We caught up with Sporting and Technical Director Luke Dowling to fire a few questions about how Albion’s football operations are handling the pandemic.
It’s now been more than a month since the Baggies' last game at Swansea and football remains frozen in time as the nation deals with the coronavirus crisis.
We’ve been asking Luke what’s been happening…
How is the club operating on a daily basis now?
First of all, the most important thing is that we get through this as a nation and beyond because I don’t need to talk about how serious and worrying the pandemic has become. What I see every day in the news bulletins, and the way the front-line staff are leading the battle, puts our football concerns a very distant second. But of course, you do have to conduct business as normally as possible. Mark (Jenkins) is leading senior management meetings every couple of days via conference calls at the moment and we’re trying to deal with as much as we can. We may have a little more information to work on in terms of planning for a return but the truth is everyone is still in the dark in terms of precise proposals. So we’re just doing what we can to keep the club ticking over. Mainly, I’m so proud to be involved with this club when I see the incredible work being done within our community which everyone is involved in.
How busy are you in your duties?
It’s strange really. The first wave of calls you got were focused on your welfare. ‘How’s your family?’ ‘How are you?’ ‘Stay safe.’ But everyone then begins working within the ‘new normal’ and the conversations start changing to ‘So what are you looking for in the summer?’ and ‘Can I talk to you about this guy.’ It’s very difficult of course because we don’t know what division we will be in or when but football ticks on, I guess, even though we don’t know what the game will be like when we all get back. Sometimes you start at 9am with a call and then you look up at the clock and it’s 5pm! But other days I feel like I’m watching the clock go by. I like to work in situations that I can control but we just do not have any answers at the moment.
We imagine it has brought recruitment to a standstill?
Well, certainly the technology is helping us. We have an opportunity to do a huge amount of research through video and online scouting of players, particularly those abroad who have come onto our radar. The depth of the work we can do while the game is frozen like this is good in that sense. Everything we are doing at the moment is designed to ensure we hit the ground running when we do get back.
Are you speaking with Slaven regularly?
I’m staying in regular contact with Slaven and keeping him up to date with all of the messages and information we’re getting back from the various bodies. It’s important to maintain relationships in this situation. At the moment, for example, we are all thinking that any return to football will be conducted behind closed doors and I have to plan for that. I have been in touch with another Championship club and agreed that we will each host a BCD game against each other before the fixtures resume. This will obviously give the players the chance to put some miles into their legs but also get the feel of playing in an empty stadium. At the same time, it will give the staff the opportunity to have a dry run at a BCD fixture, which will still mean 150 or more people needing to be safely accommodated within the stadium. Slaven was happy with that idea so we will see if that is how it pans out.
And the players?
The players seem to be in good spirits, I must say. They are like us in wanting to know ‘when, when, when?’ but also recognising that there are far more important issues for the country to resolve first. But Mark (Jenkins) and I had a conference call with a group of the senior pros this week to bring them up to date too. I think it was a very positive session and they are all on board with what the club is trying to do.
How is their morale?
The word I’m getting back from Nick Davies (Head of Sports Science and Performance) and the medical staff is that they are being extremely professional in their home programmes. With the digital technology we have now, we can tell how much work they are doing, measure heart rates… everything. They are split into groups of seven or eight and receiving video sessions from the fitness team. But we’re rotating them so they don’t hear the same voice every day. All the feedback is good. And like I say, it’s all about getting them back to hit the ground running.
Most of all we are picking up a really determined mood. I think they are more resolved than ever to finish the job they started. They know our community will be desperate for that kind of morale boost after what everyone has been through. They want to finish the job now. They really do.
It’s been particularly hard for the overseas lads. We’ve been mindful of Slav’s coaches, Danny and Dean, whose families are back home in Croatia. You’re obviously concerned for those here by themselves. Filip (Krovinović) was asking if he could go home for a bit and then whether his brother could come over but it’s just not been possible. But you know Filip – he’s a great character and he will get through it. Matheus (Pereira) is here with his wife so it’s not been so bad for him.
And the Academy?
I’ve been so impressed with the way Richard (Stevens) has handled the crisis. He’s got a huge range of age groups to deal with but he has made that the absolute priority; he’s a very warm guy who believes in the strength of relationships and he’s been using the online streaming services to maintain regular contact. Full marks to Boaz (Myhill) too because he’s been working in tandem with that in the goalkeeping groups.