While Premier League relegation and a play-off penalty shootout defeat to their local rivals in each of the last two seasons mean it has arguably been a difficult couple of years at West Bromwich Albion, there does seem to be some sense that the current campaign may be different.
Under the insightful and influential guidance of new manager Slaven Bilic, and with three wins and three draws from their opening six league games of the season – leaving them fourth in the table after the first month of the season – there does seem to plenty to be encouraged about in the early stages of this season for those of a West Brom persuasion.
But while many around the club will be sharing that sense of optimism, there may be some amongst the squad who don’t quite share that positive feeling when looking at the club’s situation from an individual perspective.
One such player who it is possible could find himself in that position is Chris Willock.
A deadline day signing from Portuguese giants Benfica on a season-long loan, the attacking midfielder has struggled for opportunities at his temporary club, having failed to make a senior appearance in either league or cup in that opening month of the season.
That is something that surely has to be a concern for the 21-year-old.
Having yet to make his debut for Benfica’s first-team, Willock will surely have come here expecting to be given the opportunity to prove his worth to a side competing in European football, and for trophies on a domestic level week in week out, upon his return to Portugal next summer, by playing a part in the Baggies own success this season.
But with that yet to happen, and the likes of Matt Phillips, and fellow loan signings Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira and Filip Krovinovic – who has also joined from Benfica ironically – all impressing in those attacking midfield roles, it does seem like it may be difficult for Willock to force his way into contention if Bilic’s side continue their effective start to the season.
It seems therefore, that there is one particular clause in Willock’s loan deal, that will come as a source of relief to the former Arsenal youth man.
According to recent reports, Benfica hold the option to recall Willock from his loan at The Hawthorns in January, and that may well be something the youngster should consider looking to force through if things do not change soon.
While it is almost certain that Willock would not be returning to Portugal with the view to taking a place in Benfica’s side, it would at least give him the chance to head out on loan elsewhere in a bid to get that elusive playing time.
Although that is something that may prove to be a source of frustration for West Brom were they to lose an option – not least due to the concern around the influential Diangana’s own recall clause in his loan from West Ham – that is not something that Willock can allow himself to worry about.
At 21-years-old, and with the undoubted potential he has shown in being snapped up by clubs the size of Arsenal and Benfica already in his career, Willock is a player who should be playing as much as possible right now in order to further his development.
If that doesn’t start to come at West Brom soon, then he may have to take the opportunity to make a premature exit for the good of his own career, even if it means missing out on being part of a squad challenging for promotion.