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West Bromwich Albion

Who’s going and who’s staying at the Hawthorns for Championship battle?

West Bromwich Albion will be plying their trade in the Championship next season and expectations for the new season are varied among fans, with a lot hinging on what the squad will look like and who the new manager will be. With recent results going the way they have, and the whole atmosphere rejuvenated at the club under Moore, the case is getting stronger for him to remain as manager. A crucial part of judging whether promotion is a realistic expectation to have for next season, is which players stay and leave. Fans will have their own choices as to who should leave and who should stay, but certainly, there are a select few who seem destined to depart the Hawthorns sooner rather than later.

Jonny Evans is the name the springs to mind for this exact topic. Last summer, there was interest from Manchester City who had their bid rejected by Albion and there has to be at least some part of Evans that regrets not pushing for the move given the current climate. There was also interest from Arsenal the summer before last, but again bids were rejected. Actually, Arsenal returned with another bid in January but that was turned down. WBA wanted to sell Evans to all intents and purposes to raise funds but didn’t deem the £12m the Gunners were willing to cough up enough to warrant rubberstamping the transfer. Evans is undoubtedly the best defender the club has, but the gamble of keeping him to try and keep the club in the Premier League has backfired. In hindsight, it would have been better to take the £23m offered by Man City and move on, now knowing that the Northern Ireland international has a release clause of £3m if (when) Albion are relegated. In modern football, that is a piffling figure for a player of his quality and whichever club swoops in to activate that clause have got themselves a bargain.

However, who at the club signed off the clause in his contract that allows him to leave for £3m if relegated? Yes, it was part of the strategy to do anything to get Evans to sign for the club 3 years ago but even so it seems stupid. The club did seem to be far away from relegation 3 years ago, and it has only changed this season, although you can argue over a year now the decline has set in. The notion that he would stay at the club in the Championship when he could remain in the Premier League, and could easily go to a top club is, frankly, absurd. West Ham has been mentioned, but surely Liverpool would go for him. Evans is certainly a better option than Klavan and is more defensively sound than Lovren and even Matip. Van Dijk and Evans would be a top centre-back pairing and should put to bed any defensive worries the Reds have with Robertson as left back and Alexander-Arnold as right back to make up the rest of the back four.

The other factor in this is that the fans have accepted his imminent departure, with the introduction of him against Liverpool receiving loud boos. Those in the terraces also booed him when the announcer said it was Evans who had scored the first goal. Surely a first at the Hawthorns, booing their own player. He didn’t endear himself to fans with the Barcelona incident, and ever since that story broke the clock has been ticking on his stay at Albion.

Another player that Albion have recruited from a team in the top 6 is former Spurs man Nacer Chadli. Figures can’t be pointed at the Belgian for this season’s capitulation as he hasn’t played since October, therefore fans can’t really gripe about his inevitable move to PL club in the summer. He fell out with former boss Tony Pulis last summer over the training regime, but many players don’t like this. Indeed, Michael Owen has been vocal about the reason why he retired from the game was because of Pulis’ sessions. Off the back of that, Swansea wanted to capitalise on this by prying him away from the Midlands for a fee in the region of £20m. In spite of the falling out, Albion didn’t lower their asking price for the Belgian and maintained the value they saw in him at £25m. This was completely justified, as he could get into a good number of sides in the top division of English football.

Crucially, though, he isn’t going to be a player that is willing to fight in the second division when he will have offers from higher clubs. He is what is known as a luxury player. He doesn’t fight for the cause, one to roll up his sleeves and do the dirty work. The quality he possesses, mind, will mean clubs will be willing to fork out the £17m required to buy him out of his contract. This would mean Albion would make a small profit on the fee they paid 2 summers ago, but with injuries plaguing his spell in the Black Country there will be always a sense of what could have been. An impressive start has never materialised into anything else but still a risk worth taking for many PL clubs that are relatively stable, perhaps Bournemouth, West Ham, Newcastle etc.

The final player known to have release clause as yet is Salomon Rondon, who can move on from the club if another club pas £16.5m. This, like Chadli’s clause, would mean Albion would make a small profit but nothing spectacular. Unlike Chadli, he is a genuine grafter who tends to have his better games holding the ball up against the bigger sides in the league to bring others into play. His playing style is what you’d expect from a stereotypical English centre forward, which is exactly what many pundits admire in him. Rondon was rejuvenated under Pardew after having a torrid time in the closing stages of Pulis’ reign, with Pardew saying Rondon was the best targetman he ever worked with. That confidence boost translated into his goalscoring form where it improved to better than a goal every 3 games. It isn’t prolific by any stretch of the imagination, but it was miles better than under Pulis. Perhaps this was the only positive to take from Pardew’s tenure.

The Venezuelan is a favourite with fans who respect his grit and determination even during the almost never ending losing streak. This obviously buys him time at the club, unlike someone in particular who we will get to later. Given the way he has connected with the club over the past 3 years, I suspect he will remain at the club for at least a season in the Championship, although that may change depending on how likely promotion is in the future. For instance, if Albion replicate Sunderland or Wolves (which isn’t outside of the realms of possibility) and drop down another division then Rondon will jump ship. His physical style may be more suited to the Championship, so he should in all likelihood score more goals. In order to be prolific, ideally he would have a strike partner which brings us on nicely to Jay Rodriguez.

Rodriguez transferred to Albion for a fresh start from an injury plagued spell on the South coast, but it hasn’t been the season he was hoping for. Personally, he has had an injury free season which is positive and in January was in the best form he had been in for 4 years where he was in the England squad. Unfortunately, Pardew dropped him for Daniel Sturridge which was a monumental mistake. He is the club’s joint top scorer in the league with 7 goals to his name, and will definitely find success in the lower echelons of English football. The key question here is: does he see a return to the England squad any time soon? If he can get back to his best, then the answer is a resounding yes. In this case, he has to stay in the Premier League and there will be many suitors. If not, then it is more likely he will stay at West Brom. Only time will tell, but my suspicion is that he may well wait to see how well things are going in the Championship and then make his decision.

Gareth Barry, not long ago, triggered a 12 month extension to his contract by making the requisite number of appearances this season. Does he want to take it, and do the fans want him to take it? A reasonable assumption would be no on both accounts. Fans certainly wouldn’t like him to remain there as he was booed off against Huddersfield for his dip in form and the incident in Barcelona. As far as the paying spectators are concerned, the sooner he leaves the better. For Barry himself, he’s nearly at the end of his career and may only have another year left. He may get an offer to go to a Premier League club, which he should probably grasp with both hands. He isn’t going to get the fans back on side at Albion, and if he were to retire it would be a bitter end to a great career.

The other man who has triggered a 12 month extension is captain Chris Brunt. He has confirmed he will be staying at the Hawthorns, and so has Ben Foster. The pair of them will be two of the best players in the Championship and will be key players next season. Nothing more needs to be said.

The backup to Ben Foster for a number of years has been Boaz Myhill. Whenever Foster has been injured, Myhill has come in between the sticks and done the job well. His form isn’t the issue here, but his contract runs out in the summer and I doubt he would want to play second fiddle in the Championship. As a result, I struggle to envisage a scenario in which he would stay when he could go elsewhere within the division and be a number 1.

Allan Nyom still has 2 years remaining on his deal with the club and, whilst he is a good player, it is hard to see many clubs clamouring for his signature. Thus, he will stay.

Kieran Gibbs was bought from Arsenal last summer for, what was widely recognised as a snip, £12m. He solved what was a long lasting problem for the club: actually being able to field a Premier League quality out and out left back. Chris Brunt had adjusted to the role for a couple of years, but it was never going to be where his qualities would shine the brightest. For this reason alone it is essential he stays on from the club’s perspective, theoretically. There is no obvious left back that is worth pursuing, so the only reason why he would surely leave is that he can easily fit into the majority of Premier League sides. There will be many offers on the table for his services, and conceivably West Brom could make a profit. If the right offer comes in then the club will definitely sell even if it isn’t in the best interests of the club, thus I see him leaving the club.

Ahmed Hegazi was signed permanently from Al Ahly, and was instantly a favourite with the fans after his first goal for the club came on his debut to get 3 points from the home game against Bournemouth. It is incredibly hard to envision that the Egyptian will leave so soon into what was a multi year deal, so expect to see him in a Baggies shirt in the Championship come August. The only factor that may change this is that he turly excels in the World Cup and some club is willing to take a punt on him off the back of that.

Craig Dawson is arguably West Brom’s player of the season which can’t really be much of an accolade this year. Nevertheless, he is a solid, English centre half that clubs are interested in. Whether it be Boro, Villa or Burnley, he will have a club out there offering him the same salary he is currently on and top flight football. He is certainly the type of player that Tony Pulis would want to take on at Middlesbrough but unless they’re promoted it seems an unnecessary sideways step. For Villa, it is a similar situation but they are likely to get promoted to the PL sooner than Albion. Sean Dyche has been exceptional guiding Burnley to the Europa League this season, so the Clarets will need to give their squad greater strength in depth. Dawson is a defender in a similar to that of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski and would seamlessly fit in to the Burnley setup so that is his best option from a footballing standpoint. Perhaps even an England call up would be on the cards in the none too distant future if he played every other week at Turf Moor. Given his options, there is no reason for him to stay at the club and it is solely based on his loyalty to the club. Many fans will frame it otherwise, but I don’t see why anyone should begrudge him if he were to decide to leave for Burnley or for a club of a somewhat similar position in the football tier. It would be a big loss for the club on the pitch, but the price tag for him surely won’t be small.

Gareth McAuley has been a good player for the club for a number of years, but with his contract running out this summer it seems his spell is drawing to a close. Not many complaints given his age, and perhaps he may be given a coaching role if he decides to call it a day on his playing career. He has had his best spell in the later years of his career, but he hasn’t nailed down a starting place under any manager this season.

Krychowiak will be leaving as his loan spell concludes at the end of the season, and he won’t be missed too much around the Hawthorns after a lacklustre spell that began with high expectations for the Poland international. Pundits were tipping him to be the signing of the transfer window last summer along with Renato Sanches. How did that go?

Claudio Yacob and James Morrison are two players that have been playing in the West Midlands for many seasons now, but both of their contracts run out this summer. Yacob’s and Morrison’s deal has the option for the club to put in place another 1 year deal which may or may not be used. Yacob seems a useful player to have in the Championship and he will get more game time after being pushed down the pecking order this season in favour of Krychowiak, Livermore, and Barry. I don’t see where the Argentine could leave to that would be a better place than Albion so if the higher ups want him to remain there then he will. Fans won’t grumble about that. With Morrison it is a different case slightly. He has struggled with injuries and has barely played this season as a consequence. His wages are quite high at a reported £65,000 a week. Even taking into account the fact his wages will be cut by 50% next season in the Championship, it is still steep. He is a creative midfielder that the club needs, but is he really worth that kind of money to keep him on. He is out of his prime and may want to return to Boro before he retires. Expect him to have played his last game in a blue and white shirt.

Jake Livermore is a player that seemed to have given up under Pardew but, like the rest of the team, has been sensational under Moore. He put in a man of the match display against Liverpool and even showed the crowd some skill to get out of a difficult situation. He would be a good player in the Championship, but he left Hull to stay in the Premier League. A premium could be charged for him, however, given that he is, after all, an England international. No idea how he has got into the recent England squads, but that could prove handy when selling him to a club in the summer. If Yacob remains at the club for another option in midfield, it may be best to sell him. That would enable Sam Field to get some much needed game time next year.

Matt Phillips hasn’t had the best of seasons. The glaring criticism that has levelled at him is his inability to go into challenges. Perhaps it is because he doesn’t see anything to gain from it as the team are doomed and he doesn’t want to risk injury to put off another club buying him. With that said, he has been a different player with Moore as boss with a great performance against Liverpool and the winning goal at Newcastle. He has the quality to excel in the Championship, but does he have the desire to have a gruelling Saturday, Tuesday fixture schedule? The hunch I have is that he would much rather move on as he could be a flair player for an established Premier League side. Maybe Villa would try and take him if they were to get promoted since they may or may not buy Snodgrass. Some fans would be glad to see the back of him, and many won’t miss him if he leaves but that doesn’t mean it is the right thing. The one benefit is that with Phillips sold, it enables Oliver Burke to play regularly.

Burke has no reason whatsoever to leave. He had an impressive spell in the Championship with Nottingham Forest which is how he earned his reputation as a bright, young prospect. The only problem is that the price Albion paid for him is weighing down on him. A case can’t be made to say that the £15m has been worth it as he has been so raw. There is something there, and it probably will require another spell in the second tier. It could prove to be that he is just a good Championship player, but the club shouldn’t give up on him yet and vice versa. PL clubs won’t be willing to take the Scottish winger for the price Albion will be setting. Therefore, he will be playing for Albion next season.

James McClean has only set the Premier League alight in that short run of form he had for Sunderland many seasons ago. Other than that he has been an unspectacular player in the league, that seems at ease in the Championship and one of the better players in that division. For that reason, there is no real benefit in either the club or him wanting to part ways with each other. It is probably in the interests of both parties if McClean stays. Hhis recent comments though about wanting fans not to call players ‘snakes’ for leaving the club is interesting.

Daniel Sturridge’s signing has been a mistake. If he was able to remain fit until the end of the season, we could very well be in a different situation. Throughout his whole career, injuries have the been the bain of his life. Alan Pardew put all of his eggs in one basket with Sturridge and it has nto worked as mentioned earlier. It would be stunning to see him stay at Albion to play in Championship when he has the option of staying at Liverpool in some capacity.

Finally, Hal Robson Kanu. His spectacular goal against Belguim will be the thing that he is remembered for the most. Fact. The spell at Albion has been a let down to say the least. He has played second fiddle to Rondon for the large part of his stay, and has rarely made a start. The Welshman left Reading to play in the Premier League again, but it doesn’t seem likely that a club will come in for him. Whether or not he stays at the club will largely hinge on whether or not Rodriguez stays.

You may notice a few players I have left off the list. Leko, Harper and Field I expect to stay at Albion as they should get more game time next season.

Overall, this is going to be a summer of upheaval for Albion and it is going to be a radically different set-up across the board from this time last year. How things change. The club was considered to be established in the Premier League and now they have plummeted in such a short space of time. The only way we will find out is through time as to whether it is going to be a good or bad few years going forward for the club, but one thing is for sure, fans will not have the apathy that was creeping in towards the end of the Pulis and Pardew era.

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