When Salomon Rondon signed for West Bromwich Albion for a club record fee of £12m there was an air of excitement amongst Albion fans, as well as an air of expectancy. A player of such calibre would surely score the goals to ensure West Brom had an easier season. Well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
19 league games resulting in just three goals is hardly the return that the Hawthorns faithful would have expected, and definitely not what was wanted. Simply, Rondon hasn’t set West Bromwich alight, let alone the world, and he has found it tough.
Halfway through the season is a good time to review the way a player has settled in at a club. Rondon has had time to learn about the club, learn about his team mates and learn about the league. So is it simply a case that he is not good enough for the Premier League? While only three goals may suggest so, ultimately it is not right to suggest that.
Before joining West Brom, Rondon’s goal scoring record was 83 goals in 235 games in leagues in Venezuela, Spain and Russia. On average, he was scoring a goal every 2.8 games. For any striker that record is good, regardless of league. Even at international level Rondon’s goalscoring record amounts to a goal every three games. He is a proven goalscorer at every level, so why hasn’t it happened in England?
Perhaps one of the biggest differences that Rondon will have had to get used to is the style of play in England compared to abroad. Defenders are more physical, they afford you less space than defenders in Russia, for example. These defenders tackle hard, and Rondon may not have faced that on such a weekly basis.
When looking at other foreign players that have come to England, Rondon is not alone in struggling in his first year. The list of players is vast, from those that became stars, such as Thierry Henry (who failed to score in his first eight games for Arsenal), to those that never quiet reached their peaks, such as Andriy Shevchenko or, more recently, Falcao.
West Brom also have quite the history with players coming from foreign soil with big reputations only to see them not reach the heights expected. Borja Valero, Brown Ideye (both record signings at the time) and Markus Rosenberg all had good records before joining Albion, and have all done well since leaving. They go to prove that having the quality to do well in other leagues doesn’t necessarily mean you have the quality to succeed in the Premier League. That said, Rondon has shown more than those three did in their time at the club.
As well as the style of play in the Premier League compared to leagues like La Liga, Rondon has not been helped by a fairly rigorous international schedule, particularly in the opening months of the season, that will have seen him travelling a near 10,000 mile round trip to Venezuela and back. And whilst he may not suffer with huge jet lag, with Venezuela’s time difference being 4 hours 30 minutes behind England’s, it will have still affected him. As well as sleep pattern, he’ll have had to change eating times and diet, and that will also affect performance. Rondon has at times appeared tired, and this will play a large part in it.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest reason for Rondon’s lack of goals, comes the creativity in West Brom’s team. More often than not, due to the defensive style in place at The Hawthorns, he has found himself an isolated figure at the top of a deep 4-5-1 formation. Full-backs don’t always push up, wingers do a lot of back tracking and effectively it leads to several high and long balls up to the striker.
For Rondon, that often means he is left picking up scrappy long balls, attempting to hold play up whilst the team moves forward. For a big player, this shouldn’t prove a problem, however, Albion play so deep that holding up isn’t always the best option. Effectively, he has the options of trying to hold play up and stave off the numerous defenders that come at him, or turn and try to beat the numerous defenders head to head.
This tactic adopted by Albion under Tony Pulis is a big reason as to why Rondon only has a pass completion rate of 65.4%. He generally has very few options to lay the ball on to, and this results in him giving the ball away more often than not. Equally, he is let down by the number of chances West Brom actually create.
To date, West Brom have had fewer shots per game than any other team in the Premier League, averaging only 9.7 shots per match. They also have the lowest average possession in the league at 42.4%. When you’re looking at an average of only three shots on target per game it is of little wonder that any striker would find it difficult to mount a serious goalscoring record. Rondon himself averages just over two shots a game which is barely enough to give himself a decent opportunity to score.
At Zenit, Rondon benefited and scored 20 goals from playing in a 4-2-3-1 set up with Hulk and Shatov playing as inside forwards, helping to create chances for him. There’s no reason why West Brom couldn’t take a similar approach with the likes of McManaman, McLean, Sessegnon or, if still at the club, Berahino playing inside forward roles. Until then, however, Rondon may continue to find it difficult at The Hawthorns.
West Brom do have a striker worthy of a £12m price tag; it may just take a season for them to see the best of him.