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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Di Matteo says No no to yo-yo

Saturday October 23, 4.45pm. The Premier League table already paints a familiar picture, even in its relatively youthful stage. Chelsea top... United second … West Brom fourth… HANG ON A MINUTE. Fourth? Nine games in? THE West Brom? Now, Roberto Di Matteo would be the first to remind you of the folly of getting carried away but then again, he is as likeable and modest a character you are likely to encounter in the Premier League. And West Brom’s early season achievements are there for all to see – victory at the Emirates and a draw at Old Trafford the obvious highlights; unbeaten in five at The Hawthorns, and since the end of August in the league.

As manager of probably the most prominent example of a yo-yo club in recent years, Di Matteo maybe sidesteps the danger of surpassing expectations and then having a new, more demanding set of targets thrust upon him (step forward Alex McLeish). Nevertheless, the Italian’s feet seem to be planted firmly on the ground. “It's not important where we stand now, it's where we are at the end,” he opined this weekend, a smile barely concealed. Although claiming not to be interested in the table, a sly peek would inform him his side are just two points off second place. Not bad for a man in charge of a League One side in 2008.

Di Matteo arrived at the Hawthorns a relative novice, having replaced Paul Ince at MK Dons and steered them to third place in League One – and ultimately to play-off semi-final heartbreak – in his first managerial job. The former Chelsea man has been the beneficiary of forward-thinking chairmen prepared to take a punt on youth: Pete Winkelman was willing to give him his big chance at the stadium:mk; and then Jeremy Peace ignored the ever-obvious Curbishleys and Pardews and took a calculated risk.

It’s always good for the neutral to see a young manager enjoying success, and even better when that success arrives on the back of playing some good stuff. West Brom’s penchant for attractive football under Tony Mowbray seems to be a formula Di Matteo intends to stick to and though many a Mick McCarthy or Tony Pulis would pour scorn on favouring this approach – especially away from home, when 10 men behind a ball and a siege mentality will do – it adds to the spectacle of the Premier League that such an underdog can go to Arsenal and actually leave with three points.

Di Matteo will no doubt be mindful of his club’s three relegations during the noughties: second bottom in 2002/03, second bottom again in 2005/06 and bottom the last time they were in the top flight back in 2008/09. This season’s start probably won’t last. These things never do. Injuries will likely take their toll on a settled team and some of the momentum will be inevitably lost. But for now, on current performances, it could, just could, all be very different for the Baggies. Youssouf Mulumbu and Paul Scharner form an effective shield in front of the back four, allowing the likes of Jerome Thomas, Chris Brunt and Peter Odemwingie to flourish in spearheading a 4-2-3-1. So successful has this system been, last year’s star turn Graham Dorrans cannot get a kick.

Di Matteo’s greatest accomplishment so far this season is how he has managed to get this squad – one it would be fair to say is crammed with relatively modest talents – winning matches by playing good football. West Brom have managed to mix it with the Premier League’s best precisely because they have not had to rely on mixing it. Do not be surprised if Di Matteo is still a Premier League manager come May. Adam Bushby

1 comment:

  1. Top, top headline there - just quality.

    And I must say, as a Spurs fan, that I was a bit disappointed when we only drew at the Hawthorns earlier in the season - but it's looking like a decent point now. But then who knows how rubbish it'll look in March... Certainly it's always better to play Everton as early as possible in a season and Villa as late as possible.

    In any case I think Di Matteo is to be massively congratulated for what he's done so far and I absolutely agree that neutrals will admire the way he's gone about it so much more than certain cap-wearing headbutters.