Confused. Flabbergasted. Puzzled. Baffled. These are only a few words that spring to mind when I heard rumours of Steve Clarke being on the verge of getting the axe. When I was at the Hawthorns for the game against Manchester City, I heard Albion fans question the manager’s ability to accumulate points this season and are also curious as to why he is making late or wrong substitutes from this perspective. There were quite a number of fans who claimed that if the Baggies didn’t manage to collect maximum points from the games at home to Norwich and Hull as well as away to Cardiff, then Jeremy Peace would be forced to terminate the contract of the Scot in charge which would put an end to the speculation that surrounds as to when a new deal will be discussed and placed on the table. He only lasted until the Cardiff game but didn’t claim a single goal let alone a point from those two. It is speculated to be in the New Year once the hectic festive period has concluded as a reward for taking the club forward.
Let’s not forget that Clarke guided this team to their best ever finish in the Premier League last term and was a whisker away from breaking the fifty point mark. They would have done it if there wasn’t such a successive run of defeats although the 5-5 draw against the champions in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game was spectacular.
That was a one-off.
At the start of his tenure at the club, when he replaced Roy Hodgson following his departure to move onto the England job, I was a doubter of his ability to manage not coach. He was an assistant to, most famously, Jose Mourinho who rated him highly but this was his first job as the boss. However, with Albion’s style of having a head coach instead of a manager, it probably suited Clarke to the ground as it is step up from being a number two but not as a manager. I will admit right now, I write him off straight away but boy I was wrong.
He built on the foundations placed by Roy Hodgson which was the defensive solidity and he added much more of an attacking impetus. A more entertaining style and I think that has shown from the players he has brought. Anyway, enough about last season and more about this one although the work he has done last campaign, in my eyes, immediately allows him to have the opportunity to turn it around. Perhaps we now know why his contract was allowed to run down.
The start of the season wasn’t the best hence doubters said that this side might just be a flash in the pan, one hit wonder, whatever you want to call it. Transfer deadline day was a turning point because two club record signings were brought in the shape of Victor Anichebe plus Stephane Sessengon, both costed £6.5m. The latter made an immediate impact by netting against his former club Sunderland hence it angered plenty a Sunderland fan especially since it was only for that sum plus Di Canio sold him because of the rift between the pair. As we know the Italian was given the axe days later. Victor hasn’t been as big of a hit, though he did get his first goal in blue and white against Manchester City in the dying embers.
From my perspective, Sessengon is simply entering a bad patch of the season like many of his teammates. I don’t care what anybody says, every team in the league will have an iffy run, it’s a case of how long it lasts.
I know the statisticians will reply with the fact of that in 2013, the Baggies have only managed to accumulate 31 points out of 34 games with half of those defeats. My counter argument would be that the start made last season was phenomenal so that bad half didn’t make much of a difference, I think if we continued in the initial vain of form then Liverpool would have finished below and possibly Everton.
An aspect of the club statement was referring to the fact that this time around, it is the highest wage bill at the club ever since its existence. Once I read this, it instantly indicates that the board isn’t exactly impressed with the addition of Nicolas Anelka as he must take up a substantial sum of the bill in question. If he isn’t the highest paid player, I will be gobsmacked. There are indications that Peace didn’t want to spend that much on a player who has an attitude and is concluding his career. We found this out quite soon into his Albion career because he stormed out of training claiming he wants to retire, initially, until we discovered it was due to the death of one of his agents and close friend.
There is no question about whether Anelka has a tremendous amount of quality but is he really worth the wages even though he was a free transfer. The Frenchman said that he wouldn’t retire until he helped the club into Europe, but that is clearly bullshit. I was convinced he would do well at the Hawthorns but bar the Swansea game, a 2-0 defeat, he hasn’t a good game in my opinion. He is rarely fit so it is a waste as far I am concerned, that is one Clarke mistake.
The club said that this squad should be able to compete in the Premier League which is true but we haven’t exactly had the rub of the green in many matches. Andre Marriner giving the last second penalty in favour of Chelsea after Steven Reid fouled, I use the term very loosely, Ramires. There were two factors that contributed to the decision, the first one is obvious because it is given at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea and the other factor is that Reid lifted his arms up as if to say he is innocent. This automatically makes a referee think that this player has committed a foul.
At the Brittania, a penalty decision went against West Bromwich Albion yet again although this time it was that Mulumbu was the victim not the provider. Adam clearly caught him as Mulumbu’s boot came off in the process as well as his sock ripping.
A wonder strike from Sissoko stole a point at St James’ Park although Myhill’s mistake heavily contributed to the first goal. In combination with this, Steve Clarke appeared to watch this game about 10 minutes behind everyone else with the subs he made. He did play the right cards but they didn’t have enough time to alter the complexion of the game.
His team selection against Norwich at home was a bit iffy as Long and Berahino were brought on at half-time instead of starting. The two forwards were introduced so it would increase the probability of converting the numerous amount of opportunities that were created. The Baggies were desperately unlucky not to collect a point from that fixture, it seemed to just be not their day in terms of not finding the back of the net. In stark contrast, it was the perfect day for the Canaries after soaking up the pressure before pouncing on the defensive frailties of, the Uruguay skipper, Diego Lugano who was at fault for both goals. His decision making was poor hence I never thought he would be a decent acquisition from the off.
On the subject of decision-making, the introduction of Saido Berahino to the first team environment has proved successful this season after impressing with the Under 21s plus on loan in the lower leagues. The England prodigy has excelled for club and country with his goal to game ratio simply staggering talking into consideration the fact that he was loaned out to Northampton Town two years ago. Seen as Steve Clarke allowed the Burundi born footballer to break onto the scene in the Premier League, Saido will most definitely have a special relationship with the 50 year old which could result in a knock to his confidence because he might not be professional enough to move on as of yet.
He has been labelled as the saviour of the season,however, the majority of his goals have come in the league cup. Only two in the league. Shane Long is the top scorer with only three goals and two of those were against Villa. The Irishman isn’t the best at playing as the lone striker along with the other strikers available at the club although Anichebe shields the ball so the overlapping men can come into play. A strike partnership would suit them all to the ground but is the manager willing to sacrifice a midfielder in order to use two forwards. Yacob and Mulumbu have to be in the team so that would result in the creative midfielder having to miss out.
Back to the results this season, and this team haven’t won since a memorable victory at Old Trafford for the first time in 35 years. Their last win came at home to struggling Crystal Palace who everybody was beating then so it can’t be much to brag about.
The pessimists state that Clarke failed to inject new ideas once required so once his methods seized to work he had no plan hence he was dubbed as a clueless manager. I strongly disagree with this sweeping statement as I mentioned earlier, he added an attacking impetus in combination with the organizational skills integrated in by his predecessor. The only way I could say is that Steve doesn’t come across as a particularly good motivator as he is constantly looking rather miserable and his tone of voice rarely changes. Ask yourself, would he motivate you to play for him? He should’ve learnt some qualities from Jose whilst he had the opportunity.
Anyway, I can justify my viewpoint all day long but now it is time to appoint a replacement that will ultimately bring the maximum intensity of the players and the quality levels.
Pepe Mel, the former Real Betis coach, was the frontrunner following Jeremy Peace flying abroad to have negotiations with one man which is unlikely to be Paul Clement, the Real Madrid coach. A foreign coach might have been the solution but after advanced negotiations, Peace or Mel decided against the option.
Roberto Di Matteo was the very early favourite, however, I find it hard to work out why both parties would agree to work together again after they parted company a few seasons ago.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Gianfranco Zola given the nod as he has past history with Matej Vydra so it’s a possibility that the Czech could start banging in the goals. I have always said that Vydra should’ve been given a run of games in order to fulfil his potential as under Clarke, he only had cameo appearances due to injury more than anything. Zola hasn’t been overly successful in the Premier League with only just about keeping West Ham in the league the season prior to them suffering relegation under the guidance of Avram Grant.
Malky Mackay, who was bizarrely sacked from Cardiff recently, is now an option that would cost nothing like the others mentioned so that automatically becomes appealing to Jeremy Peace. The Scot is highly thought of as a manager by many of the footballing world and despite the situation at Cardiff, his reputation isn’t tarnished. He is a little to cautious for my liking particularly on the road but the most important thing is that he gets results against big teams at home. Bar the last two results which were 3-1 defeat at Anfield as well as a 3-0 loss at home to Southampton, the Bluebirds haven’t been on the receiving end of a trouncing. Malky is respected for his tactical nouse and as he is young, he will be searching for a long-term plan which is certainly on the cards.
In conclusion, since the first Scot was wrongly dismissed why not replace him with another young Scot with plenty of potential.
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