• Former Real Betis manager succeeds Steve Clarke
• Keith Downing and Dean Kiely to stay on
West Bromwich Albion have appointed Pepe Mel as their head coach, bringing an end to an exhaustive search for a successor to Steve Clarke, who was sacked 26 days ago. Mel, who led Real Betis to seventh place in La Liga last season before being dismissed in December, has signed an 18-month contract at The Hawthorns and will take charge of his first game on Monday week, when Albion face Everton at home.
The Spaniard had featured prominently among the Albion board's thoughts at the outset and was close to taking the job before Christmas, only for talks to break down after he was unable to agree terms, primarily because of issues in relation to the two backroom staff he wanted to bring to The Hawthorns at that time.
Albion have no desire to make wholesale changes every time a coach leaves and were keen for Keith Downing, the joint assistant head coach who has been in charge in a caretaker capacity since Clarke departed, and Dean Kiely, the goalkeeping coach, to remain. Mel has accepted that will be the case, with Downing due to lead the team for a final time against Southamptonon Saturday, when the new head coach will watch from the stand.
Albion decided to return to Mel after exploring the credentials of a number of candidates, including Thomas Schaaf, the former Werder Bremen coach, and Quique Flores, the erstwhile Valencia manager. Dave Jones, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers manager who was recently sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, also came under consideration.
Mel, who has managed Tenerife, Getafe, Alaves and Rayo Vallecano in Spain, as well as the Brazilian side Corinthians, secured Betis a place in the Europa League this season but he was unable to maintain the club's upward trajectory and was sacked in the wake of a 4-0 defeat to Sevilla.
Albion, however, believe that they have recruited a head coach in keeping with the image of the club. Mel, who has been learning English for the past year, has a reputation for playing high-tempo, freeflowing, entertaining football.
Dave McDonough, Albion's director of technical performance and scouting, felt that the 50-year-old would be a good fit from the start and the other members of the club's five-man selection panel appear to have come to the same conclusion after a protracted process.
"I'm delighted to welcome Pepe to the club," Richard Garlick, Albion's sporting and technical director, said. "His appointment concludes an extensive recruitment process during which we have cast the net far and wide to identify the most suitable candidate to take the club forward. Pepe was a strong contender from the outset due to his impressive achievements and has emerged as our number one candidate. He is a forward-thinking coach whose teams are renowned for playing an attractive and positive style of football."
Mel inherits a side 14th in the table, only four points clear of the relegation zone or, if the glass is half full, two points off a place in the top half. There is no shortage of class in the Albion squad, the vast majority of whom helped the club to finish eighth last season, in Clarke's first season as head coach. Clarke, however, ultimately paid the price for a desperately poor 2013 in which Albion won only seven of their 34 league games.
Downing has taken charge of the last five matches, which have yielded three draws and a win in the league and a disappointing FA Cup defeat at home to Crystal Palace last Saturday. "The board is extremely grateful to Keith, the coaching staff and players for their efforts over the past month, which has yielded six points from four unbeaten league games,"
Garlick said: "Keith will have an important role to play in supporting Pepe as he coaches in England for the first time."