Albion fans are unanimous in hailing Roberto De Zerbi’s first year in charge of the club as one of the greatest in our history.
Supporters around the city last week had nothing but praise for the Italian’s tactics, man-management and ambitious approach. And they gave full credit to the club for their vision in replacing Graham Potter with the former Shakhtar Donetsk head coach.
“I’m still pinching myself but I shouldn’t be because you trust in Tony Bloom and Paul Barber to have that succession plan in place and they did have,” said Cliff Ettridge, who sits in West Stand Upper. “I feel that they invest in a manager and allow that manager to develop and flourish and that is exactly what’s happening.”
Matt Hollister, another WSU regular, also had any early doubts dispelled. “When we appointed De Zerbi, nobody had ever heard of him and it was ‘Oh God, we’ve lost Potter and all the coaching staff, [Marc] Cucurella too, it’s going to be a disaster’,” he said. “And for the first three games after Liverpool away it felt like a bit of a disaster. But since then he looks like he’s going to be an absolutely world-beating manager. How we could ever do better than him is a big question. When he does go and they appoint a new manager, I’ll be worried if I’ve heard of him!”
The quality of the football played by the team under De Zerbi, of course, attracted admiration. “He has transformed the team,” said Danny Carter, who watches games from West Stand Lower. “When Graham Potter was in charge, we played some good football, but we weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net. De Zerbi has come in and tweaked it a little bit and now we are scoring for fun and going forward with a bit more pace while still playing good football. So he has taken us up to another level.”
Des Harvey, an East Stand Lower regular, agreed. “We come out and play on the front foot, as most home teams do, but even away from home we really take the initiative and we go at the home team from the off,” he said. “There is no messing about; it is a very attacking style of football. That is the most noticeable thing, but he also mixes and matches the players very well. Whether he has to replace players who have left, or to rest or rotate in players that the recruitment team have found, he manages to make changes seamlessly and play the same style of football with a different set of personnel.”
Mary O’Keefe, who sits in the East Stand Upper, saw continuity in the appointment of the Italian. “Judging just by results he is great of course, but the football is also very entertaining. He joined the right club for his ideas and not only because he followed Graham Potter. We have been playing possession-based football for a long time, going back to Gus Poyet in 2009 and then Oscar Garcia. I assume that is the type of thing that Tony Bloom wants to see. Good recruitment has also helped, and he hasn’t been afraid to put young players into the team a bit earlier than others would.”
“We thought we had reached a ceiling under Potter even though Tony Bloom has said that we don’t have a ceiling,” said Ross Auld (WSU). "Then he got De Zerbi in and we thought ‘This is the Promised Land.’ And at the beginning of this season, winning the first two games 4-1, you knew it wasn’t going to be a one-hit, one-season wonder. You knew we could go through squad changes and still put on those sorts of performances.”
Cliff Ettridge again, “What is so exciting is that we feel we are at a peak and De Zerbi is saying, ‘No we’re not, we are going to go further’. If anything, he was training us to be supporters of a Premier League team, and now a European team and to set our expectations higher – but true to the culture of the club, without the arrogance. We still remember where we came from.”