2016-17 West Bromwich Albion Season Preview
Current Manager: Tony Pulis
Last year’s position: 14th
Tony Pulis taking the reigns following the departure of the inexplicably appointed Alan Irvine was met with a mixed response. Those in the Pulis camp pointed to his proud record of never having been relegated from the Premier League and his ability to organise and drill a defensive unit. Avoiding relegation in the first season was commendable, if not aesthetically pleasing, but his remit had been achieved.
Last season proved to be another tick in the box marked ‘avoid relegation’ for Pulis but also a season too far for those who feel that his ‘style’ of play sucks the life out of all who watch. An unwillingness to open up and attack teams for the overwhelming majority of the season or to utilise players in their best positions were particular bones of contention to an increasingly frustrated fan-base. A fan-base accused of living in “cloud cuckoo land” for expecting anything other than the bare minimum aim of Premier League survival—by none other than Pulis himself.
Pulis currently remains in his post despite the recent acquisition of the club from majority shareholder and Chairman Jeremy Peace, for a figure rumoured to be around £200m for his 88% stake., Former pre-Venkys Blackburn Rovers Chairman John Williams takes up the same role to assist new owner, 42-year-old Guochuan Lai from China.
Positives from last season:
Avoiding relegation despite treating the opposition half as if it were a minefield. Attacking statistics made for depressing reading but things were tighter at the back thanks to the signing of Jonny Evans from Manchester United. By far the best defender at Albion in recent years, it’s no surprise to see him being linked much higher up the food chain.
If there must be a positive in an attacking sense then it would have to be Salomon Rondon. A £12m signing from Zenit thanks to amended foreign player rules in Russia, his nine Premier League goals may not have set the world alight, but considering the fact that he would’ve needed binoculars to locate his support, puts that statistic in a different light.
The emergence of 17-year-old Jonathan Leko late in the season was another highlight. An exciting attacking player with pace and trickery, he injected some energy into an otherwise wearisome season.
With such a small, not to mention ageing squad, fitness will be key during the months ahead. Jonny Evans is crucial to defensive solidity, whilst ex-Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher leads by example alongside the industrious Claudio Yacob. As it stands, James Morrison is the only naturally creative player able to tee up opportunities for Rondon, so any kind of spell out for those will have Albion fans nervously sweating, regardless of their stance on Pulis.
So far only Matt (I refuse to call a grown man Matty) Phillips has been added, after an extremely protracted chase, to a squad which is in desperate need of an overhaul. He will add more creativity, youth and genuine Premier League quality to the team of Ben Foster, Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher, Claudio Yacob, Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Salomon Rondon.
Saido Berahino is another with genuine quality but seemingly little between the ears, something which is in grave danger of undermining his natural talent. Should he leave, he is another who will need replacing. The clock is ticking, loudly.
Without the required additions of a natural left-back, a creative midfielder, a couple of wingers and a couple of forwards, whoever is in charge come the close of the transfer window will struggle. The obvious hope is that new ownership brings with it a fresh attitude towards an inflated market in which Jeremy Peace was notoriously cautious and uncomfortable. Should Pulis be allowed to see his contract out, tedious, mind-numbing football is a more cast-iron guarantee than the one trotted out that he guarantees Premier league safety. The ice above the trapdoor is becoming extremely thin.