Tony Mowbray will open negotiations with his star pupil Zoltan Gera to try to persuade the Hungarian international to remain at The Hawthorns, at least for next season, writes Brian Dick.
Gera is one of three first-team regulars out of contract this summer, the others are leading scorer Kevin Phillips and defender Martin Albrechtsen, each of whom will be offered terms by Mowbray. But the retention of Gera is perhaps more important than any other, given his ability to not just create goals but score them too.
Since arriving in England in July 2004, the midfielder averages a goal every five games and has established himself as one of the most vital cogs of Mowbray's attacking machine. But ever since he joined from Ferencvaros, Gera has been the subject of speculation linking him with a move away and now he has led the team to promotion and his current deal has expired, those rumours have only intensified.
With that in mind, Mowbray will quickly turn his attention to securing the services of a player who has already played well in the Premier League during Albion's last top-flight stint.
"He [Gera] intimated to me that he wanted to get this season done and out of the way. The talking will start in earnest now," Mowbray said. "As I have said all along, I think Zoltan and his advisers are looking to see what suitors he has got out there. Because we are in the age of the Bosman transfer, he is well within his rights to do that. If he decides that his future lies elsewhere, I will shake him by the hand and wish him good luck."
But Mowbray hopes the fact Albion have gone up as champions - they secured their first league title for 88 years by beating Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, and the euphoria that surrounded that success may prove a powerful factor in the 29-year-old's decision. "I think the scenes on the pitch and in the dressing room will make it a tough decision if he ultimately decides to leave our football club," the manager said.
"What I do know is that we will endeavour as hard as we can to keep him at our club. The players respect and believe in him, the management team does and the supporters do, as well. I would hope that he will stay but footballers are footballers and if somebody somewhere offers him something that is more suitable for him at this stage of his career, I wish him well."
Mowbray also outlined his intention to keep Phillips and Albrechtsen at the club: "It's a similar situation, they are out of contract. They will decide their futures," he said.
"We will make them offers we think are as fair as can be as to the balance of the squad and where we see them in that. The bottom line is that it is up to their advisers. I can't put a gun to their head and make them sign.
"This is a business but what I have tried to engineer in the club is a team spirit and a camaraderie and hopefully they want to be part of something and enjoy their football. Zoltan has scored double figures from midfield this season, Kevin once again has scored over 20 goals. I hope they appreciate they play in a team that supplies the ammunition for them and is good to play in.
"If they want to be a part of that, great; if they don't, there will be no falling out."