BY WILLIAM HEANEY
I normally have no strong feelings one way or the other when it comes to West Bromwich Albion. However, this season, I can honestly admit that I won’t be too disappointed if they are relegated.
No, I haven’t developed an irrational dislike to the Albion and, given that Scottish football is my first love, I have no allegiance to any of their West Midlands rivals. Instead, I am more concerned about the message that would be sent out as a result of a positive second-half of the season for the Baggies.
Let’s face it; the summer appointment of Alan Irvine as manager was hardly the inspirational, earth shattering choice that fans would have dreamed of. Indeed, many felt immediately that he was the wrong man for the job and would be found to be out of his depth.
Perhaps those early season doubters were right. With Albion just above the relegation zone, they decided to cut their losses sooner rather than later.
Granted, results weren’t spectacular and a long hard season was on the cards – and maybe still is. Having handed Irvine the job only months before though, he should have been allowed the opportunity to turn things around. Exactly what were the powers that be expecting? Top-half? Top four?
As Gary Neville pointed out on television, the dismissal was harsh as their league position at the time was in line with what was expected before the start of the campaign. Perhaps the Hawthorns hierarchy were casting envious eyes at West Ham and Southampton, both of whom are arguably punching above their weight.
It could be that Irvine will return to the game in an assistant manager or academy post – the types of role in which he has spent much of his coaching career – and we may never find out if he was cut out to be a top level boss.
Of course, time isn’t a commodity in plentiful supply in the upper echelons of English football. Irvine is gone and in comes Tony Pulis. On the surface, it appears to be a sound appointment, a pragmatist with a decent track record. There’s no argument there.
Indeed, he may well prove to be the catalyst to take Albion up the table. Remember the surprise when Mauricio Pochettino arrived at St Mary’s and many (myself included) felt a lot of sympathy for Nigel Adkins after he was removed. Southampton haven’t done too badly since then.
This issue however, isn’t all about West Brom. They are merely the latest example of clubs for whom sacking a manager has become just another tactic: as routine as changing formation, dropping a player or making a second-half substitution.
In years gone by, football fans in the UK scoffed at clubs overseas for their treatment of managers. At Atletico Madrid during the 1990s, former owner Jesus Gil went through coaches at the same rate as someone with a heavy cold disposes of tissues.
Nobody’s laughing now. Leeds United may be an extreme case, but with multiple bosses this season alone, they illustrate just how cheaply modern day English football values the man in the dugout. Just ask Michael Appleton, who lasted a whole 67 days at Blackburn Rovers in 2013.
Of course, the huge financial implications of reaching and surviving in the English Premier League are a contributing factor. However, unless a club shows patience, there is no opportunity for any form of long-term planning and they continue to fire fight, operating on a match-to-match basis, without any genuine strategic vision.
For some coaches, their coat is on a shaky nail almost immediately. Anybody who doesn’t hit the ground running is quickly in trouble and under mounting pressure.
Perhaps Paul Ince was right. While at Blackpool, Ince suggested the introduction of a transfer window for coaches, similar to the one in place for players. It could prevent clubs from bringing in someone new during the course of the season, thus forcing them to show same faith in the man in charge. Whether it is workable is a discussion for another time.
So, while I wish West Brom no long-term ill will, it would be nice for clubs to receive a gentle reminder, every now and then, that sacking the manager isn’t the default answer to solving their problems.