The West Brom Rebuild

The revolving doors at The Hawthorns have got one last week of spinning left before they are bolted for the winter as the transfer window reaches it’s usual hysterical climax.

The new season has started, and the passion and togetherness of Alan Irvine’s newly-assembled squad is clear for all to see from the freshly-painted stands. OK; the shirts are too white for most and the shorts too blue for some, but at least it appears that the players wearing the kit are proud to be doing so and are willing to fight and scrap for every Premier League point on offer, which hasn’t always appeared to be the case.

Jeremy Peace’s summer of change has seen old furniture passed on to those less fortunate in the shape of Liam Ridgewell and Steven Reid who have moved to Portland Timbers and Burnley respectively; moves that really should’ve been made a year earlier. Diego Lugano, the rugged, aged piece purchased last summer in the hope he would comfortably adapt and add to the options available has also been removed from the players lounge, whilst old favourite Zoltan Gera has also found a new, old home for the twilight of his recently injury-blighted career back at Ferencvaros.

Gone also are last summers ill-advised car-boot purchases who added little between them on their year-long loan deals. 9 Premier League goals and a couple of great memories are all that will remain from the spells of Morgan Amalfitano, Matej Vydra and Thievy Bifouma, whereas nothing but a nasty taste in the mouth has been left behind by Scott Sinclair and Goran Popov. Billy Jones is a player with a questionable injury history but at this stage, I would be more comfortable with him at right back than Andre Wisdom, though the obvious hope is that by the end of the season, Andre has done more than enough to banish any such thoughts. The fact that Jones missed out through injury when his Sunderland side shared the spoils on the opening weekend was not a huge surprise to anyone. The other departure to leave something of a nasty taste behind concerns George Thorne’s desperation to return to Derby permanently following last season’s loan. A player of huge promise, but sadly fragility too, I wish him all the best on his second recovery from a devastating knee injury so early in his career.

On the opposite side of the transfer balance sheet, a core of home-grown grinders in Joleon Lescott, Craig Gardner, Chris Baird and Andre Wisdom have followed Alan Irvine into the club and helped restore the camaraderie and fighting spirit that will be needed between now and May.

Supplementing the British base, no-nonsense Belgian left back Sebastien Pocognoli has quickly settled into his new surroundings following his £1.5m arrival from Hamburg, whilst that process has been hampered by confusion and red tape for fellow left back, Australian Jason Davidson; signed eventually from Heracles following a decent showing at the World Cup. Another who falls into the same category is Costa Rican right back Cristian Gamboa who faced similar delays before being given the green light by the authorities to finalise his £1.8m arrival from Rosenborg.

In the attacking third of the pitch, this summer’s ‘marquee’ buy is undoubtedly that of club record signing Brown Ideye, the club’s first 8-figure purchase following his arrival from Dynamo Kiev. Much was made of the fact that Alan Irvine hadn’t seen him play before his signing but seeing as, rather inconsiderately, no club football was being played at the time, I’ll leave that to The Mirror to get wound up about. His substitute appearance at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon did however provide a positive glimpse of what is to come.

A marquee without support is pretty useless though, so it was encouraging to see two further arrivals in the attacking areas last week. Georgios Samaras, the 6’4″ Greek forward has, like many other items on Albion’s summer agenda, split opinion amongst supporters. To me, he is a very useful attacking option and a player I fully expect to make people hold their hands up and admit they were wrong about his worth. Hard-working and surprisingly skillful ‘for a big man’ his goal scoring record falls someway short of elite level production, but with his ability to play off the left side as and when required, allied to his aerial prowess, I am confident that he will be an asset fans will appreciate. The stigma of an unsuccessful spell at Man City as a 21-year-old is unfair baggage to carry for the now 29-year-old World Cup goalscorer.

The arrival of another World Cup goalscorer, Portugal’s Silvestre Varela could not be more welcome for a team totally devoid of genuine options on the right wing. Capable of playing off either flank, the pacey year-long-loanee from Porto should inject an element of intrigue to a side which, to this early point in the season, has appeared very predictable and laboured in attack.

There is still work to be done in the final week of the window but an encouraging and undefeated opening two games have at least stabilised a club that was anything but that at times last season. The toxic clouds of negativity and anger have also slowly cleared whilst brighter skies hover enticingly on the horizon. A further addition in the wide areas would be very welcome and would round off a pleasing summer rebuild, though any final-week player sales will need to be replaced. Personally, I hope that we can retain what we have until the window shuts, add to it if possible and then reassess the situation again in January – a time of year that, as a club, we must also change our approach to. Injuries, suspensions and form will all be telling factors throughout a long season and West Brom must ensure that the squad has the required depth to cope with them all.

Credit must go to Jeremy Peace for his admission of culpability towards last season’s horror-show and this summer to me it’s a case of so far, so good on the rebuild. Now go and finish the job.

 

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