KEITH Downing has hailed Claudio Yacob as a ‘players’ player’ – praising his performances since returning from a hamstring injury in mid-January.
The 25-year-old midfielder was ruled out for almost two months before making his comeback in Albion’s 2-2 draw with Villa last month.
The Argentina international has since gone on to play a prominent role in back-to-back victories over Liverpool and Sunderland.
And the Baggies’ joint-assistant head coach believes Yacob, who has been involved in nine of the club’s 12 wins this season, has got breaking up the opposition’s play down to a fine art.
“Claudio is a players’ player,” said Downing.
“The players around him appreciate the role he does – and I think the crowd are knowledgeable about it as well.
“In the modern-day game, which features less tackles and robust stuff, there is an art to defending in terms of interceptions, reading the game and delaying attacks.
“Claudio’s got all of that – but in Argentina that is a role they play.
“The ‘No.5’ position in Argentina is a specific role – the sitting midfielder – and throughout his education in his younger years he has developed that and learned how to sense danger.
“There is a definite art to it and he is very good at it.”
Downing admits Albion’s return to winning ways since the return of Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu to Steve Clarke’s starting XI is no coincidence.
“There are certain important players in every team and Claudio has been a big plus for us since coming back, as has Youssouf,” he added.
“It was a partnership at the start of the season that was good and successful and since both of them have been back playing, we have managed to pick up some positive results.
“But I like to look at the group. There has been a big demand on a core of players in the team. Now we’ve got to 27 games, there has been a big demand on people like Brunt, Morrison, McAuley and Olsson.
“They have all put their shift in and we’re hoping for one last big effort in the 11 games to come.”
Downing revealed that Yacob is also making good progress off the pitch.
He is steadily getting to grips with the English language – even if he does choose when not to understand the club’s coaching staff!
“Claudio’s English is getting better – he understands the positives but doesn’t always understand the criticisms!” he quipped.
“But he’s alright.
“He is a quiet man who goes about his work well.
“He is good with the group and also wants to improve his English.
“He has lessons every week.”