As the disaster that was the 2021/2022 season was drawing to a close, Steve Bruce made it clear that the Albion squad would be the subject of a rebuilding job over the summer. Once the Valérien Ismaël experiment failed, it was clear that a squad that had been assembled for one particular style of football would need something of an overhaul if the Baggies were to mount a serious promotion challenge under a different manager with different ideas.
With most of the first team squad under contract, many fans and journalists alike felt that major changes would prove financially difficult, but Albion boss, Steve Bruce, appeared undaunted. One thing in the club’s favour was that many clubs opted not to offer renewed contracts in the last couple of years due to financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. That means that the number of free agents
available this summer is much larger than usual and, while Albion may not have a huge amount to spend on transfer fees, they can still outspend most Championship clubs when it comes to wages.
The capture of what Bruce described as his two top targets in John Swift and Jed Wallace is a demonstration of the Baggies’ spending power, while the unexpected return of Okay Yokuşlu to
the Hawthorns would seem to owe itself in some part to the Turk having enjoyed his time in the Black Country despite having only played in front of his own fans once, and even that was a very restricted attendance.
While we have three new faces, most of the old ones are still at the club. Cédric Kipré has gone on loan to Cardiff City but he is the only senior player under contract to have left. There are strong suggestions that Callum Robinson could move back to Preston North End but the clubs are yet to come to an agreement, while Kenneth Zohore’s absence from recent friendly squads would suggest that he will go if a home can be found for him.
I expect any further additions will be loan deals from Premier League clubs with a striker seeming the most pressing need. The likelihood is that any incoming loan deals will not be agreed until late in the window once the parent club has a clear view of the shape of their squad. Given that Albion could have played nine games by the time the window closes, it’s not ideal, but the club have done very well to get Swift and Wallace in early such that they are now well integrated into the squad.
The rebuild remains a work in progress, but the signs so far are encouraging to say the least.
Below is a summary of the careers of our three new signings to date.
Born: 23rd June 1995 (age 27), Portsmouth
Signed: 26th May 2022, free transfer
As last season was coming to an end, John Swift was one of the first names linked with a move to the Hawthorns. As a creative goalscoring midfielder having enjoyed an excellent season at Reading, he was an obvious fit for the Albion squad.
Swift was born in Portsmouth and played for a number of local clubs as a child including a brief spell at Portsmouth at age 10, then in the Premier League. He spent six months at Chelsea as an U13 and
re-joined them the following year. Having enjoyed successful spells for the youth teams at Stamford Bridge, he was rewarded with a spot on the bench for the Blues’ final match of the 2013/14 season
at home to Cardiff City making his debut as a substitute for Eden Hazard.
That proved to be his only senior appearance for Chelsea as he spent the following two seasons on loan at Rotherham United, Swindon Town and Brentford. While at Griffin Park, he scored twice against Wolves in a 3-0 victory and ended a successful campaign with seven goals and four assists.
In the summer of 2016, the 21-year-old Swift was offered a contract extension at Stamford Bridge but, with no clear route to the first team, he opted to make a move and joined Reading on a three-year
He scored on his debut, a 1-0 win over Preston North End at the Madejski Stadium, and was soon a key member of Jaap Stam’s side that went on to reach the play-off final. He scored nine goals and registered eight assists during the campaign but, in the play-off final, many felt that he let the game pass him by and Reading ultimately lost on penalties to Huddersfield Town.
Nonetheless, he had impressed enough over the campaign that he was offered a contract extension that would keep him at the Madejski until this summer. He made 29 appearances in an injury hit 2017/18 season and the following campaign was also cut short as he had hip surgery, but he was often a match-winner.
He was badly missed in the 2020/21 season when a persistent hamstring injury meant that he played just 14 league games. The Royals lost just one of those 14 and Swift’s absence for much of the
season contributed to their failure to finish in the top six.
Last season was Swift’s best as he recorded eleven goals and thirteen assists, putting him joint 8th in the Championship goal involvements table albeit the club could only finish 21st. Injury hit once again
towards the end of the season as he missed the final month with an ankle injury, enabling to watch the final game of Albion’s season with the deal all but done before the season came to an end.
At international level, Swift played at all youth levels from U16 and made 13 appearances for the U21s, scoring once against Bosnia at the Banks’s Stadium, Walsall, in October 2016. He played four times in the
U21 European Championships in 2017 as Aidy Boothroyd’s side reached the semifinal.
Swift has impressed in pre-season with some incisive passing and seems to developing a good understanding with the likes of Grady Diangana and Jed Wallace. It’s early days, but the initial signs are that Swift could turn out to be a very astute signing.
|Rotherham United (loan)
|Swindon Town (loan)
Born: 15th December 1993 (age 28), Reading
Signed: 23rd June 2022, free transfer
Jed Wallace was another name that was heavily linked with Albion in May although Millwall were still hoping he would commit to a contract extension.
Like Swift, the first professional club that he was involved with was Portsmouth where he first signed in 2011 having played for local non-league sides Carshalton Athletic, Farnborough and Lewes as a teenager.
He had a loan spell back at Farnborough in March 2012 before making his Portsmouth debut in a League Cup tie against Plymouth Argyle later that year.
After a short spell on loan at Isthmian League side, Whitehawk, he made his league debut for Pompey in January 2013 scoring on his first league start against Hartlepool United later that month. He ended the 2012/13 season with six goals but Portsmouth were relegated to League Two.
2013/14 was a turbulent season at Fratton Park and Wallace was initially unwilling to commit to a new
contract, but agreed a new deal at the end of the season. The following campaign was his best at
Pompey as he finished as the club’s top goalscorer with 17, won the club’s Player of the Season award and also featured in the League Two PFA Team of the Year. All this for a club that finished in a lowly 16th
A move away seemed inevitable and he joined Wolves in the summer of 2015 for an undisclosed fee. However, he was given few opportunities at Molineux making just 23 appearances in his two years in Wolverhampton scoring just once, in an EFL Cup tie at Cambridge United in August 2016.
He first moved to Millwall on loan in January 2016 playing a dozen games that season and returned for a second spell a year later becoming a regular starter in the side that won promotion to the Championship with victory over Bradford City in the play-off final at Wembley.
His performances in that run-in earned him a permanent move to the New Den in the summer of 2017. He became something of a crowd favourite at Millwall weighing in with at least five goals in each of the five full seasons he spent in Bermondsey.
His best return was in 2020/21 when he notched eleven goals and seven assists, including one for Kenneth Zohore during his loan spell at the New Den. He only scored six times last season but his tally of twelve assists was only bettered by Harry Wilson and Albion’s other new signing, John Swift, and meant
that he was involved in more than a third of the Lions’ league goals over the campaign.
He has shown plenty of energy and ambition in pre-season and reports suggest that he is also a big character in the dressing room, something that was particularly lacking last season.
Once again, the early signs are promising that Wallace can provide the required ammunition from the right side of a front three.
Born: 9th March 1994 (age 28), İzmir, Turkey
Signed: 18th July 2022, free transfer
From: Celta de Vigo
The capture of Okay Yokuşlu on a free transfer was widely welcomed by Baggies fans given his impressive loan spell at the club under Sam Allardyce. While it was not enough to stave off relegation, his arrival did coincide in an upturn in performances for Albion albeit it was not always transformed into results.
There is no doubt that he was better than the central midfield options we had then which, of course, included current skipper Jake Livermore, and there is an expectation that he will be a class above the majority of Championship players. However, his career has stalled somewhat since his spell at the Hawthorns.
He started out with Altay in his home town of İzmir in western Turkey and moved to Süper Lig side, Kayserispor in the summer of 2011 for what was a club record fee of €1m for Altay. He gradually established himself as a first team regular in Kayseri winning promotion back to the Süper Lig in 2015. His performances were enough to earn him a move to top five side, Trabzonspor. He rarely missed a game in his time on the Black Sea coast and Celta de Vigo came knocking in the summer of 2018 and he made the move to the Atlantic coast of Spain for a fee in the region of €6m.
He was a regular for Celta in his first two seasons but the appointment of Eduardo Coudet as head coach in November 2020 coincided with a lack of opportunities for the Turkish international, and he has made just three starts for them since Coudet’s appointment.
Lack of playing time has also seen him drop out of the Turkish national side and he has not featured since earning his 39th cap in the 6-1 defeat to the Netherlands in July 2021.
His contract at Celta was terminated by mutual consent in June paving the way for a return to B71.
It is likely that it will take him some time to get up to full fitness having not played much football in recent months, but if he can repeat the impressive displays we enjoyed during his loan spell, he is sure to be a big hit at the Hawthorns.
|Celta de Vigo
|West Bromwich Albion (loan)
If you cannot see the tables, click here.