Ross Giles is a West Bromwich Albion fan, you can follow him on Twitter here. He’s seen a lot of ups and downs over the past few years, but here, he explains how one man may just be changing the fortunes of his beloved club…
Fans of West Bromwich Albion have been used to a rollercoaster. For the last 11 seasons, they have either been in a promotion or relegation scrap going into the last weeks of the season. Only once have they survived in the Premier League after promotion, the miraculous “Great Escape” in 2004/05, which was little more than a lucky fluke after only winning one of the last seven games and being the best of a very bad bunch. The next season a similar run meant they were relegated with matches to spare. This year looked much the same until the appointment of Roy Hodgson.
Hodgson has shown that, for his criticisms at Liverpool, his reputation savaged through the impatience of fans who either wanted their hero back or an expectation they belonged at the top of the league, his knowledge and passion of the game is undiminished.
Many Albion fans were surprised and delighted at the appointment of Hodgson. The speed and swiftness of Di Matteo’s sacking meant few had considered who the replacement might be. With strong rumours of Chris Hughton set to be appointed, Hodgson’s appointment created a stir. A genuine football ambassador, respected across the world and managed under many different forms of football hierarchy, meant that West Brom Chairman Jeremy Peace, who for so long looking to work a continental management structure of technical director Dan Ashworth mainly responsible for signings with a Head Coach to train and lead the team, had found a manager used to such a set-up.
The results speak for themselves. 3 wins and 3 draws in 6 games. Unbeaten. But what is the magic formula? It’s (nearly) the same players, in the same formation, with the same tactics. But clearly the team that had lost confidence, discipline and shape under Di Matteo is far more organised with players knowing their roles. As Chris Brunt, Peter Odemwingie and Jonas Olsson have stated since Hodgson’s appointment, players know what is expected of them, where they should be on the pitch and their responsibilities to team mates. Training seems to be well structured with “not a minute wasted” and organisation and set-up, components missing for months, have been the priority. It’s about winning (and drawing) as a team.
Fulham players are well aware of Hodgson’s skills. A similar run kept Fulham up in 2008/09, however results took longer to manifest. As Hodgson himself states, the players are receptive to his ideas and the fact West Brom have had an approach of passing under Mowbray and Di Matteo, he’s not had to start at the very beginning of football basics or inherit a team used to Lawrie Sanchez. Note both wins against Sunderland and Liverpool, instead of three or four passes around the back four going nowhere, the direct approach over the top has led to 2 penalties and numerous other chances. This hasn’t been to the detriment of the “football” side, as witnessed by the second and third goals against Sunderland, goals that had Arsenal or Barcelona scored would be praised to high heaven.
Seeing Hodgson in an Albion tie being interviewed is still a strange sight for many fans. It’s almost a marriage of convenience, the right manager on an 18 month contract, staying in the Premier League. Hodgson on appointment praised the work of Ashworth and Peace in selling him “the project” West Bromwich Albion are trying to build, staying within budget but being competitive however clearly 18 months is short enough for Hodgson to look at other options; the “big” club he clearly feels he deserves after success elsewhere; the England job once Capello leaves after Euro 2012 or even the Olympic GB team. All are viable options for a man with a restored reputation with West Bromwich Albion the beneficiaries and an opportunity to stabilise in the Premier League.