Transfer deadline day opened with the hope of new signings and ended with the club, once again, at the centre of a news story around a player who was not allowed to leave. What has been a record window for the Baggies in terms of money spent, the fans are still left feeling somewhat disappointed with the final outcome. In time, however, that may change.
As last season drew to a close, I was resigned to the belief that Saido Berahino would leave the club during the summer. Having angled unsuccessfully for a move during January, I got the feeling that the Burundi-born striker had received assurances that he would be allowed to leave in the summer, although I am sure that any assurance would have been caveated with the requirement that the right offer was made.
In July, Berahino opted to break ties with his controversial agent, Aidy Ward, which most saw as a positive move. Ward had been on the end of a significant amount of criticism surrounding his handling of Raheem Sterling’s desire to leave Liverpool, and Berahino’s decision to publicise the split was seen as a sign that he would be more reasonable in his approach going forward. Evidently, this has not been the case.
Whoever has been advising Berahino since then has some serious questions to answer, assuming he has not been representing himself, of course. While handing in a transfer request is not necessarily a bad idea, Tuesday night’s tweet was certainly unhelpful and it will not improve Berahino’s lot in either the short or long term. At least he wasn’t caught in the car park at Tottenham’s Enfield training ground, I suppose, although the tweet could prove to be just as damaging.
Rather than Odemwingie, however, I am tempted to draw parallels with the case of John Stones. Like Berahino, the Everton centre-back handed in a transfer request to try to force a move to a bigger club. This was rejected and the club refused to sell despite an apparently huge offer. Unlike Berahino, Stones continued to play for Everton and, while his performances may have been slightly affected, he seems to have accepted his fate.
While we will probably never know the true terms of the offers that Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, made, it is clear that his negotiating tactics have failed. I have no doubt that if Levy had come up with a sensible offer that was close to Albion’s valuation in July, the deal would have been done, but once Jeremy Peace went public on the issue, it was never going to happen, in my opinion. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, both Spurs and Berahino should have realised that Peace was never going to sanction a sale so late in the window once he had made his position public. Albion fans may point to the Robert Earnshaw sale in January 2006 – Earnshaw had two transfer requests rejected but Peace never went public, and it was Robson who was happy to get him out of the club when the right bid came in.
So was Peace right to do what he did? If the reports of bid terms are correct, yes. A relatively low initial instalment followed by performance-related add-ons would have been too big a risk and would have undervalued the player in today’s market. Levy tried to be cute but he was up against a chairman who is just as good at maximising the sale proceeds for the club’s best assets (and, arguably, almost as bad at buying).
If Levy did offer £25 million cash as reported by the Daily Mail, then he did so within two hours of deadline. At that stage, there is no way that Jeremy Peace would’ve lost face and caved in, even if, as reported, Tony Pulis was prepared to allow Berahino leave without a replacement. Such a good bid early on would have done the deal – just look at Manchester United’s deadline day purchase of Anthony Martial. Martial was apparently available early in the window for around £20 million, but United have ended up paying an initial £36 million which could rise as high as £58 million with performance-related add-ons!
And so we look to the future. However he may feel currently, Berahino must remember that he is contracted to West Bromwich Albion until June 2017. His reputation is tarnished both from this episode, and from previous misdemeanours such as the drink-driving incident which arguably prevented him from being offered an even more lucrative contract late last year. He is obviously angry and upset, but he will only become the star his talent could make him if he knuckles down and works hard. Going on strike could potentially harm him just as much as it will harm the club. Peace’s hard-ball tactics could prove to be misplaced should Berahino stick it out as his value would inevitably drop – he is already less than popular in the dressing room, but the player would surely suffer more if he refused to reintegrate. Any chances he may have had of playing for England in Euro 2016 are already severely reduced by this saga. Jamie Vardy is now the young striker of choice for Roy Hodgson, and only an amazing run of form for Berahino will change that – that’s quite tricky if you refuse to play. Moreover, a player who is prepared to strike will be far less attractive for a buying club.
As an Albion fan, I want him to perform at his best for the club, and when he does leave, I want the club to get the best deal for him and to have an adequate replacement in place. Berahino could be an England striker for years to come, but he needs to change his attitude and knuckle down if that dream is to become a reality.
Enough of the deal that wasn’t done, what of the deals that were? While our chairman has opted not to disclose most of the fees for the individual deals, he announced on Tuesday that the club had invested in excess of £36 million in transfer fees during this window. That is evidently a record total for the club, and perhaps more a reflection of the state of the market and the increases in TV revenue rather than any real releasing of the purse strings.
The headline signing is, of course, Salomón Rondón who cost a reported £12 million from Zenit St. Petersburg. Based on performances so far, he could become a real favourite at the Hawthorns – strong, energetic and hard-working, he also possesses a good degree of skill and an eye for goal that produced 53 goals in 113 appearances for Zenit and Rubin Kazan over the past three seasons including 19 in European competition. That appearance record also suggests he is not injury prone. The current situation with Berahino suggests that he may become the mainstay of the Albion front line and, as his team mates get more used to him, I’m expecting the goals to flow. His first goal for the club against Stoke was a wonderfully placed header.
The most recent addition to the squad is former Manchester United centre back, Jonny Evans. While the rumours surrounding José Enrique gave the tantalising possibility that Pulis might sign a full-back, Evans was signed on Monday for an undisclosed fee that was thought to be some way short of the £10 million that United were reportedly demanding.
Bar a couple of loan spells with Royal Antwerp and Sunderland as a teenager, Evans is a one-club man and made over 200 appearances for the Red Devils. He also has 41 caps for Northern Ireland. He has stated that Darren Fletcher was a big reason for him coming to the Hawthorns and, with international teammates Gareth McAuley and Chris Brunt also at the club, he should fit in easily. While he may have been overshadowed by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić for much of his United career, he has started in excess of 10 Premier League games for nine consecutive seasons, seven of those with the Old Trafford club. That is a huge amount of experience and, at 27, I believe he will a great asset to West Bromwich Albion for several years to come.
Somewhat less experienced is Danish goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard, who has also made the switch from Old Trafford. Having impressed with Norwegian club, Aalesund, as a 25-year-old, Sir Alex Ferguson brought him to the Premier League in 2010. He made just 29 appearances for United over four seasons, 19 of which were in the Premier League including the 5-5 draw at the Hawthorns in Sir Alex’s last match. Given that he came in on a free transfer rather than the £5 million that was being sought for David Marshall, Lindegaard seems a more sensible option financially given that, bar an injury to Boaz Myhill, he is unlikely to play.
Centre back, James Chester, signed from Hull City at the end of July for a reported fee of £8 million. It’s a little early to give any real view on him in an Albion shirt as Pulis has moved him around the back four mercilessly in the first few games, the highlight of which, I guess, was the conversion of the decisive penalty against Port Vale last week. Putting him against Raheem Sterling and Aleksandar Kolarov on his debut was somewhat cruel, especially as I suspect he’d never played full back before!
Another product of the Manchester United academy, Chester moved to the KC Stadium in 2010 and went on to make 171 appearances for the Tigers including 47 in the Premier League. At 26, he should be in the prime of his career and with Olsson and McAuley in their 30s, I suspect Pulis is looking at Chester as a long term option in the middle of the defence, even if he has get used to playing at full back for the time being.
I went into James McClean’s controversial back story when he joined back in July and, from my point of view, the jury is out based on his performances so far. He made a positive impact when he came on at Vicarage Road but has otherwise left me unconvinced.
Even more disappointing, however, have been the performances of Ricky Lambert. Pulis has involved him in every game so far and, from my point of view, he has offered very little. It may be a match fitness issue, but he does not appear mobile enough to play in the formation that Pulis is adopting, either as the lone striker or an advanced midfielder. I’m not writing him off yet, but at this moment, I’m less than impressed.
Loan signee, Serge Gnabry, announced himself to the Hawthorns faithful with an outrageous roulette with almost his first touch after coming on against Chelsea. On the night, however, he was outshone by Callum McManaman, although the former Wigan winger had much more time to show what he can do. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the highly rated Arsenal youngster – Gnabry and McManaman on opposing flanks could be a very potent force should Pulis ever dare to be so adventurous!
That’s all the incomings, but finally a few words on the late departures.
I did not foresee the departure of Joleon Lescott this summer, although it seemed to become more and more inevitable as time went on. Whether it was Pulis’s inability to guarantee Lescott a start in the centre of defence was a factor, or that the lure of his boyhood favourites in Witton was too much, I’m not sure, but Lescott conducted himself with superb professionalism throughout including unexpectedly starting the game at the Britannia last weekend. Personally, I think Evans is a trade up, especially given their ages, although I think Joleon has performed extremely well in his 37 games for the Baggies and I’d have rather seen Olsson leave instead.
While he may not have hit the heights we hoped, Brown Ideye has at least acted with superb professionalism throughout his Albion career and his tweet thanking the club and the fans was one final class act from the Nigerian. It just never quite clicked for Brown, and I’m sure the majority of Baggies fans will join me in wishing him all the best in Greece.
All in all, it’s not been a bad window for the Baggies although Pulis’s refusal to address the full back situation remains a head-scratcher. How much fact there was behind Albion’s rumoured pursuits of Matt Phillips and Michael Antonio is unclear, I suspect that Gnabry was the chosen solution for that position and that the media just kept the other options going to create a story, but we will never know. There are so many fabricated stories around over the summer that I’ve learned to get too drawn in until it becomes clear that the deal is real.
The Berahino story will run and run, I suppose, but I hope we’ll see him in a Baggies shirt within a few weeks. Otherwise, the ins and outs are done for another three months, and Albion will return after the international break to face a run of seven fixtures in September and October that are eminently winnable. Top half by Hallowe’en?