Nathan Carr chronicles Somen Tchoyi’s time at West Bromwich Albion…
It’s the summer of 2010 and West Brom are embarking on a brand new season in the Premier League. Having won promotion from the second tier, Roberto Di Matteo is in charge and the transfer window is in the full swing. Albion had been linked with several names across Europe, but one that kept on popping up was Somen Tchoyi. An unknown quantity, playing his football in Austria with Red Bull Salzburg, it was widely reported that Di Matteo was very keen on bringing the playmaker to England.
Following weeks of negotiation, lengthy preparation work and the bureaucracy of the UK work permit system, the club finally sealed the deal. Tchoyi arrived on a two-year deal for an undisclosed fee. At the time no one – and I mean no one – knew who the heck this bloke was.
As a surge in clicks from the West Midlands descended upon Tchoyi’s Wikipedia page it soon became clear that the 27-year-old, 6 ft 3 Cameroonian had no previous experience in British football. A gamble? Just a bit, but one that Di Matteo had done his homework on. Time would tell whether his decision would pay dividends for the Baggies – then the quintessential year on, year off Premier League to Championship yo-yo team.
It didn’t take long for the new man to grab his first goal, making an instant impact after coming on against Manchester United in a historic 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in October 2010. Having reacted quickest to a calamitous piece of goalkeeping by Edwin Van der Saar, Tchoyi tapped his finish home. This was his proper introduction to the supporters: having been at the game myself, I was immediately fascinated by him.
The way he played the game was unconventional to say the least. For a start, he didn’t look like a footballer. His physical movements and ball control were clumsy, he appeared to have zero tactical nous and seemed to take nothing on board from the shouts and commands that came from his manager’s technical area. Yet, despite all this, he was brilliantly effective: devastatingly powerful, quick, two-footed and actually quite skilful. It was almost as if he didn’t care about his positioning, preferring to just play the way he felt like.
A goal against Leicester in the League Cup followed as he continued to impress and he was finally given a chance and selected for the starting line up against Everton in November. The team won 1-4 with Tchoyi scoring the fourth, dribbling infield from the left before curling the ball into the far corner. Prior to his goal he had done relatively little to affect the match. The strike was remarkable for both its quality and lack of continuity.
Up until the festive period, Albion were looking strong but their form dipped dramatically as the New Year approached. Dragged down by the team’s terrible losing streak, Di Matteo was given the boot in February, after Manchester City and specifically Carlos Tevez plunged three killing blows to the soon-to-be Champions League winner’s job security at The Hawthorns. Roy Hodgson was appointed as his replacement. For Tchoyi, the change in command proved to be pivotal. The Italian was one of the key factors in his decision to move to the Midlands. He’d given him the opportunities, albeit gradually, to break through into the club’s first team and now he was history. As expected, the more elementary Hodgson shunned Tchoyi for much of his tenure, as he became marginalised on the periphery of the squad. He made the odd substitute appearance but the likes of James Morrison, Graham Dorrans and Peter Odemwingie were always the first names on the team sheet ahead of him.
This wasn’t the end for Tchoyi however. In the last fixture of the season, West Brom travelled to Newcastle for what was supposed to be a match of no real relevance for either team. Both were safe and already focused on next year. However, this dead rubber was nothing of the sort. Albion came back from a 3-0 deficit to somehow draw 3-3 in a dramatic turnaround that was, believe it or not, entirely down to that man Tchoyi’s doing.
Coming on as a sub in the second-half, the usual grunts echoed around the away end at St James’ as he entered the field. The fans weren’t expecting anything. Half of them had already left. Yet almost immediately, Tchoyi raced through on goal and stroked the ball past Tim Krul. Moments later, he was at it again finishing emphatically inside the box. It was 3-2. Could the impossible become possible? Defenders were thrown forward, the midfield pushed up and the stage was set.
Ishmael Miller back heeled to Jonas Olsson – who found himself in unusual territory in the opposition’s final third – and swung in a fantastic cross to the far post. All it needed was the slightest of touches and the comeback was complete. Who was there lurking at the far post? Somen Tchoyi. He stooped low to claim his hat-trick before going over to celebrate extravagantly. I remember watching, my mouth gaping in awe and no longer able to string even the most basic of sounds into words. A) How on earth had we done this? B) Did Somen Tchoyi really just score a hat-trick away after the team had fallen 3-0 behind? And it was all real. Somehow I wasn’t dreaming.
His feat was later dubbed ‘Tchoyi Story 3’ and Albion concluded the 2010-11 campaign on a high. This was the perfect final day result for Tchoyi who needed to make his case for inclusion in Hodgson’s first-team plans.
At the beginning of the following season he started the club’s first match at home to Manchester United, combining effectively with West Brom’s new summer signing Shane Long. However, Tchoyi once again found his first team opportunities limited and was all set to leave the club the following summer. His last goal came away to Fulham, a thunderous strike that salvaged a draw in February 2012. By the end of May, Tchoyi was released by West Brom.
His two years spent in the blue and white stripes were hugely eventful. He’ll be best remembered for his exploits at Newcastle but also for all the other things: lackadaisical training sessions, erratic first touches, reluctance to speak to any of his team mates apart from Youssouf Mulumbu, his frightening yet hilarious interview with Albion Media after his goal at Craven Cottage, languid creativity on the flanks, and the fact he quizzically wore the number 5 shirt. I could go on such was his lack of convention during his time at West Brom.
Now playing in Germany for FC Augsburg following unsuccessful trials with Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers (I like to think he rejected their advances due to his Albion roots), his chances of making it back into the Cameroon frame at international level are very slim. At the age of 30, he is unlikely to ever return to English shores either. Instead, those of us who enjoyed the privilege of watching his erratic brilliance can look back and enjoy the eccentric, infuriatingly wasteful yet remarkably gifted Somen Tchoyi: a complete-one off.