It’s quite an achievement just to persuade Dan Ashworth to sit still long enough to lift the lid on his role in Albion’s most exciting launchpad in a generation.
But even then he is a man in a hurry. Ashworth, the club’s low-profile, high-energy sporting and technical director talks like he travels – quickly and with very little let-up.
With every nuance of his body language, he suggests to sit still is to risk going backwards – and that is something he and his club want to desperately avoid in the months ahead.
It is not going to be easy, Ashworth warns.
He said: “The biggest difficulty this summer is to improve on what we have.
“Everyone will have their own view of our first-team but it would probably largely involve the same players – and we’ve got to find others who can improve on them.
“That’s the downside for me because that’s going to be difficult. We have got some very good players at this club now and we’ve had a fantastic season.
“We had no great injury problems but nevertheless, expectation will be to improve on the season – and it’s not that simple.
“We’ve now got four or five players simmering beneath the first team from the academy which is a good sign. Roy Hodgson has been great with them, absolutely great, he gets them into training and keeps them in.
“But we’ve got to look to strengthen in every department. Some areas are going to be more difficult but we want to improve the squad.
“We want to make sure we’ve got 23 players to who can continue our progress.”
Ashworth is still only 40 and surely still learning every day about a job which carries an impact into every corner of the Hawthorns.
He is part scout, recruitment officer, negotiator, deal-maker, deal-breaker, peace-maker, go-between and strategist.
He’s possibly a skilful politician too, providing as he must a direct channel between the club’s tough taskmaster and owner, Jeremy Peace, and the head coach’s office, diluting any tensions while retaining the trust and confidence of both.
All of this he takes in a stride that is growing in confidence and deserves to be.
Albion, in case you hadn’t noticed, have just posted the club’s finest league season since a different generation of supporters left the Hawthorns raving about Regis and Cunningham.
Their modern-day counterparts now leave the stadium excited by players whose arrival has been supervised by Ashworth.
He is wary of taking credit – “Please, the last thing I want is for this to read like a big ‘I am’ article” – and has been reluctant to step out of the trenches to discuss the undoubted successes of this campaign.
As Albion began laying their marker for the bold and vibrant football which would be this season’s signature, it was time to request the chance to sit down and chat about where on earth the Odemwingies, Mulumbus and Tchoyis had come from. He declined. Repeatedly. And you understood why when the wheels came off under poor Roberto Di Matteo.
Ashworth said: “If the results are going well, then I’m doing a decent job – if they’re going badly, like they were, I’m a complete idiot!”
Only when Albion came romping over the safety line, and the season closed with one of his pick-ups, Tchoyi, scoring a hat-trick at Newcastle, did Ashworth feel suitably relaxed to – well, maybe give himself a little pat on the back.
Ashworth, with excitement, added: “Roy likes Tchoyi. Don’t forget, we got him without a pre-season a year ago and he was constantly playing catch-up with his fitness.
“He’ll have the whole summer to work with him.”
Ashworth is clearly hugely-enamoured with Hodgson. When asked to name his top-five signings, he ‘umms and aarrrs’ at the prospect before opting for the current head coach.
He said: “Well, when you think about it, the importance of his impact, it might well have to be. My job is to try to find as many options in every different position we can. And not just playing positions.
“When the decision was made with Roberto, Roy was always our top target. I went and met him down in London and tried to sell him the vision of the club we have – and he bought into it.
“Our criteria, with 13 games left, around the bottom three, was that we needed experience. Roy had bundles of that.”
Hodgson gets an inevitable seal of approval. But what about this fella he works for?
Ashworth said: “The chairman? He’s a fair man but he’s tough businessman. He runs his business and his club in an efficient way. OK, sometimes that’s frustrating getting deals done.
“But not when you get to the end of each financial year and see how healthy the books are.
“Everyone who works here will tell you they never have any doubt that every last Thursday in the month, their wages will go into the bank.
“That’s not happening at every club in the country these days, is it?”
Ashworth has a strong affinity with developing young players. For six years until he was 18, he tried to persuade Norwich City he would be good enough but had to concede he wasn’t.
A subsequent spell at Cambridge was marked only by their former manager John Beck splattering Ashworth’s nose across his face in a trial match.
A follow-up career, after a university education, beckoned in the growing academy culture first at Peterborough, then at Cambridge – where he drove a 16-year-old Sylvan Ebanks-Blake up to his Manchester United signing – and finally Albion.
It’s been non-stop since then although this summer might just give Ashworth a rare break from the intensity. At least his wife Sian and children will hope.
Ashworth added: “It will be nice to have a family holiday without quite so much time spent on the phone this year.
“I remember being in the queue for the Aerosmith ride with the kids at Euro-Disney and trying to do the Nicky Shorey deal on the phone. ‘Hang on Paul (Villa chief executive Faulkner), I’ve just got to go on this ride,’ I said and came back off it saying ‘Yep that all sounds fine, let’s do it!’ Crazy.
“Of course we have had lots of disappointments – I don’t want to name them. Players haven’t done as well as we had hoped.
“But that’s the game I’m afraid – you get some right, you get some wrong.”
Read more: http://www.expressandstar.com/sport/west-bromwich-albion-fc/2011/06/07/dan-ashworths-role-in-albions-future/#ixzz1ObqYhzRF