The joy of Jed Wallace: The heart and soul of West Brom’s revival


When Jed Wallace walked into West Bromwich Albion’s training ground for the first time, club staff were confident they had secured one of the Championship’s signings of the summer.

Fifty-six combined league goals and assists across his final three seasons with Millwall enticed second-tier clubs with even the slimmest chance of landing his services to make an approach, with his status as a free agent only making a deal more straightforward. While his on-the-field exploits initially put him on their radar, Albion’s higher-ups put equal value into his reputation as a leader off the field.

With an alarming slide from Premier League security in the mid-2010s to present-day Championship mediocrity, recruiting new figureheads and dressing-room characters with the burning desire to reach English football’s top tier was a priority for then-manager Steve Bruce, chief executive Ron Gourlay, and the recruitment department. As expected — and desired — he became a crucial member of the senior leadership team and perhaps the team’s star player almost overnight.

So, with interest from across the league, one has to wonder whether thoughts of regret entered his mind when Albion hit the Championship’s rock bottom in October. A key selling point for Wallace was the potential to play in the Premier League and he joined West Brom because he deemed their prospects of getting promoted to be higher than almost any other side who had made a serious approach for his signature.

Despite interest from his former side Millwall, who tried to keep him, and current league leaders Burnley, among many others, Wallace saw a squad, recently bolstered by the signing of his close friend John Swift, with quality and depth enough for him to realise his dream.

However, as the season progressed and West Brom’s collective performance rapidly declined, Wallace might have thrown in the towel and given up on what might have seemed like the impossible. Instead, he continued to demonstrate the principles — relentless running and on-the-pitch leadership — alongside technical quality that have taken him from non-League Whitehawk and Farnborough, to becoming one of the Championship’s most coveted players.


It is difficult to pinpoint many more potentially transformative signings in recent years. While West Brom are still in the bottom half of the table, far from where they expected to be before the season kicked off in late July, Wallace’s character is so clearly a positive influence on a dressing room that many supporters were beginning to lose faith in.

There may have been players with more talent than Wallace but could his career in the West Midlands parallel Gareth McAuley’s? Of course, they play in entirely different positions, but like Wallace, McAuley joined on a free transfer from a lower-half Championship side and immediately won the hearts and minds of supporters by proving to be a class above both on and off the field.

While an arm around a younger player’s shoulder endears him to team-mates, coaches and supporters, moments like his post-match interview after Albion’s 2-1 victory over Sunderland truly capture what makes him unique. In light of children Jack Johnson, Thomas Stewart and brothers Finlay and Samuel Butler tragically dying at Babbs Mill Lake in nearby Solihull earlier this month, an emotional Wallace dedicated the victory to their memory. He also honoured the life of Julian Widdowson, the club doctor who had died in the days before the match.

Carlos Corberan has been impressed with the human side of his group of players as a whole — not just Wallace. “I am working with a group of players with human values,” Corberan tells The Athletic. “I cannot tell you one player that is not in the same dynamic as the others. Everyone has different personalities and some show more feelings than others, but the human value of this group is so high. This is very important to compete in football.”

West Brom, Rotherham

West Brom’s 3-0 win over Rotherham left them 16th in a congested Championship table but just five points outside the play-offs (Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Still, it would be remiss not to mention how good Wallace has been on the pitch. Undoubtedly, if Albion were to hand out a player of the season’s first half, he would be the unanimous and uncontested recipient. He is the club’s joint-leading scorer (four) and top assist-maker (five), adding to his goal tally on Saturday with a brilliantly taken left-footed effort to open the scoring in a 3-0 win over Rotherham. He also delivered a typically pinpoint cross into Grady Diangana to convert in the second half, moments after the winger had arrived on the field as a substitute.

“I think it was the best game I was watching from him since I arrived here,” says Corberan. “Today, his commitment to the team and actions in attack were fantastic. In the crosses, finishes, and running in behind that he was doing, he was one of the better players.“

With the weekend’s 3-0 dismantling of Rotherham, early whispers of an unlikely promotion charge are growing into confident conversations on the terraces at The Hawthorns. A win against Coventry City on Wednesday will take the club to eighth, two points away from the play-offs, with half of the league season remaining. Still, despite being on an upward curve with quality in abundance, Corberan is firmly focused on keeping his players’ feet on the ground.

“We know where we were when I arrived here at the club,” he says. “We know that in the Championship, as soon as you are not at the right level in a game, you can break this positive momentum.

”We want to keep competing, keep being an important team and a winning-mentality team. It is not ever watching the future but watching the past. We will not forget the situation where we started fast because we need to protect ourselves from everything.“

Manage expectations as much as you like, Mr Corberan, but results speak for themselves: Albion are the league’s form team. With quality players like Wallace, Tom Rogic and Okay Yokuslu at the top of their games, a fanbase that has grown accustomed to Championship promotions is daring to dream.

(Top photo: Gustavo Pantano/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


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