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West Bromwich Albion’s Romaine Sawyers is a Premier League talent playing in the Championship, writes Adam Bate.
Last Updated: 31/12/19 6:29am
West Brom midfielder Romaine Sawyers is a Championship pass master
West Brom suffered their first defeat in three months against Middlesbrough on Sunday, a dent to their confidence going into the game with Leeds on New Year’s Day. But there is a reason to believe they can bounce back. The game against Boro was the first time this season that Slaven Bilic had opted to rest key midfielder Romaine Sawyers.
The loss of Grady Diangana has been a big factor in West Brom’s recent dip in form – they have won just one of their last five – but they are not quite the same team without Sawyers either. A hugely influential presence in the middle of the pitch, he is an unusual talent in the Championship – a holding midfielder with the ability to dictate the tempo of a match.The praise has been fulsome ever since his return to his boyhood club in the summer. “I have worked with some midfielders and I have played with some midfielders,” says Bilic. “He’s there.” Jake Livermore, Sawyers’ midfield partner and an England international, has backed him to be “as good as anyone” that he has played with in his entire career. Sawyers’ heatmap and passing sonar for West Brom this season West Bromwich Albion midfielder Romaine Sawyers is the only midfielder in the Championship with a passing accuracy in excess of 90 per cent. Off the field he has endeared himself to supporters too. When the daughter of Jeff ‘The King’ Astle took to Twitter to describe Sawyers as a Premier League player, he replied: “Royal praise from the princess.” Fans appreciate that sort of thing and he appreciates being home. “This is the team that I have always wanted to play for,” he says.So why has it taken so long for Sawyers to find himself this close to Premier League football? He is already 28, after all. It seems that his languid style – “a nice calming influence,” according to Livermore – has taken time to be appreciated. Sawyers had to rebuild his career with Walsall and Brentford after being released by West Brom as a youngster.Not everyone at the club agreed with that decision at the time.Jimmy Shan, a former coach in the academy who later went on to lead the first team last season following Darren Moore’s departure, recognised Sawyers’ unusual ability from an early age. Sawyers in action for West Brom as a youngster during his first stint “When I first got to the club, Romaine was 15 and he already stood out as an unbelievable technician,” Shan tells Sky Sports. “He played as a classic number 10 back in those days. He was a huge talent. He had this ability to pop up between the lines and to create. He wasn’t scoring as many goals as he should have done but he was an unbelievable team player.”Even at 15, it was like having a full-time coach on the pitch in terms of his ability to spot problems tactically. He would problem solve. He would help others and repair problems.”The making of him was probably coming out of West Brom, having that little bit of setback. Going to Walsall, having to mature, develop that football mentality, having the stress of two games a week. He has flourished since then going from Walsall to Brentford and getting that experience. He is one of if not the best midfielders in the Championship.” 1:36 Highlights of the match between West Brom and Middlesbrough Highlights of the match between West Brom and Middlesbrough The numbers hint at what sets him apart. Sawyers has completed more passes in the opposition half than any other player in the Championship. His passing accuracy is superior to any other midfielder in the competition and that’s not just because he takes the easy option. Sawyers’ passing sonar shows that his passing is progressive as well as accurate. He has hit 96 long passes with a better success rate than anyone else too.At Brentford, he found a natural home for his style of play. At West Brom, he has helped to remould the team – providing a control that was lacking.”He is exactly what they needed,” says Don Goodman, Sky Sports pundit and a former West Brom player himself.”I would imagine that come the end of the season we will probably be talking about Sawyers as the bargain of the transfer window. Three million is an absolute steal. I would go as far as saying that if Darren Moore had Sawyers last season he would probably still be in the job because he is that link, that midfielder that receives the ball, looks after the ball.” W Brom vs Leeds January 1, 2020, 5:00pm Live on That will be more important than ever against Leeds. It is a game between two teams who belong in the Premier League. Between two managers who belong in the Premier League. But it is a classy 28-year-old midfielder who has never played a minute of top-flight football who West Brom will be hoping can help guide them to victory at the Hawthorns.”In my humble opinion, if somebody had taken a punt on him a few years ago then he could probably have two or three years of Premier League experience under his belt right now,” adds Shan. “I just hope that West Brom win promotion and he has the opportunity to play in the Premier League because I truly believe that is his stage.” New Year, same Super 6! FREE TO PLAY: Marcus Rashford’s 95th minute strike sealed a Super 6 jackpot winner. Could you make it two on the bounce?