Luke Dowling interview – Disciple of the 'West Brom way' wants to bring it back to the Baggies
The two names that spring to mind when Luke Dowling is asked which signings he’s most proud of give an insight into his approach to recruitment.
Glenn Murray and Ben Watson may not be the most exotic players of all time, but Albion’s new sporting and technical director argues they were two of the most influential in his career.
What makes him even prouder is that he signed both Murray and Watson on free transfers for Crystal Palace and Watford respectively.
“People always expect you to pick the biggest name you scouted or signed but it doesn’t necessarily always work that way,” said Dowling, during his first in-depth interview since joining the Baggies.
“Glenn Murray at Palace was a great one for us on a Bosman from Brighton.
“One of the most unfashionable signings at Watford was when we took Ben Watson from Wigan in the January window.
“Wigan were bottom of the Championship at the time and Malky Mackay wouldn’t pick him.
“You know when a signing comes into a side and gives you one little thing you’re missing, he was that.
“We got promoted that season and from January onwards we didn’t look back. It might not be the biggest name or best technical player but recruitment is about signings making an impact.
“We pay money for players to hit the ground running and have an impact, Ben Watson certainly did that.”
Albion used to be the best in the business at unearthing gems or polishing players unwanted elsewhere.
But they have paid the price in the last two years, quite literally, for chasing star names who did not deliver.
Nacer Chadli cost £18million and was sold for £10m. Grzegorz Krychowiak and Daniel Sturridge were each paid more than £100,000-a-week.
All three were expected to take Albion to the next level. All three were flops.
Dowling wants the Baggies to rediscover their mojo in the transfer market, to get back to what they were good at under Dan Ashworth before he left for the FA, and he uses his environs of The Hawthorns to illustrate his point.
“Walk along the corridor here, you see them,” he gestures. “Peter Odemwingie, Graham Dorrans, Gareth McAuley, they weren’t household names when they came in but look at the impact they had.
“That’s just three, but there’s many more. If we can get back to that way we will. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s an experienced player who can benefit the team then we’ll look at that too.
“But there are players in the lower leagues, in Scotland, abroad, who can play in the Premier League or Championship.
“They don’t have to be household names, you don’t have to spend big on salaries or transfer fees.
“West Brom had a great track record of doing that previously, if we can get back to that then great.
"Are we going to spend £15-20million on a player? At the minute, No. Does that mean we can’t sign good players. Of course it doesn’t.”
Dowling’s own story started at Tottenham Hotspur, where he was an academy player before he moved to Reading.
Knee injuries cut short his playing career at 28, but he quickly moved into scouting.
“Phil Parkinson at Reading got me into the scouting side of things and it went from there,” he explained.
“You have to have those days, up and down motorways, looking at different players, networking, to really then understand the scouts who work under you what they do.”
From there he joined Crystal Palace and then Michael Appleton took him to Portsmouth and that’s where Dowling first became a disciple of Albion’s methods.
“He went through the West Brom way with me and he wanted to build Portsmouth exactly in that image,” explained Dowling. “Speaking to someone in depth from the environment is when I realised how it worked.”
When Appleton went to Blackburn, Dowling followed, and that was when he first came into contact with Darren Moore, who was Rovers first team coach when he was head of recruitment.
“The way he goes about things, the detail, the way he manages staff and players impressed me,” said Dowling. “They had some big players at Blackburn.
“You could see then he was waiting for his opportunity.”
Moore has grabbed his opportunity with both fists, and his prior working relationship with Dowling was part of the reason Albion approached him.
“He knows how I work and I know how he works,” said Dowling. “It’s about having someone you feel comfortable with.
“Sporting director and head coach need to talk daily either face to face or on the phone.
“Sometimes you come along a head coach where that doesn’t happen and there’s friction.
“You want daily updates. And you want them to bounce ideas of you.
“We’ve got that relationship and have previously spoken about football and different roles, before he was even promoted to Alan Pardew’s coaching staff.
“It’s been in the back of my mind that if an opportunity ever came to work with him again it would work.”
After Blackburn, Dowling spent three years at Watford, where he helped the Hornets win promotion, before a brief eight-month stint at Nottingham Forest.
But when Albion chief executive Mark Jenkins came calling, he couldn’t turn down the club he always used to admire from afar.
“It’s a club that had a wonderful reputation a few seasons ago,” explained Dowling. “Teams looked at West Brom and thought that’s how you run a club.
“Speaking with Mark, he’s come back because he’s seen what he built before and he wants to get that going again.
“That’s one of the things that makes me want to come to this club, the ambition and the way they do things as a club. I want to bring back the West Brom way.”