It may have taken them a while to make an appointment but the arrival of Valerien Ismael as West Bromwich Albion’s new coach looks an exciting one.
The 45-year-old made Barnsley the Championship’s surprise package in 2020/21 – taking a side that escaped relegation on the final day of the previous season all the way to the play-offs.
Ismael will have significantly more resources available to him at The Hawthorns and with less than six weeks until the Baggies kick their season off against AFC Bournemouth, he’ll want to start to mould his squad right away.
One player that he may be planning for life without is Sam Johnstone. The Baggies’ reigning Player of the Season is currently at Euro 2020 with England after a hugely impressive 2020/21 campaign but what the future holds for him beyond that remains unclear.
West Ham United and Wolves have both been linked with giving him a well-deserved return to the Premier League in the current window, and though it may not be the most popular move among the Albion fanbase the club should be looking to capitalise on that interest.
The 28-year-old has proven a fantastic addition since his arrival from Manchester United in 2018. Johnstone played a key role in the Baggies’ promotion to the top flight in 2019/20 and were it not for his sterling displays week after week last term, you feel his side would’ve been relegated a lot earlier than they were.
With just a year left on his current deal, Albion run the risk of losing him for nothing if they do not look to cash in this summer or in January and if they wait until the winter window, his value is likely to drop well below the £20 million they’re understood to be currently asking for.
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While clubs may be hesitant to pay that fee given his contract situation, Johnstone’s stock has never been higher and with Alex Palmer waiting in the wings, it seems the ideal time for the West Midlands club to sell.
Palmer was outstanding while on loan at Lincoln City last season, helping the Imps reach the play-off final and being named of the shortlist for the FLW Fans’ League One Player of the Season award after keeping 21 clean sheets in 57 games.
Now back at The Hawthorns, the 24-year-old looks ready for a starting role at Championship level and now seems the perfect time to install him as the Baggies number one.
The target for Albion this season will undoubtedly be to bounce back up to the Premier League but CEO Xu Ke’s comments after Ismael’s appointment indicated that the club was now looking to focus on their “long-term aspirations” rather than “what is immediately in front” of them.
Cashing in on Johnstone and giving Palmer time to cement his place as the club’s first choice keeper is the move that makes the most sense with those long-term aspirations in mind.