How Bilic bounced West Brom back to the top flight
Croatian revitalised Albion to earn Premier League return Manager will be given £20m budget to build on shrewd buys
The promotion party at Park Regis Birmingham went on long into the early hours, and it was certainly a night for joyous celebration: West Bromwich Albion are back in the Premier League.
After an absence of two years, Albion are returning to the top level under Slaven Bilic, their charismatic head coach, finishing a remarkable season as runners-up to Leeds United.
It has proved a roller-coaster ride under the Croatian with the heavymetal addiction, and despite the pressure gripping like wet rope over the final games, it is unquestionably a promotion West Brom deserve.
With the lowest number of defeats (seven) and the joint-second highest amount of goals (77), Albion have been the Championship’s great entertainers and occupied a place in the top two since September.
Preparation for the Premier League will kick into gear in the next 24 hours, with Bilic set to meet with the club’s hierarchy to discuss plans and his transfer budget.
Albion’s players will also share a promotion bonus of around £10 million, yet there is a serious aspect to this achievement which will have generated a sense of relief at the Hawthorns on Wednesday night after the 2-2 draw against Queens Park Rangers.
The impact of Covid-19 on football’s finances has been huge at every level, and Albion’s short-term future would have been under threat in the event of missing out.
Chief executive Mark Jenkins took a temporary 100 per cent pay cut in early April and the scenario for missing out on promotion this season – with just one more year of parachute payments – was grim. Now, however, that future is very much secure, with the riches of the Premier League close at hand.
Albion will be viewing June 4, 2019 as a significant moment in their recent history. That was the day when Bilic was first interviewed by officials in a hotel near Heathrow airport, and the club have never looked back. He was idolised from the moment he walked in, instantly becoming the “Special One of Sandwell”.
The 51-year-old has been at the forefront of Albion’s success, instilling a sense of professionalism, commitment and calm – even if Wednesday night’s scenes at the Hawthorns will have added an extra layer of grey to that beard.
He has removed any lethargy that might have lingered after defeat by Aston Villa in last season’s play-off semi-final. Experienced performers such as Jake Livermore and Hal Robson-Kanu have been revitalised, while Bilic’s style of play and approach has brought the best out of exciting talents such as Matheus Pereira and Grady Diangana.
Recruitment is now a crucial part of a club’s make-up and, under technical director Luke Dowling, Albion have fulfilled the remit to bring the average age down and have signed a number of this season’s outstanding Championship players.
Pereira, who joined on loan from Sporting Lisbon, has been a revelation and his permanent move for £8.25 million will be confirmed shortly. Diangana, on loan from West Ham, was outstanding before a hamstring injury. Another loan signing to impress was Filip Krovinovic, a Croatian midfielder, and West Brom will move to bring in him permanently from Benfica in a deal which could be around £6million.
Other signings have seized their chance, such as Semi Ajayi, Romaine Sawyers and Charlie Austin. Albion’s highly-regarded academy also has cause for celebration after the emergence of defender Dara O’Shea.
Bilic will now assess his strategy for next season, with a transfer budget likely to be more than £20million, enough to make them competitive. Relegation in 2018 ended a Premier League stay of eight years, so the narrative of Albion being a “yo-yo club” is inaccurate. Clearly, though, the ambition will be to ensure they give themselves a fighting chance of holding their own and, let us be honest, actually enjoying being back.
Albion favourites: Slaven Bilic embraces Jake Livermore after clinching promotion