Albion fans were left in limbo as the transfer window closed at 11pm on Thursday night with just one confirmed deal on deadline day, but two more loan deals apparently close to being concluded. There was no news from the club, but rumours soon emerged that both deals had fallen through with paperwork not submitted in time.
The silence continued through Friday overshadowing the build up to the Burnley game, with further rumours of appeals to the FA and the players in question holed up in local hotels awaiting the outcome. Ultimately, the only confirmation from an official club source was in Steve Bruce’s post match interview as he expressed his anger and frustration at the inability to complete the deals.
At first, I was angry at the club’s silence, and I still feel that they should have said something albeit I’m not sure when the appeals were ultimately turned down, but an article in the Athletic suggested that the reasons for the delays were likely numerous and at least partly down to the selling clubs. Therefore, any statement would not have added much clarity without criticising Fulham and Brighton, something that would have been unwise given that Albion will undoubtedly want to maintain good relationships with them for any future transfer dealings.
Nonetheless, it is an episode that reflects badly on the club and points to a lack of professionalism within the administration team. It is unclear whether that is just down to poor management or whether it is a symptom of the organisation being run on a budget – we are all aware that the owner has taken money out of the club, money that would have been useful in this window but has been promised to be available for the next, and you have to wonder if Gourlay has been asked to restrict expenditure within the administration department. When you consider the reduction in season ticket income due to an attractive pricing structure and lower sales, it is not an altogether fanciful suggestion.
The targets that emerged over the window do point to a more serious underlying concern in that the scope of Albion’s scouting network does seem to be limited. Most of the players linked seem to have played for Bruce before or otherwise linked to the head coach. Even Thomas-Asante was known to the manager by virtue of his son-in-law, Matt Smith, playing for Salford City. It is yet another symptom of the demise of the club under the present owner, and one which seems unlikely to be halted while he remains in place. I won’t go into that massive topic here other than to say that, while I would support efforts to force a change, I would do so with the obvious trepidation that a new owner could be worse.
The idea of a transfer window in of itself remains something of a paradox. It does seem incredible that multi-million pound businesses are constantly left scrabbling around on deadline day and, while it may provide the drama that the broadcasters love, I don’t believe that the current set up of transfer windows are good for the overall health of the game. While the stability of squads for much of the season has some benefits, I’m not sure they outweigh the problems that the windows themselves create as panic sets in.
Whatever the underlying issues behind the collapse of the deals, it is Steve Bruce that is left with a threadbare squad and having to scour the list of free agents to get one or two more bodies in. The list on Transfermarkt is extensive and includes such former Albion players as Scott Sinclair, Daniel Sturridge, Callum McManaman, Andy Carroll and even Izzy Brown, not to mention a certain Diego Costa! It should not be forgotten that Brexit means that bringing in players from overseas is not as easy as it once was. The points-based work permit system means that players need to be of a certain standard to be able to qualify, with international caps and league appearances in the last twelve months counting towards the points tally – free agents are likely to be short of football in recent months making them less likely to be automatically eligible. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be denied a work permit, but it makes it more difficult.
Reports suggest that Bruce is looking for midfielders, perhaps another defender and a striker should one be available on a deal that suits all parties. We will wait and see what materialises, but I’m not expecting anything other than squad players to be available and within Albion’s budget. The first teamers for the next seventeen or so games until January comes around are likely to come from what is already there.
Ignoring the disappointments of deadline day, Bruce and his team have been able to make a decent start to the rebuilding job albeit I’m sure he would like to have done more. It was always expected that it would take two or three windows to complete, and after window one, progress has been made and we have seen an improvement on the pitch albeit the results haven’t yet matched the performances.
John Swift and Jed Wallace are both excellent additions that I discussed in more detail before the start of the season, while Brandon Thomas-Asante has certainly had a dream start to his Albion career and could be a good find. Martin Kelly is an experienced defender and one that was only signed as a result of the injury to Ajayi. He hasn’t played much football in the last couple of seasons so I am a little concerned as to the state of his fitness, but it is another body available should Albion suffer more injuries. The careers of these two latest additions are summarised below.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Bruce’s rebuild plans has been the inability to offload players he no longer wants. Kenneth Zohore remains at the club and I’m sure Bruce would have listened to offers for Kyle Bartley had they been received in time to find a replacement. Cédric Kipré and Alex Mowatt were sent out on loan, with the latter being a less popular move but I suspect done to save wages in order to bring in replacements on loan – that the deals for replacements could not be done is obviously a blow. I would also suggest that Adam Reach is another that Bruce would look to move on providing a replacement can be found, especially as it is my understanding that he is one of the highest earners at the club. He is a useful utility player, but it would seem that his wages would demand a greater influence on the team.
It was, perhaps, a surprise that Callum Robinson was sold so late in the window, but he had become a peripheral figure at the club and, while seemingly popular amongst at least some of his teammates, Bruce perhaps associated him with the mediocrity of recent seasons – he was definitely an in-and-out sort of player albeit his record of 17 goals and 12 assists from 95 appearances is probably better than I would have expected. His exit will, however, leave a little more room for wages either in the search for a free agent, or for the January window.
If the Baggies can remain free from further injuries, the squad could be good enough to keep them in the mix providing the encouraging xG figures are converted to actual goals in the coming weeks. If Dike comes back fit and firing, a few tweaks in January could be enough.
Of course, it’s all “ifs” and “buts” at the moment and the anti-Bruce brigade will remain in good voice while the results remain below where they should be. In my opinion, while it’s only an encouraging start, I feel that BTA could have a massive influence on the club in the short term with his energy and enthusiasm and, potentially, what looks to be instinctive finishing. His goal on Friday lifted the club as a whole, and perhaps provided a bit of belief after a difficult few days. There are plenty of problems at the Hawthorns, but characters like his can make a massive difference to the overall feeling, which in turn can help to drive results.
While the ownership issues and the deadline day debacle cannot be ignored, there are positive signs that the club is moving in the right direction on the field, albeit the results don’t yet reflect it. I remain bullish that Albion can be in the mix come the end of the season.
The Latest Arrivals
Born: 29th December 1998 (age 23), Milton Keynes
Signed: 31st August 2022, undisclosed fee (believed to be around £300k)
From: Salford City
Brandon Thomas-Asante (or BTA as he will be known with due apologies to the British Travel Association) was born in Milton Keynes and joined his local club as a youth player at the age of 12.
He made his first team debut at the age of 16, coming off the bench with 15 minutes to go in the Dons’ 1-0 win at Shrewsbury Town in August 2016. He made his first start a few days later in the EFL Cup tie away to Newport County, setting up Dean Bowditch for his stoppage time winner in a 3-2 victory. While his league appearances were limited to the bench that season, he started most of the Dons’ cup matches that season and scored his first senior goal in their 3-2 win at home to Spennymoor Town in the FA Cup in November.
The following campaign was similar with his one goal coming in the EFL Trophy match against Oxford United but in the following season, with opportunities for league football still limited at MK, he was sent on loan to National League Sutton United for a couple of months and then to National League South club, Oxford City. There he got regular starts and scored three times in fifteen appearances.
With his contract up at Stadium MK, he had a trial with Ebbsfleet United before he was picked up by League Two Salford City who had just been promoted to the Football League for the first time. He made his debut for the Ammies as a substitute in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa U23 in the EFL Trophy on 3rd September 2019 and made his first start in the same competition on 14th November. His first league start came in mid December and his first goal for the club came on Boxing Day as Salford beat Crewe Alexandra 3-1. He finished the season with six goals and a regular starter.
Brandon started 33 games the following season and matched his goal tally of six, and last season, he started 38 and more than doubled his goal tally to 13 including a first career hat trick in the Ammies’ 5-1 victory over Scunthorpe United in March.
The first few games this season suggested further improvement for the 23-year-old having already notched five goals in seven games for Salford in all competitions including a brace against Crewe Alexandra.
|Milton Keynes Dons||1-Jul-2016||9-Aug-2019||8+27||2||4|
|Sutton United (loan)||23-Nov-2018||13-Jan-2019||4+4||–||1|
|Oxford City (loan)||29-Jan-2019||31-May-2019||15||3||–|
Born: 27th April 1990 (age 32), Whitson
Signed: 1st September 2022, free transfer
From: Crystal Palace
Born in the Merseyside town of Whiston, Kelly joined Liverpool as a seven-year-old and made his debut at the age of 18 as an 82nd minute substitute in the Reds’ Champions League 3-1 victory at PSV Eindhoven in December 2008. He spent a few months on loan at Huddersfield later that season, scoring his first senior goal at the Bescot Stadium in April, but found himself on the bench for the opening Premier League game of the 2009/10 season. His first start for the club was in the Champions League against Olympique Lyonnais at Anfield that October, a match that the French side won 2-1. Kelly left the field injured but was named man-of-the-match on the club website. He finally made his league debut for Liverpool as a substitute in their 4-1 victory over Portsmouth in March 2010.
The 2010/11 season was something of a breakthrough as Kelly made 10 Premier League starts but, after a run of eight successive matches, he suffered an injury at West Ham in February and didn’t play again that season. He was a bit-part player again the following season but he started five out of the six opening games of the season under new Liverpool boss, Brendan Rodgers, in 2012/13 (including the 3-0 defeat at the Hawthorns on the opening day). Unfortunately, he suffered an ACL injury in the final minutes of the defeat to Manchester United in September 2012 and would not play another Premier League game for more than 12 months.
After another frustrating season with little game time in 2013/14, he made the move to Crystal Palace for a fee believed to be in the region of £2m. Tony Pulis left the club the day after Kelly signed leaving the Eagles to start the season under caretaker manager, Keith Millen. He proved to be one of three managers that Kelly played for in a turbulent first season at Selhurst Park with Pulis’s replacement, Neil Warnock, soon giving way to Alan Pardew but he played all but seven of Palace’s Premier League games that season. He fell out of favour under Pardew the following season, however, and had to be content with a place on the bench for the FA Cup Final in May 2016.
His 29 league appearances in the 2016/17 campaign when Allardyce came in to rescue a struggling team was the last season in which he appeared in more than half of Palace’s league games in a campaign and he only played three games in his last two seasons at Selhurst Park.
Kelly earned one England cap, as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory away to Norway in May 2012 ahead of the Euro 2012 tournament. He made Roy Hodgson’s squad for the tournament itself but was not used.
|Huddersfield Town (loan)||26-Mar-2009||31-May-2009||7||1||–|
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