If they weren't already aware, West Bromwich Albion have recruited a manager of vision in Tony Mowbray. In advance of his first match in charge of the club, home to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the keenest of derbies this afternoon, Mowbray was more intent on running through a game-plan on how to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Never mind that the Baggies are a division's distance, and at least a season away, from such an ethereal occasion; Mowbray's motto seems to be: think big or don't bother thinking at all. Those who would scoff at such presumption might consider that in his two years as manager of the Edinburgh club Hibernian, the 42-year-old Mowbray oversaw a doubling of attendances and a 100 per cent improvement in results and League position. He was waylaid in supermarkets by Scots anxious to shake his hand for restoring pride in a grand old club.
"Hibs won three times against Rangers last season, we beat them 3-0 at Ibrox, something the club had never done in 130 years," Mowbray said. "Getting positive results against Celtic and Rangers with a young team gives you the belief that you can do it in England, that you can take West Bromwich Albion to Old Trafford and not have to play everybody behind the ball but be confident you can take them on and have a gameplan that can actually win there. I would like to think we [Mowbray and his assistant, Mark Venus] have shown the ability to do that."
The offer, when it came, to move from the Scottish Premier League to England's Championship in the wake of Bryan Robson's sacking was eagerly accepted by this former defender with Middlesbrough, Celtic and Ipswich Town.
"It's the step I want to take, I want to pit my wits against the best. That's the challenge here, to get this club back into the Premiership and see if we can do it against the best teams in Britain. I would like to take this club to where Bolton and Charlton have gone over the last few years, to be a club of a certain size who get into the Premiership and more than compete."
When he was appointed, Mowbray opted not to take over the club immediately but to watch West Bromwich's games at Ipswich and Crystal Palace, matches which were won 5-1 and 2-0 by a rampant Albion.
"I met the players for the first time about an hour before the kick-off at Ipswich. It took five minutes to let them know what I was about. I don't carry too many agendas, I'm not cloaked or guarded too much. For me, it was to let the players know what sort of a gaffer they had coming in, drop in the little things I want done differently. At the moment I'm trying not to change too much. That first meeting was about 'here I am, this is what I believe in, this is how I like my football played'.
"I did a lot of motivational stuff at Hibs because they are a young team, but at this club it might not be so pertinent because they have a bit of experience here. When I looked at the squad list the talent I saw made it clear that they have a good work ethic about them, they are a tight crew.
"They can't all hit 60-yard passes to a pinpoint, but a guy who can't do that will probably win the tackle that keeps the ball out of the net. I believe in the old saying that any club is only as good as its senior pros. They run the dressing room, set the standards, and hopefully we have some of them here."
Mowbray is not at all fazed by the magnitude of his debut game today against Albion's close neighbours and deadly rivals. "I am looking forward to it; the bigger the game the better. I want to manage in big games and this is as big as they come.
"But I ain't just thinking, 'Are we gonna beat Wolves?' It's a bigger picture than that, creating a philosophy and a culture within the club where everybody is pulling together. Sunday's game matters a lot, of course it does, but in the bigger picture of things we want to move the club forward. Things have been up and down here the last few years.
"The longer-term target is to be successful, the curve needs to be constantly up. You have to make sure you don't get sidetracked by the negativity that might come from a defeat along the way.
"Let's win lots of matches, let's give the supporters what they want, a team at the top end of the table. Then every game is a big game, because you are there to be shot at."
An avid reader, particularly of books on American sports or biographies of military leaders, Mowbray likes to "stick a big red mark" around quotations he feels that he should share with his players.
This is just one of the ways this thinking-man's manager sets out to impress . "I want them to be successful, and as long as they don't step out of line, good luck to them. I try to set personal standards they can look up to - always on time, always smart, always looking after myself. A standard-bearer, basically. It's easy to do, because that's the way I try and live my life."Reuse content