After the tone of Tony Pulis’s post-match interview after Chelsea’s demolition of Albion on Saturday, it was no surprise when the news broke on Monday morning that the Welshman had been relieved of his duties as Head Coach at the Hawthorns.
My first feeling was one of relief, followed by one of hope for the appointment of a new Head Coach who could turn things around at Albion, and save us from the dire football that we have been subjected to for almost three years. I was not encouraged by the news that Gary Megson has taken temporary charge. Much as I love and respect Lord Gary for what he did for the club, he is not the man to take us forward and I’m pleased that he has more-or-less ruled himself out of taking on the job full time.
The Pulis Era does feel like three years of my Albion-supporting life that I won’t get back and, as I reflect on it, I’m struggling to find too many high points, or even too many matches that I have properly enjoyed. The low points are numerous; the 0-0 home draw with Villa immediately springs to mind, the 4-1 home defeat by QPR, the 0-0 draw at Sunderland and, of course, pretty much all of the last nine months. As for highs, perhaps the 4-0 cup win over West Ham, the 3-0 win over Chelsea and the run of 16 games from November last year when we played some pretty good stuff at times and reached the 40-point mark.
Since that point was reached, with a victory over Bournemouth in late February, Albion have picked up just 15 points from 22 games, and Pulis has paid the price.
Looking to the future, as the tenure of one divisive manager comes to an end, media reports suggest that the Albion hierarchy could be on the verge of appointing another. Obviously there has been nothing official from the club, but there are strong reports that both Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew are being seriously considered for the position.
Allardyce will be seen by many as a safe pair of hands that would guide the club from its precarious position, and it is difficult to argue with that view, but for me, he is just another Pulis and was as popular at West Ham as Pulis has been recently at the Baggies. He may well be able to save us from relegation, not that I think we are yet at the stage of being in a relegation battle, but it will be awful to watch and I’m not sure I could take more of the same. And that’s ignoring the fact that he is a Wolves fan.
Furthermore, Big Sam has retired twice already so it’s not clear whether he would be interested, and if he was, he’s certainly not a long term option.
As for Alan Pardew, the style of football may be slightly better but he has a track record of losing his way 18 months into every job. That was certainly the case at Palace and West Ham and, at Newcastle, it took a little longer and he was successful for three years before a complete collapse in the 2013-14 season that was at least partly attributed to unrest in the squad following the arrival of large numbers of French players.
For me, though, the biggest issue is the man himself. He was never popular at Newcastle despite his early success, and I find him to be arrogant, unpleasant and unable to take any sort of responsibility for failure. Personally, I would hate to see him representing my club.
Reports suggest that the board only want to consider managers with Premier League experience, but in my view that is short-sighted. We will inevitably end up with one of the usual suspects, like Allardyce and Pulis, who have been touting their services around the bottom half of the Premier League for years with a mixed record of success and failure. I don’t think either of those appointments would attract widespread support among the fanbase and, at best, would be as divisive as Pulis has been.
Nigel Pearson would also fall into the “Premier League experience” category, but after failing to maintain an early bounce in form at Leicester, he failed at Derby and is now coaching the Belgian second tier – hardly a recent CV to impress.
At the time of writing, Pardew is worrying a clear favourite, with current Republic of Ireland boss, Martin O’Neill second in the running. The former Villa boss is, perhaps, more palatable that either Pardew or Allardyce, but he also failed in his last club job at Sunderland, although he is hardly alone in that. At 65, he’s hardly a spring chicken but, for me, he is perhaps the best of the usual suspects.
Looking further down the betting at the managers linked, we see the likes of Ronald Koeman and Michael O’Neill. Koeman is fresh from failure at Everton but would be a significant coup should the Albion board persuade him to come to the Hawthorns. Koeman was very successful at Southampton, but was let down by a poor transfer window last summer at Goodison Park, and it is unclear as to how much blame he should take for that. I would be happy with his appointment, but it may be that the Dutchman would prefer to wait for an opportunity at a bigger club.
Michael O’Neill has had a wonderful time as Northern Ireland boss and is heavily linked with another international position at Scotland. The IFA have offered him a six-year extension to his contract but the Ulsterman has more important things on his mind right now as his mother passed away in the past few days. Personally, his club CV of managing Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers does not qualify him for a job in the Premier League, and I’d be surprised if he was under serious consideration despite his success at Windsor Park.
My personal preference would be for Albion to appoint former Baggies captain and current Aberdeen boss, Derek McInnes. He was a massive part of Gary Megson’s promotion-winning team in 2002 and, after leaving the Hawthorns the following year, he eventually ended up at St Johnstone in 2007 and was appointed player-manager. After hanging up his boots, he took the Perth club back into the Scottish Premier League two years later.
He was originally linked with the top job at the Hawthorns that summer when Tony Mowbray left for Celtic, but he remained at McDiarmid Park for a further two seasons before he was given permission to apply for the position as manager of Bristol City.
He took the reigns at Ashton Gate in October 2011 with the club languishing at the foot of the Championship table and was successful in avoiding relegation in that first season, but things did not go well in his second season and he was sacked in January 2012 with the club once again bottom of the league.
Thirteen months later, McInnes was appointed manager of Aberdeen and he hasn’t looked back since. In 2013-14, he led the Dons to a 3rd place finish in the Premier League and the club’s first trophy for 19 years, a League Cup win on penalties over Inverness Caledonian Thistle. In the three seasons since then, the club have finished runners-up to Celtic every year, and last season reached both domestic cup finals losing both to Brendan Rogers’ team.
In my opinion, his record at Aberdeen is outstanding and, if he is interested in the position at the Hawthorns as some reports suggest, I would be delighted to see him join. I understand that it would be a risk in that McInnes has no managerial experience in the Premier League, and his only experience in England was less than successful, but he is a young and exciting coaching talent who has evidently learned from his failure at Ashton Gate, and has put those lessons to fantastic effect at Pittodrie. Rangers are also considering trying to hire McInnes, which would make perfect sense for them, but the Hawthorns would be a bigger draw than Ibrox, amazingly enough.
It may be considered a little left-field, and Albion’s last such appointment, Pepe Mel, was almost disastrous. However, McInnes is vastly different in that he has a connection with the club, has experience in English football and is a successful British manager. Yes, the English Premier League is at a much higher level when compared with its Scottish equivalent, but I believe he deserves a chance at this level and he will have the benefit of being a popular appointment at West Bromwich Albion.
The noises emitting from the club suggest that I will not get my wish, but I really think the club should consider an appointment to excite the fans and, while it carries an element of risk, it has a massive up-side. The usual suspects may be a safer bet in the short term, but you will not get the fans properly back on board and we could well be looking again six or eighteen months down the line having endured more dreadful football. Pepe Mel is an example of a left-field decision that went wrong, although we got away with it, but Pochettino and Koeman at Southampton, and Marco Silva at Watford, are examples of where a brave appointment has paid off handsomely.
The decision to dispense with Pulis has been made early enough that Albion are still well in touch of mid-table, so the risk of relegation is currently not that great. For me, it’s the perfect opportunity to take a punt on what could prove to be the most important managerial appointment since a certain Gary Megson was appointed in March 2000.