Sporting & Technical Director discusses new signings, recruitment policy & January plans
RICHARD Garlick believes Albion are well equipped for the challenges ahead as he reflects on the club’s summer transfer business.
The Sporting & Technical Director (designate) confirmed the Baggies have strengthened the areas of the squad they targeted, giving head coach Steve Clarke plenty of options for the current campaign.
With the attacking quartet of Romelu Lukaku, Jerome Thomas, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Yassine El Ghanassy leaving at the end of last season, and the prospect of Peter Odemwingie moving on, the club prioritised recruiting power and pace in the central and wide forward areas.
And Garlick believes Albion have reinforced those positions with the signings of Nicolas Anelka, Matej Vydra and Scott Sinclair, plus the deadline-day arrivals of Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe.
“Our main aim this summer was to retain our core players who have done so well in recent seasons – like Youssouf Mulumbu, who signed a new contract – and replace the attacking players we would be losing,” he said.
“We knew Romelu was heading back to Chelsea after his loan spell and although for a brief moment on transfer deadline day there was a chance he might return, we have largely planned without him.
“It was always on the cards that Peter would move on which left us with a lot of attacking talent to replace.
“Of course, only time will tell, but we’re very hopeful we’ve done that. With the signings we’ve made, we’ve put power and pace back into the team, which was absolutely vital.”
Gabriel Tamas and Gonzalo Jara Reyes also departed this summer. Heading in the opposite direction were Uruguay captain Diego Lugano, Morgan Amalfitano and Lee Camp, who was brought in as extra goalkeeping cover after Ben Foster suffered a fractured foot, plus Goran Popov, who was re-signed on a season-long loan.
Garlick reckons Albion have evolved and strengthened the squad during the past four months.
He added: “Overall, I believe we’re stronger as a unit than we were 12 months ago. It’s important that we are because the Premier League promises to be more competitive than ever this season. Every other team has also strengthened.
“Competition for places is an essential ingredient for any club and we feel we have that. It works in two ways. Training levels become more intense because players are fighting for their places. It also means that when changes have to be made – due to injuries, suspensions or loss of form – you have confidence that the players coming in will reach the same levels of performance.
“Steve may also want to change formation for tactical reasons so it is equally important he has players capable of offering him that choice.”
With the arrivals of Amalfitano, Sessegnon and Anichebe and departures of Odemwingie and Tamas all being sealed ten days ago, transfer deadline day proved the busiest in the club’s Premier League tenure.
It also brought to an end what Garlick readily admits has been a testing summer for the club’s recruitment staff.
“Due to the turnover of players, this was always going to be a big summer for the club,” added Garlick.
“Right from the start of the window, it became apparent clubs would be holding out for inflated prices due to the extra money that had been injected into the league through the new TV deal.
“The closure of the transfer window brought to an end an incredibly busy few months.
“The window is a moving feast and you have to keep your recruitment flexible throughout so that you can take advantage of situations that may present themselves.
“We’d been watching Morgan for some time but it was only in the final week of the window that things fell into place.
“It was similar with Stephane and Victor, whom we have watched on many occasions.
“Stephane played in Sunderland’s first two games and only became available five days before the deadline. Victor appeared regularly for Everton last season and we didn’t think he would become available. That also changed in the final week.
“You aim to go into every window knowing as much as you can in terms of which players are available and who are realistic targets. But nothing is a given.
“Players you know are available may decide to join other clubs or stay put. Conversely, players you admire may not be available on July 1 but could become so towards the end of the window. That can be down to a host of reasons, like clubs bringing in other players and the arrival of new managers and head coaches during the course of the summer.
“The Chairman has previously said we would prefer not to spend money on transfer fees. That is largely down to the fact a club’s positioning in the league table is generally governed by the size of their wage bill – not their transfer fee outlay – although we have outperformed in this area over the past three seasons.
“However, we have never said we won’t pay transfer fees. The signings of Shane Long and Ben Foster in the past couple of years underline this and we knew that attacking players – which we were mainly looking for – are usually the most expensive.
“That proved the case with Stephane and Victor – and we’re delighted we managed to sign them.
“Of course, we would have preferred to get them in earlier, but circumstances dictated otherwise.
“The most important thing is that we signed players of the right type and quality. We had lots of other options but rushing out and signing less suitable players at an earlier stage would not have helped us in the long run.
“Overall, we’ve got a good balance to the squad now. It features 13 home-grown players, which doesn’t include the British pairing of Graham Dorrans and Gareth McAuley.
“We have signed a total of nine players this summer and they will obviously need time to gel. But the encouraging thing is that most of them either know what the Premier League is all about or have played at a high standard in other countries. Through our research, we believe they are equipped to succeed in this country.”
However, Garlick admits there are plenty of lessons Albion can learn from the summer window.
“We’re always looking at ways to make our resources stretch as far as possible because we don’t have the same financial muscle as many of our competitors,” he said.
“Although we’re pleased with the business we’ve done, we’ve identified areas of our recruitment process that need to be improved going forward – and we’ll be addressing those in the coming weeks.
“For example, the use of player analysis will become more and more integral in the process of identifying players who can improve us.”
During the previous two summer windows, Albion completed most of their business before the season started. This year, the club were busy right up until the close of the window.
Garlick is of the opinion the window should shut before a ball has been kicked.
“This is something we believe in very strongly,” he added.
“It won’t be easy, as there are so many different factors to take on board – especially for teams involved in European competition.
“But we think it is time for a serious discussion about the feasibility of closing the window before the league starts.
“It is best practice that clubs have their squads in place before the first match.
“While we have been finalising our squad, the team has been playing games and it feels like the season is about to start again – even though three league matches have already been played. Those first few games also become something of a lottery.
“This isn’t a question of spending power. Two of the biggest deals of the window – Ozil to Arsenal and Fellaini to Manchester United – went through on deadline day.
“In any walk of life, people work to deadlines. If the transfer deadline was earlier, everyone – clubs, players and agents – would work towards it.”
Garlick and his recruitment staff are now focusing their attention on potential recruits for the January window – and next summer.
“We exhausted all available resources during the summer window to ensure the squad is as competitive as possible for the season ahead,” added Garlick.
“We’ve traditionally used the January window for topping up the squad due to injuries or unforeseen circumstances and we’ll be looking to do that via the loan market or short-term deals.
“January will also be a time to reassess the positions of players who may not get regular game time and become surplus to requirements.
“We have a lot of work to do now to ensure we are ready, if necessary, to act in January and we’re already making plans for the next summer window.”