West Bromwich Albion has not lost a game since March. Not since it appointed Darren Moore as manager, and began to play like the team it was built to be. But it was relegated from the Premier League on Tuesday.
Really, though, it was relegated from the Premier League in November.
West Brom was relegated despite a rousing 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday, because of Southampton’s 1-0 victory over Swansea on Tuesday, but really because of an absurd decision it made last year. Because it sacked Tony Pulis, the man who has never once been relegated in his 26-year managerial career.
Pulis, infamous for his dull but effective tactics, has made a living out of short-term reclamation projects, which is exactly what West Brom required three months into the 2017-18 season. After a strong August, it was struggling. So it panicked, and rid itself of a regime more equipped than any to lead it to safety.
The ramifications of that decision were disastrous. The club put Alan Pardew in charge of a squad that didn’t suit him. Pardew, the epitome of managerial mediocrity, claimed just eight points in 18 games. The Baggies were effectively banished to the Championship by the time Pardew got the sack in early April.
Strip away the results under Pardew, and West Brom were just fine. Under Pulis, Gary Megson and Moore – the latter two of whom were both assistants under Pulis – the Baggies were on a 46-point pace. That, with one week to go, would put them in ninth place.
But because of the horrid run under Pardew, even the turnaround inspired by Moore was insufficient. The caretaker boss has won 11 points from five games, three more than Pardew took from 18.
Pulis, of course, is associated with mediocrity as well. Mediocrity is his value. The absolute certainty of it – nothing better, nothing worse – is his charm. And for a club to crave something more than mediocrity is completely understandable. In a vacuum, sacking Pulis is fine.
But sacking Pulis requires a reboot. For it to make sense, it has to be the first step of a long-term plan. For it to be the first step of a long-term plan, it had to happen over the summer, not as a reaction to a somewhat underwhelming start.
West Brom sacked Pulis because of results. “We are in a results business,” club chairman John Williams said after giving Pulis the axe. “And over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.”
What Williams and the club failed to realize, of course, was that no available manager was more capable of getting enough results to stay in the league than Pulis was. He has always done just enough, and nothing more. Once West Brom desired just enough, and nothing more, it lost its head.
It had the players to avoid relegation, and now has the players to bounce right back up to the top flight. Over the past month, it might have realized it has the manager as well. The club is in a better spot than Sunderland was last year, or than Stoke is after its relegation Saturday.
But it shot itself in the foot. And when Southampton’s Manolo Gabbiadini beat Swansea to condemn the Baggies to the drop, West Brom only had itself to blame.
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