Albion chairman Tony Bloom is looking forward to this evening’s pre-season friendly opener against Royal Union Saint-Gilloise.
The Belgian top-flight club, which will enter the Champions League at the third qualifying round this season, has close ties with the Albion, given Bloom is a shareholder in the club. Last season saw new signings Denis Undav, Kaoru Mitoma and Kacper Kozlowski loaned out to ‘Les Unionistes’ while this summer sees new arrival Simon Adringa heading in the same direction.
“We have a very good relationship with Royal Union Saint-Gilloise,” said Bloom. “We trust them, we’ve loaned players out to them, and that’s gone very well.
“For the first time we also bought a player from Union, Denis Undav, back in January, and allowed him to stay on loan, given how well he was doing and how well the team was doing. That’s put him in good stead for his return and he’s excited now to be here.
“There is an association between the clubs that is working very well and I’m looking forward to the friendly on Saturday.”
Germany-born striker Undav and Japan international Mitoma were both regulars for Union last season, playing key roles as the side finished second in the championship. Bloom, naturally, kept a close eye on the progression of both players.
“I watched a lot of Union games last season and those two, in particular, performed so brilliantly,” he added. “I know what to expect [from the players], albeit there is a big step-up from the Premier League to the Belgian league.
“Kacper Kozlowski went there as well, although didn’t play as much, but he’s a young player with high potential, so there’s a lot of excitement.”
That excitement is also extended to the season ahead and while the bar has been set high with last season’s record-breaking ninth-placed league finish, Bloom is excited at the challenges which lay ahead.
“Graham, his staff and, obviously, the players did remarkably last season. It was a great achievement to finish in our highest ever position, with our highest Premier League points tally, and it was thoroughly deserved as well.
“Now we are looking forward to the season ahead with hope and excitement, and with the improvements in our squad over the last three years, the bar is high under Graham, but I’m hoping we can continue that progress.
“The aim is to get even better, win even more games, and it would be great to get to another cup final. But we know how tough it is in the one-off games, so I wouldn’t want to be hanging our hat on one thing. We just want to perform, entertain, do well and enjoy – and that’s all I can hope for.”
More immediate is Albion’s build-up to the new campaign, with the big kick-off at Manchester United just four weeks away and five pre-season games to fit in before the trip to Old Trafford. Bloom has re-established links with Graham Potter after the summer break and the feedback is already really positive.
“I deliberately didn’t speak to Graham after the West Ham game for quite a few weeks,” he admitted. “He had a very well deserved holiday, switching off as much as he could from football, which is really important, but I’ve been back in touch this past week and everything’s going very well. It’s all positive, he’s got a smile on his face and he’s looking ready for the new season.
“We have had two weeks of pre-season training and by all accounts the players are looking sharp and very fit. This is the strongest squad we’ve ever had and the balance is really good. We don’t know quite what the final squad will look like but at this stage, from my point of view, it’s looking really promising. I’m extremely happy with them.”