Albion are also lacking in the central midfield department. This comes as no surprise, since Albion’s recent transfer policy centered around loaning youthful, promising players. At times last season, Albion’s midfield consisted of Conor Gallagher, Okay Yokuslu and Ainsley Maitland-Niles – three loanees.
This is unsustainable. The Albion board did well in snapping up highly-rated midfielder Alex Mowatt on a free transfer; Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers are also proven at this level, though there should be concerns about Sawyers’ suitability in a high-intensity midfield.
There is also Quevin Castro, who initially signed under the guise of ‘one for the future’ following a successful trial. He appears to have impressed in training, though, and is now very much involved with the first-team.
Though that leaves Ismael with four central midfielders, with doubts over Sawyers, Livermore’s age and Castro’s inexperience, signing one more central midfielder would represent a sensible move.
James GarnerEmbed from Getty Images
They call him the ‘Birkenhead Busquets’ (because he’s from Birkenhead and he plays like Sergio Busquets). ‘They’ are not wrong – Garner is a serious player.
Like Laird, Garner is the product of Manchester United’s youth academy, and so if Albion did opt for one, they would not be able to go for the other. In any case, here is the case for the Man United midfielder.
In his first full season of senior-level football, Garner impressed in midfield at Nottingham Forest; he made 40 appearances, scoring four goals and notching one assist. Indeed, despite being more of a holding midfielder, his attacking output was fair, averaging 1.3 shots per game.
His control of the midfield, however, is where Garner impressed the most. He held a pass completion rate of 81% and averaged one key pass per game.
It is questionable whether Ismael’s system requires a holding midfielder; it would also be questionable to strictly label Garner as such. Garner holds the potential to act as a box-to-box midfielder; according to SofaScore’s thorough rating system, he is just as proficient in attack as he is in defence. Just look at Garner’s heat-map for last season – he was everywhere.
In a high-pressing, high-energy, high-intensity system like the one Ismael intends to implement, Garner could be the perfect fit alongside either Alex Mowatt or Jake Livermore. And given Nottingham Forest’s poor performance last season, Albion would undoubtedly be a step-up for the Birkenhead Busquets.
Gustavo HamerEmbed from Getty Images
There were some links to Gustavo Hamer at the start of the window, though nothing appears to have materialised. He currently earns his money at Coventry City, and was an important factor in their successful return to the Championship.
He is a midfielder stronger in attack than he is in defence, though applies himself tenaciously when necessary. He chips in with goals, scoring five last season, and averaged 1.5 key passes per game.
Hamer came through the Feyenoord youth academy, before earning a move to mid-table Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle, where he made 50 appearances, scoring four goals and notching seven assists. Given the quality of opposition in the Dutch league, with the likes of Ajax and Feyenoord, Hamer is certainly experienced for a 24 year old. He has also represented the Dutch national team at U15, U18 and U23 level.
Hamer would represent a solid signing for the Baggies, and would likely cost around £2m. However, stylistically, Hamer is quite similar to Mowatt; a tenacious, energetic creative midfielder who chips in with goals. Given Albion’s meagre budget, Albion would perhaps fair better looking elsewhere.
Trevoh ChalobahEmbed from Getty Images
This is could take the shape of Chelsea midfielder Trevoh Chalobah. Of all the names on this list, Chalobah is the one who holds the most concrete links. Albion had been in talks with Chalobah from the start of the transfer window, and at one point, a deal looked close.
Such a deal, though not dead, looks much more unlikely as Chalobah’s head was turned by Premier League interest. From Albion’s perspective, interest appears to have cooled, too, perhaps since Ismael is supposedly happy with what he currently has on offer.
A deal, however, would still make sense, not least because Chelsea do not appear to be demanding a transfer fee for his signature.
Chalobah spent last season on-loan at Ligue 1 side FC Lorient, and this is no doubt the spell where he impressed the most. Though proficient across all areas of midfield, he operates most effectively from deep.
Though Sawyers played a similar role in the latter part of the 2019/20 campaign, Chalobah’s ability to operate from deep is more natural, and would provide a concrete link between defence and attack. He also appears to be quicker and more energetic on the ball than Sawyers.
Chalobah holds Championship experience, too, having had spells with Huddersfield Town and Ipswich Town, where he represented key member of each squad, respectively. For Huddersfield, he made 36 appearances, and for Ipswich he made 42.
It was during both spells that Chalobah demonstrated his versatility. Indeed, across his career, Chalobah has made 85 appearances from defensive midfield, 71 at centre back and 15 from full-back. Signing Chalobah would not only provide extra cover in midfield and at centre-back, it could also eliminate the need to sign a right wing-back.
Garner would be an excellent signing – he would no doubt add a touch of youthful class to a workman-like midfield. In fact, it would probably be too good a signing, since Garner is likely ready for a Premier League move already.
Hamer perhaps made more sense at the start of the window, where links, though tentative, were most prominent. The acquisition of Mowatt on a free transfer likely cooled Albion’s interest, and it would be surprising to see them reignite it.
This leaves Chalobah who, despite interest from elsewhere, remains a Chelsea player. He most recently made an appearance for Chelsea in their pre-season friendly against Arsenal, no doubt an attempt by the Blues to drum interest in their player. If there is will from both sides to reignite a deal, it would represent a solid acquisition for the Baggies, and provide cover across several areas of the pitch.