The statement of West Bromwich Albion technical director Terry Burton was as respectful of the dismissed Alan Irvine as it possibly could have been. “We appointed Alan in the summer convinced that we had taken on one of the foremost coaches in the UK,” Burton said. “And nothing that has happened since then has altered our view.”
Irvine is widely liked within football, as well as respected for his years of coaching. But what his West Bromwich team have lacked so far this season, more than anything else, is a bit of spark. And that is why it is quite natural that Burton would turn to a younger manager, who could inject the club and the side with precisely the qualities that have been lacking for the last year or two.
While Tim Sherwood’s six-month tenure at Tottenham Hotspur was not long enough to draw firm conclusions, he did re-energise a team whose vitality had sapped away. Changing to a 4-4-2 system, Sherwood raised the tempo of Spurs’ game, putting them back on the front foot and taking the initiative in a way that West Brom have struggled to do.
Unlike many of their relegation rivals, West Bromwich have the spine of a good side: a proven top-flight goalkeeper, solid centre-backs and experience in midfield. Their 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane in September was testament to that. But there is a deficit of belief, of youth, perhaps of enthusiasm. West Brom also have more exciting attacking players than many teams, especially in the form of Stéphane Sessègnon and Silvestre Varela. The difficulty is finding a platform for their talents in a team who cannot afford to concede. But that is what Sherwood did for Christian Eriksen, building a role for him, coming in off the left-hand side, which helped him to finish last season so strongly.
There is an obvious lack of goals in the side, with 18 from 19 games, but the raw materials are there. West Brom have a £10m striker in Brown Ideye. Irvine hoped that one goal would inspire more and if Sherwood can encourage and focus the Nigerian international – as he did with Emmanuel Adebayor last season – then West Bromwich have someone who can lead the line and bring their other forwards into play.
Perhaps the most significant success of Sherwood’s Spurs spell, though, was in talent identification. His preferred players – Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb – have become two of the best performers in Mauricio Pochettino’s side this season. Through his experience with the under-21s team, he knows how to get the best out of young players. West Bromwich have real talents in Craig Dawson and Saido Berahino, youngsters who with the right encouragement and direction could become Premier League mainstays.
There are good ingredients at West Brom, if they appoint a bright manager who can cajole and direct them in the right way. Any mid-season appointment is a risk, of course, but they may have just found the man with the right skills.