On Wednesday night, West Bromwich Albion completed the capture of Belgian winger Yassine El Ghanassy from AA Gent on a season long loan. In his first interview for the club, he said he will ‘provide skills’, which I’m sure will prove a big hit with the Albion faithful.
But from West Brom’s attacking point of view, this signing and the comment off El Ghanassy will only bolster their frontline and an out and out, genuine winger is something the side has missed for several years.
A player who will take players on, create chances, link up with the strikers, excite the crowd. And after carrying out some considerable research on the 22-year-old, who celebrated his birthday just a mere 24 hours after his arrival, I think it’s fair to say he matches that bill. It was one Graham Dorrans some three years ago who was the last player in a Blue and White shirt that I can really remember being a menace down the flanks and adding pace to attacks.
But in El Ghanassy, it looks like the Baggies finally have a fast, creative, imaginative wing wizard. James Morrison is now more of a central midfielder, Chris Brunt is more technical, Jerome Thomas is lacking in pace as he’s ageing and Dorrans is too inconsistent. The player, who has two caps for his country with the first coming in February 2011, is sure to add a different dimension to the team.
Albion boss Steve Clarke has said he’s a ‘rare talent’ and football writer John Chapman, also known as @BelgoFoot on Twitter, says he’s ‘fast’ yet the word ‘grit’ doesn’t come to mind when describing him.
So the message I get is El Ghanassy, on a offensive front, will be a handful and will be useful when breaking quickly. But in terms of defensive work, something that both former Baggies coach Roy Hodgson and now-Albion manager Clarke like to implement into their sides, he lacks.
Will he be able to cope with a cold Tuesday night in Stoke? It’s a question so frequently poised. The Premier League is so, so different to that of the Belgian top flight. The pace of the play is a lot faster, and the players are generally of a higher level.
Who’s to say El Ghanassy won’t be able to deal with the added physical element, he may well. I’m just assuming. But by looking at the comments he’s made and his footballing background – one would be foolish to say otherwise.
Furthermore, I think Clarke knows it’s a gamble of sorts having assigned the youngster on a loan deal.
Should he impress, which I’m hoping he will, next campaign then a permanent transfer could be on the cards.
He’s settling into a side on the up, who will surely be looking to secure a top ten finish next term. So there is no room for mistakes, or inability to settle in. He must adapt. And quickly.
Whether or not El Ghanassy is a regular, it depends. I suppose it also depends on the opposition. With AA Gent he played on the left regularly, where he could cut in and look to shoot. And that could well be the same at the Albion with Thomas looking decent on the right towards the backend of last season.
Below is a sketch of where the Belgian – who has been handed the no.10 shirt - may feature, starter or not. Using Peter Odemwingie and Chris Brunt as examples.
As you can see, if Clarke opts for a formation with three upfront then this is what it would look like. With Brunt on the far right, Odemwingie down the centre and El Ghanassy playing in his favoured role of left winger.
The arrows represent the directions he could go in, from reaching the by-line or cutting inside which has been touched on. The shaded area shows the area where El Ghanassy needs to hit, and where problems for opposition backlines can occur.
He might be a superstar, he might be a flop. But one thing is for sure, and that’s an entertaining journey is guaranteed with this 22-year-old Belgian magician. Bring on next season.
Written by Nathan Carr
Follow me on Twitter @nathancarr67
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