With news breaking on Monday afternoon that Luke Dowling had left West Bromwich Albion, Baggies fans are understandably concerned about their club’s future.
Albion are now without their two most important figures from a footballing perspective having failed to appoint a successor to Sam Allardyce and now with a technical and sporting director vacancy.
In an otherwise meaningless club statement, Chief Executive Xu Ke claimed that Dowling’s exit has provided “an opportunity to reassess how our football operation functions.”
Effectively, the remaining board members -whoever they may be- are set readdress the footballing model implemented into the club since 2009.
Roberto Di Matteo was appointed as the club’s first head coach 12 years ago with the highly rated Dan Ashworth holding the position that the former Nottingham Forest and Watford man was deprived of.
The head coach system proved to be a successful one initially with Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson and Steve Clarke all overseeing progression. Whether that be through the form of promotion, top flight stability or a highest ever Premier League finish.
Ashworth won plenty of plaudits too. On his watch the academy produced a number of extremely promising talents, he consistently made correct appointments and managed to unearth gems such as Gareth McCauley, Craig Dawson, and Claudio Yacob who all became club stalwarts.
It’s important to remember that Ashworth did all this on a tight budget provided by then owner Jeremy Peace, which was often a reason used to excuse Dowling’s shortcomings.
Therefore, it is no surprise that on-field events soon turned sour after Ashworth followed Hodgson to the FA and was appointed director of elite development. Ashworth went on to play an influential part in creating the “England DNA” which led to a best World Cup finish in 28 years.
He has never been fully replaced. The first managerial appointment in the absence Ashworth was a disastrous one, with Pepe Mel’s side surviving by the skin of their teeth following unrest caused by Director of Technical Performance and Scouting Dave McDonough.
With Richard Garlick placed back into an administrative role and Terry Burton overseeing footballing matters, Alan Irvine was hired and shortly fired before Tony Pulis joined the club.
Nick Hammond replaced Burton and was influential in the disastrous appointment of Alan Pardew. He was dismissed following relegation to the Championship which saw Dowling arrive at the club.
For what it’s worth I personally believe Dowling was a negative influence at the club with Matheus Pereira, Cedric Kipre and former Head of Academy Recruitment, Steve Hopcroft, all welcoming his departure via social media.
Dowling unnecessarily tore up Albion’s famed youth system which has seen some of the country’s best coaches depart to local rivals Aston Villa and win the FA Youth Cup.
The sale of talented academy graduate Morgan Rogers to afford Slaven Bilić’s wages was also a shameless decision.
Despite a couple of reasonable additions, Dowling also disappointed in the transfer market and failed to build a team equipped for Premier League football.
With mass pessimism surrounding the Baggies currently, we take a look at five ways Albion can move forwards and benefit from Dowling’s exit.
Paul ScharnerEmbed from Getty Images
You’ll massively struggle to find an Albion supporter who has a bad word to say about Paul Scharner. 62 appearances across two seasons after joining on a free from Wigan Athletic is not exactly the stuff of legend. But Scharner wore the blue and white with pride and developed an affection with supporters that many rarely do.
His blue and white hairstyle was a great touch, whilst revealing a Baggies shirt created by his young children after scoring the winner at Villa Park was a joy to behold.
Scharner retired in 2013, and opted against a route into coaching, but his desire to make an impact at boardroom level with Albion is plain and clear for all to see.
A 2018 interview in with the Austrian discussing the club’s vision and lack of ambition, prompted a swell of support for Scharner who has since made it clear on social media that he would jump at the opportunity to return to the Hawthorns.
Scharner has gone on record to say that survival should not be an achievement for Albion and that the club should even aim to qualify for the Champions League in ten years time.
Heart, passion and ambition are the factors that Scharner recently claimed would bring success. He has all of those in abundance.
You can argue that Scharner is perhaps not qualified for the role having never held a similar position previously, but then again what qualifications did Ashworth have?
He’d certainly have the backing of supporters and the ability to unite a club which is going through it’s roughest period since the turn of the century.
Stuart WebberEmbed from Getty Images
It would be an ambitious move to try and prize Stuart Webber away from newly promoted Norwich City, and in reality it is highly unlikely to happen.
But Webber did step down from high-flying Huddersfield Town to join the Canaries in 2017, which could perhaps add a sense of realism into to a potential move.
Despite only being 37-years-old, Webber has already developed a wealth of experience. He made the jump from Wrexham to Liverpool in 2009 in order to become Director of Recruitment on Merseyside, working alongside managers like Rafa Benitez and Kenny Dalglish in the process.
Spells at QPR and Wolverhampton Wanderers as head of scouting followed before Webber joined the Terriers in 2015. He was influential in the appointment of David Wagner who was set to take over at the Hawthorns before opting to join BSC Young Boys instead.
The appointment of Wagner was a vital one as Huddersfield remarkably won promotion to the Premier League despite being tipped by many for relegation.
Webber’s activity in the transfer market was also key in the club’s rise. The likes of Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Chris Löwe, Elias Kachunga and Aaron Mooy all joined and played major parts in the promotion campaign.
A rebuilding job was necessary upon his arrival at Carrow Road, as it would be at the Hawthorns. Despite a lackluster first campaign under Daniel Farke, more savvy recruitment on Webber’s behalf saw Norwich storm to the Championship title.
Impressive recruitment once again played a major part in the achievement with Webber securing the signatures Kenny McLean, Marco Stiepermann, Onel Hernández, Teemu Pukki and Emiliano Buendía on low-cost deals.
Whilst the free signing of Pukki must go down as one of the best in EFL history, Webber has also demonstrated his ability to work alongside Farke to develop young players.
Since 2017, the likes of Josh Murphy, James Maddison, Jamal Lewis, Ben Godfrey, Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and Adam Idah have all gone on to become first-team regulars at Carrow Road. Whereas the Baggies have failed to facilitate academy graduates in recent times, with Kyle Edwards the latest prospect to depart.
Webber has also attracted a reputation for gaining great fees when selling stars, which has subsequently improved Norwich’s financial position.
Murphy joined Cardiff for a reported £11 million, Maddison signed for Leicester in a deal worth £20 million, Lewis was signed by Newcastle for £15 million, Godfrey joined Everton for £20 million and Buendia’s signature has cost Aston Villa around £35 million.
You’d imagine Albion’s Chinese owners would jump at the opportunity to create such value in their asset.
The only argument against a potential appointment would be that Webber failed to build a side capable of competing in the Premier League. A theory that was rightly used against Dowling.
Revert to the traditional “manager” systemEmbed from Getty Images
The Baggies’ most successful period since the departure of Ashworth came under former Stoke boss Pulis between 2015 and 2018.
He guided Albion to safety following Irvine’s sacking and oversaw a 10th placed finish in 2016/2017, which could have been even better if Albion hadn’t let their performance levels drop.
It’s widely accepted that the Welshman controlled the majority of footballing operations whilst at the club and even sent personal scouts -with no formal connection to the club- to meticulously analyse potential recruits.
Therefore, it is fair that the question should be asked if Albion would benefit from a manager fulfilling all footballing responsibilities, as opposed to sharing control with a technical and sporting director.
Some of the most contentious issues at the Hawthorns across the last eight years have arisen from those above the head coach controlling various aspects of the club, without the level of necessary communication and consent.
Cracks began to emerge soon after Ashworth left Albion with the aforementioned McDonough at the heart of a hugely disappointing 2013 transfer window.
The arrivals of Diego Lugano from Paris Saint-Germain, Matej Vydra on loan from Udinese and others that summer were not actively pursued by Head Coach Clarke with the current Scotland boss even informed of Vydra’s acquisition by the press.
McDonough was also thought to have played an influential role in dismissing Clarke and pushed for the appointment of Mel. The rest as they say is history.
Whilst more recently, the relationship between Dowling and former Head Coach Slaven Bilić clearly diminished last summer and reached a climax when Ahmed Hegazi was sold to Al-Ittihad despite the Croat claiming “I had assurances he was going to stay.”
To avoid this type of situation from occurring again, changing the footballing model may be necessary.
Bring back an old bossEmbed from Getty Images
The key qualities required for an individual in a technical and sporting director role consist of experience in the professional game, the ability to identify high-quality players, organisation skills, a vast amount of contacts and being able to help staff in a variety of capacities.
Those attributes can often be found in experienced managers who have enjoyed outstanding careers in the game. One example being former Baggies Head Coach, Roy Hodgson.
With Albion lacking direction and facing a vital summer, the club needs someone who knows how a successful team functions from a variety of perspectives including scouting, youth set-up, recruitment and coaching.
An experienced head would more than likely be best in this position considering there are no individuals on the board with a background in the game. It would be foolish to let Ke have free reign on decisions despite being respected within the club.
For any potential new head coach, who else could act as a better mentor then Hodgson?
That being said, it is far from guaranteed that Hodgson would want a role away from day-to-day management.
It’s believed that the 73-year-old is not yet ready to retire and like most managers, Hodgson lives on the thrill of daily interaction with players on the training pitch. Having been in the profession for the last 45 years of his life, it may be too hard for Hodgson to transition to such a role.
A more controversial and unpopular suggestion for the role would be enticing “Big Sam” Allardyce to make a swift return to the club.
Allardyce left Albion in May after suggesting he lacked the enthusiasm to oversee a gruelling 46-game Championship season. The news was celebrated by those who disliked Allardyce’s background and persona whilst others recognised he was the safest possible option to lead a promotion challenge.
Whatever you think of Allardyce, it cannot be argued that the former England manager has always had an eye for a player, leading to successful transfer windows at numerous clubs. The capture of Okay Yokuşlu being another example of that.
The 66-year-old’s questionable dealings with topics such as bribes and third party ownership rules would perhaps make him an unsuitable candidate for an upstairs role too.
Again, would someone like Allardyce – who described himself as a “troubleshooter” – even want to step away from coaching? You’d imagine not.
Les ReedEmbed from Getty Images
Les Reed is recognised by many as one of the worst ever Premier League managers ever, following his six-week period in charge of Charlton Athletic fifteen years ago.
However, he oversaw Southampton’s transition from League One to the Premier League after being appointed vice-chairman in 2010.
With Reed having been central to the Saints’ football operations since joining the club, he worked alongside the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman as Southampton established themselves in the upper reaches of the Premier League.
The club also gained a reputation for developing players and selling them on for bigger fees. The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw and Morgan Schneiderlin were all sold for a profit. Indicative of Reed’s ability to identify individuals and then negotiate substantial deals for them.
A “coach tracking system” was also implemented by the 68-year-old, with Reed explaining that “We tracked Managers as we did players. I would be presented by a team of analysts and scouts with a regularly updated list of monitored coaches and a 40-page dossier on prospective candidates.”
Short-termism has been at the heart of Albion’s problems recently, and this type of planning could be vital to a brighter future to the Hawthorns.
Reed is also highly thought of by those in the game. He spent three spells at the FA in various role from 1986-1995, 1998-2004, and 2019-2020.
As previously mentioned, with the alarming condition the Baggies find themselves in, an experienced head like Reed could be pivotal in providing direction and developing a successful infrastructure for the long-term.
However, earlier this month, Reed agreed to join new Wrexham owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds as an advisor to the board.
If Albion were to make a move for the former Addicks boss, they’d hope that the lure of potential Premier League football and such a major role at the Hawthorns would be enough to convince him to join.