country consistently and thus for the role he will be fulfilling, he certainly has the CV. Obviously there are differences between being a coach at these clubs and being the top man, Clarke will be in charge of tactics, he will have to take team-talks, make substitutions, deal with the press-all responsibilities he's never had before and thus a degree of worry is understandable.
However, since his appointment Clarke has been making all the right noises to get the fans on side with what he will try to do at the club. One of the few criticisms that were levelled at Hodgson in his tenure at West Brom was the poor home form, and the style of play that went with it. The style was very rigid, based around two banks of four and a counter-attacking game capitalising on opposition mistakes rather than initiating the play. This system was hugely successful on the road for Albion but at home they found it tough to break sides down. Clarke has already suggested that whilst looking to maintain the solidity that Hodgson installed, he will look to add a more attacking ethos to the side, a sentiment echoed by Kevin Keen who has been brought in as a coach.
I expect this will probably lead to a change of fortunes for Albion this season in terms of how results come about, picking up more points at home due to the side taking the game to the opposition more but conversely, not picking up as many results on the road due to a more open style though this is purely guesswork on my part.
It's not just the style of play that looks to be changing, but also the transfer policy. Hodgson's influence was clear in the way Albion conducted their transfers last season, it saw a move away from picking up gems from abroad to players who you'd consider tried and tested in English football with the likes of Liam Ridgewell, Keith Andrews, Ben Foster and Zoltan Gera all boasting premier league experience. Even the “riskier” signings, Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley, were vastly experienced in the division below the Premier League and in McAuley's case a seasoned international.
This year Albion seem to be targeting a different type of player, returning to the strategy that brought in players such as Jonas Olsson, Peter Odemwingie and Youssuff Mulumbu. They've already brought in Yassine El Ghanassy from Gent, a 22-year-old winger who had been linked with Manchester City in the January Window but seems to have fallen out of form, quite understandably, after staying at the Belgian club rather than moving to the Premier League champions. I'll admit to knowing little about him, but from the Youtube videos of him and some Tweets I've seen from experts on the Belgian league, he is certainly a player with great flair and speed albeit inconsistent.
Another player West Brom are seemingly close to bringing in is Argentinean international midfielder Claudio Yacob. Again, I confess to knowing little about him from first-hand experience with all my knowledge on him again coming from Twitter, Youtube and other blogs. This is one interesting piece I've read about Yacob, in which he is compared to Javier Mascherano 2.0. He seems to be a player that Albion have been lacking since Jonathan Greening left the club, someone who can take the ball from defence and initiate and create attacks. Yacob is on a free transfer, and again seems to be one of those Albion signings where they are picking up someone highly-rated after initial interest from top clubs has died down, as like El Ghanassy, Yacob was linked to top English clubs in Arsenal and Manchester United.
All in all, I'd suggest this summer transfer window will be exciting in terms of who Albion bring in and hopefully have a happy culmination in terms of who the Baggies keep at the club.