The first new addition to be confirmed was Ben Foster, who has joined us on a season-long loan deal from Birmingham City. Some concern was expressed by a number of Albion fans at the fact that there is no option to sign Foster permanently at the end of the season, although I'm sure they club will make an offer if Foster plays as well as he did for Birmingham City in the Premier League last season. In my opinion, Foster is among the top five or six best goalkeepers in the league, so to attract him to the Albion is a real coup for the club and definitely a cause for optimism ahead of the new season. As part of the deal which saw Foster join us, Boaz Myhill went the other way in an identical deal, meaning that we do have a Plan B should we not be able to sign Foster next summer. Below is a video showing what we can hopefully expect from Foster next season.
To provide back-up for Foster this season, we also signed Marton Fulop from Ipswich Town. Fulop is an experienced goalkeeper, who can include the likes of Sunderland and Manchester City (albeit briefly) among his former clubs. He has spent the last seven years in England playing for a number of clubs, so will provide good competition for Foster in an area of the squad which is looking significantly stronger compared to the end of last season.
I mentioned in my last blog about our transfer activity that we were close to re-signing Zoltan Gera after his contract expired at Fulham. This deal took a little longer than expected to go through due to Gera needing surgery on an ankle injury, with the club wanting to wait until he had made a sufficient recovery before confirming his return. He seems to have made a good recovery and should be available for selection by mid-September, which is also around the time when a suspension he incurred after being sent off on the final day of last season will have been served. The big question among most Albion supporters is, quite simply, how will Gera fit into our side once he is fully fit? Roy Hodgson has described him in a recent interview as one of his main targets this summer, which suggests that he will be in the starting line-up during most games. With this in mind, I believe his versatility could be his greatest strength, as he is capable of playing on either wing and can also play just behind one or two strikers, depending on the formation we play. This is where Hodgson will earn his money this season, as we have a lot of talented midfielders who we need to try and accommodate in the side!
The most recent signing we have made is that of striker Shane Long, who has been a player we have been linked with all summer since Reading lost to Swansea in the Championship play-off final back in May. His record of 25 goals in 51 starts last season is incredibly impressive, which is why a number of Premier League clubs have been linked with him this summer, as well as arguably the two promotion favourites in The Championship, Leicester City and West Ham United. Some Albion fans have expressed concern that we have signed a player with very little Premier League experience, but I have been impressed every time I have seen him play live (admittedly only once or twice when we have played Reading) and I definitely trust a manager with 36 years of experience in the game to have signed a player who is good enough to make a big impact in the Premier League. Below is a video showing some of Long's highlights from last season, which should hopefully persuade the doubters that he is potentially a very good signing.
When you add these four signings to the two we had already completed this summer (Gareth McAuley and Billy Jones), I think our squad is undoubtedly stronger than it was this time last year. We have replaced players who were far too inconsistent with players whose greatest attribute is their consistency and reliability (albeit at a lower level up until this point), so I would like to think that most of the individual errors which cost us so dearly last season can be eradicated this season.
Roy Hodgson has hinted in his most recent interview that he would still like to sign a centre-back and I think that if we are able to add one more player to our squad in this position, we will have made all the signings we need to this summer.
Keep checking my blog over the next few days, as later in the week, I will be posting an Albion preview for the forthcoming season.