It’s very easy to to look at the above question and answer with a resounding “no”, but the answer is probably “it depends”. If Albion are lucky with injuries, something that they haven’t been so far, the squad they have should be good enough to get the club promoted. Perhaps the more enlightening questions is “could they have done more?” and, in truth, it is something that those of us without a view of the club finances can only guess at.
The question that seems to flowing around social media at present is “What happened to the Pereira money?” and, in truth, none of us are able to answer that question with any clarity. Anyone can come up with the glib answer that “Lai has pocketed it” but, for me, why would he?
It seems to be a commonly held belief that Lai wants to sell the club, but he also wants to get a valuation as close to what he paid for it as possible – it is unlikely that he will get back to that value, but the only way he will get anywhere near it is by getting the club back into the Premier League. It would be counter-intuitive to hold onto funds that could be spent to achieve that aim.
The other angle is that we don’t actually know what the “Pereira money” amounts to. The fee was rumoured to be £17m, less than what we would have hoped for but, given that there were no bids from Premier League clubs, it seems as if it was what the market was prepared to pay. Maybe it could have been increased a little by waiting, but that bid could equally have gone away. With Pereira obviously wanting to go and starting to become disruptive, the club obviously felt the time was right to do the deal. Moreover, it has been reported that the deal was split into four instalments and only one of those, presumably just over £4m, has so far been received.
That Albion have not paid any transfer fees this summer grates with many, but it does not, of course, mean that they have spent no money. The media’s obsession with how much each club spends on transfer fees provides a very distorted view on how much a club has invested. A “free transfer” is never free – the player will get an additional signing on bonus and agents often command larger fees when the “selling” club receives nothing. Furthermore, most loan deals will have a fee attached along with an agreement on player wages.
And while seven senior players left in the summer at the end of their contracts, three senior players signed contract extensions – Kyle Bartley, Darnell Furlong and Matt Phillips all received improved deals both to reward the players and to fend off any interest from Premier League clubs. Good business in my book, and Albion are reported to have the second highest wage bill in the division.
So could Albion have done more? Probably, but how much more is debateable, and whether the right players were available is another unknown. The club could undoubtedly padded the squad but Ismaël has been clear in his desire that he needs the right players, not necessarily the best players, and he is the one who needs to work with the squad. If it subsequently comes out that he was upset with the backing he has received, then the blame can firmly be put on the club hierarchy, but there has been no suggestion that he is unhappy and it is now down to the Frenchman to do the business.
The other thing to consider is that the club may have saved a portion of the budget for January. It seems sensible to keep some funds back to strengthen the squad when more is known about its strengths and weaknesses or to cover any long term injuries that may occur.
Let’s also not forget that there is another potential pot of cash due once the tribunal for the sale of Nathan Ferguson is held. He is yet to kick a ball for Crystal Palace and it’s unclear whether that will have an impact on the value, but it does seem strange that we are still waiting more than a year later. Oh, and Barcelona still owe us for Louis Barry!
Albion will always run a tight ship with the current owners in place, and I was never expecting a massive outlay on fees this window particularly given the impact of COVID on revenues over the last eighteen months. Also remember that the only time that Albion spent big in recent years, in the summer of 2018, they were subsequently relegated. Lai has been burnt once, he will not want to endure that a second time.
The new faces
Moving on from whether the club should or could have done more, let’s take a look at the business it has done. Detailed histories of each signing can be found below, but here is a brief summary.
First through the door was Alex Mowatt on a free transfer from Barnsley. As a key member of Ismaël’s squad at Oakwell, it was an easy decision to bring him in knowing that he was already well adjusted to his footballing philosophy. We have already seen what an astute signing he is with his energy and quality already evident, as is his goalscoring ability with two in his first four games for the club including a wonder strike at Blackburn.
Matt Clarke knows the Championship very well having spent the last two seasons on loan at Derby County and he has settled in well to the back three. Being left-footed, he offers great balance to the defence and he has taken well to the high energy high press style. He has unfortunately missed time through injury and it is perhaps no coincidence that Albion have not conceded a goal with Clarke on the pitch – currently sidelined with a hamstring issue, he is already being missed.
Joining on the same day as Clarke, Quevin Castro looks to be one for the future. He had some eye-catching moments in his debut against Arsenal, but he will need to improve significantly if he is to challenge Livermore and Mowatt for a central midfield spot. Lots of clubs have looked at him, but Albion are the first to offer him a deal – a risk, but hopefully not too much of a financial commitment.
Adam Reach is a player I have always admired although I haven’t seen him play that much. I’ve always thought of him as a winger rather than a wing back but he has played at left back many times during his career. Although he was part of the side that were thumped by Arsenal, our first “proper” look at him was in the second half at London Road. There is no doubt that he was caught a few times with the ball over the top, but the way the team plays, that is always going to happen, and we should also remember that the left-sided centre back was a “”stand in” in Conor Townsend. He will still be working on his fitness to bring it up to Ismaël levels, and as a back up to Townsend, I think he’ll be able to do a job.
Jordan Hugill could, perhaps unfairly, be described as journeyman striker. With nine clubs on his CV, including five loan spells, he certainly has plenty of experience. He has not exactly been prolific over his career and both West Ham and Norwich have deemed him not good enough for the Premier League. In the Championship, however, he has done a job scoring 15 goals in a season on loan at QPR in 2019/20. He is something different to what we already have up front and he certainly made a difference on his debut at Peterborough albeit his missed a really good chance.
The final signing was Irish international Jayson Molumby who was signed on loan from Brighton with a view to a permanent deal (whatever that means!). Offering much needed back up in central midfield, Ismaël feels he has the right profile and with a season and a half of Championship experience, he could be a useful signing.
Overall, I still think the squad is a bit thin. At centre back, the injuries are already telling with O’Shea potentially out for a while after his injury received while playing for Ireland. Once you get past the best four, the back ups are short of what we need – Kipré has not impressed and Caleb Taylor is a good prospect but an unknown quantity at Championship level. At right wing back, there is little cover for Furlong. Youngsters Ethan Ingram and Taylor Gardner-Hickman can play there but are obviously untested, while Matt Phillips and Dara O’Shea have also played there in the past but are needed elsewhere in the team. Townsend and Reach offer a good pairing on the other side.
In the centre of midfield, Mowatt and Livermore are nailed on starters when available, but suspensions are inevitable and there will be occasions when one or both are unavailable. Molumby has been brought in as one back up option while Big Val has also earmarked Robert Snodgrass to play there. It remains to be seen how much of a downgrade either will prove to be.
There are options on the front line with Robinson, Diangana, Grant, Phillips and, now, Hugill along with Rayhaan Tulloch who doesn’t seem to be too far away from being a regular participant. Zohore was told he could leave so no one is expecting him to be near the squad any time soon. I think the options are probably good enough, but another body would have been welcome.
Finally, the goalkeeping department is probably as strong as you will see in the Championship. Hopefully, we can persuade Sam Johnstone to sign a new contract to protect his value, while Button and Palmer are both able deputies.
Essentially, if Albion get hit hard by injuries, it will be tough. Ismaël’s style of play does increase the possibility of injury, which is an obvious concern, and only time will tell whether the squad is deep enough to last at least until January.
Born: 13th February 1995 (age 26), Doncaster
Signed: 2nd July 2021, free transfer
Born in Doncaster, Mowatt has spent most of his footballing life in Yorkshire and, other than a brief loan spell at Oxford United when he was 20 years old, his move to the Hawthorns is his first transfer outside his native county.
He was signed by Leeds United at the age of 9 and, after progressing through the ranks, he captained the U18 team in 2012/13 and signed professional terms the following summer. He made his debut for the Whites in a 3-1 victory over his home town club, Doncaster Rovers, in August 2013, making his league debut in the Championship defeat at Millwall a month later. He finished the season as a regular in the first team with more than 30 appearances to his name scoring his first senior goal in a 5-1 victory over Huddersfield Town in February 2014.
Mowatt was a regular in the Leeds first team making more than 30 appearances in each of the next two seasons but at the start of the 2016/17 season, he was on the bench more often than not with the likes of Pablo Hernández, Ronaldo Viera and Kalvin Phillips ahead of him for a spot in the centre of midfield.
In January 2017, he was transferred to Barnsley for an undisclosed fee, reported to be around £600,000, ostensibly as a replacement for Conor Hourihane who had moved to Aston Villa. He was sent off on his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Wolves and, while he played regularly for the remainder of that season, Paul Heckingbottom opted to send him out on loan to Oxford United for the following season.
Although the U’s were relegated from League One in 2018, Mowatt made more than 30 appearances and, on his return to Oakwell, found himself a key part of new boss Daniel Stendel’s plans for the 2018/19 campaign. The Tykes had also been relegated and Mowatt was an ever-present in their League One campaign as they finished runners-up to Luton Town and were promoted back to the Championship.
Stendel made Mowatt captain in September 2019, a role he kept under new boss Gerhard Struber who was appointed in November after Barnsley had endured a difficult start to the season. He missed just two of Barnsley’s league games during the campaign as Struber engineered a great escape to retain Championship status.
When Valérien Ismaël was appointed Barnsley boss in November 2020, he also kept Mowatt as his captain and made him a key element in his high pressing strategy that saw the Tykes finish in 5th place, their highest finishing position for 20 years.
Mowatt has been involved in England’s U19 and U20 squads but made just one appearance at each level, most recently for the U20 team against the USA in March 2015. He also qualifies for Scotland on his father’s side of the family.
|Oxford United (loan)||31-Aug-2017||31-May-2018||24+10||3||1|
Born: 22nd September 1996 (age 24), Barham, Suffolk
Signed: 13th July 2021, loan
From: Brighton and Hove Albion
Born in Suffolk, Matt Clarke joined the Ipswich Town academy at the age of six and made his professional debut for the club twelve years later as the Tractor Boys lost 1-0 in extra time to Crawley Town in the League Cup in August 2014. After making four brief substitute appearances in the league for Ipswich, he moved on loan to Portsmouth, then a division below, in the summer of 2015.
After a successful loan spell at Fratton Park, the move was made permanent the following summer and he went on to make 175 appearances for Pompey over four seasons, scoring nine goals. He was part of a defence that conceded just 40 goals in 46 games as Portsmouth won the League Two title in 2017 and he was also part of the team that won the 2019 EFL Trophy final, beating Sunderland on penalties at Wembley. He provided the cross for Jamal Lowe’s goal in that match that put Pompey 2-1 up in extra time.
That summer, he moved along the south coast joining Premier League Brighton for an undisclosed fee. His yet to make an appearance for the Seagulls, however, having spent the last two seasons on loan at Derby County. He was named Derby’s player of the season in 2019/20 scoring his only goal for the club in a 1-0 victory over Hull City in January 2020, and returned for a second season-long loan helping to ensure Derby stayed the Championship.
|Brighton & Hove Albion||1-Jul-2019||Present||0||0||0|
|Derby County (loan)||2-Aug-2019||31-May-2021||80+1||1||0|
Born: 16th August 2001 (age 20), Portugal
Signed: 13th July 2021, free transfer
Portuguese-born Quevin Castro was initially with the academy at Sporting in Lisbon, but moved to Norfolk at a young age. He played for a number of non-league clubs including Thetford Town, Leiston and Bury Town.
He had a number of trial spells with Ipswich Town, Sutton United, Arsenal and Chelsea before joining Albion on trial in April. He played a number of U23 games last season and was involved in pre-season friendlies this summer and impressed the coaching staff enough to be offered a two-year contract
He has four older brothers who also play football including Valter Rocha who is at Thetford Town, Rudy who plays in Portugal, Aires who playes in Spain and Fredy who is in Turkey.
Born: 3rd February 1993 (age 28), Chester-le-Street
Signed: 2nd August 2021, free transfer
From: Sheffield Wednesday
Adam Reach was scouted by Middlesbrough when studying at Gateshead College and progressed through the academy making his senior debut against Doncaster Rovers in the Championship in May 2011. He came off the bench to score Boro’s third goal in a 3-0 victory aged just 18.
It would take Reach a few years to establish himself in the first team. He made 20 appearances in the 2012/13 season but had loan spells at Darlington, Shrewsbury Town and Bradford City before making his mark under Aitor Karanka in the 2014/15 season as a left midfielder. He played 46 times for Boro that season as they reached the play-off final losing 2-0 to Norwich City.
The return of Stewart Downing to the Riverside in the summer of 2015 left Reach with reduced opportunities and he moved to Preston North End in September on a loan deal until the end of the season. He played in all but three of the Lilywhites games after his move, mostly as either a left midfielder or left back, scoring four goals.
After returning to Middlesbrough at the end of the loan spell, it became clear that his future lay away from the Riverside and he moved to Sheffield Wednesday for an undisclosed fee, reported to be around £5 million, at the end of August 2016. He was immediately a first team regular at Hillsborough making more than 40 appearances in each season he was at the club, scoring 24 goals including the opener against the Baggies in the 2-2 draw in October 2018.
Reach made four appearances for the England U19 side before representing his nation at the U20 World Cup in 2013.
|Shrewsbury Town (loan)||16-Aug-2013||2-Jan-2014||19+5||3||1|
|Bradford City (loan)||23-Jan-2014||21-Apr-2014||18||3||1|
|Preston North End (loan)||26-Sep-2015||31-May-2016||36||4||3|
Born: 4th June 1992 (age 29), Middlesbrough
Signed: 25th August 2021, loan
From: Norwich City
Jordan Hugill’s youth career started at Northern League club Seaham Red Star and, after a trial with Sunderland fell through due to injury, he moved to Consett before swapping the north east of England for the sunshine of southern Spain joining the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Jerez. After returning to the chilly North Sea coast to play for Whitby Town in 2011, he finally signed professional terms with Port Vale in June 2013.
He initially spent a month on loan at Gateshead, scoring five goals in seven appearances, before making his Football League debut for Vale at Crawley Town in October at the age of 21. He registered an assist on his debut and didn’t have to wait long for his first goal, netting in a 3-1 over Shrewsbury Town at Vale Park in his third appearance for the Valiants.
He ended that first season with 20 appearances and four goals for the League One club and, despite concerns over his fitness levels, he was named the club’s Young Player of the Year. Hugill refused to sign a new contract with Port Vale and the club were forced to sell him “on the cheap” to Preston North End, although the fee was undisclosed.
Although North End were promoted in 2015, it was a frustrating season for Hugill as he made only six appearances for the club as he picked up an injury in the match at Walsall in September. That kept him out until March and he spent the remainder of the season on loan in League Two, firstly at Tranmere and then at Hartlepool where he scored four goals in eight games.
He was on the bench for the Lilywhites’ successful play-off campaign in May 2015 but then had another set back in August when he was sent off at MK Dons just three minutes after coming on as a late substitute. He spent much of the season on the bench and managed to score his first league goal for the club in March, a winner away to local rivals Bolton Wanderers on one of the eight starts he got that season.
The following season was something of a breakthrough for the then 23-year-old. He scored on his first league start of the season in mid September and managed 12 goals in 35 league starts and, after scoring 8 goals in 26 starts the following season, West Ham United came in with a reported £10 million offer in January 2018, and moved to the London Stadium as David Moyes’ second signing.
After just three substitute appearances in the remainder of that season, Moyes evidently felt that he was not ready for the Premier League and send him on loan to Middlesbrough for the following season. He made his debut for Boro’ against Albion in August 2018 as a late substitute in 1-0 victory, and scored his first goals for the club with a brace to see off Wigan in November. He and Britt Assombalonga battled for the role as the lone front man for Tony Pulis’ side, and it’s no surprise that he only managed six goals that season given the Welshman’s tendency to defend.
The next season saw him on loan again, this time at QPR, and it proved to be his most prolific season to date. He scored 15 goals in all competitions ending as the club’s joint leading scorer with Nahki Wells. David Moyes evidently felt he was not going to make the grade for the Hammers and he was sold to Norwich City in the summer of 2020 for a fee in the region of £5 million.
Injury and the form of Teemu Pukki restricted Hugill to just seven league starts in the Canaries’ promotion campaign. He scored just five goals all season, although given the amount of time he had on the pitch, he did scored once every 180 minutes which is not a poor ratio.
|Preston North End||1-Jul-2014||31-Jan-2018||75+39||30||6|
|Tranmere Rovers (loan)||26-Feb-2015||25-Mar-2015||4+2||1||0|
|Hartlepool United (loan)||26-Mar-2015||3-May-2015||8||4||1|
|West Ham United||31-Jan-2018||24-Aug-2020||0+3||0||0|
|Queen’s Park Rangers (loan)||28-Jul-2019||31-Jul-2020||32+9||15||1|
Born: 6th August 1999 (age 22), Cappoquin, Ireland
Signed: 27th August 2021, loan
From: Brighton and Hove Albion
Jayson Molumby was born in Cappoquin in County Waterford in the south east corner of Ireland. Bar a short spell with the unfortunately named Villa FC, he spent his youth career in Irish football with his local club, Railway Athletic. He was picked up by Brighton at the age of 16 and joined their development squad becoming a regular in the U23 team.
He made his debut for the Seagulls in August 2017 in a 1-0 victory over Barnet in the EFL Cup and all of his four starts for the club have come in that competition.
In the summer of 2019, Molumby went out on a season-long loan to Millwall in the Championship making his English league debut as a 75th minute substitute in a 4-0 defeat at Fulham. He became a regular for the Lions in that COVID-hit season making forty appearances and he scored his only goal to date in England in a 4-3 defeat to QPR in July 2020.
Molumby was on the bench for Brighton’s Premier League squad in the first half of last season and made one substitute appearance in their 2-1 win at Villa Park in November. In January, he joined Preston North End on loan and made 16 appearances for the club, half of them as a substitute.
He first represented the Republic of Ireland at U15 level and has progressed through the ranks making his full international debut in a 1-1 draw in Bulgaria in September 2020. He now has ten caps and was once again named in Stephen Kenny’s squad for the September 2021 internationals coming on as a late substitute against Portugal.
|Brighton & Hove Albion||1-Jul-2015||Present||4+1||0||0|
|Preston North End (loan)||5-Jan-2021||31-May-2021||8+8||0||1|
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