For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the Albion hierarchy have opted to change their manager in the middle of the season. None of those decisions had the desired effect and, with the club in the second tier relegation zone for the first time in twenty years, the next appointment is arguably the most important since that of Gary Megson.
Having not heard anything to the contrary, the search for Steve Bruce’s replacement will be led by CEO, Ron Gourlay, the man who appointed Bruce without any sort of recruitment process in February. That decision, coupled with the debacle on transfer deadline day, should put Gourlay’s own position in doubt, but it seems as if he has escaped the axe for the time being.
Steve Bruce may feel that he hasn’t had the right level of support from above, particularly when you consider the failure to secure those loan deals on deadline day, but he was always going to be judged on results and those have just not been good enough. If the club had been in the top half of the table, I feel he would have been given more time. It was always going to be a difficult job this season as the necessary squad refresh could not be done in one window, but he should have been able to keep the club in and around the play-off positions.
It is true that the Baggies have been unfortunate in a number of games, particularly in the early part of the season, but there have been too many below par performances recently, and Bruce’s tactics and selections since the international break have smacked of desperation. That culminated in a performance against Luton on Saturday that, while an improvement on the previous two games, did little to inspire any hope that Albion were about to turn a corner.
While Bruce is the victim on this occasion, we know that the club’s problems go much deeper. The appointment of a new manager will not solve all the issues, but it is incredibly important nonetheless. Unfortunately, I have no faith that the club have the right people in place to make the right decision.
Since Jeremy Peace sold the club, perhaps just one head coach/managerial appointment can said to have been successful, that of Slaven Bilić, and the decision to sack him was, in my opinion, made too early as I said at the time. Pardew was an unmitigated disaster, Darren Moore and Allardyce were both understandable appointments but ultimately flawed and the choice of Ismaël was brave but misguided.
Obviously, Gourlay was not involved in any of those, but his one choice so far doesn’t inspire confidence. Looking back at his career, the only manager he appointed in his time at Reading was Paul Clement who followed his CEO out of the door a few weeks later with a win percentage of just 23%. At Chelsea, I’m not sure how much input into the new manager decisions he would have had given that there was always a technical director in place, but for the record, André Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benítez and José Mourinho were all appointed in his time as CEO at Stamford Bridge between 2009 and 2014, not that Albion are operating in the same marketplace!
A poll on the Express & Star website suggests that the fans’ favourite would be Sean Dyche, but he wouldn’t be top of my list. While Dyche successfully kept Burnley in the Premier League for a number of years, and won promotion twice, his footballing style was too close to Tony Pulis for my liking, and I would much prefer to see someone with a more attractive footballing philosophy. I think his teams played better football in the Championship, but his pragmatic defence-first approach employed in the Premier League has had its day in my opinion. Moreover, there is a suggestion that he is holding out for a Premier League job.
I can’t see Chris Wilder getting a look in having already been vetoed by the owner in summer 2021 but there are some decent options around, including a few who wouldn’t require a compensation payment to release them.
Of the “free agents”, my choice would be Rob Edwards. While he is relatively inexperienced with just one full season as the top man in league football, it was some season as he transformed Forest Green Rovers on and off the pitch and guided them to the League Two title and promotion to the third tier for the first time in the club’s history. He also won the League Two Manager of the Season award but left in controversial circumstances in the summer to join Watford. He wasn’t given much of a chance at Vicarage Road as the Pozzos reverted to type by dismissing him with Watford in 10th place after just ten games of the season.
Before he joined FGR, Edwards had spent some time working with England youth teams at the FA, had a spell as head coach of Telford United and also managed Wolves’ U23 team. His association with our near neighbours, the team for which he made the most appearances in his playing career, might put some Baggies’ fans off, but it wouldn’t bother most and I think he is a young enterprising coach with a lot of potential.
Another name worthy of consideration is Leam Richardson although, as the current manager of Wigan Athletic, it would require a compensation payment to release him. Richardson won the League One Manager of the Season last year as he guided the Latics back to the Championship having taken over as permanent manager in summer 2021 following a couple of spells as caretaker boss. He had initially moved to the DW Stadium as assistant to Paul Cook, having worked with him at both Accrington Stanley and Chesterfield, but took over initially as caretaker when Cook left to join Ipswich. Richardson stayed on to work under new boss, John Sheridan, but was in charge again when Sheridan left after just 15 games. Having successfully kept Wigan up as caretaker, he proceeded to transform the club into promotion contenders last season as the permanent boss and they secured the title with a 3-0 win at Shrewsbury Town on the final day.
With early bookies’ favourite, Roy Keane, having dismissed the links as “rubbish”, Richardson was the new favourite on Tuesday morning ahead of Wigan’s match with Sunderland. Other names in the frame include former Huddersfield and Olympiacos boss, Carlos Corberán but, while getting the Terriers into the play-offs last season was impressive, he was in charge for much of the previous season when they finished 20th so it’s not clear that he will have the instant impact that Albion need.
Having won two promotions to the Premier League in recent seasons, Scott Parker is another inevitable link but he has been found wanting in the top flight and it’s not a name that excites me, while others such as Bolton’s Ian Evatt, Ipswich’s Kieran McKenna and former Manchester United midfielder, Michael Carrick, have also been linked.
As always, I will get behind whoever is appointed, but Edwards and Richardson would be my personal favourites. At least it looks as if Gourlay is conducting a proper selection exercise this time around, but with Middlesbrough also on the hunt for a new manager, he can’t afford to take too long. Let’s hope it comes out with a decent choice.