With reports circulating over the international break regarding Slaven Bilić’s future, West Bromwich Albion may once more be on the lookout for another manager. Whilst I believe the board should keep faith with the Croat, there are plenty that would welcome a change of manager, and here are five possible alternatives to the former West Ham boss.
Eddie HoweEmbed from Getty Images
Following Bournemouth’s relegation to the Championship, Eddie Howe left the club after a combined twenty-two years in different roles at the club.
Prior to taking the top job at Dean Court, he had held positions including youth coach, player-coach, and reserve team manager. But he first made his name by keeping The Cherries in League Two despite a 17-point deficit when taking over.
The upturn in results continued with Howe leading the team to promotion in the 2009/2010 season before taking the Burnley Job in 2011. He returned to the south coast in 2012 and experienced further success.
Another promotion followed with Bournemouth finishing second in League One. If these achievements weren’t impressive enough The Cherries then completed their journey to the Premier League by winning the Championship title in the 2014/2015 season. To indicate the scale of this achievement former Bournemouth manager Harry Redknapp claimed “it would be like Rochdale” getting into the Premier League.
The majority tipped Howe’s side to return to the second tier after only one season in the league, but once again he proved the doubters wrong by guiding The Cherries to a sixteenth place finish which saw them finish five points clear, this included a 2-1 win at The Hawthorns. Ninth, twelfth and fourteenth placed finishes followed as Howe established the club in the Premier League. He recorded a 41.83% win percentage throughout his time at the club which would be the sort of record which Albion requires to stay up. He did this alongside his team playing an attractive style of football which would go down well at The Hawthorns.
With Albion’s academy producing talented young players in recent years, one quality a potential new manager should have is providing inexperienced members of the squad with opportunities. Howe gave Bournemouth stalwarts Steve Cook and Harry Arter chances at just twenty-two and twenty years old respectively. Albion fan Aaron Ramsdale made his debut for the club aged just twenty-one whilst current Newcastle duo, Callum Wilson, and Ryan Fraser were handed debuts at just 22 and 19 for The Cherries. There are plenty more options too, Nathan Ake, Tyrone Mings, and David Brooks were all brought to the club as young players by Howe.
Despite Howe being tipped for the England job at one point, some factors go against him. As previously mentioned, his only spell away from Bournemouth resulted in a drab year and a half at Burnley. Sometimes a manager just suits a specific club. A relegation never looks good on a manager’s CV but when analysing Bournemouth’s transfer spending it does not make pretty reading for Howe. Across four seasons in the top-flight, The Cherries spent over £240 million (according to Transfermarkt) on permanent signings. This works out as spending around £48 million per season which is money Bilić could have only dreamt of having this summer. Expensive flops include Benik Afobe, Jordan Ibe, and Dominic Solanke.
After being involved in full-time management for the past eight years Howe might want an extended break from the game, but if the Albion board wants a change of manager he would certainly be a strong candidate.
Steve CooperEmbed from Getty Images
Albion could turn to a World Cup winner if they decide to relieve Bilić of his duties.
Steve Cooper first made headlines after guiding England’s under-17’s to World Cup success in 2017. In the lead up to the 2019/2020 season, Cooper returned to his homeland to manage Swansea City, his reputation has been further enhanced by the job his done with The Swans.
Reaching the play-offs last season was an impressive achievement in itself following an extraordinary final day of the season. But when taking into account the style of football, the money spent, and the young players integrated into the squad the Welshman deserves further praise. Following relegation from the Premier League in 2018, Swansea were forced to scale back their finances and offload their top earners. This trend continued into the summer of 2019 where Dan James and Oli McBurnie – two of the club’s main assets – were sold for a combined £35 million. Despite sales, money wasn’t reinvested, with the club utilising the loan market very well with Cooper’s England connections playing an important role. Freddie Woodman, Rhian Brewster, and now Albion man Conor Gallagher all played an important role in last season’s success.
Star defender Joe Rodon departed this summer with Cooper facing the difficult task of replacing him. But another quality of Cooper’s management skillset has shone through with young defender Ben Cabango being promoted to the first team and then shining. The Wales international is not the only youngster to have been given a chance by Cooper. Matt Grimes, ex Albion youngster Yan Dhanda, Morgan Gibbs-White, and George Byers are just some younger players that Cooper has established in the first team.
Less than £2 million was spent in the summer with Cooper once more demonstrating his ability to work on a limited budget. Jamal Lowe has already proved to be one of the Championship’s bargain buys this summer with The Swans sitting only three points off first placed Reading.
The only potential stumbling block that could prevent Albion from hiring Cooper would be the compensation owed to Swansea with Albion looking to spend as little as possible during this current climate.