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May 12, 2014

Baggies bid adios to Pepe

The inevitable was confirmed on Monday as Pepe Mel left West Bromwich Albion by "mutual consent" after finishing the season with yet another disappointing display in the 2-1 defeat to Stoke at the Hawthorns.

It has been apparent for some time now that Mel would leave the club, but none more so than when he revealed there was a break clause in his contract that could be activated by either party at the end of the season. Despite being taken to by the West Brom fans, it's become apparent that the players weren't as enamoured with Mel and his methods.

The former Real Betis man came to the club with a reputation of possession-based, attacking football, pressing quickly with a high defensive line when his team didn't have the ball. It was this reputation that initially gave Mel such high-stock amongst Baggies fans, who wanted to see a return to the style of play the club is renowned for, rather than the deep, defensive, counter-attacking football that Steve Clarke favoured.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that West Brom simply didn't have the players to suit Mel's style of play. Albion only have one defender really capable of playing in a high-defensive line, Billy Jones, but he missed more games than he played in Mel's tenure. Mel was trying to employ a high-defensive line with a defence that was ageing or just plain slow.

The midfield didn't have the technical ability to play the possession-based game Mel wanted, while they also didn't have the pace to press high up the pitch. In reality, Saido Berahino is the only Albion forward really suited to pressing; Matej Vydra looked like he might have been able to do it but didn't seem to have the necessary fitness levels to try for a long period of time.

Add into the mix that Mel joined in late January and was only allowed to bring in one player, on loan, to try and play this style meant it was impossible for Mel to put out a side that was true to his identity and ethos as a coach. When West Brom reverted back to a deeper defensive line and playing counter-attacking football, Mel might as well have departed the club then as it clearly wasn't him having that influence on the squad.

Mel’s team selections and tactics caused confusion on more than one occasion and his substitutions were even worse. They either came too late or came at the right time but either bringing on or taking off the wrong player, sometimes both. His record wasn't great, with only three wins from 17 games, only one of those wins coming at home.

However, he has been treated appallingly by the club since his arrival. Mel was moving to a new country where he didn't speak the language well, yet he wasn't allowed to bring in his own staff immediately. This may well be a contributing factor as to why he couldn't get his message across to the players when he first came over, which would have prevented the issue of players not liking his methods being leaked to the press later on in the season.

When Mel was allowed to bring in staff, it was only one of his two assistants, which should have set the alarm bells ringing then regarding his future.

As mentioned above, he came to the club with a clear philosophy on how he wanted to play, a philosophy that obviously must have persuaded the board that Mel was the right man for the job. Therefore it was utterly ridiculous that he then wasn't allowed to at least bring a few players in who would be capable of playing in the way he wanted.

Mel was also left to deal with the sale of Shane Long above his head, not getting to spend any of the money received from that deal, and also losing Nicolas Anelka after the quenelle controversy. When rumours began to emerge Mel's days were numbered, the chairman, chief executive or sporting and technical director were nowhere to be seen to offer their support. He was thrown under the bus.

Despite all of this, Mel achieved his remit of keeping West Brom in the Premier League. Moreover, he did it with a huge amount of class, grace and dignity that the club have otherwise been lacking this season. It was because of those qualities and the shoddy way in which he was treated by the club that the fans took Mel to heart, and vice versa. Mel seemed to recognise the importance of the fans to a football club more than anyone else at West Brom.

Albion's decision-makers now face having to find yet another head coach. The last two recruitment processes have been dragged out, and pretty farcically, they can't afford that this time around. They need to act quickly and they need to get the right man. They need to get someone who will try and play attacking football, someone who will stand up to the chairman when needed, someone who is prepared to knock a few heads together in a dressing room full of egos and begin an evolution of the playing staff at Albion.

But most of all, West Brom need to appoint someone who the fans can buy into. Albion need to ensure that the next boss they bring in is given the resources to show everyone what he can really do.