Premier League – 10th
FA Cup – Fourth Round
League Cup – Third Round
As Roy Hodgson departed for Soho Square at the end of last season having successfully stabilised the Baggies as a Premier League club for consecutive seasons, the board at West Bromwich Albion initially took their time on finding a replacement. Chris Hughton was mooted but eventually another ex-number two, Steve Clarke, was selected.
Clarke’s remit is simple, particularly as chairman Jeremy Peace (to the ire of the fans) refuses to sanction even a level of progressive spending: to continue Hodgson’s work and ensure WBA avoid turning into a yo-yo club again. With another doff to Hodgson’s cap, Clarke will find solid foundations upon which to impose his own fledgling managerial style. For one, Clarke’s decision to take the role of Head Coach rather than manager signifies his intention to involve himself on the training ground and carry out the routines that made him so successful as a coach. Although he must tread carefully to avoid the mistakes made by failed number twos such as Chris Hutchings, the playing staff at the Hawthorns will have been used to similar methods under Hodgson. Clarke has often been credited with tightening up the defences of the various clubs he’s been at but at WBA, particularly at the Hawthorns where the side struggled last season, Clarke may find himself under pressure from the fans to produce more attacking football. The back-line is reasonably secure, backed up by the consistent Ben Foster who has made his loan move permanent.
In this sense, the 48 year-old Scot has acted shrewdly, bringing in experienced Swede Markus Rosenberg and, on loan from Chelsea, the giant Romelu Lukaku, to shore up one of the weakest attacks in the league last season. Indeed, Clarke now has competition for places up front with Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long also capable of finding the net. The Baggies’ midfield was rather static last season, bar the continued excellence of James Morrison, and Clarke may feel he can reach out to fellow Scot Graham Dorrans and unlock the creative potential he has only shown in flashes since WBA’s promotion. Midfield screen Youssouf Mulumbu will also surely improve on last season’s struggles while, significantly, inspirational club captain Chris Brunt has committed his future to the club. Add club legend Zoltan Gera returning from injury to the mix and it’s clear that Clarke has the tools required to gently find his way in management while simultaneously ensuring West Brom’s mid-table position.
The fixture list has typically thrown up an enticing opening bow for Clarke as he comes face-to-face with his last club, Liverpool, where he has not been shy with the media on the subject of his departure, which he described to The Mirror as a “sacking”. Clarke has never lacked confidence in his abilities and after seeing where Roberto Di Matteo and Hodgson have gone after leaving the Hawthorns, may feel that an impressive opening role in management may lead him to greater pastures.
Head Coach – Steve Clarke: For years seen as one of the best assistant managers in the business, the decision to recruit Clarke as Head Coach for his first leading role at a club comes as a significant risk for the usually pragmatic technical director Dan Ashworth. Could Clarke be the next Hughton?
Key signing – Markus Rosenberg: Arrives with the experience of scoring goals in Germany, Spain and Holland over the years. A striker of real nous who can lead the line as the lone striker in Clarke’s preferred set-up. He is certainly an upgrade on the industrious but goal-shy Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Key sale – Paul Scharner: A somewhat surprising departure on a free transfer given his connection with the fans, knack for scoring goals against local Midlands rivals and more pragmatically, his ability to cover both central defence and midfield. However, he was deemed as dispensable at the age of 32 with competition for places high.
Keep an eye out for… Yassine El Ghanassy: Initially arriving on a season-long loan, the young Belgian winger has the ability to really catch the eye in the Premier League. Will constantly look to take players on and beat them, on either side, with tricks and flicks galore. Will both frustrate and delight the Hawthorns faithful.
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