The perceptions at the start of any football season are varied and depend on where you are coming from: a well established club would hope for a few choice signings of quality that would help to take the club to another level – perhaps into European competition.
A club that finished closer to the bottom of the league the previous season, or a newly promoted club have different aims – usually the team that got promoted needs to have extra personnel, and one hopes that these have sufficient quality to ensure safety.
Those clubs that finished lower in the league would feel the need to refresh their squads, with the right people at the right price and at the right time to be assimilated into the club.
This, of course, is the $64,000 dollar question – or is that Euros these days, with many imports seemingly coming from the continent.
Perhaps this would seem the way forward for some clubs, though the new UEFA rulings mean that some players have to be ‘home-grown’, though not necessarily British. A step in the right direction, one would think, and a curb possibly on the financial muscle of the Man City’s and Chelsea’s of the world.
Lessons could certainly be learned from the Bundesliga where the financial side of the game has been closely examined and their house seems to be in good working order, with attendances increasing as well.
This question of paying customers is interesting, as figures show that of the 20 clubs in the Premiership last season, only nine had an increase in attendance. Other calls on time and money weigh heavily on the public, especially in times of recession, and football clubs have to act accordingly.
Which means that clubs who do balance their budgets are to be applauded – perhaps they had some inkling of the UEFA financial fair play provisions, due to be introduced after 2012?
Doug Ellis’s handling of the Villa finances was well known, and the current Albion chairman, Jeremy Peace, seems to be in the same vein.
Prudent could be his middle name, yet I for one applaud his astute handling of the club – though there are some voices who express concern about what he has done concerning the shares issue, and the fact he seems to be ‘grooming’ the club ready for a takeover – by person or persons yet unknown.
Whether this is the way forward for a club of Albion’s standing is debatable, however, and many would hate for us to go the same way as the extremely wealthier clubs: wealthy in terms of monies spent, yet saddled with crippling debts.
To paraphrase Shakespeare: beware the like of Portsmouth, and Leeds, and Cardiff, and countless others – both in the past and probably more so in the future.
Which is not to say that Peace has been particularly parsimonious in signing players.
When one thinks of the converted loan signings of Steve Reid and Gabriel Tamas, and the signings of Pablo Ibanez (a Bosman signing), Boaz Myhill and Nicky Shorey then one can see what the chairman is thinking when he announces that the club intends to be prepared.
This element of preparedness is what distinguishes the better run clubs from the also-rans: the fact that one can stay in the Premier League for more than one season can lead to the ability to attract better players.
And so to the opening day of the season, with so much optimism and this at a time when the four big clubs of Villa, Birmingham, Wolves and Albion are in the highest league for the first time in over 25 years.
Cyrille Regis, who played for three of the sides in an illustrious career, talks rightly of fans wanting controlled ambition, with evolution rather than revolution, and with the Albion there seems an air of calculated risk.
And so it proved with a 6-0 mauling by a resurgent Chelsea, who started as they finished off last season – by scoring a hatful of goals.
We presented them with three, via errors, but they scored three good goals and are a good side. Keeping things in perspective was what Roberto Di Matteo urged, and it is wise to bear this in mind, notwithstanding some Albion fans comments on a website that the season was over.
No it isn’t – this match was always going to be difficult and sometimes one has to acknowledge that the opposing side are just too good for you. Chelsea are a good side and losing to them is no disgrace – what we have to do now is regroup and take every match on its merits,
This is a cliché but it is true. It’s going to be a long season, and the next few weeks could be tough, but then the season is a long one and cannot be judged on just the first few weeks.
The weekend win against Sunderland, scrappy as it was, shows that there’s plenty of spirit in the West Brom camp which gives hope for the future.” We were looking for a reaction from the players and I think they responded very well," Di Matteo said afterwards.
"It was a great performance and a deserved win. We kept a clean sheet, we scored the goal and maybe could have scored a second one. But you can't ask for more from your players - they played a very good game against a good team in Sunderland and now we have got points."
*Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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