West Brom comment: Mark Jenkins’ exit leaves Albion with some big boots to fill
It’s the start of a brand new era, an era that is still surrounded by confusion and uncertainty.
Football is going through rapid changes following the coronavirus pandemic.
Jobs are being lost and won’t return. Transfer fees and wages will come down.
And still – still – we don’t know when fans will be able to return, with the majority of clubs going without their primary source of income while they are kept away.
With all those factors, it is understandable why Mark Jenkins’ departure from Albion has left supporters concerned about the club’s future.
One of the most shrewd and savvy chief executives in the game, the 54-year-old announced on Monday that he was retiring following the Baggies’ return to the Premier League.
It is the second time Jenkins has retired – with the CEO initially stepping down after overseeing Guochuan Lai’s takeover from Jeremy Peace in 2016.
It was during his time away, though, that it became apparent just how crucial Jenkins was to the Albion operation.
John Williams became Baggies chairman during that time – a man who had enjoyed success at Blackburn. Martin Goodman was his chief executive.
Now we live in a time where clubs gamble vast sums of money in order to get to, or stay in, the Premier League.
And under Williams and Goodman, the Baggies gambled disastrously.
Oliver Burke (£13.5m) and Nacer Chadli (£13m) were two of the dreadful signings that ultimately led to the Baggies finishing the 2017/18 season bottom of the Premier League.
That prompted Lai to go cap in hand to Jenkins and ask him to return.
And when he did – his voice cracking with emotion – he revealed Albion had gone from having £40m in the bank to needing an overdraft in the short time he was away.
“The club has gone beyond its own financial limits,” he said at the time.
Since Jenkins’ return, Albion have got themselves back on a steady financial footing. Not only that, he did it while still giving Slaven Bilic the means to win promotion back into the Premier League.
And it’s important to look at his record during his 18 years at the club.
Twelve of those seasons have been spent in the Premier League, while the six in the Championship have ended with four promotions or defeat in the play-offs.
The truth is with Jenkins at the helm, Albion were never going to do what so many big clubs have done and struggle at the wrong end of the Championship.
In his departing statement, the 54-year-old said he feels it is time to move on.
“It has become clear to me that football is entering a new post-pandemic age which will demand fresh ideas, fresh initiatives and fresh outlooks,” he said.
“I believe the challenges ahead will be best tackled by someone with renewed energy and different ideas.”
Jenkins also described the financial challenges facing the remaining Championship clubs as ‘unquantifiable and, quite frankly, frightening’.
The truth is being a footballer administrator – at any time – is not easy.
It requires a talented individual with a unique set of skills.
But post-Covid-19 it is harder than ever. And nothing could be more valuable than the experience Jenkins has.
Even Bilic is a convert to his methods with the head coach praising his CEO just a few weeks ago.
“The club is very well managed,” Bilic said. “With the owners, but with Mark especially and (technical director) Luke Dowling. Mark is very experienced. He is hungry, ambitious but he is also stable.
“He knows the job. He isn’t a person that tries things. He knows what to do. He knows what to do in this scenario and in that scenario. He already has a plan for next year – whatever happens.
“He is even making me believe in how to do things. He is very stable.”
The fact Jenkins has a plan in place for the 2020/21 season will give fans comfort.
And it is now over to his replacement Xu Ke – known as Ken – to deliver it.
Ken is a close associate of Lai and has been working alongside Jenkins for the past two years.
But it’s now up to them to prove they are up to the job and can run a Premier League football club.
When Jenkins retired first time round, Albion’s owners made a series of bad decisions. They initially continued when the CEO returned, with the Express & Star understanding Jenkins favoured appointing Dean Smith as permanent head coach instead of Darren Moore.
Now Ken has to prove he is good enough to make the big decisions in Albion’s boardroom. Will he continue to run a tight ship or will he loosen the purse strings like Williams and Goodman did?
He’ll certainly want to stamp his own authority of the role. But he replaces a man who did everything he could to keep the Baggies on a sound financial footing.
Jenkins – worried about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic – opted to forgo his salary while the country was placed on lockdown.
And despite speculation to the contrary, he did not earn a bonus when Albion won promotion to the Premier League.
The Jenkins model is one that has brought success at The Hawthorns for the best part of two decades.
His departure is a huge loss with Ken now left with some very big boots to fill.