Gareth McAuley today lifted the lid on Albion’s behind-the-scenes turmoil as boss Pepe Mel prepared for D-Day in his quest to keep his job.
McAuley gave the first detailed account of Mel’s struggles to win over Baggies players and the squad’s anger over the influence of sacked aide Dave McDonough.
And, as Mel prepared for crunch talks with chairman Jeremy Peace that look increasingly likely to see the Spaniard shown the door, McAuley admitted the Baggies were ‘lucky’ to avoid relegation.
Yesterday’s 2-1 home defeat to Stoke meant the Baggies ended the campaign just one place and three points outside the drop-zone.
That followed a turbulent season that saw Steve Clarke sacked and replaced by Mel, only for senior players to raise concerns over the former Real Betis man and director of technical performance and scouting McDonough, who championed Mel’s appointment but was later sacked.
Senior players raised concerns to the club’s hierarchy, leading to a series of crisis meetings.
McAuley said: “It wasn’t the tactics but we had the frustration that we didn’t understand completely what we were being asked to do.
“It was the communication. It was a difficult period for us.
“We weren’t split over it but we were trying to get it right and do the right things because we owed it to the club to do all we could to make sure we didn’t get relegated.
“One of the big problems was that we had a computer analyst (McDonough) putting his boots on and coming on to the training pitch and trying to coach 20 professional footballers.
“He was trying to translate for Pepe too, but in football you either have a reputation or you earn a reputation.
“It was difficult for some players to take, being told by a computer analyst how to play football.
“That was a big area where the lads weren’t having it all, to be honest.
“A big thing we’ve been missing is honesty around the place.
“That brings distractions and means people go in a different direction as well causing problems with discipline.
“The two things went hand in hand and caused a distraction. It took people’s minds away from football.
“Players should be concentrating on football, not other things.
“There have been a lot of things going on around the place and a lot of things that no-one really knows about.
“It’s been difficult, so to still be in the Premier League is a good achievement, but in a way we were probably lucky that there were three teams worse than us.”
Mel is set to meet with Peace early this week amid increasing signs that the Baggies will activate the get-out clause in the Spaniard’s 18-month contract.
He has picked up three wins from his 17 games in charge, compared to Clarke’s three wins from 16 league fixtures before his sacking in December.
The backlash from players led to Mel taking an increasing backseat at the club with assistant Keith Downing and goalkeeping coach Dean Kiely taking on a prominent role both on the training ground and in the dressing room before games and at half-time.
McAuley said: “Pepe’s come into a different country and language has been a big barrier.
“He’ll tell you that himself.
“It’s difficult for a player coming into a different country, but when it’s the main focal point of a club and you can’t get your point across clearly enough then it’s difficult for everyone.
“Keith and Dean have worked together, but Keith’s been brilliant for us.
“The club owe them a big thanks.
“They have managed to get us over the line and, when all is said and done, that’s the important thing.
“Players come and go but there is a lot to sort out. They’ve got it right over the years here so hopefully they can get it right again and we won’t have another season like this one.”
Stephane Sessegnon scored Albion’s only goal yesterday as another tame display saw them end the season with three straight defeats.
McAuley, whose own-goal gave Stoke the lead before half-time, said: “We didn’t play great in the first half and in the second half we were a bit better.
“It’s probably been like that for most of the season.
“We have played for halves and not full games and this is another one.
“I scored the first goal trying to cut it out and the second one went through my legs, which probably about sums up the season.
“Since I’ve come here it’s always been about improving on the last season – and we spoke in pre-season about doing that.
“With one thing and another, right from pre-season, it wasn’t really working.
“We have to get that right now, get our heads down in pre-season – the lads that are here and any new lads that come in – get ourselves together and make sure we don’t have another season like this.”