With little more than a week of the transfer window remaining, Albion have signed five new players with the hope that a few more will join them before next Thursday as Slaven Bilić looks to rebuild a squad that has lost no fewer than eleven players since the end of last season.
In this article, I take a look at the background of the new signings.
Born: 29th August 1995 (age 23), Zagreb, Croatia
Signed: 5th July – Season long loan
Attacking midfielder, Krovinović, was Bilić’s first signing and it was obvious that the new head coach was keen to sign his compatriot. The 23-year-old has made 18 starts for Benfica since joining from fellow Portuguese club, Rio Ave, two years ago, although he only made three league substitute appearances last season as the Águias (the Eagles) won the Primeira Liga title.
The Croatian U21 international made his professional debut for NK Zagreb in April 2013 at the age of just 17 and became a regular in the side the following season as the club won promotion back to the Croatian top flight. He was linked with top Croatian clubs after another impressive season but ended up moving to Portugal in the summer of 2015.
It wasn’t until his second season in Portugal that Krovinović established himself at Rio Ave. New coach, Capucho, joined in the summer of 2016 and saw the potential of the young Croatian handing him the number 10 shirt. He went on to make 33 appearances scoring 5 goals earning his move to Portugal’s biggest club the following summer.
He has impressed in pre-season and Baggies fans will be hopeful that he can add that midfield creativity that was sadly lacking last season after the departure of Harvey Barnes.
Born: 31st January 1994 (age 25), Copenhagen, Denmark
Signed: 19th July – Undisclosed fee (believed to be up to £8m)
With the departures of Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez, Albion have 46 goals to replace from last season, and the Baggies’ new number nine, Ken Zohore, will be well aware that he has some big shoes to fill.
Born in Copenhagen, Zohore made his professional debut for FC Copenhagen in March 2010 at the age of just 16 becoming the youngest ever player to play in the Danish Superliga. In October 2010, still 16, he made his Champions League debut from the bench in the Camp Nou in a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona and ten days later became the second youngest player to score in the Danish Superliga when he scored his only goal for Copenhagen against Lyngby.
While he never became a regular for his hometown club, Italian side, Fiorentina, saw enough to pay around £1m for him in January 2012. He never made a first team appearance for La Viola and had two loan spells, with Bröndby and IFK Göteborg, before moving back to Denmark in February 2015 to join Odense.
He scored 10 goals in 19 starts for OB including a run of seven goals in nine appearances in the autumn of 2015. That run was enough to attract the interest of Belgian club, KV Kortrijk, who signed him for a fee of around £1m in January 2016 immediately loaning him to Cardiff City for the remainder of the season. Unsurprisingly, Kortrijk are also owned by Bluebirds’ owner, Vincent Tan, and Cardiff were, at that time, banned from signing players on permanent contracts.
His move to South Wales was made permanent the following summer, but new manager Paul Trollope was apparently not a fan of Zohore, and it wasn’t until Neil Warnock took over that the Dane saw regular football. He ended up with 12 goals from 25 starts in the 2016/17 campaign, his best season to date, ending up as the club’s top scorer and earning him the Cardiff City Young Player of the Year award.
He scored nine goals in City’s promotion season but, with Warnock favouring just one up front in the Premier League, he found opportunities limited and started just seven games last season, scoring twice.
It has been suggested that Zohore’s game does not suit Warnock’s style of play, and that he needs to play with another striker. Slaven Bilić seems to favour two up top so it could be that the Dane will find the Croat’s style more to his liking.
The reported fee may hang a little heavy on his shoulders, but he has the opportunity to kick-start his career at the Hawthorns and we all hope that he takes it.
|Bröndby IF (Loan)||8-Aug-2013||30-Jun-2014||11+15||5||2|
|IFK Göteborg (Loan)||11-Aug-2014||31-Dec-2014||1+5||3||0|
|Cardiff City (Loan)||1-Feb-2016||30-Jun-2016||18+10||2||1|
Born: 9th November 1993 (age 25), Crayford, London
Signed: 20th July – Undisclosed fee (believed to be around £1.5m)
Centre back, Semi Ajayi, signed a four year contract at the Hawthorns on 20th July and almost immediately made his Albion debut in a friendly against his former club, Rotherham United. The London born Nigerian international first signed professional forms with Charlton Athletic but made his professional debut on loan at Conference side, Dartford, in November 2012.
Ajayi didn’t make a first team appearance for the Addicks, or either of his next two permanent clubs. He moved to the Arsenal academy in September 2013 after impressing on trial, but he failed to make a single first team appearance for the Gunners, or for Cardiff City who he joined in July 2015, initially on loan.
While at Cardiff, he had two short loan spells with AFC Wimbledon and Crewe Alexandra before he finally got his break with a half season loan to Rotherham United in January 2017. He played 17 times for the Millers that season and, while they were relegated to League One at the end of the season, manager Paul Warne had been impressed enough to sign Ajayi on a permanent deal that summer.
He was a regular in the promotion winning side the following season, scoring five times, and established himself further in Rotherham’s Championship campaign last season winning the EFL Championship Player of the Month for March this year.
Ajayi was unsurprisingly distracted in his debut at the New York Stadium giving away a penalty early on, but he was impressive in the draw with Bournemouth alongside Kyle Bartley and, given the reaction of the Rotherham fans to his departure, it looks to be a smart piece of business.
|Cardiff City (Loan)||25-Mar-2015||31-May-2015||0||0||0|
|AFC Wimbledon (Loan)||29-Sep-2015||29-Oct-2015||5||0||1|
|Crewe Alexandra (Loan)||26-Nov-2015||26-Feb-2016||13||0||1|
|Rotherham United (Loan)||30-Jan-2017||31-May-2017||17||1||0|
Born: 31st October 1995 (age 23), Luton
Signed: 23rd July – Undisclosed fee (believed to be around £1.5m)
Darnell Furlong, son of former QPR striker Paul Furlong who is an academy coach at Loftus Road, is a right back and has made the first permanent move of his career in coming to the Hawthorns.
He made his senior debut for Rangers in February 2015 in a Premier League fixture at Hull City and his home debut was a fortnight later against Arsenal. He missed much of the rest of that season through injury and, following the R’s relegation, it was decided to send him out on loan the following season to gain further experience.
He first went to League Two, Northampton Town, for a two month spell before moving to another fourth tier club, Cambridge United, in January 2016. He was a hit at the Abbey Stadium – the initial loan was for a month but it was extended for the rest of the season with Furlong playing every minute of every match for the Us during his time at the club.
The following season, Furlong was out on loan again, this time at Swindon Town in League One. Again he was a success and made 28 appearances for the Wiltshire club until new QPR manager, Ian Holloway, decided to recall him in January 2017. Holloway put Furlong straight into the starting line-up and the youngster’s performances earned him a contract extension.
He has been a fairly regular starter since then although he wasn’t always Steve McLaren’s first choice at the beginning of last season, he did end up appearing in all but one match for Rangers from mid-December onwards.
Right-back has been a problem position for Albion for several years and Furlong has all the attributes to make it his own. His only competition currently is academy product, Nathan Ferguson, who is yet to make his senior competitive debut despite being the same age as Furlong. That may change this season with Ferguson impressing Bilić in pre-season, but the new signing will certainly be first choice.
|Queen’s Park Rangers||1-Jan-2015||23-Jul-2019||65+7||2||4|
|Northampton Town (Loan)||11-Sep-2015||14-Nov-2015||11||0||0|
|Cambridge United (Loan)||5-Jan-2016||31-May-2016||21||0||2|
|Swindon Town (Loan)||12-Aug-2016||2-Jan-2017||25+3||2||5|
Born: 2nd November 1991 (age 27), Birmingham
Signed: 27th July – Undisclosed fee (reported to be around £3m)
Romaine Sawyers is a name that will have been familiar to Baggies fans long before he was linked with a move to the Hawthorns this summer. As a graduate of the West Bromwich Albion academy, the one surprise is that he never made a senior appearance for the club in his four years as a professional at the Hawthorns. He featured in just one matchday squad for the final day of the 2008/09 Premier League season at Blackburn Rovers which was actually two months before he signed professional terms.
He was always considered a good prospect but after a few unspectacular loan spells, he was released by Albion in the summer of 2013. He promptly signed for the club at which he had been on loan that year, Walsall, despite having played just 16 minutes of football for the Saddlers during his loan spell.
He featured in every league matchday squad for Walsall in the 2013/14 season, initially on the bench, but becoming a regular starter from the middle of November. He opened his goalscoring account for the Saddlers on his first senior start for the club against Notts County in August 2013, playing as a centre forward. He finished the season with seven goals to his name and 49 appearances.
It was a similar story for the next two seasons as Sawyers became one of the Saddlers’ main attacking threats and was named in the League One PFA Team of the Year for 2015/16, finishing runner-up in the Player of the Year award to Bradley Dack.
When his contract expired in the summer of 2016, Sawyers rejected the offer to extend his stay at the Bescot, and instead opted to link up again with Dean Smith at Brentford. Smith had moved to west London the summer before having been a key figure in Romaine’s early development at Walsall.
In his first season at Griffin Park, Sawyers won the Players’ Player of the Year and Community Player of the Year awards having scored 8 goals in 45 appearances. His good form continued the following season as he turned into one of the Bees best players and helping them to a top ten Championship finish.
When Dean Smith moved to Aston Villa last season, new boss, Thomas Frank, named Sawyers as the club captain and, while he didn’t find the net last term with Frank moving him to a deeper central midfield role, he recorded seven assists and by the end of the season was considered to be one of the hottest properties in the Championship.
With only one year left on his contract at Griffin Park, the fee reported to be in the region of £3m represents good business for the Baggies, particularly when they had to fight off interest from both Leeds United and Celtic, along with the possibility that Dean Smith might try to tempt him to Villa Park.
Leeds fans were certainly dismayed that they missed out on the Brentford skipper, but maybe the pull of home was just a bit too strong for Sawyers, and he now has the opportunity to make himself the Baggies legend that he must have dreamed about in his academy days.
|West Bromwich Albion||22-Jul-2009||19-Jul-2013||0||0||0|
|Port Vale (Loan)||1-Jan-2011||1-Feb-2011||0+1||0||0|
|Shrewsbury Town (Loan)||2-Jan-2012||10-Apr-2012||2+5||0||0|