With the international break over, it’s a return to Premier League action with Albion hosting reigning champions Manchester City at the weekend, writes West Brom blogger Warren Stephens.
This fixture has provided us with some favourable results in recent seasons, the 4-0 home drubbing that kick-started our first promotion season and the remarkable 1-1 from no shots on target that kick-started the Great Escape amongst them. However since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour and his vast wealth, City are something of a different prospect now than they once were.
Indeed the XI that started City’s last Premier League game set them back nigh on £200m in transfer fees; Albion’s starting line-up against QPR cost around £14m. City, like Chelsea before them and to a lesser extent Blackburn, have been handed a virtually blank cheque book and been told to exchange it for Premier League titles.
I must admit I find the distortion in Premier League wealth profoundly sickening and I think the predictability of results that comes with it detracts from the league as a spectacle. Whereas 40 years ago any of many teams could challenge for the league title, it now seems only one of a select few have the resources to. Champions League revenue and wealthy benefactors have left the rest in the shadow of the best, achieving far greater value-for-money being the only viable way a relatively self-sufficient club like ours can compete.
This set me thinking about Albion and value-for-money. What if Sheikh Mansour had swapped his Boddingtons for Banks’s, his Parker jacket for pork scratchings and handed Steve Clarke a blank cheque to wage an assault on the top-four? A quick glance through the history books doesn’t necessarily suggest it’d be a good thing. David Mills, Peter Barnes (coincidentally from Manchester City), Martin Albrechtsen and Borja Valero were all signed for club record fees at the time. I also remember Paul Groves joining for a near-record fee, none of them went on to particularly justify their price tags. Conversely Tony Brown, Bryan Robson and Cyrille Regis cost the club barely anything and are all part of the folklore of the club. Is there something in Albion’s DNA that lends itself to creating names rather than recruiting them?
We’d obviously all love to see Albion competing for major trophies in a way we once could, but would we want to see the community spirit of a club like Albion replaced by corporatism to quite the extent City’s has? While I’m sure Manchester City fans are enjoying their moment in the spotlight- particularly given they’ve spent so long seemingly in the shadow of neighbours United- it’d be interesting to hear what they felt about the contributions of some of the players that have joined their ‘gravy train’ in recent years.
Onto the game itself and City will obviously start as favourites, but we only have to go back 10 months and the 0-0 draw at The Hawthorns last season for encouragement that an away win is by no means a certainty. We had to defend resolutely that day and I suspect we’ll have to again for large periods, the full-back areas in particular may come under the spotlight given recent injuries. However, Chelsea aside, Albion are the only team remaining with a 100 per cent Premier League home record intact and, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to display some of the excellent attacking football we’ve shown in some of our home games so far. Come on you Baggies!!