New West Brom contracts are a big boost for Slaven Bilic
Slaven Bilic is thrilled Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Lee Peltier and Jonathan Bond have committed themselves to Albion until the end of the season.
And the head coach revealed it was only geographical reasons that prevented goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi from also agreeing a short-term extension with the club.
Football’s three-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic meant Brunt, Barry, Peltier and Bond all saw their contracts with Albion expire next week.
But they have all signed up until the end of the campaign – ensuring Bilic has strength in depth for the run.
“It’s a big boost,” Bilic said when asked how pleased he is the four players will remain at the club for the rest of the season.
“I did expect it. All this time they were part of the squad. They were proper leaders.
“We don’t have this squad and that squad – we have one squad and we are all together.
“That’s not our secret, but that is the biggest reason why we are where we are. It’s great to have that.
“Make no mistake we are going to need them all, especially now it starts to be hot and that we are going to play games every three or four days. It’s great to have them.”
Al-Habsi retured home to Oman while football was suspended.
That means, should he return to the UK, he would have to spend two weeks in quarantine. So for that reason, he and Albion came to the mutual decision he wouldn’t come back for the run-in.
“Al-Habsi was different, Ali wanted to come back, we wanted Ali to come back, but Ali had that situation,” Bilic continued.
“If he was to fly in from further away, there were problems with the flights from Oman.
“Let’s say he was supposed to fly tomorrow, then he’d have to go and self isolate for two weeks.
“That would mean that after that he’d start training, and then he’d only be back for the last three games. He is going to come and visit us and hopefully in good health, but Ali was different.”
As well as announcing Al-Habsi’s departure, Albion confirmed on their released and retained list published on Tuesday that Jack Fitzwater, 22, will leave the club next week.
The talented centre-back has been with the Baggies for 16 years having joined when he was just eight.
But he has made just one senior appearance in that time.
And Bilic believes it was in Fitzwater’s best interests for Albion to let him go so he can find a club where he will play each week.
“I’m gutted for Fitz,” the Croatian added. I spoke to him, he’s a great guy.
“He’s a big prospect, but he has to play.
“For him to stay here, it would have been good for us, make no mistake.
“We could’ve kept him as an option, to be a back-up for a back-up.
“But for him it would have been very bad for his career.
“He has to go somewhere and play.
“They weren’t such big calls, they were logical calls.
“Thank God we were in a position where we can help the players, we didn’t have to be selfish – ‘we’re going to keep you here but you won’t play enough games’.
“We were in a good situation to help a player develop.
“In Fitz’s case, it was a pleasure to do that because he is a great guy, who has been top in every training he attempted.”