London: West Bromwich Albion are on the brink of relegation this weekend, with Stoke City and Southampton also in grave danger, as the Premier League’s basement dwellers pay the price for a lack of managerial imagination.
Albion head to Newcastle United on Saturday knowing anything less than a victory will condemn them to the second tier.
Even three points at St James’s Park is likely to mean only a stay of execution for West Brom, who are eight points from safety with three games remaining.
It is a bleak predicament for a club that has spent the past eight years among the English elite — but many believe Albion have only themselves to blame for joining the ultra-conservative trend of Premier League teams asking the usual suspects to get them out of trouble.
When Albion parted company with Tony Pulis in November after fans grew tired of his dour tactics, the club’s Chinese owner Lai Guochuan turned to Alan Pardew, a former teammate of West Brom technical director Nick Hammond.
Pardew’s track record of mediocrity at West Ham United, Southampton, Crystal Palace and other clubs failed to excite supporters and proved a disastrous choice as he lasted just 18 league games, winning only once.
By the time Pardew was dismissed in April — following a run of eight successive defeats — Albion were destined for relegation and he had the worst Premier League win percentage, at 5.5 per cent, of any West Brom manager.
Since Pardew’s departure, Albion have looked far more dynamic under the guidance of interim boss Darren Moore, the kind of up-and-coming young coach who the Premier League’s lesser lights would do well to embrace.
Despite constant complaints about a perceived foreign invasion, David Moyes became the eighth British manager between the ages of 50 and 70 to be appointed out of 14 slots filled when he took the helm at West Ham in November.
However, hiring these supposed survival specialists has often backfired, with Stoke and Southampton’s faith in experience looking misguided
Moyes, Everton’s Sam Allardyce, Palace’s Roy Hodgson, Pulis and Southampton’s Mark Hughes have now had 25 Premier League jobs between them as they move from one attempted rescue mission to another.
That group has enjoyed a degree of relative success in their careers, but Joey Barton believes fresh faces would prove a wiser investment.
Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe and Burnley’s Sean Dyche have shown what young English managers can accomplish given the opportunity, while in Germany, Bundesliga clubs regularly promote their own coaches, leading to the emergence of Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann.
Barton, who will take charge of third-tier Fleetwood Town next season, told TalkSport: “It shows how poor the managerial pool is when you look at some of the appointments recently. It’s people who’ve failed.
“Football management is one of the few jobs where you can be absolutely crap and get paid a lot of money for being crap because you get sacked.
“But then you walk back into another job because clubs think it’s going to work for them.”
Hughes was axed by Stoke after a wretched run pushed them towards the bottom three this season, yet he resurfaced in March at Southampton.
The 54-year-old has won only one of his six games and, with his third-bottom team four points from safety ahead of Saturday’s clash against Bournemouth, he is in danger of effectively relegating two sides in one season.
Blame for Southampton’s misery also lies with his unlamented predecessor Mauricio Pellegrino, but Stoke’s decision to appoint Paul Lambert following Hughes’s exit in January was no more inspiring.
Lambert had done little of consequence at Wolves, Aston Villa, Blackburn and Norwich.
The 48-year-old takes second-bottom Stoke to Liverpool on Saturday with his team four points adrift of safety after an 11-game winless run.
Yet whether clubs learn from those cautionary tales remains in doubt.