After a rather predictable summer break that has included England going out of the Euros on penalties, Andy Murray being not quite good enough to win Wimbledon, and the worst spell of weather I can remember it is now time to turn our attention back to all things West Bromwich Albion,
Pre-season training is under way and now that the players have reported back for duty we can expect some movement in the transfer window. One very important piece of business we have completed is the permanent signing of Ben Foster. As time dragged on I was becoming increasingly worried the deal would never happen, however the club have done extremely well to secure the services of arguably one of the Premier Leagues best keepers. The rumoured 3.5million pound fee also sounds like exceptional value for a player I rate as the best keeper I have seen in an Albion shirt.
Ben`s comments about how much he appreciated the Albion fans support and how that support helped make up his mind on a permanent move helped remind us all how important our support is to the players. Steve Clarke will be hoping Ben`s arrival is just the start as he looks to reshape his squad.
He is currently getting to grips with his squad and assessing his options, and I should take this opportunity to welcome his new assistant to the club. Kevin Keen has joined us to make up a full compliment of backroom staffing and together with Dean Kiely and Keith Downing have a good blend of old and new.
Their first task is to decide on who can go and who we should be approaching to join us. Having already let Nicky Shorey, Somen Tchoyi, Marton Fulop, Paul Scharner, and Keith Andrew`s leave us there are also question marks hanging over a number of fringe players including, Boaz Myhill, Gabriel Tamas, Gonzalo Jara Reyes and Simon Cox.
I imagine Dan Ashworth is putting in plenty of overtime to ensure we have plenty of options but just taking into account the players who have already left it should prove to be a busy time for new recruits between now and the end of August.
The rumours surrounding Jonas Olsson persist and I must admit I am hoping that the club can convince him to sign a new contract. The signs are that he wants to seek a new challenge elsewhere and his possible departure will leave a large hole to fill, he has served us well and still remains my favourite player, so for me Jonas, please sign the blumming contract kidda!!!
For us to progress it is key that we do not lose too many key players and I am sure the club will knock back anything but silly offers for any of our star performers. It is important we give our new head coach the best possible chance of carrying on the progress made under Roy Hodgson and that means holding on to the players who are tried and trusted at this level.
As for positions we need to strengthen I don't think we have a department that has a full compliment. Hopefully the return to full fitness of Zoltan Gera will provide us with further options but our midfield will still need some fresh faces. Nicky Shorey`s surprise departure has also left us searching for a left back and the uncertainty surrounding Jonas means I wouldn't be surprised to see another centre half arriving.
Having said all of that I do still feel that we have some fringe players who could benefit from the holes left by the departing players. Simon Cox and young Craig Dawson are chomping at the bit to get more game time and both deserve their chance, but a key part of our recent success has been based on the competition we have had for places. Having a bench full of players who can offer something different or change a game can make a big difference. Having mentioned Craig Dawson I should also congratulate him on his call up to the Great Britain Olympic squad. The experience gained from such a unique event should be invaluable to him and I am sure he will soak it all up like a sponge.
Craig is amongst other young players in our ranks like Chris Wood, George Thorne and Scott Allan who will want to eventually break into the first team and stay there.
I cannot wait for the big kick off on 18th August, but there is plenty of work to do between now and then and I will watch with interest as Steve Clarke puts his squad together.
Its going to make for interesting viewing.