Connect in the back of the net

“That’s fine, brilliant, not a problem for me” said West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis when he was speaking about how foreign coaches such as Jurgen Klopp are viewed as “sexy and bright” in comparison to British managers, but it was a poor attempt at masking his frustration.

“I’ll listen to them, they say Klopp trains them three times a day in pre-season, absolutely amazing. I’d never have thought of that” said Pulis, with more than a hint of sarcasm as he echoed Burnley manager Sean Dyche’s claims back in August when he said England managers are portrayed as ‘dinosaurs’. “That’s what Sean’s on about. They do stuff that is astonishing, that we’ve ‘never heard of’.”

Pulis attracts his fair share of criticism and the barbs he receives for his ‘agricultural’ approach are well established, though all the praise he and his team picked up in the wake of the 4-0 mauling of Dyche’s Burnley on Monday evening was well justified.

The convincing win put the Baggies ninth, within 3 points of the top six and the driving evening rain should not have doused any optimism generated by the fluid performance strung together by Pulis’s team.

 

Forging a strong squad

Away from the unfavourable perceptions and the summer discontent over the lack of new arrivals in the transfer window, the Welshman has quietly forged a squad strong enough to realistically target a push for a European qualification spot.

Against Burnley, Matt Phillips continued to settle into his role as a creative hub in support of Solomon Rondon, the burly yet sharp throwback to the goal-scoring target men of yesteryear.

James Morrison and Chris Brunt buzzed around in wide positions while in Claudio Yacob and Darren Fletcher they possess a combative and energetic midfield base from which to launch attacks.

Their ceding of 45% possession was in-keeping with the 40% they have averaged so far this season but their total of 16 shots was an illustration of how to effectively use the ball with brisk counter-attacks.

Significantly, it was achieved with usual starter James McClean only managing a late cameo from the bench and without the craft and guile of Nacer Chadli, their joint top-scorer, who is still out  following surgery on his knee.

 

Turmoil period

A fellow absentee, whose name re-emerged before the match with Burnley to ensure he wasn’t being forgotten, was Saido Berahino who announced to the club’s website on Sunday that he would be travelling to France to work on his fitness.

Berahino has not played since September 10th, in a campaign in which he has not yet scored, and has admitted he has lost focus in the fight to return due to a “period of turmoil”.

West Brom and their chairman Jeremy Peace displayed a strong show of resolve in firmly rejecting Tottenham’s interest in Berahino back in 2015, but how much must they now regret not cashing in on the £18 million that was on the table for the striker.

Pulis has stoically maintained that remaining at the Hawthornes was the best option for Berahino’s development, but the 7 goals he has scored in the 40 appearances since Spurs’ interest was blocked suggests the opposite.

With 10 goals from 11 appearances with the England under-21s, a call-up to the senior team was abound after the 20 goals he plundered for West Brom in 2014/15, though now the 23-year-old has fallen completely off the radar during the stage of his career when he should be realising the next stage of his potential.

“I have had a good, constructive talk with Tony Pulis and the club’s senior management and we all agree this is the best way forward for me,” said Berahino but it is hard to agree that the best way forward, when the striker speaks of depression and a loss of focus after a series of disinterested performances, is available as long as he remains contracted to the Albion.

 

The desire to leave hasn’t been altered

It is startlingly clear that Berahino wishes to leave and the relocation to France, and one is entitles to ask why the facilities required to restore his fitness aren’t available in Birmingham, would only make sense if the prospect of a move is being kept open in January.

His current £15,000-per-week contract is due to expire in the summer and Albion, who saw the offer of a new deal rejected back in July, must either sell Berahino for a reduced fee in two months’ time or risk losing him for nothing, a severe blow considering the club have paid for the striker’s development since registering him to their academy at the age of 11.

Pulis, as shown on Monday, has fashioned a squad that has ensured Berahino’s absence has not curtailed them too much, and Berahino’s desire to “earn my place alongside them [his current team-mates] and get back on the pitch scoring again” seems a distant wish given the form and impact of Rondon, Phillips and Chadli in Albion’s attack.

 

A forgotten man

Not so long ago their main man, Berahino is now the Baggies’ forgotten man and after a saga that has been mishandled by both club and player, it is hard to envisage him playing in the navy blue and white stripes of West Brom ever again.

As Rondon fires Albion up the table, Berahino will be out in France hoping that this latest turn in a long, dreary saga that has threatened to douse a promising career will eventually find him a way out.

 

The time has come for a divorce

Albion, Pulis and Berahino have all been at fault over the past 15 months or so but as illustrated on Monday, as the Baggies’ showed an exciting glimpse into life after their once great next hope, it would now be best for all parties if this messy divorce is concluded quickly.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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