West Brom manager Pepe Mel goes on the attack, despite the loss of striker Shane Long to Hull City
It is a good job he is a man who, in his own words, 'likes a challenge,' but he has been in this situation before
Friday 17 January 2014
As a published novelist, Pepe Mel knows all about subplots but, unfortunately for him, the good news of his official unveiling at The Hawthorns – the message that he is determined to bring attractive, attacking football to West Bromwich Albion – was partially overshadowed by the news that striker Shane Long was close to joining Hull City for £7m and confirmation that no transfer funds would be available to strengthen his squad in the current window.
It is a good job that Mel is a man who, in his own words, "likes a challenge". Securing Premier League survival may be the immediate priority for a team three points above the relegation places, but the new Albion manager's eventual goal is to lead them into qualifying contention for the Europa League – something he managed at his previous club Real Betis in Spain.
"I had to do the same job there that awaits me here and we did it well," said Mel. "When I arrived at Betis they were in the Second Division and had no money and there were judges running the club. Four years later when I went, Betis were in the Europa League."
Albion are the 50-year-old Spaniard's 10th club and first abroad. Though speaking in Spanish, he has impressed Albion insiders with his engaging manner and grasp of English and revealed he had sought advice from Rafa Benitez, an old friend from their days as young players in Real Madrid's third team, about the challenge that awaits in the Premier League.
"I have spoken with Rafa Benitez, he was a team-mate at Real Madrid and encouraged me to come here," said Mel, whose first top-flight job in Spain came as Benitez's replacement at Tenerife and ended in relegation. "Rafa's view is this is the best league in the world. He's a good friend but Rafa got a different type of club, and the things he did are not necessarily what I have to do. They are different things."
That is certainly true, though Mel does wish to replicate the attacking football Betis played. "West Brom have to be aggressive in their approach, they have to create a lot more scoring opportunities and for that they need to adopt an attacking mentality," explained Mel, who has been putting his new charges through double training sessions ahead of Monday's home game against Everton.
Although Mel claimed he was first contacted by Albion "two days" after his dismissal by Betis – which, curiously, would have been before Steve Clarke's sacking – he was appointed only last week after an apparent U-turn over his willingness to work with the club's existing coaches. His own men may yet arrive.
As for the squad at his disposal, Mel will not be spending any money this month after Albion's sporting director, Richard Garlick, confirmed that any deals for players in the current window would be loans, despite the impending departure of Long. "He's got effectively 18 months left on his contract and the club have put forward two offers of a new contract, neither of which was accepted," said Garlick. Mel's highest scorer is 20-year-old Saido Berahino with four goals, yet Garlick stressed: "He is more than happy with the squad we've got."
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