CRAIG Gardner has hailed head coach Alan Irvine as one of the best he has ever worked under on the eve of the new Barclays Premier League season.
The Scot has received high praise from several Albion players for his coaching sessions since his appointment at The Hawthorns earlier this summer.
And midfielder Gardner, himself a summer recruit from Saturday’s opponents Sunderland, is the latest to applaud Irvine’s methods both on and also off the training pitch.
“The manager has come in and he’s got us going and got us firing straight away, and we’re going to take that into the season,” Gardner said.
“I think before you judge him you need to watch his training sessions, you need to be in the changing room, you need to really know him; he’s come here and been brilliant.
“I’m not just saying that because he’s the manager and he picks the team, he truly has been brilliant.
“His training sessions are different class, he talks really, really well in the changing room. He knows what he’s on about, he doesn’t talk for the sake of it.
“He’s a top-class coach and he’s a top-class person.
“It’s the same with Keith (Downing), Rob (Kelly) and Dean (Kiely) as well, they all know what they’re on about.
“On the training pitch we get well-set drills and it’s proper training sessions that relate to proper games. It’s not just ‘go out there and play football’.”
Gardner has worked under the likes of Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish and Steve Bruce, among others, during his club career.
And asked whether Irvine is one of the finest coaches he has experienced to date, Gardner replied: “Coaching-wise he’s probably the best, yes.
“Again, I’m not just saying it, he’s very, very good.
“I’ve worked under a lot of people, Martin O’Neill was top class, Alex McLeish was very, very good as well.
“But Alan Irvine is a top-class coach, he’s really taken training sessions by the scruff of the neck.”
Solihull-born Gardner spent time with Aston Villa and Birmingham before joining Sunderland in the summer of 2011.
He made a total of 100 outings for the Black Cats during his three years on Wearside, finding the net on 14 occasions.
The 27-year-old became Albion’s first signing of this summer after his contract at the Stadium of Light expired.
It was fate that the fixture list would pair his old and new club together on the opening day of the 2014/15 season.
And Gardner cannot wait to make his competitive debut for the Baggies in the encounter at The Hawthorns (ko 3pm).
“It’s extra special for me because it’s one of my old clubs, but at the end of the day it’s another game, it’s three points up for grabs and it’s the first game of the new season so everyone’s looking forward to it,” he said.
“I can’t wait to get out there now.
“It will be a good game, we’re ready, we’re hungry. We’ve got to win our home games.
“I wish it was this afternoon, we’re raring to go. I’m sure they’ll be ready as well because that’s what pre-season is all about.
“So, let’s go.”