West Brom comment: Time for Guochuan Lai to front up to fans

It’s time for Guochuan Lai to come out and talk to supporters.

Guochuan Lai visits The Hawthorns Stadium, home of West Bromwich Albion. (AMA)
Guochuan Lai visits The Hawthorns Stadium, home of West Bromwich Albion. (AMA)

Albion’s owner does not invest any money into the club.

Albion’s owner hasn’t attended a match for two-and-a-half years.

And Albion’s owner no longer wants the club as an asset – with Lai happy to sell if he can get an offer close to what he paid.

He never speaks. He is never seen. And he shows very little ambition.

But Albion’s absent owner did step out of the shadows to veto Chris Wilder being appointed as the club’s new manager.

The Express & Star understands the former Sheffield United boss was the overwhelming choice of the club’s board to replace Sam Allardyce in the Baggies hot-seat.

But Lai blocked his arrival for the primary reason he didn’t like the way Wilder was so publicly critical of Sheffield United owner Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during his time at Bramall Lane.

It should not be a surprise to Albion’s fans that Lai has sprung out of the woodwork to veto a managerial appointment.

Chris Wilder

In 2018, many on Albion’s board favoured appointing Dean Smith – who was at Brentford at the time – as the club’s new manager instead of giving the job to Darren Moore on a permanent basis.

To Moore’s immense credit, he rejuvenated and united the club after being appointed temporary boss following the departure of Alan Pardew.

For the majority of the board, though, Smith was the man to take the club forward. But Lai blocked that move to stick with Moore.

And the job Smith has since gone on to do at Villa suggests that was the wrong call.

Now fans are understandably concerned Lai has got it wrong again by turning down Wilder in favour of David Wagner who is closing in on Albion’s top job.

And the owner now needs to come out and address supporters to let them know exactly where he is taking the club.

He needs to explain, in his words, why he believes Wagner is the right man for the club.

He needs to explain his blueprint for getting the club back into the Premier League.

He needs to explain how the club moves forward when the board wanted a different boss.

And he needs to confirm he wants to sell the club and his strategy for doing so.

Albion fans have, by and large, reacted angrily to Wagner’s potential appointment over the last 24 hours.

David Wagner

And the reason for that is simple – they feel the club is throwing away its advantage as the Baggies seek an immediate return to the Premier League.

It’s important clear up some misinformation both for Lai and the Albion’s supporters.

The Express & Star understands Albion will have a very competitive budget next season.

It is also understood the club was willing to pay the £700,000 compensation fee needed to appoint Lincoln’s Michael Appleton as boss. The club is in decent shape financially.

It’s true, following relegation, some players are likely to be sold.

And some of that money will be used to help balance the books following the coronavirus pandemic.

But a large chunk will also be put in the transfer kitty to ensure Albion have one of the best budgets in the division next season.

Lai may not be putting in any money. But he isn’t taking any money out – for the primary reason he knows he needs the club in the Premier League if he is to get anywhere near recouping what he paid for it.

For all the anger towards Lai, it’s important to put yourself in his shoes for a minute.

If you were an owner of a football club, would you really want to appoint a manager who has been so vocally critical of his former employer?

Lai, it’s likely, won’t be the only owner who has second thoughts about appointing Wilder.

It might not be a decision the majority of us agree with. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t logic to it.

What’s frustrating, though, is everything is set up for Albion to be successful next season.

The Championship has been left financially devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet Albion have parachute payments – and assets in Sam Johnstone and Matheus Pereira to sell.

And while additions are needed, there is already the basis of a promotion-winning squad in place.

Matheus Pereira of West Bromwich Albion waves to the West Bromwich Albion Fans at the end of the match. (AMA)

Of course in football, there are no guarantees, but Wilder would surely get Albion competing at the top end of the Championship next season.

Wagner, even though he got Huddersfield up, does not fill you with the same confidence.

His expected appointment feels like a gamble the club do not need to make.

And that is what fans are angry about.

Everything should be in place for Albion to be successful next season.

But there is one big thing that is missing, direction and a strategy from Lai – the man at the very top.

He may not want to own Albion anymore. But this is a historic and great football club.

And fans deserve better than the radio silence they have had over the last few years.

Lai appears to be sticking around for some time yet with the Express & Star understanding a potential buyer is not on the horizon.

But he cannot simply veto Wilder and go back into his shell.

He needs to come out and tell fans his plan for how he is going to take the club forward.

It’s the very least they deserve.

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