And joint-assistant head coach eager to beat his old clubKEVIN Keen admits tomorrow will be ‘special’ day for him when he makes his first-ever return to West Ham as a player or coach in a competitive match.
The Baggies’ joint-assistant head coach joined the Hammers as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1983 and enjoyed almost a decade-long playing spell at Upton Park.
He returned to the East London club as a coach in 2002 for what proved to be a nine-year stay, including three caretaker manager stints.
Steve Clarke will also be heading back to his former employers – but Keen insists they will be doing their old club no favours as they look to ensure eighth-placed Albion finish the season strongly over the final eight games.
“I'm not one of these to big things up - but for me it will be special,” he said.
“It's the first time I've been back there.
“I never went back there as a player and I've not been back as a coach so it will be the first time me going back there in a competitive match.
“I'm looking forward to it – and hopefully we can win.”
Keen is happy to see United are still maintaining their tradition of bringing their Academy products into the first-team.
And he expects to face a couple of them in James Tomkins and Jack Collison tomorrow.
“It's a unique place,” he added.
“It has an East End and Essex support which is unwavering.
“They're fanatical but happy to have a go at the team when things aren't going well.
“It's not like other places where it can be more snobby - West Ham has a real earthy feel to it, there's an east end edge to it.
“They're always promoting their younger players.
“Tomorrow they might have Tomkins playing, Collison playing - I know Mark Noble is injured.
“They have a few players in the side and you won't find many Premier League teams with that so that's something else they've got, the ability to bring people in who are good and desperate to play for the club.”
Keen has praised the work of manager Sam Allardyce in bringing the Hammers straight back up from the Championship at the first attempt.
But in 14th-place and six points above the relegation zone their top-flight future is not yet sealed for another season.
“When he took over from Avram Grant the turnaround he did in the Championship was fantastic," he said.
“I think this season we've seen with Blackburn and Bolton that it's not that easy to drop down into the Championship and bounce straight back - it's not a given.
“So the job he did last year was fantastic to get them back in one season and to consolidate with the position they're in means he's done a very good job.
“He's been clever with the players he's brought in.”