Incoming West Brom boss Valerian Ismael has been called ‘scary’ by former players – but says attitude will be the key to keeping him happy and taking the Baggies back to the Premier League.
Headhunted by the West Brom hierarchy after just one season at unfancied Barnsley, one so impressive he led them to their highest finish in 21 years, Ismael’s overachievement at Oakwell shows just how important the work ethic is to his philosophy.
He is not afraid to let his players know when they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and was called a “big scary lad” by Barnsley’s Alex Mowatt in one interview last season, where he also revealed the Frenchman would “not take any rubbish” from his squad.
That would sound off-putting for some in a modern game often criticized for its mollycoddling, but Mowatt enjoyed Ismael’s approach so much he followed him down the M1 to the West Midlands this summer, as both look to return West Brom to the Premier League at the first attempt.
In that same interview, the player did concede his manager had only fully lost his temper “once or twice” over the course of the season – and speaking ahead of the Baggies’ season opener with Bournemouth, live on Sky Sports on Friday, Ismael laid down a strong incentive to how his new side can avoid that fate.
“I’m a winner, I have a winning mentality,” he said. “It is the reason why we do this job; we put a lot of energy into it. Sometimes I don’t like wasting time when we are not performing to 100 per cent, and sometimes I just need to say what needs saying.
“It comes across with my emotion but I know that when my players give everything, I protect my player, I will give everything for them.
“If anyone has any question, my door is always open, everyone can come at any time, and we are here to work together to fix it. But I need 100 per cent commitment, so it is simple like that – you in or you are out but if you are in, it is 100 per cent commitment to the way to play for the club and the team-mates, and this is my expectation.”
A strong work ethic may be just what the doctor ordered. West Brom showed their capabilities at times last season, memorably winning 5-2 at Chelsea in April as well as taking points from Manchester United and Liverpool, but consistency remained lacking to see them relegated with a whimper, after shipping 76 goals across the season.
It has certainly looked good in pre-season, albeit accompanied by all the usual caveats. The Baggies are yet to concede a goal, and thumped Championship rivals Birmingham City, themselves buoyed recently since the appointment of Lee Bowyer, 4-0 in their final warm-up game last Saturday.
“We will see exactly the same style we saw in the pre-season games, especially the last game against Birmingham,” insisted Ismael. “We are really close to where we want to be. Now it’s all about getting the games, getting the feeling in the games with the pressure from the Championship, the league, and to do exactly the same. With the same desire, the same conviction, to force our style onto the opponent and use that style to get the success we want.
“We will have a lot of intensity and energy on the pitch. We want to dominate with our intensity and the quality we have, to make sure we can score the goals to win games. But we need to have the right mentality, to make sure that everyone on the same page, and to give everything to give the feeling from the pitch to the stands and the fans to make them proud, so we have a lot to do this season.
“It will be a long, long season but I think pre-season has shown some good signs that we are heading the right way.”
Livermore: Relegation out of our system
A relegation hangover curses most sides dropping out of the Premier League – since its inception in 1992, only 24 of 85 relegated clubs have bounced back at the first time of asking.
West Brom make up two of those clubs themselves, living up to their ‘Boing, Boing Baggies’ nickname in 2003/04 and 2009/10 to bounce straight back to the top flight.
Since that first Premier League relegation in 2003, they have spent only six seasons outside the top flight across four spells – avoiding the pitfalls of the likes of many of their peers who have drifted into the doldrums since demotion.
Do West Brom have the hunger to get a second promotion in three years? “That’s what we need,” captain Jake Livermore, now entering his fifth season with the club, told Sky Sports.
“I think hopefully the back end of last season, with our fate being sealed reasonably early, has helped the boys to get their heads around that. So fingers crossed we’ll hit the ground running. We’ve got great energy through our coaches and staff and we’re raising to go.
“In that end to the season we always put up a good fight, and I think that’ll hold us in good stead in leading into the season. Obviously, we’ve had a few changes around the club, a few bits to fresh things up, and the boys are all positive, the new management are all positive too.
“It’s the intensity the manager has brought in what’s really pleasing to see for all of us. Collectively, we’re all fighting for the same thing and we’re all on the same page and what we want tactically. It’s been a long time coming for a few of the boys for getting time and hopefully we can show what we’ve been missing.”
Sky Sports will show live coverage of Bournemouth vs West Brom on Friday as the curtain-raiser to the 2021/22 Sky Bet EFL season.
Sheffield United will be back on TV the following weekend as they travel to beaten play-off finalists Swansea on the night of Saturday, August 14, with Wayne Rooney’s Derby traveling to Peterborough United earlier in the day.
The first midweek fixtures take us to The Den for a London derby as Millwall host Fulham, as well as Huddersfield’s match against Preston, both on Tuesday, August 17. A key clash between West Brom and Sheffield United follows on Wednesday, August 18.