When West Bromwich Albion host Swansea at the Hawthorns this Sunday, the occasion will bring back strong memories for one man in particular. It was this fixture back in March that saw Jimmy Shan thrust into the spotlight as West Brom’s caretaker manager.
The timing and the circumstances could hardly have been worse.
Not only was he being asked to replace long-time colleague Darren Moore but he was being expected to do so just two days after his wife had given birth to their son.
“I suppose it was a little bit different,” Shan tells Sky Sports.
“Two days after he came into the world I am suddenly caretaker head coach. It was not just that I was thrust into it. It was the nature of how I was thrust into it with three close friends leaving. Suddenly you have two days to prepare for a game. All the things that come with it such as speaking to the board and the media, that was brand new to me too.
“My mindset at the time was that it was only going to be for that one game. I just wanted to give a good account of myself. One game as caretaker and if we win then I will have a 100 per cent win record. That was what went through my head if I am honest.”
W Brom vs Swansea
December 8, 2019, 11:30am
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That win duly came as Graham Potter’s Swansea were beaten 3-0 at the Hawthorns. Not only did the result end a run of six home games without a victory, the Baggies have not bettered that result home or away since.
It wasn’t a bad start.
But it is the ending that everyone will remember.
Shan stayed in position for the rest of the season, guiding West Brom to six wins from the remaining 10 fixtures to secure a play-off showdown against Aston Villa.
Over the course of two legs, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Dwight Gayle was unfortunate to be sent off in the first game and was banned from the second.
Chris Brunt received a red card of his own that evening amid an intense derby atmosphere under the Hawthorns lights. Albion still managed to take the tie to penalties.
Unfortunately, without Gayle and Brunt, and with a number of other likely penalty takers, including Jay Rodriguez, having succumbed to fatigue or injury during the game, Shan feared the worst. Tammy Abraham’s spot kick decided the game in Villa’s favour.
“It was close,” he says. “It ended up being one kick. My mindset as a competitive person was that we could do it but in the back of my mind I knew we’d lost four penalty takers.
“We had a really good run. There were some performances I wasn’t happy with but I was immensely proud to have steadied the ship and steered the club to the play-offs.
“Every single week I was thinking, you know, I am getting used to this. When you are on the touchline and the cameras are going, that’s all new. But as soon as the whistle went it was no different to taking an U18 game or an U23 game.
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“I felt I handled it relatively well and I felt comfortable doing it, even with the magnitude of those games. I never really felt under pressure but I did like that pressure.
“I knew it would be a difficult task but we were one kick away and life is about small margins. If I had taken the team to Wembley, do I think I would be sat here now with my feet on the sofa ready to do the housework? I think I would be in work.
“I think people would have reflected on the job I did over 12 games and, yeah, I would be in work now. So I do reflect on it. Who is to say we wouldn’t have won at Wembley and all of a sudden the club would have had a big call to make then.”
Instead, after more than a decade at West Brom, working with everyone from the seven-year-old boys in the academy to the internationals in the first team, he departed the following month.
“The club said from the get-go that there would be a role for me but it was what role that was going to be,” Shan explains. “I think a parting of the ways was the best for both parties.
“I’d had 13 years at the club. I knew I was never going to stay there until retirement and I had ticked every box at the club. I had worked with every single age group. So I can look back at my achievements with great pride and think the timing was right to part ways.”
It seems extraordinary that this highly-rated young coach who came so close to taking West Brom back to the Premier League now finds himself on the outside looking in.
What is clear is that the passion remains.
Birm’ham vs W Brom
December 14, 2019, 12:00pm
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He is doing all he can to remain involved. He watches games and continues to track players on Wyscout. There has even been some coaching at the University of Wolverhampton.
“Even at that level, coaching is coaching and if I can help someone I get great satisfaction from that. If I can give them that little nugget that will make them think differently in a certain situation and enhance their game in any way that gives me a great buzz.”
Shan, 41, is helping out once a week at Aston Villa of all places, and he returned to the Hawthorns for the first time last month – wearing “a big hood and a flat cap” to take in the win over Sheffield Wednesday.
He speaks warmly of Nathan Ferguson’s potential and takes pride in the fact that he gave Kyle Edwards his first Championship start and was rewarded by the winger’s wonder goal against Brentford. “Talent needs opportunity,” says Shan. Romaine Sawyers is another he rates highly having worked with him during his teenage years in the academy.
He is enjoying watching Slaven Bilic’s side.
“I was watching people I had worked with for a long time and had many sessions with so it was great to see them being successful. I think they have recruited some fantastic talent that has given them a new dimension in the final third. That has made them more exciting. It is nice to see.”
This spell out of the game has given Shan the opportunity to catch up on the precious time he missed out on with his young son during those first few months. “I missed quite a lot so in many respects it has been a blessing to have this time to spend with him.”
But he is clearly itching to get back to work.
“When August hit I became very frustrated and just wanted to have another crack at it. I have been out of it now for four months and I want to get back in.
“My priority is to land a job as a head coach. I kind of got off on that. I liked the fact that I was making the key decisions tactically and going with what I thought was right.
“I may have to look right down the pyramid. Hopefully I can showcase what I can do and work my way back up. I like to think I have no coaching ego. I am open to anything.
“But if I can’t do that then I would like to go in as a first-team coach or assistant too. I have a passion for coaching. I miss that day-to-day work. I just want to get on the grass.