As the new Premier League season kicks off, there is a familiar feeling amongst Baggies fans in that the transfer window is yet to produce the improvements that they feel the squad needs, and that the club will be once again scrabbling around to do deals in late August
In fact, we are arguably better off than at the same stage last season when Albion had made just one signing, Matt Phillips, whereas this window has seen three players move to the Hawthorns, albeit with one going straight out on loan.
In today’s market, the signing of Jay Rodriguez, for £12m or £15m whatever the deal might be worth, represents good business. He’s hard working, can play anywhere across a front three and has an eye for goal. He has certainly impressed in pre-season with his strike against Leicester in Hong Kong the stand-out moment. Rodriguez has had a promising career at Burnley and Southampton, including a brief loan spell at another Albion, Stirling, and another at Barnsley, culminating in a full England cap against Chile in November 2013. The following April saw him suffer a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out of the game for eighteen months and it has been a long road back. Jay made just nine Premier League starts last season but scored five goals including a brace against Saturday’s opponents, Bournemouth. All in all, he managed 26 Premier League goals for Southampton from 66 starts and 38 substitute appearances including an impressive 15-goal haul in the 2013-14 season. A regular place in the Albion side will hopefully see him regain that excellent form.
Loan signing, Ahmed Hegazi, provides some much needed competition at centre back with Gareth McAuley nearing the end of his career, and he is an unusual signing for Pulis in that he has no Premier League experience. The Welshman generally favours those who have proven themselves in this league, Salomón Rondón being the other notable exception. Hegazi, the first Egyptian to play for Albion, has very little experience in any of Europe’s top leagues despite spending four years in Italy. He joined Fiorentina in December 2011 at the age of 20, but injury and lack of opportunity meant that he didn’t play a full 90 minutes in Italy until February 2015 by which time he was on loan at Perugia. Nonetheless, he has 39 caps for Egypt, one of Africa’s top sides, and made the Team of the Tournament in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations playing every minute of his country’s run to the final, which they lost to Cameroon.
The summer’s other new face at the Hawthorns is, of course, the familiar one of Gary Megson replacing the retiring Dave Kemp as Pulis’s assistant. Megson will always be hero to a generation of Albion fans for engineering a turn around in the club’s fortunes which saw it promoted to the Premier League for the first time in 2002. However, there are some who regard his return to the Hawthorns as a backward step, or at least a reinforcement of Pulis’s defensive style of football. In that first promotion season, Albion famously won no less than 17 games by a 1-0 scoreline and conceded just 29 goals in 46 league games. It was a defensive and direct style that was effective, and not too dissimilar to that employed by Pulis, so it would be no surprise that the two find areas of common ground in their coaching philosophies.
Megson never quite managed to repeat the success he had at the Hawthorns, although he was sacked from his last job at Hillsbrough when Wednesday were third in the table having just beaten their Steel City rivals – that was more than five years ago. Whether his history at Albion was a factor in his appointment, we will never know. If Pulis thought that it would help win over more of the Baggies fans, he seems to be mistaken, as those who don’t like his style will not see Megson as a positive addition despite the success he enjoyed at the club. Personally, I will always retain a huge level of appreciation for what Megson did for Albion, not forgetting the role that others, such as Paul Thompson, played in that turnaround, and I don’t see that his appointment as Assistant Head Coach can do too much harm. Let’s face it, Pulis was never going to appoint an Ossie Ardiles type to work with him, and appointing someone with some genuine feeling for the club cannot be a bad thing.
Megson was quoted this week as saying that Albion need another five new faces. Last summer, Phillips was ultimately joined by Chadli, Nyom, Robson-Kanu and loan signing, Brendan Galloway, who enjoyed varying levels of success. Central midfield seems to be a key area in need of strengthening following the departure of Darren Fletcher. My view is that the former skipper is on the wain and I was not overly disappointed to see him go, but we do need to get a replacement. The reality is that, despite being bought by a billionaire, Albion are still operating at the lower end of the Premier League transfer market and they will always do their deals late in the window – we can only wait and hope.
The fixture list has given the Baggies a fighting chance of getting some points on the board early on, with the opener against Bournemouth followed by games against Burnley, Stoke, Brighton and West Ham. Last season saw Albion open with a win at Crystal Palace and, despite a poor pre-season in terms of results, I’m sure Pulis will be looking for three points against his former club on Saturday.
In February, Albion beat the Cherries to reach the magical forty point mark – they have just one Premier League win to their name since then, while Bournemouth finished the season with a charge that saw them take 11 points from their last five games to leapfrog Albion in the table.
The summer for Eddie Howe has been somewhat more successful than for Pulis with the signings of Asmir Begovic, Jermain Defoe and Nathan Aké all significant improvements to the squad. 20-year-old winger, Connor Mahoney, has also joined from Blackburn Rovers.
Opening day fixtures are notoriously difficult to call. Bournemouth are a stronger side based on their signings, and there was little to choose between the sides in either match last season. Albion’s first eleven are good enough to get all three points and I think they will just nick it.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
25 Feb 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Dawson, McAuley)
AFC Bournemouth 1 (King (pen))
Albion’s Record against AFC Bournemouth
|Premier League Record|