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 Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Football - By John Percy

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.

Bo­ing bo­ing.

Al­bion favourites: Slaven Bilic em­braces Jake Liver­more af­ter clinch­ing pro­mo­tion

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