West Bromwich Albion captain Jake Livermore has hailed manager Valerien Ismael for providing his side with an identity and belief, with the latter being much-needed according to the midfielder as he spoke to the Express and Star.
Ismael arrived at The Hawthorns from Championship rivals Barnsley in the late stages of June, overseeing a meteoric rise from the Tykes at Oakwell during his only season in South Yorkshire and helped to transform them from relegation candidates to promotion contenders.
Finishing fifth, his former side were just three games away from Premier League football but fell at the penultimate hurdle as they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Swansea City.
Quiz: Have West Brom signed a player from each of these 20 clubs in the last 5 seasons?
Meanwhile in the West Midlands, the Baggies were on the search for a new manager with ex-boss Sam Allardyce announcing he would step down at the end of the season after failing to guide Albion to safety, finishing 19th in the table and 13 points adrift of safety.
Frenchman Ismael came in to provide the recently relegated club with a new lease of life as he implemented the 3-4-3 system that worked a treat at Oakwell, a formation he has stood by since despite enduring mixed results after seeing his current side go unbeaten in their opening ten league games of the 2021/22 campaign.
Failing to turn draws into wins at various stages of the campaign, especially in the last couple of months, there has been criticism of the 46-year-old’s premiership from some sections of West Brom’s fanbase.
But skipper Livermore has nothing but praise for his boss, saying to the Express and Star: “He has given us that identity and that belief.
“I think last season, we were really lacking in both those aspects and on top of all that, he’s just a top, top, straight guy.
“That is exactly what our changing room needed – that belief because we have got bundles of ability in there.
“It just needed that direction.”
West Brom are in desperate need of that belief right now after seeing their players miss so many opportunities in front of goal. Their matches against Coventry and Reading earlier this month looked set to be a turning point for Ismael’s men with the likes of Fulham and AFC Bournemouth slipping up and Albion capitalising on it.
However, the problems they endured with their lack of cutting edge in the final third in November and even before that came back to haunt them against Barnsley on Friday evening – and one man that needs confidence more than anyone else at this stage is loanee Jordan Hugill who has been the subject of major criticism.
In terms of their identity, there’s no doubting the Frenchman have given them just that. The 3-4-3 system is one he refuses to move away from even with injuries and that’s something that has to be admired as he sticks to what he believes in.
His style of play is notorious for being more direct than some would like, but that clarity and set way of playing should allow any new additions to settle in quickly, knowing what Ismael will expect of them when called upon.
Whether the majority of Baggies fans will remain loyal to the 46-year-old’s project for the long term remains to be seen, but Livermore certainly seems to be benefitting from his arrival after re-establishing himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet this term.