Now that the inevitable has been confirmed after the long delay, West Bromwich Albion can focus all of their attention on the season that lies ahead in the Championship. There are a number of factors to consider that will adjust reasonable expectations for that campaign, and the recent upturn in results has increased said expectations exponentially, particularly if a significant number of those at the club remain. Since that isn’t likely to happen, the expectations one should have are unclear. The man at the centre of the revolution is Darren Moore, the beloved Darren Moore who can do no wrong at the Hawthorns.
He has changed the form of the club from relegation fodder to Champions League material against Champions League opposition in his short tenure. Victory at Old Trafford and at St James’ Park, a draw against Swansea and Liverpool and a win over Spurs. Nobody could have predicted this remarkable run of results when Moore was given the hot seat until the end of the season. Yet the question remains: is he suitable for the job going forward?
First and foremost, he couldn’t have done anymore within the time he has had. He was never expected to keep the club in the Premier League, and so it has proven. The club resigned themselves to relegation long before he had the reins, but he managed to give the fans hope. Hope that the greatest ever escape could be done. Last weekend, the atmosphere at the Hawthorns was electric when Livermore bundled in the goal to beat Spurs, because there was a genuine belief at that point that the impossible was about to become possible. Results went Albion’s way that day, but their luck ran out a few days later. Gabbiadini’s goal in the latter stages of the game against Swansea condemned Albion to relegation once and for all.
The results haven’t been a fluke under any circumstances, and everyone deserves a huge amount of credit, not just Moore. The value placed on the backroom staff’s role in the results by Moore was epitomised by the way he wanted to celebrate winning the manager of the month award. He got all the staff outside for a photo to show that everyone there earned the right to the award. That in itself is one of the key reasons for Moore to be given the job permanently. He has united the club since Pardew has departed. From the getgo, his statement was to have the club be a family again because that is what is important. He has stuck to his word and refused to take too much credit in his brief speech to the fans for the lap of honour after the final whistle. With the fans singing his name, he stressed the importance of ‘we’ and not ‘me’. Just being a humble man doesn’t qualify you for the job, granted.
The players have underperformed for two completely different types of managers this season. Tony Pulis is the disciplinarian that values defensively solidity above everything else. Alan Pardew is the man who looks to be your friend and place a greater emphasis on ‘free flowing, attacking football’ as he said in his press conference. Neither of them has clicked this season. The players have to take a huge chunk of the blame though. Whatever went on in Barcelona is unacceptable, and those involved should have the professional pride not to do that. It doesn’t matter what they thought of Pardew. That being said, the players have come out publically in support of Darren for his man management skills, his communication and tactical awareness.
With regards to his man management, numerous players have said that Darren makes you want to play for him, and that this is a reason for the impressive performances, not just results. It was clear that they didn’t want to play for either Pulis or Pardew. James McClean has been honest in his assessment of Pardew and Moore when after the win at Old Trafford, he told the media that it is much easier now that the players actually know what their job is. It was a solid defensive display, with the ability to score from a set piece. Ultimately, it was playing to Albion’s strengths, which is why many say he deserves the job. He knows the framework of the club.
That game at Old Trafford wasn’t a one off, with a similar performance against Spurs where they defended deep as a team and pushed out as a team. Phillips isn’t known for his defensive concentration and willingness to put his body on the line, but he has developed a relationship with Nyom and has directed traffic. Livermore has added goals to his game and been a leader. These are the two names that stand out that have been rejuvenated under Moore. Many others have improved under Moore, but I’m dubious as to this being the factor that makes a lot of the players inclined to stay, just to play for Moore.
With this, there is momentum behind Moore. He is destined for the job at some point, and is this the best time to do it? He’s stopped the rot, and created a winning mentality again, which is essential for the Championship where Albion are going to be one of the favourites for promotion. Momentum is crucial in football, and passing up on appointing him now could even spell bad news for the new manager if Moore wasn’t given the job.
If someone else was appointed, be it Dean Smith, literally and figuratively Moore’s shadow will be looming over them. As soon as a bad patch creeps in, fans will be asking well Moore didn’t have this so he would be a better fit. There would be a constant comparison to what Moore would have done. No manager can honestly say that that is a comfortable working environment to thrive in. It simply wouldn’t be fair to whoever it is.
Importantly, the fans’ choice is Moore. They see that experience hasn’t worked, and are in search of someone they can get behind who understands the club. In the dying embers of Pulis’ reign, fans were fed up of watching the style of football and didn’t believe he wanted to be at Albion. Pardew’s reign went from bad to worse and will go down as the worst Albion manager of all time. Fans have stayed with the club through thin and thinner this season, and the success under Moore has been a welcome reprieve. They don’t want it taken away.
Chief executive, Mark Jenkins, has shown some empathy with the fans by calling into questioning the value of the season tickets fans have paid for this season. Since nothing can really be done to reverse that, the club has reduced season ticket prices significantly for the new season, and they probably would have done so without the club dropping down a division. Let’s not forget fans have only seen their team win 3 times in the league this season at the Hawthorns. Not great value and the football has been far from scintillating.
This perhaps is a little insight into what the club is thinking about the managerial scenario. They were concerned about the low level of attendances this season under Pardew and Pulis, with this being the main avenue of fans being able to vent their frustrations. It has worked at Arsenal, which caused the board to push Wenger out of the door. With Albion, they may decide to opt for Moore because they want a boost in season ticket sales, or at least minimise the blow. It isn’t necessarily going to be a huge factor in the owner’s thinking, because he bought the club thinking it was a stable Premier League club.
With all that being said since the owner wanted a stable PL club, he will want a bring in a man that gives the club the best opportunity to return to the top flight fairly swiftly. The main thing that counts against Darren for this criteria is that he doesn’t have experience of a lot of what being a manager entails. Transfer windows, greater scrutiny on results week to week, contracts, a grueling season and being the face of the club for the media and such. It involves a completely different skill set, which is why the main competition for Moore is a man who ticks all the aforementioned boxes with plenty of experience. Dean Smith.
Smith is a former Walsall manager where he changed the side’s fortunes from near the relegation zone to promotion contenders, and currently, he is doing something similar at Brentford, just a league above. He knows current Albion coach Neil Cutler very well from their time together at Walsall, he knows the local area from growing up here and obviously has only recently left to take the Brentford job. He has hundreds of games compared to Moore’s six. That shows the sheer gulf in experience between the pair.
That experience started from that of a similar story to Moore though. He had a good run as caretaker boss of Walsall, and the rest is history. However, history shows there are far more failures than successes in a caretaker manager transitioning into the role full time. The case that springs to everyone’s mind is Craig Shakespeare at Leicester. He was sacked after a bad run of results to start the season which left the Foxes in the relegation zone. What is often forgot, however, is that they had a tough run of games and during his tenure, Leicester was the 7th best team in the country if you take into consideration the points total from the first game he managed to the last one over the entire 6 month spell. It certainly wasn’t as disastrous as people make it out to be, and he was unfortunate to lose his job at that stage.
For this reason, the case of Shakespeare shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether or not to appoint Darren Moore or go for the safe choice of Smith. Ultimately, both mean could prove to be a failure in 6 months time.
It is worth taking into consideration the fact that, new Albion technical director, Terraneo will be largely responsible for the recruitment aspect. Terraneo is unlikely to be around long term given his deal is on a rolling contract, but his knowledge of Championship players is something of an unknown quantity. With the huge turnover of players expected, he may or may not need someone with a greater knowledge of the English game than him. In this instance, Moore is also untested, Smith most certainly ticks the box in this instance. Squads of clubs transform during the summer following a relegation, and going forward, how this transformation goes is the crucial aspect as to whether West Brom are going to have a long or short stay within the EFL.
Cold, hard logic dictates that Dean Smith should be hired hands down. At the same time, the fan in me finds it hard to look beyond Moore as the next man to step up to the plate. There may not be a better time to give him a go. I’d say this particular view is the consensus amongst fans, but the decision isn’t for them or me to make. It is for the club’s higher ups to decide, and push come to shove, they will (in all likelihood) give the nod to Dean Smith. Only time will tell if his reign is going to be a success.