Moore’s failing philosophy will be the end of him – he must ditch it now

In the tweny-five years I’ve followed West Brom, no manager has commanded as much goodwill as Darren Moore.

The desire for him to succeed is unparalleled. Rarely does a fanbase boast a boss who genuinely cares as much for their club as they do. That, along with his remarkable performance as caretaker manager, is why I wanted him to get the job permanently.

But the worrying warning signs in the wins Moore picked up at the start of this season were not heeded. Wins became draws, and now, draws have become defeats.

Albion got away with it at Birmingham City and then at Sheffield Wednesday – a combination of incompetent opposition and flashes of individual brilliance, scraped points that we didn’t deserve.

Those moments will only get you so far and can only bail out flawed management for so long. Wigan, Derby and Hull showed that.

Defeats have been coming; opponents have worked us out and let’s face it – it really doesn’t take much working out.

Darren Moore’s Albion insist on playing the ball out from a back three comprised of by far the worst passers on the pitch.

The least able footballers are given the task of supplying the most able – Hegazi, Dawson, Bartley and Adarabioyo are the playmakers in a formation that invites pressure onto the players least equipped to deal with it.

The opposition doesn’t even have to work that hard to close them down, because eventually one of them will just give them the ball. Jeopardy is always around the corner with Albion.

In front of the three worst passers is Chris Brunt, who has never been a central midfielder (not through want of trying) so why the management think he can play there now at the age of 33 is beyond me.

The game just passes Brunt by. I feel sorry for him. A great servant of the club is being singled-out for undeserved abuse, when he should be used as a experienced squad player – dispatched to deliver set-pieces and a fresh pair of eyes in a wide position when quality and composure is needed in the latter stages of tight games.

Instead, he’s played out of position, creating the toxic combination of no quality at the back and no legs in midfield.

And while the centre-backs pass the ball between themselves, both panicked and pedestrian, the best players – Barnes, Gayle, Phillips et al – are all too often forced to stand and watch them from the other end of the pitch.

Moore’s tactics do the opposition’s job for them – they isolate and nullify his biggest threats. The defenders are given the task of getting the ball to the attackers. The results? Well, they speak for themselves.

Fans can blame the board – for lack of recruitment, lack of investment and a lack, frankly, of visible leadership (when was our owner last at a game?)

And I broadly agree with those sentiments, but for once, this is not about them.

This is about the management picking the wrong formation and deploying the wrong tactics and not learning from their mistakes.

This squad should get promoted, even with the lack of summer spending. We have the best player in the league in Harvey Barnes and arguably the best goalscorer in Dwight Gayle. Add to that Phillips and Rodriguez, Gibbs and Dawson (played in their rightful positions) and we should go up.

Instead we’re slipping down the league and showing no signs of stopping.

I still believe the vast majority of fans, like me, want Darren Moore to succeed. He’s young and he’s learning and he has earned the right to reverse this dip in form – but the problem is staring him in the face and either through stubbornness or ignorance he’s not addressing it.

Both he and his assistant Graeme Jones need to quickly realise what our opponents did weeks ago and ditch this failed philosophy, before the club, sadly, ditches them.

Advertisements

This isn’t about head versus heart: Darren Moore has proven he deserves the Albion job on every count

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about whether or not Darren Moore should be given the West Brom job on a permanent basis. 

The question presents itself as the classic heart versus heart conundrum. 

My heart screams yes. Louder than at any time I’ve been an Albion fan. I haven’t felt this close to a manager since Gary Megson took my club from the brink of League One to the Premier League at the turn of the 21st century.

Darren Moore, “Big Dave” to us, was a giant in that team in every definition of the word. He was not only the best centre-half I’d ever seen pull on the blue and white stripes – he was a leader and a lion, a local lad who instantly became a legend. His arrival in 2001 was a turning point – without him that team would not have been promoted to the top flight. 

Before every home game, I would watch Moore intently from my seat at the back of the Brummy Road, perform his pre-match ritual of hopping on one leg for a minute or so, then the other. He did it before very match, and for a time, I started doing the same before Sunday League matches, imitating my hero.

Moore grew up in Handsworth, and though he committed the cardinal sin of watching Aston Villa as a boy, as a player and now as a manager he has continuously talked of the importance of community – the fans being at the heart of everything a football club should do. Lots of people in the sport pay lip service to that stuff – “doing it for the supporters” etc – but with Moore, it feels totally genuine. He gets it, he speaks to the fans and of the fans in a manner which exudes understanding and humility. His time as caretaker manager has seen the players start to do the same, for the first time in a long time.

And the truth is as caretaker manager, Darren Moore could have lost every one of his six games in charge and as fans our opinion of him would not have changed. His place in Albion folklore is long established. 

But the fact is, he hasn’t lost a single game. 

Survival wasn’t even an option when he took over – indeed the absurd timing of Alan Pardew’s departure showed the owner and the board had given up on such a feat. But Moore has made the impossible seem almost possible. In five games: two draws and three wins – as many as Pardew and Pulis managed between them in 8 months. The fact Albion could go into the final game of the season with a chance of survival is of itself nothing short of a miracle. 

It is now surely beyond dispute that had the club acted sooner to end the shameful and embarrassing reign of Pardew, West Bromwich Albion would be a Premier League club next season. Moore has made the owner and the board look like idiots.

He is clearly an expert man-manager. The players, many of whom had given up under Pardew, have ran through brick walls for him. In interviews they cannot praise him enough; goalkeeper Ben Foster said it was impossible not to want to play for Darren Moore. 

But he’s proven more than a mere motivator, he is also a sound coach and smart tactician. Like his old bosses Gary Megson and Tony Pulis, he understands the importance of consistency in team selection (he has picked the same starting XI in the last four games), organisation, work rate and discipline. He knows the team must play to its strengths – we’ve once again started scoring pretty much all of our goals from set-pieces, a tactic that was inexplicably abandoned under Pardew who stopped picking the Premier League’s finest left foot, Chris Brunt. 

He also gets the best of the players (see McClean, Philips, Hegazi, Livermore) and makes the right substitutions at the right time.

Moore gets it, on and off the pitch, and the transformation in the atmosphere among fans is not just because of our up-turn in form and fortune, but because it has been achieved by one of our own. 

Everyone is willing him on – we are as delighted for him as we are for ourselves – and nothing would please us more than to see Darren Moore of all people given the chance to continue what he’s started.

That’s my heart, but here’s my head:

  • New managers (usually!) see an initial up-turn in form.
  • Caretaker managers who get the job permanently usually don’t work out.
  • The improvement in form of some players may be for the benefit of themselves wanting a new club next season.
  • Moore not only has no managerial experience but he has very limited coaching experience with senior players.
  • Preparing a team for six matches that don’t really matter at the end of a season is very different to rebuilding a squad, either for a new Premier League campaign (it’s the hope that kills you) or most likely to get back in to the Premier League from the Championship.

All very reasonable concerns, particularly the latter. 

But I’ve come to the conclusion that on this occasion, it is a risk we should take. For four reasons. 

Firstly, I don’t think the job Darren Moore has done can be explained away by the usual factors – the transformation has been unprecedented. Albion have deserved each and everyone of the points they have earned under him – and Big Dave has shown all the characteristics that make a good manager for the reasons I have previously stated.

Secondly, who are the alternatives? The current managerial marketplace is depressingly uninspiring – a mixture of washed-up has-beens, unknown foreign entities and lower league coaches who have never managed a club the size of Albion. I ask you – what about their managerial records in England makes Michael Appleton or Craig Shakespeare or Derek McInnes or Graham Potter a more attractive prospect than Darren Moore? What has Nigel Pearson or Mick McCarthy or Martin Jol achieved recently that makes you want them to manager our football club? Do they really pose less of a risk than Moore?

Thirdly, every managerial appointment poses a risk, especially when it comes to the aforementioned candidates. The difference with Moore is he has the fans’ backing – if it goes wrong there will be little ill feeling, there won’t be a repeat of the animosity and division that have sadly characterised our fan base in recent years. If he does badly, we’ll sack him.

Finally, I don’t think football should be divided into a head versus heart argument (in fact I think that kind of cold, calculated, emotionally-detached approach partly explains why so many fans feel disillusioned with the sport). 

Darren Moore stands for everything football should be – community, loyalty and humility. Moore has something so many managers lack – identity. His team plays in his image – full of fight and commitment yes but it isn’t just that – they play with quality and purpose, just has he did as a player. The last four games in particular have probably been the best four performances of the whole season.

Yes, I may be walking into the trap. But I do so gladly, knowing the risks and with my head held high. Darren Moore has not only impressed the nation with his managerial abilities, but he has made me proud of my football club again. 

He has earned this chance, and he has the fans and the players behind him, and after all, when heart is no longer at the centre of football, then what are we left with?

My mum didn’t ‘lose her battle’ with cancer. She died. 


My mum died four years ago. She was 56. 

I remember everything about the day she told us she had breast cancer. I was back home from University for the Easter holidays. It was a warm, bright spring morning. I had woken up late, feeling guilty I hadn’t started either of the two essays I needed to write. 

I was sitting in my usual chair in the living room of my family home, the single sofa-chair I had sat in my whole life. There is an order to things in families. Unspoken rules. I always sat in the chair closest to the television. By dad sat in the other single sofa-chair behind me to the left, and my mum and my sister sat on the ‘big sofa’ – my sister on the left hand side, my mum on the right. That was where we sat. Every night of every week of my childhood. When I think of home, that’s how I still picture it. Picture us in our places. That was the order of things in our house. 

That morning, the order of things changed and would never be the same. 

My sister found out first. For reasons I can’t remember, she was looking through my mum’s phone, and came across text messages from my dad. In them, my mum said “ I don’t want to tell the kids until we’re certain”. My mum was a terrible liar, so when confronted by my then 17-year old sister, she gave the game away immediately. Something was up. Something serious.

My sister was almost hysterical. It was like she knew.

Within seconds everyone was gathered in the living room. I was sitting in my chair, my sister was sitting in my mum’s, and both my parents were stood up between us. And they told us my mum almost certainly had breast cancer. Quite advanced breast cancer. It hadn’t been confirmed 100%, but the doctors were quite sure. It was to be confirmed later that week as grade 3 breast cancer.

My life changed in that instant. Honestly, I became a different person from then on. I genuinely can’t remember what it was like to not have either 1) a mum without cancer or 2) a mum at all. 

One of the worst things about my mum getting cancer is I can’t remember what life was like before it. When she died, well-meaning people said you’ll remember the good times, eventually the bad memories, the memories of her becoming weaker and more ill, fade. For me they never have. 

I can recall moments in my life before my mum had cancer, but those memories are tainted. I picture my mum with cancer always. Sometimes physically – literally the way she looked following the chemotherapy which took away her hair that she replaced with a wig. Or wearing her special sleeve, on her left arm, to stop it swelling after they took away her lymph nodes.

Or sometimes she looks like she did before. Young. Without the wig and or the sleeve. But in the memory there is an aura around her – something that tells me she has cancer, or one day will. And I look at her in those memories and I want to tell her. She doesn’t know, but I do. And I want to warn her.

She had cancer for nearly 5 years. Grade 3, aggressive cancer. Like so many, she was unbelievably brave. I think about her bravery and her courage all of the time. She got on with it, she had no choice of course, but she rarely ever moaned or got upset. She had moments, when she was alone with my dad.

He told me that every New Year’s Eve she would cuddle up to him in bed, and ask whether he thought she would be here this time next year. He of course said she would be and to stop being daft. He was her rock, from start to finish. No one else. Just him. We never saw that side of her condition. I was 25 when she died, and my sister 22, but we were her babies, and she shielded us from harm her entire life.

My mum was rock-solid. Nothing phased her. But she wasn’t fighting cancer. It wasn’t a battle. It didn’t beat her. She didn’t lose. She just died. 

Her body was overwhelmed with a disease that spread exceptionally despite the best use of medicine and the application of scientific principles. If it was a fight, a genuine ‘battle’ between her and cancer, my mum would have won, because she would have done anything humanly possible to survive for my sister and me.

But it wasn’t possible. She was a passenger in the entire process. There was absolutely nothing she could do, other than eat a bit better (which she did) stop drinking (which she rarely did anyway), and turn up to her appointments and take her medication.

Beyond that, it was just luck. Some survive breast cancer – thankfully more and more are. My mum survived for 5 years – much longer than she would have 25 years ago. She died when she did because the cancer was more sophisticated than the treatment. It’s as simple as that.

For me, to say she “lost her battle” implies my mum did something wrong to let cancer “beat her”, or worse, that she gave up. Worse still, it suggests that the people that have survived cancer fought harder that my mum, they were better at it. They bothered to go the extra mile that she couldn’t.

I don’t have cancer and I don’t know what it feels like. For some, maybe framing the condition as a battle or a fight is helpful. This is just how I see it – as someone who misses their mum: it upsets me every single time I hear or read those cliche phrases associated with cancer. I think it is lazy and I find it insulting. People don’t mean to be – but it still is.

There are no winners and losers with cancer. There are survivors and there are people like my mum, who die, because we as a human race just haven’t come up with a way of stopping it yet.
Dr Elie Isenberg-Grzeda, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre puts it best for me:

“On one side of the coin is, ‘You’re tough. You can beat this. You’re a fighter. You’re a strong warrior.’ But the flip side of that is the person ends up dying from their cancer. And it means they weren’t tough enough. They couldn’t beat it. They weren’t a fighter. They were actually a loser.” 

As a journalist, I hear these phrases all of the time used by well-meaning, kind and clever colleagues. But please, stop. Think what your words could mean to someone. Think a second longer about what you might be implying and come up with a better way of saying it. Just say it like this:

On March 12th, 2014 Diane Hewitt died of breast cancer. 

I think about her every day. It hurts so much. But I am immeasurably proud of her. Whatever is good about me came from her and I want the world to know she died only because she had no choice, not because she ‘lost a battle’ she was never destined to win.

Read more about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/25/having-cancer-not-fight-or-battle?CMP=share_btn_link

I’m a Tony Pulis disciple, but even I am losing faith

Let me start my stating that I believe Tony Pulis is the best thing to happen to West Brom since Gary Megson, for reasons I’ve laid out endlessly before, and won’t go into again here. I stand by everything I have said.

Furthermore I still think most of the people who don’t like him never wanted to like him and had no intention of ever giving him a chance. The venom directed at him has been disproportionate and wholly unfair – a mixture of naivety, blind hysteria, and in some cases willful ignorance. I don’t stand with those people, and I never will.

But even I, a disciple of Tony Pulis, am losing faith in his methods. Continue reading

Albion’s transfer tribulations are a running joke, with or without Tony Pulis

image

West Brom’s troubles in the transfer market are not new. It has nothing to do with Tony Pulis.

Like him or loathe him, fans on either side of that debate with even the faintest awareness of the club’s recent history will know that Albion’s utter inadequacy in signing players long pre-dates his arrival.

In fact, there’s an argument that Pulis has brought in two of the best players to wear an Albion shirt in decades – Darren Fletcher, and to a greater extent Jonny Evans.

But I digress. We are not discussing the merits of Tony Pulis here. Albion’s problems go beyond his particular style of football. Some fans want him gone – fine. But answer the more pressing question – would his sacking see the club sign more players, better players? History world suggest not.

Pulis will be as frustrated as any fan at the lack of fresh faces, just two so far this summer – Matt Phillips and Brendan Galloway. He knows, ultimately, his head rolls if results go south.

This squad has desperately needed those fresh faces for four years. Since Roy Hogdson’s departure in May 2012, the team has increasingly looked tired, in desperate need of future-proofing.

Loan signings – most notably Romelu Lukaku – have at times plastered over the cracks. But Albion have for too long relied too heavily on the same core group of players.

The same centre-half pairing that started in the  5-1 win at Wolves four years ago, Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley, started Albion’s 2016/17 campaign at Crystal Palace, now aged 33 and 36 respectively. James Morrison too started that game at Molinuex, as did Ben Foster. Chris Brunt would’ve but for injury.

It is a positive, in one sense, that the club has such loyal servants. But four and half years on, and with four consecutive Premier League survival-cheques in the bank, where is the progress? Where is the vision? Where is the next Garerth McAuley? The next Chris Brunt?

They were the future once – spotted, and signed by a scouting structure admired the country-over. It is hard to believe now that this is the same club that bought Youseff Mulumbu, Graham Dorrans, Billy Jones, Peter Odemwingie, Claudio Yacob, Roman Bednar, Craig Dawson, along with, as mentioned, Olsson, McAuley, Morrison, Brunt and Lukaku either on free transfers, as loans or impressively-low transfer fees.

What went wrong? Received wisdom points to the departure of Dan Ashworth. Albion’s technical director between 2007 to 2012, he is credited with overseeing the long list of aforementioned signings, and thus laying the foundations for Albion’s subsequent success.

Since leaving to become the FA’s Technical Director, to say West Brom have failed to replace Ashworth would be putting it mildly. The club has handed the mantle to Richard Garlick, Terry Burton and Mervyn Day albeit in different guises, only to swiftly snatch it back.

But does one man really explain this level of failure? This is the full list of signings between May 2013 – May 2015.

Nicolas Anelka
Goran Popov
Diego Lugano
Matej Vydra
Zoltan Gera
Scott Sinclair
Morgan Amalfitano
Lee Camp
Stephane Sessegnon
Victor Anichebe
Joleon Lescott
Craig Garnder
Jason Davidson
Christian Gamboa
Chris Baird
Brown Ideye
Andre Wisdom
Sébastien Pocognoli
Christian Gamboa
Giorgod Samaras
Sebastian Blanco
Darren Fletcher
Callum McManaman

Only 2 of these players now feature in the first team squad. TWO. Out of 23. Only five are still at the club – and they include Gamboa and Pocognoli who didn’t make a single league start in 2015/16, and McManaman, who is likely to leave before this transfer window closes.

It is an appalling record. Ineptitude on an industrial scale, and the fact Ashworth’s departure, over four years ago is still cited as the primary cause, is evidence of just how far the club has taken its eye of the ball when it comes to acquisitions.

One bad appointment, you can pass off as a one-off, someone else’s fault, they happen. Two, three, four bad appointments, and the blame lies squarely at the club’s door.

Ashworth was good, but he’s not God. Others clubs have coped without him – surely, surely Albion could’ve found someone up to the job by now?

Nick Hammond is the latest to take on the role, and so far, it’s business as usual. Just two new signings, one on loan, to replace five departures.

To give some credit, the club has so far insisted it will only buy the right players. There is simply no point repeating the farce that was the summer of 2014 – shipping in a lorry-load of dross only to dump them all a year later.

There has clearly been a shift in strategy in the last 18 months from quantity to quality. Evans, Fletcher, Rondon, McClean have all made positive contributions, and Matty Phillips looks the real deal thus far. Chester, Lambert, Lindegaard and McManaman didn’t come off, but a 50% success rate is at least heading in the right direction.

But so far this summer, Albion have done neither quality not quantity, despite insisting there’s more money in the pot than ever before. They’ve just stood still, which in football teams means gone backwards.

And this squad doesn’t need tweaking, it needs new players en masse. Tony Pulis says he needs five. I would argue that is the bare minimum requirement.

McAuley and Olsson are likely playing their last season for the club, loanee Brendan Galloway will go back to Everton, Pocognoli and Gamboa will rightfully go. That leaves two first-team defenders – Evans & Dawson.

At the end of the season, Claudio Yacob will be 30, Darren Fletcher 33, Chris Brunt 32, James Morrison 31, Craig Gardner 30.

Rickie Lambert will go, Saido Berahino will likely join him, leaving Solomon Rondon, the club’s only striker.

Yet the lack of urgency at The Hawthorns is alarming. The average age of the squad is no secret, the need for young signings has been apparent for 3 years, but where is the evidence that anything has been done about it? Where is the planning? Why weren’t players lined up last season for the start of this one?

How on earth, with just days to go before the window slams shut, have Albion found themselves in this position yet again?

If the departing Jeremy Peace deserves credit for appointing Dan Ashworth 9 years ago, he deserves as much criticism for failing to replace him 5 years later. Tony Pulis has proven he can keep up almost any club, but even he will struggle with this team unless something changes, and fast.

Tony Pulis doesn’t deserve criticism – he deserves credit, and lots of it

tp2

As the business-end of the season draws in, back-to-back wins have put West Brom six points off a European spot, but more importantly, eleven points clear of relegation.

A team that this time last year was immersed in a relegation fight, is 12 months on, easing away from danger. For the first time in three seasons, Albion aren’t been talked of as relegation candidates. Clear progress is being made at a club in desperate need of stability and consistency.

Tony Pulis then, the mastermind behind Albion’s climb, is one of the last managers you’d expect to be under pressure right now. But under pressure he is.  Continue reading

I fear Twitter will force Tony Pulis out of West Brom

tp

There was a time when the only authentic way of gauging the collective mood of my fellow Albion fans was to be amongst them.

For most managers, there is always a game, a moment within a game, when the tide finally turns irreversibly. The supporters have had enough – the chairman forced to act, before they turn on him.

No manager, as in life, can please all of the fans all of the time. There has, and will always be, dissenting voices, no matter the success. Yet the wisdom of the crowd kept such voices muted.

Then, there was Twitter. Continue reading