And defender thanks Clarke for keeping his head straightGARETH McAuley has sets his sights on improving on what he considers to be the best two years of his career after penning a new-and-improved two-year Albion deal on Friday.
The 33-year-old centre-half has started all-but-eight of the Baggies’ 76 games in his first two Barclays Premier League campaigns.
He this term made a clean sweep of the Supporters’ and Players’ Player of the Season awards – and has thanked Steve Clarke for helping him keep his mind on the job during his contract talks.
“This club is special to me,” said McAuley.
“This season has been amazing. Picking up the awards off the supporters is very special.
“It’s a great football club. I really enjoy playing here, and feel at home.
“I love the dressing room and the lads - and that all helps.
“I’m just delighted my stay here is going to be extended.
“It can be difficult mentally when contract negotiations are going on but the gaffer was brilliant all the way along and played a big part in keeping my head right.
“When he came in at the start of the season he thankfully put me in his team and showed belief in me.
“All I’ve done is try to reward him for doing that with performances.
“He’s played a big part all along with his management of me and I really appreciate what he did in the weeks when things were going on in the background.
“He’s really kept my head in the game and kept it focussed and I can’t thank him enough for that, as well as Keith [Downing] Deano [Kiely] and Kev [Keen].
“They’ve been fantastic throughout the season and I’m looking forward to getting going again in pre-season already.”
McAuley only played his first English league football less than ten years ago when he moved to then-League Two Lincoln City in summer 2004.
But he has gone from strength to strength during his progression up the divisions and is thriving in the top flight.
He added: “The last two years have been fantastic – it’s a dream come true.
“When you play a lot of football in the lower leagues, to get the opportunity and to take it is pleasing.
“I backed myself to do it purely because I wanted to.
“And when I got the chance I would have been letting myself down if I hadn’t stepped up to it.
“I’ve managed to do that, so I’m happy and I want to progress again next season – and be better than I have been this season.
“That’s all I’ve been trying to do all along.
“I’m looking forward to getting going again.
“I’ll now sit down, have a good think over the summer and set myself more targets for the next two years.
“I’ve achieved pretty much what I set out to do when I came here – just little personal things – and I’ll evaluate that again and be ready to go again.
“That keeps me moving forward, keeps me progressing, keeps me turning in performances for the football club, and hopefully I stay in the team and have more success, and finish with more points next season.”