Saturday 16 December 2017

Shane Long stays focused as big-name suitors circle

Shane Long celebrates scoring West Brom's opening goal against Aston Villa
Shane Long celebrates scoring West Brom's opening goal against Aston Villa

Garry Doyle

Three months after being isolated by both club and country, Shane Long has suddenly become one of the Premier League's most-wanted men, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham reportedly enquiring about the Irishman's availability.

In a remarkable turnaround for the 26-year-old, whose two goals for West Brom against Aston Villa on Monday night placed him back in the spotlight -- just months after the club was finalising the paperwork to sell him to Hull City -- Long is suddenly being faced with another should-I-stay-or-should-I-go scenario.

With his contract expiring next summer, although both he and the club have an option to extend it for a further 12 months, the key point he has to establish between now and the end of the January transfer window, is the depth of interest from the clubs chasing him.

Having been scarred by the farcical nature of West Brom's about-turn in August, when Albion's manager Steve Clarke vetoed his sale to Hull at the last minute, Long is understandably wary about reading too much into the latest speculation about his future.

Since September, 10 clubs, including big-paying Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool, have made their interest known via intermediaries. Hull, Aston Villa, Everton and Southampton have also suggested they are willing to do business although it is Newcastle United and Norwich City who have made the loudest noises.

Yet, given how he has rediscovered his form -- with four goals in his last four games for club and country -- the reality is that West Brom will refuse to sell unless presented with an offer they cannot refuse.

"There are no developments yet but there is plenty of time left on my contract and I'm sure the club will think about what's best for them and me," said Long yesterday. "There has been nothing settled yet and I try to keep out of it. There are enough things to worry about on the pitch without worrying about things off it. I have always been comfortable here.

"The fans always get behind me in every game and stick with me through good and bad times. It's not easy staying in the starting XI here with the players we have on the bench, so that's my main aim at the moment."

Clarke's main aim, however, is to give Long the contract he wants. The Baggies manager -- also out of contract at the end of this season -- has been pressurising the club's board to bring negotiations with Long's advisors to a successful conclusion.

"I've said all along Shane has a big future for us," said Clarke. "We will sit down and I'm sure the talk will try to sort that one out."

Monday's performance -- and goals -- will have strengthened his hand, as Long produced the kind of display that suggested he has the capacity to replace Robbie Keane as the Irish national team's talisman.

"I thought he did great in that Villa," said the former Irish manager, Brian Kerr. "His form and confidence is up again after a bad period when his morale was at a low level.

"The last couple of weeks have been good for him but it mustn't have been great when West Brom appeared ready to sell him to Hull. That must have been tough for him -- I mean he was being sold to Hull not Barcelona."

Irish Independent

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