There is plenty of curiosity surrounding West Brom’s ‘warm weather’ training break in Barcelona earlier this month.
Firstly, the Catalan capital is by no means ‘warm’ in the month of February as opposed to Spain’s Costa del Sol, where many clubs go to refocus and sharpen minds.
For the Baggies, their trip did anything but. The bizarre story emerged last week that four of their players had been charged with stealing a taxi in the early hours of the morning.
Midfield stalwart Gareth Barry, Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans, back-up goalkeeper Boaz Myhill and midfielder Jake Livermore were later identified as the four players who had been taken in for questioning.
It also transpired that manager Alan Pardew also suffered a harrowing trip, having his wallet, keys and phone stolen.
It was a nightmarish scenario for the Midlands club, who in recent years have been a model of stability in the top flight.
A modest club with a limited pool of talent on a relatively low budget, they had established themselves as a mainstay in the Premier League and one of the toughest sides to break.
Now, though, their players' indiscretions sum up a season which has prescribed to Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
It all started so well, winning both of their opening league fixtures 1-0. There was even tentative talk of a possible push towards European football.
They finished in the top half the previous campaign and had retained Evans – amid interest from Manchester City and Arsenal.
There had also been notable transfer business done: Premier League regulars Barry, Jay Rodriguez and Kieran Gibbs all arrived to bolster depth, while Egyptian defender Ahmed Hegazi and Scottish winger Oliver Burke, signed from RB Leipzig, also joined the ranks.
Most notably, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak joined on loan, as did Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge in January.
However, that bright start quickly evaporated and the Baggies have won only once in 25 league outings since. Even that – a 2-0 home win against Brighton – was marred by allegations of racial discrimination made by Rodriguez towards Seagulls defender Gaetan Bong.
That coincided with two FA Cup victories – including a famous win at Anfield – yet they have picked up only one point from four games since and suffered a damaging home loss to Southampton.
Punching below their weight
Most people would argue West Brom are not the weakest team in the league and many would argue they should be sitting relatively comfortably in mid-table.
This season alone they have taken points off nine of the division’s top 12 sides, including Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester, Burnley and Liverpool.
Towards the end of November, the club ran out of patience with boss Tony Pulis. The Welshman had lost the fans weeks before due to a turgid style of play that was no longer bringing the requisite results.
The appointment of Pardew was met generally with apathy, but also with the sense that things would eventually improve with a more expansive style of play.
It is hard to argue that performances and belief have not picked up in patches, yet a mix of bad luck and lack of leadership has cost them frequently.
The New Year’s loss at West Ham summed up the situation – the Baggies took an early lead but lost in extra time against opponents who, unlike them, had not played 48 hours prior.
Pardew next to go?
Yet blowing a two-goal lead at home to Newcastle was unacceptable, as was the meek 3-1 loss at Stoke when embattled Mark Hughes was still in charge while similar early leads were taken at West Ham, Everton and at home to Southampton before eventual disappointment.
Their most recent outing – at Chelsea – was another microcosm of their season. Within 90 seconds, Sturridge limped off injured. Soon after, the visitors were denied a blatant penalty, spurned several presentable opportunities before falling behind and eventually losing 3-0. Early promise and desire evaporated at the first setback.
Evans has now been restored to club captain despite his misdemeanours while none of the other three appear to have lost their places.
Perhaps Pardew feels he has no other choice due to the urgency of the club’s plight, yet it hints at a real lack of leadership off the pitch as well as on it.
With the club sacking their chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman being placed on gardening leave, there is now a sense of inevitably that the man in the dugout will be next to go in a last-ditch bid to preserve their status.
Do you think Pardew's days are numbered? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.