West Bromwich Albion have now been in the English top-flight for six consecutive seasons and are a well-established Premier League side. The club has shaken off its yo-yo tag and notoriety for going up and down.
Recently I’ve read fans comment on social media saying ‘we’re little old West Brom’ and ‘we’re not a top 10 team’ which is, for me, concerning.
Why adopt such a negative mentality? I feel as if we’re selling ourselves short by dumbing down our expectations. Look at Leicester – relegation candidates at the start of the season – and the way in which they’ve revolutionised the upper echelons of the Premier League table. They believed they could challenge the ‘elite’ and are reaping the benefits.
This notion that a lack of financial firepower is holding Albion back doesn’t make sense. Money is not an issue; every Premier League club now has strong financial backing due to the TV revenue/rights. Indeed, the club is ranked 5th on the net spend chart with a figure of £27.50m. We spent £8m alone on James Chester, a central defender who has barely had a kick all season. So we absolutely have the funds available to create a strong Premier League squad. The recruitment and scouting must improve, though. Looking beyond Wigan Athletic and Manchester United would represent a step forward.
There are some good quality players within the current squad. But these players such as Cristian Gamboa and Sebastian Pocognoli have been neglected under Pulis, with more functional and ordinary players such as Craig Gardner and Chris Brunt preferred. As we know Pulis is a very safe manager: he likes tried and trusted professionals. Stephane Sessegnon only started getting first-team starts midway through the campaign and even then, his attacking adventure has been suppressed in a rigid 4-5-1 system. Look at the case of Serge Gnabry, the young German acquired from Arsenal on loan, who made just one league appearance off the bench. He could have offered a great deal of creativity and pace going forward, instead he was ignored and his development stagnated. Our squad is not being maximised to full effect in my opinion.
Here are some telling statistics. Albion have the worst shots on target per game record in the league and third worst in Europe’s top five leagues (3). On four occasions this season we have failed to register a single shot on goal, more than any other side. We are ranked bottom of the league in terms of average possession (40.3%) and passing success (71.4%). We also possess the division’s worst accurate short passing stats (206.8), which is indicative of our inability to retain the ball.
We’ve built a strong base. So isn’t it about time that we build on that and push on? When we finished 8th under Steve Clarke, I felt like we were actually going places. Now it seems like the majority of our supporters are content with merely finishing mid-table every season. That is okay to an extent, but when the football is so poor it makes you question what are the fans actually paying their money for? Most Baggies will tell you they want to be entertained, they want to see flair, action and goals. At the moment, we are witnessing some of the worst football that Albion have ever produced, and the results aren’t consistently good enough to make a compromise. I can’t help but think some of Albion’s fan base has been brainwashed into interpreting a mediocre performance as a good performance.
Granted, Pulis will invariably keep us up season after season. He’s proven that in the past at various clubs. But is it too greedy to ask for a little bit more? Jeremy Peace is obviously not going to want to change anytime soon, knowing that survival brings a fortune. As far as he’s concerned Pulis is the perfect manager and nothing else matters other than staying up. I hope for a better, more forward-thinking and ambitious philosophy in the near future. But the reality is that won’t occur under the current regime.
Food for thought.