Ten games into the 2016/17 Premier League season and just ten points from more than favourable fixtures sees West Bromwich Albion lingering towards the dreaded relegation zone, which if they were to finish there in May next year would see their seven-year tenure in the top flight come to an end. Under the guidance of Tony Pulis who recently took control of his 1000 game in management the Albion manager needs to make a change and fast to not only turn the club’s awful run of form around but to keep his cherished record of never being relegated. That change is simple, copy José Mourinho.
The vastly experienced manager had done it all. Champions League’s, treble winning sides, record title winners and a ridiculous amount of individual awards. The only thing he hadn’t done? His dream job at Manchester United. He wasn’t the only globally recognised superstar to join the 20-time title winners. The world’s most expensive player Paul Pogba, Sweden’s hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic, cultured winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan and young stalwart Eric Bailly all followed Mourinho to Old Trafford but none of these transfers was the biggest thing he’s done since getting the role he had been interested in for so long.
Wayne Rooney, The Wonderkid, England’s future, Record Breaker, Captain, Leader, Legend. Dropped. Shockwaves across Manchester and the Premier League. Rooney, seemingly untouchable in the United XI over the last decade finds himself dropped to the bench, the armband ripped from his underperforming, ageing body. José Mourinho takes no prisoners. Something Tony Pulis must start doing.
Darren Fletcher ironically formerly of Manchester United finds himself as the Albion captain in the heart of midfield seemingly untouchable in the starting XI. Ring any bells? The 32-year-old has started every Premier League game for West Brom since joining back in January 2015. The vastly experienced Scottish International was a huge upgrade in a lacklustre Albion midfield at the time. Almost two years later and the proverbial boot is on the other foot for Fletcher.
He is yet to get going this season, it’s as simple as that. He’s been yards off the pace, wasteful in possession and looks like a man who’s suffering from starting in every Premier League game over the last 18 months or so. He is in desperate need of a break and it’s clear to see.
The stats alone tell their own story. While not a prolific goalscorer four goals since joining Albion, from the centre of midfield isn’t a great return. Three goals set up in 38 league games last season is hardly fantastic. He looks exhausted on the field. The former Premier and Champions League winner was completely overrun the weekend by City’s pressing midfield.
The most telling sign he is in need of a break for me was in the first half of the Manchester City game when he was caught in possession deep in his own half and just simply waved his hands in the air looking for an excuse. There was none and there is no more excuses left for him to be unchallenged in the starting XI. It’s not like we don’t have replacements ready. James Morrison offers more attacking intent while Claudio Yacob (who for me has been brilliant this season) sits and breaks up play. Sam Field the youngster who experienced first team minutes earlier in the season and didn’t put a foot wrong must be wondering what he has to do to get a game. Could you blame him if we carried on picking Fletcher till May?
Tony Pulis who recently signed a one-year contract extension at the club (that’s a rant for another day) has to listen to the fans as much as it may pain him. Fletcher is a model professional he’s been to the very pinnacle of club football but has also hit rock bottom when it came to his illness which ruled him out for 10 months. A break even a short one could do him the world of good and bring him back rejuvenated. Seeing the fans cheer when his number came up for substitution the weekend was tough to watch but fans are entitled to their opinion and it must be respected, they’re the ones who pump money into the club.
It’s not an easy decision to drop one of the more recognisable players at your club especially your captain but big managers make big decisions. It’s time for Tony Pulis to show he’s not stuck in his declining ways and drop Darren Fletcher.