How does losing Harvey Barnes affect West Brom's promotion push?
Taking a player on loan is often seen as a ‘risk-free’ move. After all, you are getting the services of a professional without paying a transfer fee. For clubs below the Premier League, these deals can be vital. But it’s not only the borrowing club that benefits. By sending their young players on loan, Premier League sides can give them much-needed game time and take a look at how they cope in league football. Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and even David Beckham were all sent on loan at the start of their careers. It didn’t do them any harm.
Harvey Barnes signed a season-long loan deal at West Bromwich Albion from Leicester in July. On the same day, he penned a new deal at the King Power Stadium, making it clear that this wasn’t a ‘try before you buy’ deal. The 21-year-old had previously been on temporary deals at Milton Keynes Dons in League one, and Barnsley in the Championship. He proved he could score goals in that league.
It was a good deal for both clubs and the player. Barnes would help the Baggies to push for the Premier League while continuing to learn his trade in the professional game.
Barnes quickly caught the eye and became a key part of Darren Moore’s team. A spectacular goal on his debut helped to endear him to the Hawthorns faithful. Eight more followed between August and January. The player has been played in both the left midfield and number 10 position. From as early as October, reports began to circulate that Leicester would activate a call-back clause. Goals and assists continued to flow. The youngster contributed to 16 in total (nine goals and seven assists).
Heading into January, speculation over Leicester recalling the academy graduate was rife. The Foxes needed extra fire-power and creativity. Inevitably, Claude Puel activated the call-back clause last Friday (11th January). Leaving West Brom without a key member of their team going into the final months of the season. Much to the annoyance of many Baggies fans. Including presenter Adrien Chiles.
Losing a player who has contributed that many goals is bound to have an effect on the push for promotion to any club. How much of an effect it has on West Brom depends on what options Moore has to replace him.
What Options are already in the squad?
One option for Moore is to promote from within and give someone already at the club the chance to step into Barnes’ shoes. Following news of the recall, the manager made it clear that this was the preferred option.
First and foremost you look within your existing squad. We’ve got some talented individuals more than capable of filling the shoes Harvey’s left.
It presents an opportunity for someone to step in and stake a claim. That’s the competition we have at the club.
So, who could step up to the mark?
Bakary Sako has shown his versatility. He has made just five appearances this season, playing in four different positions (right midfield, left midfield, centre forward and in behind the striker). Although his preferred spot is left midfield - the position that Barnes plays. His Championship experience could be vital for the Baggies come the season's end.
Hal Robson-Kanu has mainly been used as a substitute. Similar to Sako, he is able to play in any position along the forward line. The 29-year-old is best known for the goal he scored for Wales against Belgium in the quarter-final of Euro 2016. He is just five short of reaching 200 Championship appearances and has been fighting for a starting spot all season. This may just be his chance to earn it.
Should a replacement be signed in this window?
A second option for Moore would be to turn to the transfer market. After all, there is still over two weeks left until the window slams shut. Taking another young player on loan from a Premier League club could be the way that the Midlands outfit chooses to go.
One name that has been linked in recent days is Arsenal youngster Emile Smith Rowe. The 18-year-old is highly rated at the Emirates. Playing at left-midfield, a loan option for the once Barcelona target would be the most like for like replacement for Barnes. Smith Rowe has made just six first-team appearances for Arsenal and should be keen on a move to play regular football to gain invaluable experience.
The loss of Barnes will be felt at the Hawthorns. However, the strength of their squad should ease the pain. Even without dipping into the transfer market, the Baggies already have options who are more than capable. While fans may have been fearing the worst, the 1-1 draw with promotion rivals Norwich on Saturday may have gone a long way to easing their fears.