Are the yo-yo years finally over for high-flying West Bromwich?
Tuesday 28 September 2010
Whenever there is a surprise result in the Premier League the focus is on what went wrong for the big club, never on the one causing the upset. So it was when West Bromwich Albion won at the Emirates on Saturday: Manuel Almunia's crisis of confidence and the damage done to Arsenal's title chances dominated coverage.
At the Hawthorns there was a certain amount of pique but for the most part they were happy to celebrate a result which suggested the club had made swift progress since being beaten 6-0 at Chelsea on the opening day of the season.
The storming of the Arsenal fortress followed a comeback 3-1 defeat of Birmingham and a Carling Cup victory over Manchester City. The club are now in the last 16 of that competition and a heady sixth in the top flight. Suddenly there is real bounce in the Baggies' "boing, boing". Maybe this will not be another season of struggle among the elite. Maybe, this time, Albion will establish themselves.
If they do it will be a triumph for the careful husbandry of Jeremy Peace, the club chairman. Peace has long preached, and practiced, the virtues of patience, and of spending within your means. He once told The Independent: "The problem is ambition, a terrible word which means spending money. It can wreck a club."
There is plenty of evidence for that in the lower reaches of the Championship. Indeed, Albion themselves spent a club record £24m on transfer fees when they were last promoted, in 2008, and were still relegated. That was a key factor in their finishing last season with a £10m-plus overdraft. That, however, is wiped out by the £50m TV income they will receive this season; not that they plan to blow the other £40m trying to stay up.
Peace works on a rolling three-year plan assuming the worst-case scenario, relegation and a failure to come back in the life of the parachute payments. "The rationale is, 'If we go off the edge of the cliff, we have to survive'," he said.
To that end new signings are given contracts with break clauses, or pre-determined pay cuts in the event of relegation. This enabled the club to retain Chris Brunt, Jonas Olsson and James Morrison after relegation in 2009. Finances in the summer were strong enough to resist West Ham's bid for Graham Dorrans. Roberto Di Matteo added judicious signings such as Nicky Shorey, who appears to be recovering the form that won him an England cap, and Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie, who has made an instant impact.
The feeling at the Hawthorns is that this is the strongest squad the club has had in the yo-yo years, not that the latter tag is welcome. After beating Arsenal, Di Matteo reiterated his, and Peace's ambition, was "to change the reputation of the club, to stop us from being a labelled a yo-yo team".
It is an 'ambition' which costs money; but at Albion, spending remains within reason.
West Brom on the rise
This season's league results:
*Chelsea 6 West Brom 0
*West Brom 1 Sunderland 0
*Liverpool 1 West Brom 0
*West Brom 1 Tottenham 1
*West Brom 3 Birmingham 1
*Arsenal 2 West Brom 3
*West Brom's last top-flight away win came 18 games ago, a 1-0 success at Middlesbrough in September 2008.
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