While Valerien Ismael’s transfer business at West Bromwich Albion got off to a flying start, with the Frenchman landing his former captain Alex Mowatt on a free transfer, Albion’s dealings appear to have slowed somewhat in recent weeks.
The club have secured a season-long loan deal for Brighton & Hove Albion centre-back Matt Clarke, but in terms of permanent signings, all seems relatively quiet on the West Brom front.
That does not mean that the rumour mill isn’t spitting out new stories on a near-daily basis, though, with Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane being the latest player to be linked with a summer switch to The Hawthorns.
However, it is believed that the Baggies’ likely promotion rivals Sheffield United have overtaken Albion in the race for the 30-year-old’s signature, something which also seems to have happened to West Brom in their pursuit of Trevoh Chalobah.
While the Chelsea midfielder would be a fantastic addition for Ismael to make to his side ahead of next season, it is Hourihane who the Frenchman simply cannot afford to let slip this summer.
Things have not particularly worked out for the Republic of Ireland international at Villa Park following the club’s promotion to the Premier League back in 2019, with Dean Smith immediately spending big on the likes of Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba in a bid to secure Villa’s status as a top-flight team – quite rightly, we should add. However, Hourihane has nevertheless been one of the most impressive players to have graced the Championship in recent years.
Indeed, in the season leading up to the Villans’ promotion, he was in exceptional form over his 46 Championship appearances, with the £3.15m-rated man bagging eight goals, providing 12 assists and creating 11 big chances for his teammates, along with averaging 1.8 shots and 1.6 key passes per game.
These metrics saw the man who Smith dubbed a “superb” player earn an average SofaScore match rating of 7.20, ranking him as the club’s third-best performer in the second tier that season – behind Jack Grealish and Tammy Abraham, and above John McGinn and Tyrone Mings, who ranked fourth and fifth in Villa’s best players that season.
Lasts season, the £30k-per-week midfielder once again proved that he is capable of playing a key role in a club’s promotion charge – over his 22 Championship appearances on loan at Swansea City, he scored five goals, registered two assists and created two big chances for his teammates.
These returns saw the 30-year-old earn a seasonal SofaScore match rating of 7.02, ranking him as Steve Cooper’s sixth-best performer in the league as he helped his team all the way to the play-off final, where the Swans were unfortunate to meet Thomas Frank’s Brentford team.
With Ismael currently being short for choice in the middle of the park, with only Jake Livermore, Mowatt and Romaine Sawyers in his first team squad capable of operating from central midfield, the signing of Hourihane would not just appear advisable but essential for the Baggies this summer, particularly if the 45-year-old manager wishes to secure an immediate return to the Premier League next season.
Furthermore, with Mowatt appearing to be of a similar ilk to the Irishman, having scored eight goals and provided seven assists of his own for Barnsley last season, the thought of a Hourihane/Mowatt pairing in midfield could be an incredibly tantalising prospect for the West Brom boss and their fans alike.
As such, Ismael should be doing everything in his power to convince the West Brom hierarchy to sanction a move for the Aston Villa man this summer, with the potential of Albion’s success in their upcoming campaign hinging on whether or not the 30-year-old arrives at The Hawthorns this summer.