DAN Ashworth believes Jeremy Peace deserves immense credit for having the ‘foresight and courage’ to create the sporting & technical director’s role at The Hawthorns.
The chairman broke with British tradition five years ago to generate the post, which is more familiar on the continent.
Ashworth was the first man to be appointed to the position on a full-time basis in July 2008 and the departments he became responsible for – first-team, scouting & recruitment, medical & sports science and Academy – have all flourished under his leadership.
The 41-year-old has earned widespread recognition for the job he has performed – which led to him being appointed as The Football Association’s new director of elite development last month.
Ashworth has much unfinished business to conclude – most notably helping to appoint his successor – before leaving for St George’s Park next summer.
The new appointment will be a crucial one as the sporting & techincal director role has been pivotal to the club’s recent progress.
And Ashworth has handed all of the plaudits to Peace for breaking with tradition and doing what he felt was right for the club by creating the role.
“The person that needs to take pride from the way the club has gone in recent years is the chairman,” said Ashworth.
“He is the person who had the foresight and courage to appoint this role in English football when a lot of people wanted to run it down, run him down, said it wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, and so on.
“I think the chairman has helped prove to the country that, if it’s set up in a certain way, there is a place for this role.
“It might not work at all 92 clubs but I think this football club has been relatively successful over the last few years.
“That success is down to a lot of people – people behind the scenes, some fabulous head coaches, great players, great scouts, Academy coaches, physios and doctors.
“A lot of people have contributed to the success of the football club but the chairman is the one who had the foresight to start the role. He was the pioneer.”
Ashworth joked that helping the club appoint his successor was akin to ‘planning his own funeral’!
He revealed Albion are making progress in the process of filling his shoes but insisted it is imperative the board take their time to ensure they appoint the right candidate.
“There is no time pressure on this,” added Ashworth.
“We don’t need to make any knee-jerk decisions.
“A lot of people have applied for the role. We’ve had approaches from abroad, especially as the role is more common in Europe.
“But we don’t have a time-frame on a shortlist.
“We are very much going through the process.
“We’ve done this a couple of times before when we have been looking for a new head coach.
“When Tony Mowbray and Roy Hodgson left, we knew we had quite a long period of time to make the appointment.
“Both of them left in the May when the season had finished and we knew we effectively had until the first week of July when the players were back for pre-season.
“We took that time to make sure we got the right one.
“We’re still sifting through applications, talking to people and preparing a shortlist to ultimately make sure we get the right person.”
Ashworth said the appointment process is not the easiest task he has been assigned but is happy to play an active role in identifying his successor to ensure the club continues to head in the right direction.
“I was saying to my wife that it’s almost like planning your own funeral!” he quipped.
“Ultimately, it will be a board decision.
“My job is to sift through the candidates and hopefully come up with some ideas in conjunction with Mark Jenkins [chief executive] and Richard Garlick [legal director/secretary] for the chairman to have final sign-off on.
“I think we’ll be looking for a certain personality. For example, I’m not sure that an abrasive, confrontational person would work at this football club.
“Of course, it would also be foolish of us to appoint someone that, say, Steve Clarke has history with.
“These are the kind of things we’ll have to bear in mind.”
Ashworth admitted it was a tough decision to call time on his long association with the Baggies, having initially joined to assist then-Centre of Excellence Manager Aidy Boothroyd in March 2004.
But he claimed the lure of fulfilling his lifelong ambition of working for England proved too strong.
“It was a really difficult decision,” said Ashworth.
“It’s been fantastic here – a wonderful, wonderful time.
“I’ve held lots of different positions and roles – and I’ve also seen the club grow and progress in terms of facilities, infrastructure and league status.
“But the call to work for your country is probably the strongest one.
“You don’t get many chances in life to do a role like that – certainly not someone like me, who does not have a high-profile playing background.
“I haven’t represented England at international level so I would have thought this is my one and only opportunity to do such a role.
“The national game is in a state of change and with St George’s Park and the new EPPP, it is exciting new times.
“From my very early coaching days, I’ve always wanted to work for the national association and for my country, so that was the pulling factor.”