We knew it was going to be a summer of change at The Hawthorns and to be honest I had little expectation that the board could deliver a squad capable of challenging for the promotion places. But credit where it’s due. Luke Dowling and co. have made some canny acquisitions, as well as holding onto key players such as Ahmed Hegazi and Matty Phillips to give Slavan Bilic a great chance at promotion in his first season at Albion.
My first look at our new additions came in the home friendly to Bournemouth with Semi Ajeyi, Filip Krovinovic and Kenneth Zohore all starting for The Baggies, as they all did a week later in the season opener at Nottingham Forest.
Ajeyi is a smart signing. £1.5million is a snip for one of the most impressive visiting defenders I saw at The Hawthorns last year. The centre back looks solid, losing little in the air and strong in the tackle. It is fair to say he hasn’t really been tested in either game so far but he has impressed me and I’m looking forward to seeing a partnership develop between him and Hegazi once the latter returns from injury; I can’t see them losing many aerial battles!
Another player to make his Hawthorns bow against Bournemouth was Darnell Furlong, a right back signed from QPR just a couple of days earlier. Furlong came on as sub and despite a couple of misplaced passes early on, he grew into the game and looked very dangerous on the break. Athletic and a willing runner, he provides an excellent option at right back. He has replaced Allan Nyom who has left to join Getafe and I think we can all agree that Furlong is an upgrade! He will have to work hard to win his place in the side though after a blistering start from 18 year old Nathan Ferguson. This boy looks a talent and Furlong looks to have a fight on his hands to win a place in Bilic’s first XI.
Romaine Sawyers will need no introduction to most Baggies fans having spent his youth career at The Hawthorns. Despite showing promise, Sawyers never made a first team appearance for Albion but spells at Walsall and Brentford have seen him mature and grow into one of the Championship’s best midfielders. I always thought of Sawyers as an attacking midfielder but his performance against Forest, in a slightly deeper role alongside Jake Livermore, was a revelation. Despite doing nothing out of the ordinary, he constantly picked the ball up from the centre backs and kept play ticking along, calm and composed in possession. Sawyers is the type of player we haven’t had for a few years, somebody who can control a game and is probably the signing that has excited me the most all summer. At £2.9million, I feel like we have landed a real bargain.
Kenneth Zohore, an £8million signing from relegated Cardiff has a tough job on his hands. He will inevitably be compared to Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez, the duo who scored 47 goals between them last season. Losing the goals of Gayle and J-Rod is obviously a blow and Zohore isn’t necessarily a 20-goal per season striker but I can see why we have invested a decent amount of money in the hard working target man. His touch was a little rusty but he was a good outlet and always looking to bring players in around him. Zohore will not get as many goals as Dwight Gayle but he will create chances for others. Hopefully the goals we have lost will be spread throughout the team rather than relying on one or two players.
Watching Filip Krovinovic took me straight back to 2007, when an unknown attacking midfielder called Felipe Teixeira first took to the field in the famous Blue and White stripes. They have a lot in common; both number 10 style players with a neat touch and excellent range of passing. Krovinovic looked busy around the box with some cute passes trying to unlock the back four. Teixeira was integral in our promotion under Tony Mowbray and if Krovinovic can have a similar impact, he will be a player the fans will love to watch.
As well as losing Rodriguez, Gayle and Nyom, Albion also let Craig Dawson join Watford for around £6million. Salomon Rondon left for China in a deal worth £16million and the club decided not to offer new contacts to James Morrison, Wes Hoolahan, Tyrone Mears, Boaz Myhill and Gareth Barry, although it looks like Barry may still earn himself an extension, if he can prove his fitness.
So onto deadline day. Bilic insisted he still wanted at least four players and he got his wish.
The day started with the news that Sam Field and Jonathon Leko had joined fellow Championship side Charlton on season-long loans. Field has been on the fringes of the first team for a few years but no manager has shown enough trust in him to feature regularly. The glimpses we have seen of him has shown me that he has a very good passing range and is decent in the tackle. Field maybe just lacks a little bit of presence which you need as a central midfielder and if he can go and play regular football at Charlton, maybe he can develop as a player and come back and challenge for a starting berth.
I have been less convinced by Jonathon Leko on the occasions I have seen him. The winger clearly has talent and skill but he sometimes tries to do too much on the ball and his decision making needs improvement. Despite making his first team debut under Tony Pulis, Kyle Edwards has now moved ahead of him in the pecking order and I think a loan move is an excellent option for Leko. The talent is clearly there and if Lee Bowyer can tap into that, then they may well have a good player on their hands.
Outgoings done and the excitement was about the start.
The first arrival of the day was Grady Diangana. The young West Ham winger is somebody I haven’t seen a lot of but a little research has told me that he is an exciting player who plays predominantly down the left side. A quick look on the internet showed a couple of delightful assists as well as some thumping finishes which has now convinced me we have signed this year’s Harvey Barnes! It is obviously hard to tell how good a player is from YouTube clips alone – remember Yassine El Ghanassey! But the many positive comments from West Ham fans on Twitter are encouraging and it sounds as if we may have a player of real quality for the season.
As the clock ticked past 5pm, it looked as though we may have missed out on Brazilian Matheus Pereira, a player we had been chasing for many weeks. Prolonged talks with Sporting Lisbon and an issue with gaining a visa and work permit looked to have buried this deal. But Dowling and his team kept working on it and we finally got our man. Again, I don’t know an awful lot about Pereira but he looks like an exciting winger, the type of player who can get fans out of their seats. I can’t wait to see him in action.
Next on the list was a striker. Despite the pleas of Albion fans all over Twitter and Facebook, it didn’t turn out to be Dwight Gayle. Southampton’s Charlie Austin is the man we have turned to instead. We were rumoured to have tried to get Austin earlier in the window but he was determined to try and win his place back at Southampton. With this looking more and more unlikely, he decided to move in order to play regular first team football.
Austin is a proven goalscorer, especially at this level, and at £4million I think he could be an absolute steal. He is 30 years of age and has a questionable injury record. But if we can keep him fit, he might just have the firepower to send us back to the Premier League. We have a track record of bringing in older ‘proven’ golscorers – let’s hope this one turns out more like Kevin Phillips than Rickie Lambert!
We raided Benfica again bringing in former Arsenal academy striker Chris Willock. Willock signed for Benfica in 2017 and despite some impressive displays for their B-team, has yet to breakthrough to the play for the first XI. Willock is a young player with something to prove and his ability to play anywhere across the frontline will be useful as we inevitably suffer injuries and suspensions as the season rolls on.
Only time will tell but I think this is one of the most successful transfer windows West Brom have had in years. We have kept hold of Ahmed Hegazi, Kieren Gibbs and Matty Phillips, all of whom I think are Premier League quality. We have added strength to the spine of the team with Ajayi, Sawyers and Austin. And we have added flair with the likes of Pereira, Krovinovic and Diangana. The loss of Gayle and Rodriguez is difficult but I think with the additions we have made, we have a much more balanced side and one that won’t have to rely on individual brilliance as I felt we did too much last term.
All in all, I think Bilic should be pleased with the behind the scenes work and it’s up to him to bring this squad of players together and hopefully deliver the promotion that I now think is a real possibility.