A new patch means a new season. My time at Sporting and Atletico was getting a tad bit boring, after flirting with Liverpool for one game and deciding I needed something harder, I walked into the Baggies Bootroom and took up the job there.
Managing West Brom is an interesting proposition. Firstly, the English league is cash rich if you can make it to the top, that gives me a lot of wiggle room to have fun with player development. Secondly we have more control over youth development as opposed to Portuguese sides. Finally, a team who is expected to finish slightly higher than mid table is probably the best challenge. Its realistically possible to out perform and make it to the top, but thats really hard, a more reasonable expectation would be to qualify for Europa League, and if you are lucky come in with a shout for a top four spot. Ambitious targets indeed.
The first thing I do with every new challenge is do a bootroom clearout, it proved harder with the Baggies, they only have a 1m transfer budget, and incurring high wage compensations is a realistic possibility, and anything above a certain amount will be blocked by your board, as I was to find out, when I told David Kemp his time was up. He smiled and sarcastically hinted that it wasn’t up to me ultimately. The board blocked his mutual termination because they had no intention of making him half a million quid richer. They even reminded me that I could only have 9 coaches. So I did the next best thing, challenging them to prove to me their ambition, they caved in and agreed to my request to improve training and youth facilities. At least I won one small battle. Bigger ones were on the horizon.
Looking at West Brom’s DNA something stood out like a sore thumb, they don’t really have a lot of good tacklers in the side, who are young. The U21 team collectively is more inclined to run away from a challenge than stick a foot in, their bravery was that low. They may some decent strikers, but 3 aren’t enough, not if you plan to overachieve, I promoted a young boy from the U21s hoping against all hope that this 1.5 star had some potential. His attributes suggested he might. I was probably already deluding the squad with my behavior.
Even after a convincing preseason when we swept 5 sides with 30 goals in aggregate, players started knocking on my door reminding me that they had bigger ambitions, and that I was not to block any transfer move. When Chris Baird came through the door, I told him it was a hypothetical point, moot even. He agreed and went on his merry way. When Youssouf Muluumbu came in and repeated the same request, I figured giving him an identical response would work. It had worked at Sporting and Lisbon, but apparently noone told me that the players there were active social media players. Muluumbu demanded to be allowed to speak to them regardless of how moot I thought it was. His aggression astounded me, and I calmly chalked his name of my squad sheet for future matches. Key player or not, no one challenges the gaffer. I stuck a 15million fee on his cocky head, and stuck him on the store front window. You want out…there you go. You can wait it out, while we play. A 40k wage earner on the sidelines, I wonder how the board will react.
Results would probably be the only solution, and the right ones too. Our preseason form may have been good, but I was noticing one thing. WBA are an average side, defensively they are going to be challenged, playing 4 at the back without cover is a HUGE risk, and I was going to make it even worse if I played counter, or so I thought.
We went out to the training grounds, and I got the players to work on the ppms that were going to be needed in my side. Each defender was made to learn how to mark tight, every right fullback was told to learn how to get forward. My attacking midfielders needed some guidance on how to work the channels and finally those squandering misfits upfront needed to learn how to place their shots. The training plan was set, as I was eager for the side to improve their ball control, it was abysmal. Stopping a ball and seeing it roll for 5 yards isn’t ideal, if you plan on doing that intentionally, you need to make sure your body is turned so that you can run onto the ball, my boys were statues after they tried to stop the ball.
So there I am working and mapping out what interesting systems we could deploy, I settle on a 442, a 4411 and another 442 which is a counter attacking tactic. I am such a genius, I had absolutely slept through preseason, hadn’t I seen how we sometimes allowed waltzing matildas to play in front of my back four?
I figured that an average side needs to be a lot more counter attacking than my atletico side. The competition in the premiership is not going to be as forgiving as the league in Portugal. So i sit down, look at my 442 and begin making specific role instructions for specific players when they slot into the left fullback position. In my asymmetric system, if I can get him to play a risky direct pass, he could find fleet footed Berahino with a ball behind the opposing backline. That done, I focused on the other fullback and did the same. It was now time to make sure that we LENGTHENED the distance of direct passing, by making more direct, even more direct. Time to launch some heat seekers from the fullbacks, these are usually the best cos if you give em the ppm switch ball to other flank…can you imagine the havoc these can create? We have shown that we aren’t the best at defending so I reckon I should just take it to the opposition, so we assemble.
All the preparation work has been done, the side has been trained to follow my lead, and its time to make a trip to the coast to St Mary’s, where hopefully the saints feel like helping us cross the rubicon with our first win. Ok maybe it could have been worse, Chelsea. So we set up our 442, and the game starts.
3 minutes in and my left fullback launches his first heat seeking missile and plants the ball behind the backline for Berahino to latch onto, he gleefully accepts the invite and with a wave charges into the box. I leap off the bench ready to smack myself, and then he absolutely scores a field goal, I guess he forgot he was playing football. We continue to make some penetration, but then I notice something, we are absolutely getting ripped through the middle. And true to form, St Mary’s erupts as they score Kim Shin-Wook making us pay for missing our best and probably ONLY decent attempt, its the 43rd minute.
During the break I decide to make a 4132 tactic for the first time Its a direct counter attacking tactic, Southampton are playing a 352 formation, those 3 men at the back are being screened by two wingbacks, but their centre is soft. Its time to try something we haven’t done before. We set it up just like we would with the fullbacks armed with missiles. And we get the central midfielder to make late runs supported by 2 box 2 box midfielders. Upfront the duo are aligned as a false nine and a Deep lying forward. By dropping deep he will encourage the CM to exploit the space. Our pressure in the box pays off as we get a penalty, and then with 5 minutes left on the clock, the mental dashing my frontline do gifts us a free kick which Gardner despatches perfectly to Lescott who swivels and lashes the ball into the top net.
West Brom begin their charge up the table with a glorious 2-1 away win at St Mary’s. Now its time for the inevitable collapse, Man City, Sunderland, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool await.