Talking West Bromwich Albion with… Frank Skinner

Football Burp collared black belt-level gagsmith and West Bromwich Albion nut Frank Skinner in the beer garden of Camden’s Oxford Arms pub and demanded to know his thoughts on the Baggies’ astonishing upturn in fortunes under Roy Hodgson. Happily, he obliged…

Is there a case for Roy Hodgson to be named Manager of the Year?

It’s funny you should say that because I saw a thing in The Times today in which they discussed who was statistically the manager of the year and Roy Hodgson didn’t figure in it at all. So, really, statistics aren’t a good way to decide who is a good manager and who isn’t a good manager. I think he’s been earth-shattering at West Brom and also it’s been a great joy to me to at last have an Albion manager who’s older than I am. It’s been a while.

Were you against Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking at the time? It seemed harsh then, although it worked out well.

I read many years ago a cricket book by Mike Brearley called The Art of Captaincy – it’s a seminal text for anyone who wants to captain a cricket team – and he said that the key thing to remember is that it’s better to do something than to do nothing. I think we’d won one game in thirteen [when Di Matteo was sacked] and I think it’s possible to drift out of the Premiership while everyone just stands around and watches it happen. The board did something and they just happen to have done something right. So I thought it was the right thing to do at the time.

Would Roy Hodgson have been your choice to replace him at the time?

Actually, I liked the idea of Michael Appleton being promoted internally because he’d been a great player for us and then picked up a killer injury. I thought there would have been a sweet football fairytale element to it. But he’ll have his day. If it was going to be an outside manager then I was very keen on Hodgson. I like the ‘wise old fox’ thing.

Is Youssuf Mulumbu the best kept secret in the Premiership?

I think this is where I have to pull out of the interview because Kevin Keegan once asked me about a player we had at the Albion called Paul Peschisolido – he said, “I’ve heard good things, is he any good?” and I said, “Yeah, he’s brilliant! He works hard and he’s got ability.” He bought him for Fulham two weeks later, so I’m trying to keep the secret about Mulumbu. I think he’s absolutely outstanding and I’m amazed that none of the big clubs have come in for him.

Peter Odemwingie has been linked with a move away. What price would you put on his head?

We got him quite cheap because we’ve got one of these guys at the Albion who knows every player in the world, so we get a few bargains, including Mulumbu. I’d always rather keep the player than get money because you’re not going to easily replace a bloke who’s scored 12-15 goals in the Premiership. So personally I’d keep him but if he has to go then I’d want £10m.

Personally, I was quite surprised when you started playing Paul Scharner in midfield as he hadn’t shown up too well there for Wigan in recent seasons. I thought he was much better at centre-back. How do you think he’s done?

I spent half of this season thinking that Paul Scharner was a mistake and that he looked like a central defender playing in midfield. Then I spent the second half of the season thinking that he’s an absolute god. When he arrived I thought, “Maybe he’s had his day, he’s not mobile enough to play in midfield,” but he’s actually been outstanding and I’d say one of the key reasons we stayed up.

Finally, could you name – in no particular order – your top five Albion players of all time?

Jeff Astle, Laurie Cunningham, Bryan Robson, Bobby Hope and John Wile.

Frank, thank you.