Soccer

2010 English Premier League Preview: West Bromwich Albion

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Greeting fellow Inter-nets travelers, with the 2010-11 Barclay's/English Premier League season rapidly approaching its kickoff August 14 with Manchester City v. Tottenham, we begin our club-by-club countdown with the team everyone in America is talking about ... that's right West Bromwich Albion. There's no specific order, but we'll be getting to the bigger teams as we get closer to the curtain raiser. Hopefully these will have a different approach than you're standard, manager, who's in, who's out, etc. capsules that you'll likely also read. Enjoy!

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Welcome back West Brom.

Apologies immediately if that sounds like a bad title to a 1970s sitcom.

Its been slightly over a full calendar year since our dearly beloved Baggies have graced the Premier League. It's a shame, since their last foray into the top flight was nothing short of memorable.

Well, not exactly.

Flash back to West Brom's 2008-09 EPL campaign. What pops into your mind?

Mueller ... Mueller ... Mueller.

Exactly, not all that much.

If you want to be cruel, about the only noteworthy aspect of West Brom's last time in the top flight was the fact the club didn't even bother to sign a shirt sponsor.

Rest assured, West Brom's shirts will be adorned with the logo for Homeserve, which according to my 20-second research is some sort of insurance company for maintenance work -- something every viewer of the Premiership clearly needs on a daily basis.

So yeah, they've got that going for them, which is nice.

The thing is, nothing quite says English soccer better than name itself: West Bromwich Albion.

Can't you taste the blood pudding oozing out of it's casing whilst reading it? The team is nicknamed the Baggies for crying out loud and anyone and, remarkably, few people still alive exactly know its origin.

There is an anachronistic quality about West Brom as a whole. As the Premier League looks globally to assert its sporting dominance and rake in as much money as possible -- by any means necessary -- the West Midlands club continues looking inward. The whole lack of a shirt sponsor seemed to emphasis this point.

As easy as it is to poke fun at the quaintness that hovers over West Brom like an industrial-era cloud of soot from our comfy trans-Atlantic perch, yet the club's approach is actually somewhat admirable. At its roots soccer is a local, parochial game. The fact West Brom continues to look to the Midlands, instead of the Middle East isn't necessarily such a bad thing.

I know that if I resided in England, my prickly, cynical personality would probably lead me to hate the Premier League and it's hell-bent quest to dominate the world. I'd probably rail against Richard Scudamore and how he's allowed the chase of money to move the game away from its roots, to the detriment of the ticket-buying, working class fan -- the backbone of the game in its infancy in the late 1800s to today.

Modern day Premier League fans want big-name signing after big-name signing. It seems the bulk of the supporters and owners/chairmen/board of directors of big clubs would like their favorite team to be an Anglican version of the Real Madrid Galaticos and everybody else can go to hell. The collectivist, NFL mindset that pervaded the 1960s, where television revenue was shared equally, ensuring a high tide would raise all boats simply doesn't exist in England, or European soccer. It's a cutthroat business to the core.

In light of this, West Brom appears to be quite content to be the only "yo-yo/elevator" club in England. Since the turn of the century the Baggies have won the Second Division/League Championship once and placed second three times. That's a lot of back-and-forth, bouncing around.

The club, though, knows what it is. Life in the Premier League, or even an extended stay won't result in West Brom's navy-and-white striped shirts being spotted on the streets corners from Toronto to Tokyo. Even consecutive runs in the Champions League or a transcendent player might not push West Brom to those heights. The club, led by chairman Jeremy Peace, wisely hasn't overstepped its means in an attempt to become a "global brand."

In turn, they haven't wasted tons of money bringing in high priced transfers, which would jeopardize the club's bottom line.

Instead, West Brom seems happy to give it's fans Premier League football every other, or every couple of years. Play a somewhat attractive level of ball and entertain the 20,000+ loyal supporters that fill the Hawthorns each week. It's part of the reason its been able to assemble a solid, respectable team that on the glided-edge of financial apocalypse, like a Portsmouth or numerous other lower-league clubs.

Is this current roster assembled by Italian coach Roberto Di Matteo going to set the world on fire? Most likely not. The biggest off-season signings are ex-Blackburn midfielder Steven Reid and Spanish defender Pablo. You know, moves that barely set off a ripple outside of central England.

As it stands the only iron West Brom appears to have in the fires is a move for ex-Manchester United flop Eric Djemba-Djemba, which, well, is hard to defend logically.

Across this board this team is fine in the Championship, but limited on the Premier League level. Look at Czech striker Roman Bednář is your typical player who can rip it up in the Championship, but become exposed by Premier League defenders. Bednář scored six in West Brom's last Prem appearance, a figured that jumped to 11 in the Championship last year. Same thing with Northern Irishman Chris Brunt, who led the team with eight league goals in 2008, then had 13 last season in the Championship.

If there's a bright spot it's 23-year-old Graham Dorrans, who was considered among the top five players in the Championship last season, by nearly all accounts. I won't pretend to tell you I know anything about him aside from what's been written. The transition from Championship to Premier League isn't easy for players, it's like television actors trying to become big time Hollywood movie stars. Sure it happens, but more often than not it doesn't.

It's at least encouraging West Brom was able to fend off interest from other clubs and keep the young Scot for the next four years. If West Brom had lost him along with Slovenia captain Robert Koren(*), who was released, the midfield would be a total disaster.

(*) Perhaps Di Matteo has a no jazz hands allowed policy? Hard to fathom why they wouldn't want to keep a player of his quality, even if they had to give him a raise.

Something struck me a few years ago while reading "FourFourTwo." Every month they do a segment interviewing a celeb about their favorite club. Many times it rings hollow and you can tell the photo is taken with a scarf freshly out of its plastic wrap. In this particular issue English comedian Frank Skinner -- one of the writers of "Three Lions" -- was interviewed about his love for West Brom. At the end, instead of an obligatory plug for an upcoming project or something, Skinner's tag basically said he was doing it to do it and said that tickets were on sale for the next West Brom home match.

Are we going to roll our eyes come a Saturday morning in October when West Brom is featured on Fox Soccer Channel's 10 a.m. match? Probably.

Is West Brom going to mind? Probably not.

And a team that knows it's role and its comfortable in its own skin? That's quite okay in today's game.

Last word -- Hard to do anything other than pencil in West Brom for 19th. Unless the club gets off to a quick start before Christmas, expect the Baggies fighting for their lives the rest of the way. Remember, too, West Brom starts with three of its first four matches against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. Good luck.

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