• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Devo-max, West Brom style

Pepe Mel, who was fired by Betis on December 2, is the latest manager at West Bromwich Albion and the newest attempt by the club to row against familiar football tides by relying on a pan-continental approach to ringfence their future presence in the Barclays Premiership.

The appointment of Pepe Mel underlines West Brom's ambition to oversee a pan-European philosophy at the heart of the football clubPhotograph: PA
The appointment of Pepe Mel underlines West Brom's ambition to oversee a pan-European philosophy at the heart of the football clubPhotograph: PA

Whatever else you think of the Baggies, you can't blame them for not trying every avenue and keeping an open mind.

Before Mel, there was the Scottish long-time assistant coach finally given a crack at being the captain of his own ship: Steve Clarke. Before Clarke, the well-travelled old school globe-trotting English veteran with 35 years' experience: Roy Hodgson. And, prior to him, the up-and-coming former Premier League star, who had excelled in League 2: Roberto Di Matteo.

And now, it's Mel. A somewhat eccentric, outspoken manager with no track record in England, who was flavour of the month last year but left behind a team dead last in the Liga table.

In favour of Mel, there's the fact that Betis played outstanding football last season, that he's an enthusiastic hands-on coach and a very intelligent man who is also a published author of mystery novels.

Against him, there's the fact he has zero experience in the Premier League or, indeed, outside Spain. That, and the fact that his club had won just two of 15 league games when he was let go.

Either way, it fits with what West Brom are trying to do, which is create a club that is self-sustaining and not at the mercy of whoever is in the manager's hotseat.

You've heard it before at clubs with a more "traditional" approach. A club "backs the manager" by basically giving him money to spend, usually with the help of a friendly agent. The manager needs to have a deal of at least three years. Oh, and the manager had better be a "big name" otherwise the fans "won't have it".

West Brom have ignored all that. Mel won't be doing the signings, technical director, Richard Garlick will.

Mel got an 18-month deal, which means that if he fails it won't cost a fortune to let him go. As for "big name", well unless you're a devotee of La Liga you've probably never heard of him.

But the philosophy at the Hawthorns makes West Brom arguably the most "European" of clubs in the sense that power is decentralised. The manager's job, first and foremost, is to get the squad to perform. Contracts and signings are left to someone else.

And when a new manager is needed, the over-riding question is whether he can do a better job with the current set of his players than his predecessor.

Not - as it is with some clubs - how much money will he get to spend to "bring in his own players".

It has worked thus far. West Brom finished 11th, 10th and eighth in the past three seasons. They are currently 14th. And while, going into the weekend, that was four points from relegation, it was also just two points from 10th place.

The beauty of the system is that, if it doesn't work, it's not hard to hit the reset button, because the signings were made with the medium-term in mind and managers are hired to work with the current squad, not overhaul it.

Mel may or may not keep the Baggies in the top flight. But if he comes up short, replacing him won't be too traumatic.

Last week, Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke said he "thinks" the 2022 World Cup will be held in winter. A three-week break from mid-November to the end of the first week in December, then the competition itself, wrapping up early in the New Year. Cue instant headlines around the globe, maintaining Fifa had decreed the World Cup would be in winter and lamentations about the disruption it would cause to the European leagues.

Then, when Fifa issued a statement underscoring what everyone already knew (or should have known), that Valcke was simply expressing a personal opinion and that it wasn't his decision anyway, but that of Fifa's executive committee who would be voting on it most likely in December, the headlines became "confusion at Fifa".

There is no confusion. Valcke doesn't run Fifa. Sepp Blatter does. And even if you regard Valcke as Blatter's mouthpiece, it will still come down to the ExCo vote. And it's worth remembering that this is not a rubber-stamp body: don't forget Blatter never wanted Qatar to host the World Cup and yet the executive committee still pushed it through. The interesting thing is whether Valcke was just being loose lipped and speaking out of turn (it wouldn't be the first time). Or whether - and here you enter the world of conspiracy theorists although that isn't entirely alien to Fifa watchers - this is part of a grand design.

The idea goes something like this. Valcke continues to push the idea of a winter World Cup as the only solution to Qatar 2022 (and it probably is, unless you really want players running around in 40-degree heat). The outcry grows. Europe's big leagues get angry. So too do FifPro, the players' union. And, crucially, the broadcasters and sponsors who have already threatened legal action if it is moved to winter.

Suddenly, the backlash becomes loud enough and noisy enough that Blatter cobbles together sufficient votes and support to do what he originally wanted: not hold a World Cup in Qatar.

Plausible? Are Fifa that clever and cunning? Probably not. But, frankly, if that's the outcome, switching 2022 elsewhere, it may well be the best solution for the game. Not to mention its credibility.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

205141