West Brom: Hodgson and Ashworth creating a revolution of stability at the Hawthorns

After successfully steering West Bromwich Albion to Premier League safety, Roy Hodgson is now looking to build on the run of form that took the Baggies from 16th when Roberto Di Mateo was sacked to 11th when the season ended.

Albion had lost 13 of their last 18 games when the former Chelsea midfielder was relieved of his duties, but after Hodgson was appointed, the Midlands side lost only two of their final 12. Operating outside the transfer window, Hodgson was forced to work with what he had, but, as yet, the ex-Liverpool boss has barely been active in the transfer market. Defenders Billy Jones and Gareth McAuley, formerly of Preston North End and Ipswich Town respectively, have both arrived on free transfers, marking the only incomings to the Hawthorns. Departures, or rumours of departures, have been much more conspicuous. Goalkeeper Scott Carson, chosen between the posts for 32 games last season, is set to complete a move to Turkey’s Bursaspor imminently, while striker Peter Odemwingie reportedly turned down a move to Arsenal when the Gunners failed to match his wage demands. Keeping hold of the Nigerian and the 15 goals he scored last season must be a primary objective for Hodgson.

The experienced former Fulham manager does not work alone in the transfer market, however. The man with a great deal of responsibility for Albion’s transfer dealings is Dan Ashworth, a former Norwich City player and West Brom youth coach now under the title sporting and technical director. In the role since 2007, Ashworth was praised by the Daily Mirror in October last year as “…one of the best in the business at scouting players and compiling information,” adding: “Ashworth should rightly take a huge amount of satisfaction at seeing players he plucked from relative obscurity abroad now thriving in the Premier League.” Somen Tchoyi, Youssuf Mulumbu, Gonzalo Jara and Odemwingie are just a handful of the imports Ashworth has overseen, and each was important in Albion’s successful return to the top flight last season. Retaining their services – Mulumbu has been linked with a switch to Fiorentina – and adding more of their ilk will determine much of Albion’s 2011-12 season.

Hodgson has a reputation for building obdurate, hard to beat sides, sometimes judged as dour or defensive. Former Blackburn Rovers midfielder Lars Bohinen, who played under Hodgson at Ewood Park, said when Hodgson was in charge at Anfield: “[Hodgson] focuses too much on the defensive structure of a team. He doesn’t really have a clear philosophy when it comes to attacking football,” vocalising the thoughts of many Liverpool fans at the time, as the Reds struggled to adapt to Hodgson’s tactics. It should also be noted, however, the Bohinen also described his former manager as “the best coach I’ve ever had,” while The Independent’s Simon Rice described West Brom’s appointment of Hodgson as “…the best signing this season,” and that was before Hodgson preserved Albion’s Premier League status. The same article, written by the newspaper’s Fulham-supporting online sports editor, continued: “Fulham played like a machine…pressing at the right times, positionally aware, covering team-mates with robotic efficiency. It was a machine that inevitably saved Fulham from relegation.” Whether Hodgson can take Albion to a European final as he did the Cottagers with the same game plan remains to be seen.

Before planning any assaults on European competition, however, Albion have to firmly establish themselves as a Premier League side – indeed, they would not be the first team to sit safely in mid-table one year and go down the next. Enforcing their top tier status is even more important for the Baggies given their yo-yo club reputation, with three relegations and four promotions to their name in the last decade, never more than two seasons in a row in the Premier League and only one season, 2010-11, that did not involve either a promotion race or relegation battle as the campaign drew to a close. The stability and solidity Hodgson gave Fulham suggest he is the man to even out West Brom’s fortunes too, but a new goalkeeper to replace Carson and compete with Boaz Myhill has become the club’s transfer priority – Hodgson’s success at Craven Cottage was built on the back of Mark Schwarzer’s free transfer signing from Middlesbrough. With Ashworth co-ordinating the club’s transfers, a scouting network that has turned up some impressive hidden gems and the well-travelled Hodgson putting the pieces of his machinery in place on the field, West Brom appear to be in safe hands.

In

Gareth McAuley DEF – Ipswich Town, Free

Billy Jones DEF – Preston North End, Free

Out

Scott Carson GK – Bursaspor, £2m

Abdoulaye Meitie DEF – released

Gianni Zuiverloon DEF – released

Giles Barnes MID – released

Interested in

Ryan Bertrand DEF – Chelsea

Danny Graham FWD – Swansea City

Robert Green GK – West Ham United

Steve Harper GK – Newcastle United

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