Baggies leave it late but bring in impressive duo

With the financial constraints under the current ownership plain for all to see, it is no surprise that Albion left it late to enter the transfer market in January, but I’m sure that Carlos Corberán will be pleased with the business that Gourlay and his team have been able to do.

It could have been even better had they managed to get Chelsea starlet, Omari Hutchinson, over the line for a loan deal which would have seen the much-maligned Karlan Grant move on loan to Swansea City, but the two that did come in offer quality and experience in two positions that Corberán felt he needed extra bodies.

Nathaniel Chalobah is an energetic and combative midfielder that will offer an alternative to the first choice pair of Okay and Molumby in the middle of the park. A product of the Chelsea academy, the 28-year-old has more than 200 senior appearances, as well as one England cap, and won promotion from the Championship in successive seasons with Watford and Fulham.

The injury to Matt Phillips meant that Corberán felt he needed to bring in another wide player and there are few better candidates within Albion’s reach than Marc Albrighton. While he may be towards the end of his career, it has been a hugely successful one having won both of England’s most important domestic honours and played in the Champions League. He was involved in every game of Leicester City’s title-winning season in 2015/16 and played in all but one of their FA Cup games when they won the trophy in 2021. He has been used sparingly by Brendan Rodgers this season but scored off the bench in his last appearance for the Foxes in the 2-2 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion a couple of weeks ago.

The failure to bring in another striker does concern me, but it seemed to be an area that Corberán was not apparently desperate to strengthen. He actually ended up with one fewer striker after Kenneth Zohore‘s contract was terminated and he moved back to his native Denmark. Probably one of the worst signings in Albion’s history, KenZo has played less than ninety minutes of first team football since the beginning of last season with his last appearance coming in the 6-0 defeat to Arsenal in the EFL Cup tie in late August 2021.

The only other departure was never the subject of so much ire but neither will he be missed. Martin Kelly made a useful, if brief, contribution earlier this season but will now spend the rest of the season on loan at Wigan Athletic.

Ultimately, it is not a bad January all things considered. Getting Zohore off the wage bill is a big plus, and Chalobah definitely offers a very useful option in the middle of the park. As for Albrighton, he may not be at the peak of his powers, but I’m sure that there are plenty that will argue that he is an upgrade on the injured Phillips notwithstanding Matty’s strong performances under Corberán.

Now we will have to see if it will be enough to earn a place in the top six.

Nathaniel Chalobah

Born: 12th December 1994 (age 28), Freetown, Sierra Leone
Signed: 31st January 2023, undisclosed fee
From: Fulham

Nathaniel Chalobal was born in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in 1994 but moved to England at the age of seven. He joined the Chelsea academy at the age of ten and was an unused substitute in the first team’s League Cup tie against Newcastle United in September 2010 when aged just 15.

By the age of 17, he was regularly captaining the reserve and youth teams and led the Blues to the FA Youth Cup in 2012, signing his first professional contract in January of that year.

Given the notoriously difficult pathway to the first team at Stamford Bridge, it is no surprise that Chalobah spent a lot of his early career out on loan. He didn’t make his first team debut for the Blues until September 2016 in what turned out to be his last season at Stamford Bridge.

He had six separate loan spells while at Chelsea with his most successful being the first of them at Watford in 2012/13. He was a key member of Gianfranco Zola’s team that reached the Championship play-off final ultimately losing in extra time to Crystal Palace. He was well used at Middlesbrough in 2014 and Reading the following year but he got little game time in the others. He actually made his Burnley debut at the Hawthorns in September 2014 when the Baggies ran out 4-0 winners and he made just nine appearances in his season on loan at Napoli.

Although he declared his intention to stay at Chelsea for his whole career when signing a new contract in 2013, it became clear in his final season at the Bridge, when he was involved in the first team, that he was unlikely to be a regular. In the summer of 2017, he returned to his first loan club, Watford, on a permanent deal for an undisclosed fee thought to be in the region of £5m. His time at Vicarage Road had an early setback when he suffered a knee injury that would keep him out for the bulk of the 2017/18 campaign.

With further injuries and the Hornets’ remarkable turnover of managers, it wasn’t until the 2019/20 season that he stated to get a proper run in the side, albeit it wasn’t a successful one for the club as they were relegated from the Premier League. The following season, however, he was a mainstay as Watford won promotion back to the top flight and even wore the captain’s armband towards the end of the campaign.

The following season, however, he found himself surplus to requirements within Xisco Muñoz’s squad and he moved to Fulham on a free transfer, joining up with the coach who had originally taken him to Watford four years earlier, Marco Silva. Injury blighted the first half of the season, but he returned to the team for the 7-0 win away to Reading in January 2022 and was a regular in the side for the rest of the campaign.

He has found game time more difficult this season with Fulham having brought in a number of midfield players and has started just three league games, most recently in the 2-1 victory over Chelsea in mid-January.

Chalobah won his only England cap in the remarkable 3-2 victory over Spain in Seville in October 2018 as a late substitute for Harry Winks. He was a regular at U21 level, however, earning 40 caps between 2012 and 2014 scoring twice and captaining the side on three occasions.

  From To Apps Goals Assists
Chelsea 1-Jul-2012 13-Jul-2017 5+10 1
Watford (loan) 31-Aug-2012 31-May-2013 38+4 5
Nottingham Forest (loan) 19-Sep-2013 15-Jan-2014 7+5 2
Middlesbrough (loan) 16-Jan-2014 31-May-2014 15+4 1
Burnley (loan) 1-Sep-2014 2-Jan-2015 0+4
Reading (loan) 22-Jan-2015 21-May-2015 20 1 2
Napoli (loan) 31-Aug-2015 30-Jun-2016 2+7 1
Watford 13-Jul-2017 31-Aug-2021 60+25 4 3
Fulham 31-Aug-2021 31-Jan-2023 15+13
Total 162+72 14 6

Marc Albrighton

Born: 18th November 1989 (age 33), Tamworth
Signed: 31st August 2022, loan
From: Leicester City

Marc Albrighton’s first encounter with West Bromwich Albion was not a positive one as he was rejected by the club at a trial when he was just eight years old, and he ended up joining rivals Aston Villa instead.

He was probably not that upset given that he was a Villa fan anyway, and they were in the Premier League at the time while the Baggies were yet to return to the top flight.

He signed his first professional contract at Villa Park in the summer of 2009 having already made his competitive debut in the February of that year as a starter in Villa’s 2-0 defeat away to CSKA Moscow in the third round of what was still called the UEFA Cup.

Albrighton made his Premier League debut as a substitute on the opening day of the following season in Villa’s home defeat to Wigan Athletic. His manager, Martin O’Neill, opted to keep him at Villa Park rather sending him out on loan but he only made two further league appearances that season and his only start came in the FA Cup win over Brighton.

2010/11 proved to be something of a breakthrough as the then 20-year-old started the first seven games of the Premier League season with O’Neill having quit before the season started in a row over transfer funds. He scored his first senior goal in the 2-1 defeat at Spurs in October and ended the season with 20 league starts and 6 goals in all competitions. Gérard Houllier, the man who replaced O’Neill, was himself replaced by Alex McLeish the following summer and, while Albrighton notched up 26 league appearances in 2011/12, he started less than half of Villa’s games and when Paul Lambert took over in the summer of 2012, he found his opportunities reduce even further, albeit his availability was hampered by injury.

As his chances of progressing at Villa Park were receding, he made the only other loan move of his career in the autumn of 2013 to Wigan Athletic for just 28 days, and ended up being released by Aston Villa in the summer of 2014.

He then signed for newly-promoted Leicester City making his debut in the Foxes’ defeat at Chelsea in August 2014. He found his opportunities under Nigel Pearson limited in the early part of the season but proved to be a key part of City’s great escape towards the end of the season. He played in the Foxes’ final nine games of the season, seven of which they won including a last gasp 3-2 win at the Hawthorns. He scored his first Leicester goal in the only defeat of that run, to Chelsea, and his second in the 5-1 win over QPR on the final day of the season.

Claudio Ranieri took over at the King Power Stadium that summer and Albrighton became a key first team player for the Foxes from then on. He missed only nine of Leicester’s Premier League games over the next three seasons and played in every one of the matches in their remarkable title-winning season, starting 34 of them, in 2015/16. He also scored twice and registered seven assists that season.

The arrival of Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2019 coincided with a lack of first team action for Albrighton with Ayoze Pérez preferred as the right-sided attacking option. Until this season, he was still appearing in most league games but more often than not it was from the bench. This campaign, he has made just one league start for the Foxes and five substitute appearances, albeit he did captain the side in their 1-0 victory over Gillingham in the third round of the FA Cup.

Albrighton never earned a full England cap and played just eight times for the U21s between 2009 and 2011.

  From To Apps Goals Assists
Aston Villa 1-Jul-2009 1-Jul-2014 59+43 9 19
Wigan Athletic (loan) 30-Oct-2013 27-Nov-2013 2+2
Leicester City 1-Jul-2014 Present 206+89 19 46
Total 267+134 28 65

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