Football: Albion creator awaits destiny; Arsenal v West Bromwich Albion.
Like all players who are born to entertain, Jason Koumas regards the limitations of the substitutes' bench with the same trepidation as a bird might regard a cage.
He might be one of the most talented West Bromwich Albion players of his generation but, since the arrival as manager of Bryan Robson, he has found that his career has reached a crossroads.
Koumas, the Wales international midfield player, did not taste any of the action when the Robson regime began last Sunday with a match at home to Middlesbrough. The news might not be any better when Albion play at Arsenal today.
With Cosmin Contra providing the art on the right wing, Zoltan Gera doing likewise on the left, and the central midfield partnership of Andy Johnson and Jonathan Greening providing the industry, Koumas seems to be the odd man out.
Injuries and suspensions dogged Koumas during the the final weeks of the Gary Megson era but such inconveniences are no longer an excuse. Koumas, as Robson says, has his destiny in his own hands.
Robson is aware of how impressive Koumas was for Albion during 2003 but the world has moved on since then. If the team is to survive in the Premiership, Koumas has to play like never before - when, or if, he is given the chance.
Robson said: 'The only thing I can do for Jason Koumas is encourage him. He needs to prove to me that he can bring that potential out in Premiership games and, if he gets his chance, he has to show he can cope with Premiership football.
'The type of player he is means he can create and score goals for us at this level. It has been a difficult start for him but he has got a lot of ability and it is a question of fitting that into the side so we can get the best out of him and he gives the best for the team.
'He was suspended and then returned to the side for the match against Liverpool at Anfield, so it has not been the easiest of times for Jason.'
Consistently linked with moves away from The Hawthorns (Fulham keep cropping up as potential employers), Koumas has become the great West Bromwich Albion enigma.
He never warmed to Megson's regimental style of coaching but there are no excuses for failure now. If Koumas needs an incentive, he will take stock of the news that Robson will be looking to offload at least seven players by the end of the season.
Robson said: 'Before I signed my contract, I spoke about reducing the size of the squad with the chairman [Jeremy Peace] and I have no problem with that. It is too big but what I would like to do is replace quantity with quality.
'What I will be trying to establish in the next few weeks is the people I know who are not going to be what I am after.
'They might be for someone else but that is my decision as a manager. Therefore, there will be players available to come and get if people want. I am still making judgments on all the squad.'
It is a safe bet, however, that the players will make it as difficult as possible for Robson to make those judgments. They deserved a draw against Middlesbrough and will believe that they were unfortunate to lose 2-1.
If Robson can add some flair to the effort that was so obvious under Megson, Albion should do well this season and may provide a surprise to Arsenal today. Robson said: 'The enthusiasm has been excellent. The concentration in what we are trying to put across to the players has been very good. I have been pleased with their attitude.
'What concerns me is that we have conceded the thirdmost goals in the league - we have to tighten up. When you defend, you have to defend as a team and we have to look at the team shape.
'People have proved over the last few weeks that if you get organised and work hard against Arsenal you can get a result. That is our intention - to go down there and make it as difficult as possible for them.'
If Albion can consistently give the ball to Robert Earnshaw inside the Arsenal penalty area anything is possible.
The Wales international, who has shrugged off a frustrating start to his Albion career, could soon be the striker around whom the team is built.
Robson said: 'Earnshaw has shown in training as well that he is a very good finisher. When you look at the statistics you nearly always have to score at least two goals to win a Premiership game and Earnshaw is sharp around the box.
'He has got to work on other aspects of his game, like his build-up play, and his work-rate.'
Apart from Nwankwo Kanu, who is suffering with a groin injury and may not be fit to face his former club, Robson has no problems and will probably select a team similar to that which lost to Middlesbrough.
Arsenal have central midfield player Gilberto Silva ruled out at least until the New Year - and possibly for the rest of the season.
Gilberto has had a back injury since mid-September but his vertebrae have not healed as quickly as expected and he has been sent home to Brazil for six weeks to recuperate.
Edu is out for another few weeks with a broken toe while Mathieu Flamini has also sustained a knee problem, meaning greater responsibility will be placed on teenager Cesc Fabregas. Sol Campbell is still out with a calf problem.
Jason Koumas, chasing England's Wayne Rooney for Wales (left), is being kept out of the Albion midfield by Cosmin Contra and Andy Johnson (top) as well as Zoltan Gera and Jonathan Greening (above)
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Nov 20, 2004|
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