There have been few managerial departures as unsurprising as Alan Pardew’s from West Brom last week. After overseeing a run of just one win in 18, it always seemed a case of when rather than if Pardew would become the latest casualty of the Baggies hot-seat. The 56 year-old had been defiant throughout his spell at the club, but as the weeks went by and the defeats began to snowball, Pardew’s confidence in himself seemed to diminish and fade like the grey hairs on his head.
West Brom now look certain to be relegated, rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, five points adrift of safety with just two games to go, leaving long odds for football bets on their survival. It will be the end of an eight-season spell in the top flight. However, to blame this sorry end to West Brom’s Premier League status on Pardew alone would be to ignore something much greater. Albion have been a club on the slide for years now, and one in which negativity has been festering season upon season, swept away under the plush carpet that is Premier League survival.
It had once looked so promising at the Hawthorns. The appointment of Steve Clarke in the summer of 2012 was a bold one, and ultimately yielded the club’s most successful Premier League season ever, securing an impressive eighth-place finish. Clarke brought an attacking style rarely seen in that part of the midlands, with the irrepressible Romelu Lukaku announcing himself on the English football scene in style. The Baggies looked a new club under the Scot’s stewardship, with wins over the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, and a thrilling 5-5 draw with Man Utd giving fans a flavour of what life would be like as one of the big shots. Clarke was seen as the future of the club, bringer of newfound success. https://www.youtube.com/embed/3Atpfx-Z8QE
The nature of football management in the 21st Century dictates that success must be maintained, that teams should grow and grow and never recede from previous glories. It’s an unattainable ideal, that of continuous improvement in a league so competitive. Clarke was soon unceremoniously pushed out the door the following season after a slump in form, putting in motion the sad slide West Brom have endured ever since.
Disastrous spells under Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine followed soon after. The appointment of Irvine was a particularly bemusing one for supporters. Here was a club that two seasons ago had been challenging for European positions, and now having just evaded relegation under Mel, had hired a manager with no Premier League experience, as if conceding that a relegation battle was the best they could hope for.
The eventual arrival of Tony Pulis was greeted with relief initially by supporters. Here was a manager who had never been relegated, who squeezed the best out of his teams, barking orders from under the shade of that peaked baseball cap. Pulis brought the stability the club needed after a period in which they were fortunate to remain a Premier League club. And yet after three years of mid-table obscurity, fans grew weary of Pulis’ ways, bored of the one-dimensional football which, despite yielding Premier League safety, was failing to fill seats at the Hawthorns.
There is a long-held debate about whether unattractive football should be celebrated as long as it yields results. Do the ends justify the means? Pulis’ West Brom teams were disciplined and dogged, but lacking in any kind of flair. There was little to get supporters on their feet, an absence of the kind of skill and trickery that cause fans to fall in love with football in the first place. The club was avoiding the clutches of relegation, and yet there seemed no plan as to how to reach higher. This is the dilemma both the West Brom supporters and board were faced with under Pulis, but the decision to part company with Pulis was undoubtedly the right one, whether or not West Brom are relegated this season. The tracksuit-wearing Welshman had sucked much of the life out of the club, and his departure was met with a puff of the cheeks and a sigh of relief from much of the Albion faithful. https://www.youtube.com/embed/3TIew2cv7vg
Pulis’ reign made one thing abundantly clear. Since the departure of Clarke, and Roy Hodgson before him, West Brom have had no clear plan, no clear footballing identity. If you look at other clubs of a similar stature, the likes of Burnley under Sean Dyche, Bournemouth under Eddie Howe, or Leicester under Claude Puel, it’s easy to see their teams’ identities. Each manager brings a unique style and philosophy, and they stick to it even when results don’t always go as planned. There has never been a similar feeling at West Brom, but rather a dull and dreary sense of hit and hope. Those who make predictions on the football results have always known what to expect from the Baggies: win a few set-pieces and plonk the ball on the head of McAuley or a Dawson. Albion had been a team merely existing, never renewing themselves but not quite decaying, comfortable and smug in their mediocrity.
That was until this season. The reality of West Brom’s likely return to the Championship is that it has been inevitable, simply a matter of time, like an old family dog resiliently fighting and surviving against the sad truth of its own mortality. Pardew’s arrival at the club was just the latest nail in West Brom’s proverbial coffin. Another manager bereft of a style or substance necessary to help a club reach its potential.
The remainder of this season is likely to be left in the hands of caretaker manager Darren Moore, who becomes the fourth man to hold the reins at the Hawthorns this season. Instability can only lead to failure, and West Brom’s decline is indeed a failure to deliver to fans the very least they deserve, that of a competitive, entertaining team, one which makes the increasingly extortionate season ticket prices somewhat worthwhile. But West Brom have failed on every level, and Moore now has the unenviable task of trying to salvage some positivity as this ageing and indifferent squad sinks down into the depths.