Alan Irvine recently departed the Albion hot seat, what are your thoughts on his time at the Hawthorns?
Irvine never had proper backing from the fans from the outset. We were originally in negotiations with Tim Sherwood and it seemed as if he was our number one candidate, however things didn’t quite work out, and our chairman Jeremy Peace thought Irvine was the best bet. He arrived with a very poor CV and no previous Premier League managerial pedigree, which was a major concern for all Albion supporters. There was little optimism heading into the season, and having started the first few games badly with more or less half the squad deemed not fit, the fans’ pessimistic outlook at the beginning was vindicated. The truth is Irvine never looked fully in control: he struggled to get the newcomers settled in, he struggled with the pressure from the press, and he struggled to convince the Albion faithful that he was indeed the right man for the job. His conservative style of play meant the team often played turgid, unadventurous football accompanied with poor results at the end. He had an irritating habit of making excuses and pointing to “individual errors” an alarming amount of the time. Granted, it could be argued that he didn’t always have the luxury of fielding his key players (Joleon Lescott, Silvestre Varela were side-lined early on), but it’s about making do with what you’ve got and coaxing the best out of the rest of the group. He was a perfectly pleasant man, no doubt about it, but in football management terms the Scot lacked the necessary tactical acumen, know-how and pedigree to succeed at the Hawthorns. We all wish him the best in the future.
Tony Pulis has come in and won his first two fixtures – how was his appointment received by the Baggies faithful?
Overall, we have welcomed him with open arms. I never thought I’d say I was happy to see Tony Pulis in charge of my football club, it’s a surreal admission, but beggars cannot be choosers. For a long time we have desperately missed a well-organised, structured and experienced manager, and in Pulis we have that. The last thing we wanted was another risk – which was what Irvine, Pepe Mel and to an extent Steve Clarke was – and Pulis was by far the best option out there in the market. His track record of keeping teams up in the Premier League is extraordinarily impressive, and everyone knows about his success at Stoke leading them to Europe and a Cup final, so in terms of pedigree he’s right up there. In his first press conference, he already identified that the club had only won four times at home in 2014. It’s a wretched statistic and it was refreshing for the new boss to highlight that. We’re already halfway there to reaching the same tally this year with home victories over Gateshead in the FA Cup and Hull in the league. Already Pulis has shown more leadership than all of our last three head coaches put together. He’s installed his own backroom staff, waving goodbye to Keith Downing, Rob Kelly and Dean Kiely, and bringing in David Kemp and Gerry Francis. It is expected that he will look to bolster the squad in certain areas in the January transfer window, with young Wigan winger Callum McManaman being touted as Pulis’ first acquisition. It is hoped that Pulis will stay for the long-term and build a successful team at Albion. After all, stability is exactly what we need.
Like Everton, West Brom has struggled so far this season, what have been the major factors?
You’ll be surprised to read it, but this season hasn’t actually been as bad as 2013-14, which was probably the worst Albion season that I’ve ever witnessed. But you’re right, we haven’t been particularly good this campaign, and that can be attributed to a number of different things. Firstly, appointing Alan Irvine to assemble and lead the team was an accident waiting to happen and deeply affected our performances and results. Secondly, not having all of the squad readily available has been frustrating to say the least. Earlier in the season the fans were told that the bulk of the squad simply wasn’t match fit, despite the likes of Christian Gamboa, Jason Davidson and Varela returning from the World Cup in Brazil, so we lacked quality both defensively and offensively. Thirdly, often the players have been devoid of belief and mental strength. A perfect example of this was our 2-3 defeat at QPR at the back end of last year, when the team went two goals up and were cruising, only to completely capitulate and surrender a comfortable lead. At times there has been a lack of leadership and communication which have crippled us. Of course it doesn’t help when the club is chopping and changing the manager so frequently, too, because it means the players are constantly trying to adjust and so are the supporters. The best we can aspire for in 2014-15 is to secure a mid-table position and then push on next season under Pulis, possibly snatching a top 10 spot like we did under Roy Hodgson before he left for England.
You are currently 15th, where do you envisage Albion finishing in the Premier League?
I envisage us finishing around where we are currently positioned, to be honest. It sounds depressing, and it is depressing, but anywhere above that dreaded dotted line would do in our current predicament. We were comfortably finishing in the top 10 under Hodgson, who by the way worked absolute wonders at the club, and then Clarke guided us to our best ever top-flight finish in 8th when Romelu Lukaku was spearheading the attack. But ever since we’ve just regressed and regressed. It was a miracle that we didn’t get relegated last season, purely because there were three sides somehow worse than us, so to stave off relegation this time round would be a solid achievement. We have a much better chance now with Pulis at the helm.
What is your take on the Berahino situation – do you think he will move on in the imminent future?
It seems like people can’t talk about West Bromwich Albion without mentioning Saido Berahino’s name, such is the hype surrounding him at the moment. My take on the situation is that he should definitely stay at Albion in this current window, but it is highly unlikely that he will remain with us in the summer. That is the inevitable result of scoring goals in the Premier League. He’s an extremely talented kid, and I remember watching him rise up the youth ranks as a teenager, but in my mind he had two significant breakthroughs. The first was when he netted a hat-trick in the League Cup at home against Newport County, all three of his strikes were top draw, and then-coach Clarke certainly took notice. That performance allowed him to make the step up to the seniors. The second breakthrough moment was at Old Trafford last season, when he scored the winning goal with a fantastic left-footed strike from the edge of the box. That really announced him to the world. Shortly after that he was presented with a brand new, lucrative contract (he earned £800 a week previously) and this season he is our top goal-scorer to date. Like with any young player, Berahino does blow hot and cold but his finishing prowess is extremely impressive for his age. His overall game has improved such as his link up play, passing and physical strength. I’d want at least £25m for him should he leave – I think that’s reasonable given the current economic climate. We must remember that at 21 years of age, Berahino is nowhere near fulfilling his potential yet. He could well turn out to be England’s leading striker further down the line. That amount of money would enable the club to reinvest elsewhere and replace him.
Apart from Berahino, who else do we need to watch out for when we host you at Goodison Park?
Well Berahino is obviously the main threat for us in forward areas. Lescott is undoubtedly our best defender since joining on a free in the summer. He’ll probably be assigned the task of man-marking Lukaku, who is absolutely bound to score, like earlier in the season when Everton beat us at the Hawthorns. Victor Anichebe, a former Everton player of course, may start up front alongside Berahino. I believe Anichebe is the best in the division at holding the ball up and bringing others into play; it’s just a matter of keeping him match fit and in shape. Claudio Yacob, a defensive midfielder who was marginalised under Irvine but is back in the starting line-up under Pulis, provides us with defensive solidity sitting in front of the back four. If you weren’t already aware, he loves a tackle.
Victor Anichebe endured a frustrating time with Everton – has this continued at West Brom?
Anichebe’s downfall is his inconsistency. He has all the attributes to be one of the best strikers in the Premier League, for sure, but injuries always seem to hold him back. He’s usually used as an impact substitute at West Brom, but as I said above he could well start on Monday night. He has the muscular strength and power to cause any central defender problems, as Everton fans will remember when he was with you, and that should come in handy. If you want goals, however, Anichebe isn’t your man. He doesn’t do goals.
What are your thoughts on Roberto Martinez and Everton?
I really rate Roberto Martinez. The way in which he continually denied the odds at Wigan was amazing and from the outside looking in, he generally appears to have done a very decent job at Everton. I realise this season hasn’t been great for you in the league, but it’s not easy balancing European and league commitments. Martinez has a good, passing philosophy – even if the defensive side of things aren’t as strong – and I think that suits Everton’s players. I do like Everton, though, and have visited Goodison Park before. It seems like a family-orientated club, similar to ourselves, and that’s great.
Prediction for the game?
I’ve been known to be a little too optimistic when predicting Albion games. So, keeping to tradition, I’ll go with: Everton 0-3 WBA. Enjoy the game.
Creator of @BaggiesGalore and Hawthorns season ticket holder.