By Andrew Warshaw
December 17 – Thirteen games into the new English Premier League season and we have the first managerial casualty, one that almost beggars belief.
Having guided West Bromwich Albion to the top flight only a matter of months ago, Slaven Bilic has been deemed surplus to requirements and has been replaced by that old warhorse, Sam Allardyce, whose claim to fame is that none of his clubs has ever been relegated.
Quite what kind of progress the owners of West Brom were expecting with a third of the season completed is anyone’s guess. They surely must have realised that it’s a tough challenge rejoining the might of the Premier League from the second-tier Championship. That they are two very different kettles of fish.
The brutal truth is that this was the latest example of an impatient club pushing the panic button prematurely after managing to reach the Holy Grail.
Okay, Bilic left the club in 19th place with just seven points. But the fact that in their final outing, just 24 hours before he was shown the door, they managed to draw 1-1 at Manchester City – a more than creditable result for any top-flight team let alone one near the bottom – says something about what the Croatian was trying to build.
Loyalty may be an increasingly redundant word in football and West Brom may well have gone down had Bilic stayed. But not all clubs act with such haste and lack of class.
Take Norwich City who were relegated last season from the Premier League but stuck with manager Daniel Farke and are now sitting proudly back atop the Championship, poised for another promotion push.
West Brom will hope that Allardyce, who briefly managed England and for whom this is the 12th club in a 30-year career, will keep them in the top flight even though the 66-year-old has not managed since leaving Everton in 2018.
Survival at all costs was clearly the motive for the change. But it smacks of short-sightedness given that West Brom spent only £20 million in the summer and that promoted clubs invariably struggle when they face more formidable opposition, Leeds United perhaps being the exception so far this season.
Speaking for the first time since his dismissal, Bilic released a statement saying he left with his head ‘held high’.
“I am hugely disappointed to have left West Bromwich Albion. I am honoured to have managed this unique football club with full commitment and integrity.
“I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to all the players, my hard-working coaching team and our dedicated staff.
“I am incredibly proud that we secured automatic promotion from the Championship in our first season.
“It was a real shame to not have our loyal supporters there with us during that moment and upon our return to the Premier League.”
No need to read between those lines.
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