Express & Star

West Brom comment: Guochuan Lai is letting down fans with lack of investment

They are not making unreasonable demands or calling for the earth.

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Guochuan Lai the owner of West Bromwich Albion (AMA)

And that is why Albion’s fans are growing increasingly frustrated with owner Guochuan Lai and his perceived lack of investment in the club.

The Chinese businessman made it clear when he purchased the Baggies back in 2016 that he wanted the club to be self-sufficient.

Run as a business without Lai pumping in his own cash, Albion’s recruitment team – led by technical director Luke Dowling and head coach Slaven Bilic – find themselves in a position where they can spend what they make.

Supporters aren’t overly against that model – they certainly don’t want the club to spend recklessly and risk its long-term future.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve better than this – they do.

It’s been well documented Albion’s first season back in the Premier League is worth about £90million – with a first instalment of £50million coming immediately after winning promotion

But £20million of that went on bonuses and clauses that had been agreed in previous transfer deals.

The Premier League took £10million back for foreign TV companies due to Covid-19.

Albion also had to put £10million aside to offset loses caused by no fans being allowed into the stadium.

It essentially meant they had an additional £10million to spend on transfer fees from their first instalment of Premier League cash – with the Express & Star understanding that money has enabled them to have an overall budget in the region of £20million. And it’s hard to see how Bilic and Dowling could have done any better with that cash.

West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic

Grady Diangana arrived for an initial £12million. Around £2m was spent on Cedric Kipre and David Button.

Another £1million secured both the loans of Filip Krovinovic and Conor Gallagher.

Branislav Ivanovic, meanwhile, arrived for nothing and Callum Robinson in a swap deal for Oliver Burke,

It means Albion still have around £5m set aside to bring in a striker.

They hope to use that cash as an initial loan fee to secure the signing of Huddersfield’s Karlan Grant.

Now let’s say – as expected – Grant arrives.

Diangana, Krovinovic, Gallagher, Robinson, Ivanovic, Kipre, Button and Grant will have been secured for an estimated £20million. That is remarkable.

But this is where the issue with Lai really arises.

Albion’s squad would benefit immensely from bringing in a full-back – ideally one that can play both sides – as well as a holding midfielder.

And frustratingly those two players would not cost the earth.

Wolves signed Brazilian full-back Marcal for a fee of around £1.8m.

Surely by scouring Europe, Bilic could find another defender and defensive midfielder if he had an extra six, seven or eight million pounds at his disposal.

In football today, it’s nothing.

That is where Lai is failing Albion and the club’s supporters.

He may have stated from the outset he wanted to run the club with a self-sufficient model.

But unfortunately that’s not the game he has chosen to play.

He is naive to think it was – top-flight clubs need owner investment.

And it’s worth repeating, Albion fans are not asking for a lot.

Add a striker, full-back and defensive midfielder to the list of players they have already signed and the vast majority would be happy with the window.

Lai, though, will not be putting the money for those players forward.

He may be a billionaire when it comes to assets, but that doesn’t mean he’s got vast sums of cash in the bank.

You get the feeling it’s not that he doesn’t want to invest – it’s more that he actually can’t.

And that means Bilic and Albion’s board are operating with one hand tied behind their back for as long as he remains owner.

It’s not great, but it doesn’t mean the Baggies cannot still have a successful season.

As Bilic has said, there were positives to be taken from the performances against Leicester, Everton and Chelsea.

The trip to Southampton turned out to be hugely disappointing.

But Albion’s starting line-up didn’t include any new recruits who weren’t at the club last season.

And with Ivanvoic, Gallagher, Krovinvoic and a striker all likely to be in from now on, the team will effectively have a different spine.

Bilic’s men still have the quality to attack the Premier League and give it a real go.

But if they stay up it will be in spite of Lai and not because of him.

For that reason, the quicker he sells up and moves on the better.

With coronavirus, though, that isn’t likely to be happening any time soon.