Biggest Summer Transfer Window Needs to Boost Baggies into Top Four Next Season
After a stirring start to the season, during which they won eight out of their first 13 games and new manager Steve Clarke managed to keep them as high as fourth up to the end of November, the Baggies have endured less invigorating form at the business end. However, while their form has not been good, they remain on course for a club record eighth-place finish.
A disappointing lull has seen West Brom gain only 15 points from the last possible 54, and another worry is that while Romelu Lukaku has scored an impressive 14 league goals and created another seven, he is, after all, on loan.
Their early performances showed what the Baggies can do when on song, but the showings since then have been well under par, meaning that—even without the loss of Lukaku—there are several areas that need adding to.
Looking likely to finish eighth behind Liverpool and Everton is the good news for Steve Clarke in his first season at the helm—the bad news is that he could lose two of his star players in Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie.
This is a list of potential transfers that could help the Baggies to put on a top-four challenge next year.
All stats are courtesy of transfermarkt.co.uk, unless linked otherwise.
Romelu Lukaku: In
The young Belgian has enjoyed his best season, scoring 15 in 37 club matches, and is currently the toast of the Hawthorns.
Lukaku brings to mind a young Didier Drogba, echoing his former Chelsea teammate’s powerful playing style, using his solid frame to bully defenders before finishing off the moves with his ever-improving shot.
It’s impossible to understand why Chelsea opted to fork out £50 million for Torres or £7 million for Ba when they had a more promising player sat on their books all along. While it would seem sensible for Chelsea to use Lukaku in the first team going on his performances this season, with the club seemingly set on bringing in another household name this summer, it looks as though the 20-year-old will be looking for new employers.
There are not many players of Lukaku’s quality within ’Brom’s price range. The club should take their chance and start talks with Lukaku and Chelsea over a permanent contract before he goes back to his parent club.
With both Swansea and West Ham apparently circling, to allow such a talented youngster with obvious hunger to go elsewhere would seem almost irresponsible. Although, the lure of European football at Swansea could prove a major temptation.
Naturally, wages may be an issue, with Lukaku already acclimatised to Chelsea-style pay at age 20, but the lure of guaranteed first-team football along with highest placing in the table of the non “big clubs” will surely catch his attention. That, and the fact that he will not be competing with Odemwingie for a spot next year—not that Peter offered much of a challenge anyway.
Peter Odemwingie: Out
A former favourite at the Hawthorns, the Uzbekistan-born Nigerian international soured the relationship with a bit of philandering in London back in January. Since then he has largely—and rightly—been ostracised, falling away from his former role as first-choice forward into more peripheral duties.
Steve Clarke has already hinted that the 31-year-old will make his move before next season, an announcement that will appease many of the fans disenchanted by Odemwingie’s apparent urge to become a QPR player a few months ago, but the gaffer has said that he will not be sold on the cheap.
An ideal auxiliary forward—if the club manage to either sign Lukaku permanently or find a suitable replacement—would be Michael Owen.
The former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United player is to be released from his contract with Stoke City in the summer as a free agent, making him a prime target for any clubs looking for a mature backup who won’t demand to play every week.
Owen, despite no longer being the bullet of ’98, still has a lot to offer on the field, as well as a raft of experience. While his punditry is not of the utmost clarity, he could come in handy on the training field when developing the younger players, going by some of the managerial elites he has played under.
He’s free, and he accepts one-year contracts.
Richard Dunne: In
Jonas Olsson enjoyed a good season in 2011-12, mainly due to the solid partnership he formed with new signing Gareth McAuley. This year has been somewhat less encouraging; while the Swedish-international has not been all that bad, he is looking decidedly shakier than last term.
Unusually comedic errors have gifted a couple of goals to their opponents, and when the ball goes up the air, rather than having that authoritative presence that we’ve come to expect, it now seems more likely that Olsson will miss it completely. Not the action a team needs from its vice-captain.
At 33, Richard Dunne is not exactly full of youth. Add to that a groin injury that kept him out for the whole of this season and contributed to him being released by Villa in the summer, and perhaps the idea is even less attractive.
But with the McAuley/Olsson partnership stalling a little, maybe a short-term filler solution is what the Baggies need at the back, at least until the younger players such as Craig Dawson come on a bit.
Like Michael Own, Dunne’s CV boasts years of Premier League experience, and before his injury he was still playing with enough vigour to be considered. Serving as a stop-gap might not suit him, but the opportunity to stay in the top flight would be tempting.
At a make-or-break time for Dunne, a move to West Brom would not only boost the defensive ranks for a relatively cheap price, but also give his career the kick that it needs in these later years.
Arouna Kone: In
Unlike many newcomers to England, Arouna Kone wasted no time in settling in, knocking Franco Di Santo out of the first eleven by scoring in his first full game for the Latics and going on to net 13 goals and six assists in 37 competitive games since then.
An accomplished player at holding up the ball, Kone could work as the focus of West Brom’s attack, receiving the ball before tapping it on to the mobile Lukaku. The combined aspects of both players would be a tantalising prospect for any manager operating on Steve Clarke’s budget.
Wigan being relegated serves a prime opportunity for any would-be suitors to draw in.
However, that Kone only joined Wigan last summer is cause for concern, as any bidder would have meet a hefty asking price.
Also, while Wigan being in next year’s Europa League will not overshadow their drop into the Championship, it is unlikely to get in the way should a player such as Kone want to leave. But the club’s own ambitions in the competition, especially considering the rising TV rights with progression into the latter stages, may cause something of an obstacle when enquiring about their star player.
At 29, Kone does not have lot of time left—he may have to decide whether he would rather spend it on the European stage or at the top of English football.
Adel Taarabt: In
Adel Taarabt can easily swing between genius and useless in the course of a match. The mercurial Moroccan has been one of the more frustrating players since signing a full contract for QPR in 2010 after a series of loan spells.
His form in the Championship was something to behold, with him scoring 19 goals and setting up 23 in 44 league games. However, he has failed to carry that level through to the Premier League, scoring only seven over two seasons.
But at just 23, there is still time for Taarabt to fulfil his potential—or at least, get a bit closer to it.
With QPR relegated a few weeks back, it is likely that, presented with the opportunity, Taraabt might agitate for a move back to the Premier League.
QPR will be looking to trim their wage bill, and although the Moroccan international has only shown rare flashes of his talent in the last two years, a change of scene could be what the doctor ordered.
Also, no disrespect to QPR fans, but the management structure at West Brom would be far more beneficial for developing players than the wage-based circus down at Loftus Road currently is.
The diminishing contract of Chris Brunt with no word on an extension also makes this move seem even more plausible.
Naturally, there are wide and central attacking players at the other relegated clubs, such as Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez of Wigan, who would bring a lot to a ’Brom midfield that has looked fairly devoid of imagination at times. But Taraabt, despite his lull of late, has a certain spark to his play that could be fully unlocked by the right kind of management, and it would be interesting to see how he performs in a new environment.