“Done Deal” by Daniel Geey. Fascinating, comprehensive & a must read!

 

Time was when footballers had much in common with the supporters who watched them. Until 1961 a maximum wage of £20 per week was in force, which meant that the gap between the salaries of the top footballers and the fan in the street was not massive or insurmountable. Fans would travel to and from matches on the bus and would very often bump into some of the players they had just cheered or booed from the terraces.

Thanks to the sterling work of Jimmy Hill and the PFA, the maximum wage was scrapped, Johnny Haynes was awarded the massive salary of £100 per week and footballers were finally and correctly treated as the entertainers they were and the void between the player and the fan grew ever wider.

That being said I recently wrote the biography of a lower league journeyman, Bob Booker, who played for Brentford and Sheffield United between 1978-1993. He joined the Bees as an apprentice upholsterer on piecework earning between £170-200 per week, good money in those days. He exchanged the security of a job for life for a one-year contract with Brentford at £60 per week. As a lower division footballer he was seen as easily replaceable and it took him until 1986, eight long years on, for him to earn £200 per week as a professional footballer and catch up to where he had been before he came into the game. Like most players of his time he had no security, worked on a series of one-year contracts and he would be handed a new contract at the end of each season, given a pen and told, “sign here.” Negotiation was unheard of and he just felt grateful to still be in a job.

The bad old days are long gone and now it is the player, particularly those at the top end of the game that calls the tune and possesses all the power.

Football books used mainly to be anodyne ghost written autobiographies of the stars or leading managers. How things have changed. Supporters bombarded and fuelled by a constant stream of information and consciousness on social media and in the press are more demanding than ever and take a vicarious delight in learning what happen behind the scenes.

Now a leading sports lawyer, Daniel Geey, has granted their wishes with the long overdue publication of “Done Deal,” a book which provides a comprehensive, insightful , fascinating and all encompassing overview of how the game is really run and how in most cases how it is now the players and their agents who call the tune. The game has finally turned full circle.

Geey has wide experience of advising players and clubs alike as well as rights holders and other sports companies. He ranges from topic to topic and in clear and succinct prose, studded with case studies and examples, he provides the answers to the questions that most fans, and indeed even those working within the game would like to pose.

Most appropriately, I am writing this review on Transfer Deadline Day and Geey explains the dynamics behind a deal and covers every aspect that needs to be covered off and how things can so easily go wrong.

Personally I have always found it hard to understand how an agent ostensibly working on behalf of a player can be paid a fee or commission by the club rather than by his client in what seems like a clear conflict of interest but this, and various other anomalies and even perhaps weird practices are covered clearly and explained by Geey.

The timing of this book is also highly relevant given the tragic situation of Cardiff’s new striker Emiliano Sala, recently lost without trace after his private plane had gone missing. Now is the time for mourning rather than recriminations but you can only begin to think about the knotty legal issues and questions that will at some time soon need to be dealt with in terms of liability, insurance, the payment of the transfer fee plus many others.

Geey sheds light on some of the weird and wonderful contractual clauses put into player’s contracts such as Neil Ruddock’s famous weight clause and Barcelona agreeing to fly over Neymar’s friends from Brazil to spend time with him in Spain every two months – you’d think the player could have easily afforded to pay their costs himself but it was the club who footed the bill!

Some seemingly astute businessmen seem to switch off their brains when they involve themselves in football and become totally star struck and it was good to be reminded of Mark Goldberg spending £22.8 million to buy Crystal Palace but still having to lease the stadium, Selhurst Park from Ron Noades and also paying Terry Venables a fee of £135,000 simply to open talks about becoming the manager of the club. Crazy times!

Geey explains how the work permits system works and the potential problems that BREXIT might cause for the game as well as covering the thorny question of media and broadcasting rights and television fees.

Every chapter contains fresh nuggets and it is illuminating to read about how so many footballers have fallen foul of social media through misguided and Ill-thought through tweets and also to recap Nicolas Anelka’s appalling quenelle gesture which deservedly cost him a ban of five games and a fine of £80,000.

This is a comprehensive and illuminating primer for anyone interested in how the game operates today and fully emphasises the importance of providing watertight legal agreements to cover all eventualities.

Geey will not win any style points or prizes but the book flows and is an easy and illuminating read that is highly recommended.

“DONE DEAL” BY DANIEL GEEY IS PUBLISHED BY BLOOMSBURY SPORT AND COSTS £16.99. KINDLE VERSION IS ALSO AVAILABLE.

 

Advertisements

Brentford’s January Transfer Window – Much Ado About Nothing?

Brentford supporters have come to regard the January transfer window with something approaching dread as they are well aware that given its status as a stepping stone club, Brentford prefers to sell rather than buy at a time when prices are inflated and skewed by desperation and it is therefore far harder to find value and bargains.

Perhaps it is worth investigating whether their pessimism is justified? Has a pattern emerged over the last four January transfer windows since the Bees were promoted to the Championship?

The beginning of 2015 saw the upstarts from Brentford unexpectedly challenging for honours and with their star players still massively under the radar, owner Matthew Benham was apparently keen for the squad to be strengthened for the final promotion push, however the story goes that manager Mark Warburton was not keen to risk upsetting the applecart in a happy dressing room by bringing in newcomers and the likes of Bernardo and Marco Djuricin remained unsigned. Three signings were however made with the future in mind in Jack O’Connell, Josh Laurent and the seemingly injury jinxed Lewis Macleod, a semi-permanent sicknote ever since.

January 2016 saw the calculated decision made that the club was unlikely to either challenge for the top or fall into a relegation tailspin so nobody new arrived and Toumani Diagouraga, Laurent and James Tarkowski were allowed to leave. The former for a grossly inflated sum after it was clear that he had jumped the shark, the latter for top dollar after forcing the issue by virtue of his appalling strike action. A ghastly run in the new year of 10 defeats in 13 matches at one time made it seem more than possible that the gamble had not come off but Brentford recovered to finish ninth.

January 2017 again saw the likelihood of midfield stasis and with Scott Hogan in scorching goalscoring form Aston Villa signed the predatory marksman for a fee rising to a club record £12 million. Lasse Vibe seamlessly took up the goalscoring mantle and excellent additions were also made in two wingers in former loanee Sergi Canos for a club record £2.5 million and Florian Jozefzoon. The talismanic figure of Jota also returned from his exile in Spain and Hogan was barely missed. This was a brilliant transfer window for the club with a star player sold for a massive sum and two excellent players brought in at reasonable cost and performances actually improved in the latter part of the season.

Lasse Vibe was the only departure in January 2018 leaving for a huge fee to China – great business for a player approaching the end of his contract, and the Directors of Football decided to rely upon the improving Neil Maupay supported by Ollie Watkins to lead the attack, a gamble that did not totally backfire although there were times when the Bees lacked firepower and strength in depth. The Bees fell narrowly short of the Playoffs and the nagging thought remains that extra strike power might have enabled them to do so. Most of the action had already taken place near the end of the previous August’s transfer window with the “Birmingham Three” of Max Colin, Harlee Dean and Jota departing for St Andrew’s in a triple deal worth the best part of £11 million but all three had already been replaced in typical Brentford fashion at far less than half the cost by Henrik Dalsgaard, John Egan and Ollie Watkins.

Four consecutive top ten finishes would tend to suggest that Brentford’s transfer window decisions have more than paid off to date but a recent perfect storm of injuries, poor form, off field problems, Robert Rowan’s tragic death, the loss of Dean Smith and bedding in a new Head Coach in Thomas Frank all contributed to a miserable first half of the season and the gamble on relying upon a smaller but ostensibly higher quality squad has certainly not paid dividends so far. The Bees have recently recovered some of their form and confidence after an excellent unbeaten run of six games and whilst it would still be tempting fate to say that they are completely safe, we are beginning to look up the table rather than down.

Traditionally Brentford only sell when they are offered their valuation (including a January premium) for any of their star players, or when somebody is approaching the end of their contract. Andreas Bjelland and Alan McCormack are the only players I can remember leaving on a Bosman free transfer in recent years. This month the Bees will have some interesting and difficult decisions to make as they have a plethora of players who have attracted the attention of bigger clubs higher up the food chain. That is something they are quite accustomed to and indeed, relish, but what is much more surprising is that they also have five players who will be out of contact at the end of this season and several more who could potentially leave on a free transfer at the end of next season. Added to that is a squad that is lacking in numbers and strength in depth with two long-term injuries in Emiliano Marcondes and Lewis Macleod.

The club’s strategy at this time of the year is normally to be totally reactive and respond to any offers that might come in for star players and it is interesting to note that of the key players who have previously left in January – Tarkowski, Hogan and Vibe, none of them were actually directly replaced in the same window given that Dean, Barbet and O’Connell, Vibe and Maupay were already in the building and took up the mantle.

As has been noted, Brentford do not like buying in January however given that there could well be, for a variety of reasons, more than half a team that needs to be replaced before the beginning of next season, should they in this instance be looking to bring in some new players this month? The club learned the hard way at the start of the 2015/16 season that new players, particularly those arriving from abroad, need a lot of time to settle down and it is difficult to bed a large number of new arrivals into the team simultaneously, so apart from the undeniable fact that signings will cost less in the close season rather than January, should Brentford be looking to bring in some high quality replacements now rather than wait to do all their business in the Summer and risk jeopardising the start of next season?

It is also important to note that Brentford have absolutely no problems with Financial Fair Play and have already brought in significant sums this season through the sale of several players considered to be non-essential in John Egan, Florian Josefzoon, Ryan Woods and Konstantin Kerschbaumer. The imminent sale of Nico Yennaris to China where he has enhanced value as a homegrown player will further boost our income by an eye watering sum and ensure that the club’s losses for this season have been more than covered. There is therefore no pressing need to sell anybody in the January Transfer Window.

In order to examine the club’s options this month more thoroughly it might be worthwhile to specify which players are out of contract at the end of each of the next few seasons and consider what plans the club might have for some of them in the next few months:

2018/19

Yoann Barbet

Alan Judge

Lewis Macleod

Josh McEachran

Moses Odubajo

2019/20

Theo Archibald

Dan Bentley

Canice Carroll

Josh Clarke

Reece Cole

Henrik Dalsgaard

Luke Daniels

Tom Field

Kamo Mokotjo

Romaine Sawyers

Justin Shaibu

2020/21

Sergi Canos

Marcus Forss

Rico Henry

Ezri Konsa

Emiliano Marcondes

Neil Maupay

Chiedozie Ogbene

Mads Bech Sorensen

Ollie Watkins

Nico Yennaris

2021/22

Said Benrahma

Josh Dasilva

Julian Jeanvier

Chris Mepham

Of the players out of contract at the end of this season the club retains an option on Moses Odubajo which will surely be taken up should he remain injury free. He took time to regain fitness and sharpness after a two-year hiatus but managed to play three times over a crowded Christmas schedule and has really benefited from the change in system to attacking wing backs. The Directors of Football should be congratulated on taking a gamble on him when nobody else was willing to do so.

Given that the club rarely allows players to run down their contracts one can only assume that none of the other players out of contract shortly are currently in the club’s future plans.

Alan Judge has cut a frustrating and frustrated figure as he has been unable to cement a regular starting position. He has been used regularly by Thomas Frank as a late substitute predominantly out of position on the wing where he has been at best a peripheral figure. For those of us who remember just how exceptionally good he was before his sickening injury it has been desperately hard and even upsetting to watch him struggling to recover some semblance of form and fitness Sadly, given how talented he is and the horrendous ill fortune he has suffered, his time at Brentford is up. He quite simply needs regular football and whilst the Head Coach might like to keep him around as a comfort blanket there is now serious talk of Ipswich (how ironic is that?) coming in for him. I expect that any such deal will initially be on a loan basis as the stumbling block will be his high wages and Brentford will surely need to pay a chunk of his salary if a move is to happen.

Lewis MacLeod’s stay at Brentford has been dogged by injury and I had to remind myself that he has been here for four years now so peripheral a figure has he become. This season has been no different and immediately after his late and unexpected headed equaliser at West Bromwich Albion he suffered yet another in a constant and seemingly never ending series of hamstring injuries that has rendered him hors de combat for the foreseeable future.

Lewis started the season well as a midfielder making late runs into the box and provided a real goal threat but his performances declined dramatically and he apparently showed no inclination to extend his contract. I suspect that had he been fit strenuous efforts would have been made to sell him this month, perhaps back to Glasgow Rangers, but given his injury he will almost certainly leave on a free transfer at the end of the season. The move just has not worked out for either party and he needs a fresh start and a change of luck somewhere else.

Josh McEachran is a Marmite figure who totally divides the fan base. To some he is a misunderstood genius who has been totally let down by the shortcomings of his team mates who fail to read his mind and intentions, create space or make the correct runs for our playmaker to find them. To others he is a frustrating, peripheral and oft-injured figure who coasts through games with a series of backwards and sideways passes and is playing totally within his comfort zone and not pushing himself to excel or maximise his undoubted talent.

The truth lies somewhere between these two contrasting viewpoints, however what is certain is that for whatever reason Josh has not provided anywhere near the impact that was expected when he arrived with a fanfare and became one of our highest paid players an apparent age ago back in 2015. He has shown no evidence of wanting to extend his stay and I’m sure that no real efforts have been made by the club to persuade him to do so. Barring unforeseen circumstances he will leave the club at the end of the season with his potential still unfulfilled and the clock ticking on a career that has so far flattered to deceive. He appears unsuited to the hurly-burly of the Championship, no Premier League team would take a chance on him and he might well need to contemplate a future abroad in a country such as Holland where the physical pressure is less relentless.

A month ago I would have said with certainty that Yoann Barbet would leave on a Bosman free unless we were able to sell him in the January Transfer Window. He was then languishing on the bench, his stint at left back over given the return to fitness of Rico Henry, and not considered a starter in his preferred position as a central defender. However football is a game of ever changing fortunes and someone’s snake is another player’s ladder. The change in formation to three central defenders allied to the recent injury to Chris Mepham has meant a recall for the Frenchman who has really impressed and come into his own as a left sided centre half and has benefited from having two other defenders around him to provide additional cover.

Most fans saw the formation change to 3-4-3 as a last throw of the dice by beleaguered new Head Coach Thomas Frank as he attempted to save his job amidst a torrent of defeats and soft goals conceded. The change has worked like a dream with the Bees currently on a run of six games undefeated which has seen them keep three clean sheets and concede only three goals and turn a defence that previously resembled a sieve into one of the tightest and meanest in the league. The latest defeat of Stoke City saw the visitors confined to a measly two attempts on goal, but, more importantly, Brentford played like Brentford should, producing a wonderful brand of free flowing football which saw them tear the visitors apart seemingly at will and create a plethora of chances – and this time take three of them. Why change what is now working so well. The 3-4-3 formation is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.

That means that Barbet suddenly is a far more valuable asset. He has undoubtedly been frustrated by his lack of playing time at the club and was probably looking to run his contract down after four seasons at the club and Brentford similarly were unlikely to offer him a new contract lucrative enough to persuade him to stay. I now begin to wonder if the club might change its mind and make an attempt to keep the ever popular Barbet at the club rather than allow him to depart for first team football and a larger paycheque elsewhere?

Assuming that all four players leave the club then they will all need to be replaced however Brentford face an even bigger rebuilding job in the near future when you consider the likely fate of the key players who will be out of contract at the end of the 2019/20 season given the club’s understandable aversion to allowing valuable assets to depreciate. Romaine Sawyers tore Stoke apart with his vision and ability to see passes that others cannot and has established himself as one of the most skilful and intelligent midfielders in the league despite some fans still refusing to acknowledge what he brings to the team and instead obsessing upon his languid style of play. He has gathered a host of admirers and will most likely be sold for around £5 million at the end of the season particularly as Emiliano Marcondes, another gifted footballer who we have barely seen owing to a series of injuries since he joined us a year ago will probably be tasked with the job of succeeding him. Sawyers will be yet another prime example of the Brentford business model working perfectly – arriving on a free transfer, providing three years of exemplary service, improving markedly as a player in the meantime and then being sold for a large profit.

The future of goalkeeper Dan Bentley is more problematical as a season littered with errors led to him being dropped from the team and the large transfer fee that was expected at the end of the season is currently in jeopardy. He will need to recover form and confidence and perhaps given the circumstances now might be a good time to offer him an extension to his contract. He is quite simply an excellent goalkeeper going through a torrid spell and he will recover.

Henrik Dalsgaard and Kamo Mokotjo are two other regular first teamers whose futures will need to be sorted at the end of this season. Neither has perhaps been quite as successful as had been anticipated. Dalsgaard will always be a footnote in Brentford’s history as their first ever current player to play in the World Cup finals but his form has been patchy in the extreme this season and his temperament also open to question. Kamo’s influence has been growing significantly lately and it might well be that no decision has yet been made as to whether they will be offered new deals.

That leaves the elephants in the room. Brentford’s star players who will be on the shopping list of so many predators, and there were many scouts at Saturday’s game. I put the likes of Chris Mepham, Ezri Konsa, Rico Henry, Ollie Watkins and Neal Maupay in this category with Julian Jeanvier and Said Benrahma bubbling under. All of them are surely destined to play at a higher and perhaps even the highest level of the game – the question is when and for whom? The goodish news for all Brentford fans is that all bar Mepham are in contract until the end of the 2020/21 season with the club also holding an additional year option on Konsa and Watkins, and Mepham’s contract does not expire until the end of the 2021/22 season.

That means that there is no immediate need to sell any of them immediately, although Maupay and Henry would probably peak in value at the end of this season when they have two more years left on their contract. Will any of them go now? That totally depends upon what offers the club receives and whether their predetermined value is met, if the club feels that they can or already have been replaced.

Neither Mepham nor Konsa, who for a time formed the youngest central defensive partnership in the EFL, have had the most consistent of seasons, both being guilty of careless errors at times whilst impressing at others, but their talent is obvious for all to see. Mepham is also currently out of the side following his hamstring injury. Frankly he is probably the most expendable of our high ticket items on account of the cover we currently possess at centre half given the emergence of the powerful Julian Jeanvier, yet another wonderfully talented capture from the French second division who is now the bastion of the defence and surely destined to become one of next season’s most coveted players. Should a Premier League team offer us the near £20 million package that we are seeking then I think Mepham will go, if not now then in the Summer.

Goal scorers are always in demand, particularly in January, and Neal Maupay has enjoyed an incredible first half of the season in which he has scored sixteen goals and assisted on six more. He is reaping the rewards for working incredibly hard, is sharp, energetic, creates space for others and never gives his opponents a moment’s peace. He is aggressive and sometimes crosses the mythical line but he is coveted by many teams. At the moment there is no need to sell him and the club has put a £20 million price tag on his head and can afford to wait and see if anyone is brave or indeed desperate enough to offer anywhere near that figure. Personally I doubt if that will happen and I believe that he will remain at the club until the end of the season by which time he will probably have raised his tally to around 25 goals which will ensure an auction for his services in the close season. That would also give Brentford some time and breathing space in which to replace him.

Marcus Forss, his young intended deputy, has been injured for several months and is only now back in full training. Ollie Watkins did score a winning goal against Nottingham Forest when deputising for the suspended Maupay but has clearly demonstrated that he is far more productive playing off a striker or preferably down the flanks. If Maupay were to leave this month then there would be a massive hole to fill and one that the club would definitely prefer to fill in the close season. Even with Maupay in situ there is a view that a loanee should be brought in now to help take the weight off him and provide cover if he is suspended – perhaps even someone who could initially be signed on loan but with the intention of becoming a full transfer at the end of the season, a strategy previously employed highly successfully by the Bees but one that has been surprisingly ignored for several years now.

Rico Henry has barely returned from his long term injury torment but is already reminding everyone just how good he is and in my hopefully unbiased opinion is a full international fullback in the making. Again, there is no immediate need to sell him particularly as he has barely played since Brentford signed him owing to injury, and his value can only appreciate. Ollie Watkins is also a wonderful talent who is slowly regaining his Mojo after a poor spell exacerbated by a lingering toe injury, but still requires more seasoning. The club apparently rejected a £12 million offer for him from Southampton last Summer and there is newspaper talk that they are still monitoring him as well as Mepham however I would be surprised if anything materialises with Watkins this month given his lack of form.

So it is finally time for me to come off the fence and predict what will happen between now and the end of the month.

Josh Clarke, a forgotten man lately, has already left to join Burton Albion on loan and I wonder if we will ever see him back at Griffin Park. He is talented and versatile, quick and enthusiastic and deserves to play regular EFL football but I doubt if it will be at Brentford. Judge and Yennaris will surely join him through the exit door very shortly. Youngster Canice Carroll has also joined Swindon Town on loan and other B Teamers such as Reece Cole, Theo Archibald and Tom Field might also be farmed out, but not the explosive Chiedozie Ogbene who has a bit part to play from the bench for the remainder of this season.

It may well be that there are no more departures in January, however if pushed I am predicting that Chris Mepham will leave for the Premier League for a club record fee. There will probably also be some speculation over Neal Maupay without a move being finalised.

As for incomings, obviously should Maupay leave then a replacement would be imperative, and one who can hit the ground running – a terribly difficult ask. I believe we have enough cover to cope with the potential loss of Mepham until the end of the season given the emergence of Mads Bech Sorensen and Luka Racic. Otherwise I predict that the Bees will leave much of their rebuilding and replenishment until the close season. This will also give the club time to hopefully replace Robert Rowan who played such a crucial role in the identification and signing of young prospects.

It is possible that some of the available budget is put into re-signing one or more of the players out of contract in 2020 and perhaps even Barbet. Given Brentford’s attitude towards the January Transfer Window it could well be that despite the squad being very tight for numbers, the club feels that we can compete as we are until the end of the season, perhaps utilising some talent from the B Team, and nobody new arrives. The most I expect is a loanee striker to support Maupay, ideally someone who we could potentially sign permanently at the end of the season.

I fully expect to have the contents of this article thrown back in my face at the start of February if and when it proves to be totally inaccurate, so, apologies in advance!

Stick Or Twist?

I have always found that it is better to allow some breathing space and thinking time and allow heated emotions to cool down in order to take stock of a situation in a calmer and more rational manner before committing my thoughts and opinion to paper. Now, a day or so after yet another home defeat and shambolic defensive performance by Brentford the dust has settled and it is time for the future of the hapless and indeed luckless Head Coach, Thomas Frank to be discussed.

On the face of it the evidence is damning. His record since taking over from Dean Smith is appalling and would appear to make his position untenable. He has been in charge for nine games now of which only one has been won, one drawn and seven lost with four points gained out of a possible twenty-seven. Brentford, a team that traditionally dominates at home and boasts an excellent record at Griffin Park have lost four out of his five home games and have now conceded an eye-watering eighteen goals with only one clean sheet and thirteen goals scored in Frank’s reign.

He has been in charge now for the equivalent of a fifth of the season and his record, if continued would equate to a miserable total of twenty points over the course of an entire season. The Bees have never lost by more than a single goal since his appointment and have performed well in parts of most of his matches but have done just enough every time to guarantee defeat and in most cases have committed defensive hari-kari and contributed greatly to their own downfall. Seven goals have been conceded from set pieces and both defensive organisation and cover have been sadly lacking.

Brentford came into Saturday’s match boosted by a last minute equaliser and unexpected and unlikely point from their draw at West Brom on Monday night, a game in which they were totally overrun and battered for the opening half. They needed to build on that fortuitous result and make a good start against a Swansea team also lacking confidence after a poor run lately. So what happened? Straight from the kickoff a truly soft and avoidable self-inflicted goal was conceded after a mere twenty-five seconds, caused, yet again by overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous position. The heads went down straight away, the crowd were on the players’ backs and the agenda for yet another desperately disappointing afternoon was set.

A second goal, well worked though it was came soon after with Brentford (through Watkins and Dalsgaard) failing to track runners and the ball being put into the net by the hapless Chris Mepham and a third arrived after a totally unnecessarily conceded and appallingly defended free kick in a dangerous position when the ball was about to go harmlessly out of play for a goal kick. Total madness and lack of discipline. The three goals were scored in the opening twenty-seven minutes – no wonder Frank described the opening of the game as a “horror movie.” Not for the first time Brentford conceded goals in quick bursts, something also done lately against Preston, QPR and Sheffield United.

The home attack looked reasonably potent and the spirit is still there. Brentford fought to the end and came within a whisker of making up the three goal deficit when Sergi Canos hit the bar from seven yards in the last minute – a gilt-edged chance that he simply had to take. A point would have been welcome but would only have papered over the cracks. You cannot give away three soft and quick goals and expect to get something out of a game

The heads went down after the early goals and an on-pitch team talk apparently instigated by Henrik Dalsgaard, the culprit for the third goal, went some way towards restoring a vestige of pride and ensuring that the team started to fight rather than slink off the field, which is what several players appeared to want to do at the time.

So much is wrong about the team, and indeed the club at the moment and given the weight of the problems, some of which were totally unexpected such as the tragic death of Robert Rowan and that, allied to the impending departure of Chief Executive Mark Devlin and the loss of Dean Smith to Aston Villa have all contributed to a perfect storm and a sense of turmoil and uncertainty.

Given the evidence outlined above and indeed the ineptitude being displayed on the pitch, it would appear a total no-brainer to send Thomas Frank on his way, and do it quickly too before the rot sets in and the club sinks like a stone. With a new stadium on the horizon, relegation is unthinkable and yet, in a season when it was realistically hoped that the Bees would indeed leave the Championship, but from the other end of the table, the doomsday and nightmare scenario has to be at least contemplated and steps taken to ensure that it does not occur.

Brentford have rightly prided themselves for making calm, rational, measured and enlightened decisions and of never being guilty of knee-jerk reactions. The league table does lie, they say and instead refer to their own so-called League of Justice which provides a more accurate description of how the team is doing and where it should be in the league. No action was taken after the run of eight games without a win at the start of last season because it was obvious to all observers that this was simply a statistical anomaly that would eventually correct itself given the quality of Brentford’s  performances. Now the situation is surely different. The Bees are dropping like a stone, confidence is naturally at a low ebb and performances are declining and deteriorating with much of what was displayed in the last two home games against Sheffield United and Swansea being totally unacceptable and a massive decline form the early season form.

If this was not all bad enough worrying if unsubstantiated rumours emerged last night on a fans’ website forum of indiscipline at the training ground with some players apparently arriving late for training and allegations that they are not buying into the new head coach. As I said these are all rumours and scuttlebutt and perhaps should be treated with contempt or at least suspicion but some might say that there is no smoke without fire.

I met Thomas Frank very briefly after the Sheffield United match last season and found him pleasant, polite and highly intelligent company. There is absolutely no doubt that he is a knowledgeable and enlightened football coach with an excellent track record. From listening to his press interviews my doubts are about his ability to communicate his thoughts and instructions concisely, clearly, colloquially and memorably to a predominately young set of players with probably very low and limited attention spans. English is not his first language and I suspect he finds it hard to get his thoughts over as well as he would like particularly in the key but short periods of time available immediately before a game as well as at halftime. The ability to instruct, lead and inspire his team is a necessary prerequisite for a head coach and it might be, given his language difficulties, he is not able to exhibit the necessary man management and communication skills. Unfortunately, however talented a coach he is, Frank is not Dean Smith, a father figure to the squad who provided a winning combination of humour and firm leadership and commanded instant respect. Nobody mucked around on his watch.

As far as I am aware Dean Smith was the number one who delegated some of the coaching duties to Thomas Frank who also contributed his views to the tactics and team selection but was never the main man. It was Smith who gave the team talks and final instructions to the players. Richard O’Kelly was the traditional number two who acted as a sounding board, buffer and shield where necessary between Smith and the players and gave the manager his total support. Frank was the man with the clipboard providing valuable tactical input but was never the front man. Now he has been pushed into a role that, in all fairness, he performed well at Brondby but that was in an environment that perhaps he was far better equipped to thrive in.

It is always hard for a number two – or even number three in Frank’s case to take over the top job. Players have perceived him in another role and some promoted coaches find it hard to adapt to the added role and responsibility.

Brentford’s decline can easily be measured statistically with the team dropping catastrophically from top in Expected Goals chart when Smith left to twentieth in that table today. Aston Villa have risen in that same period from nineteenth to top. That is a massive demonstration of the influence of Dean Smith and how getting a team to play with confidence can achieve such huge results

The fans are also beginning to voice their displeasure and concern at the current situation and gates are starting to decline. Warning signs that should not be ignored.

I have taken the best part of fifteen hundred words to examine the situation as rationally as I can and it hopefully has not come over as a diatribe against Thomas Frank who is an excellent coach and football man but the evidence against him is certainly strong.

In his defence is the chaos behind the scenes and the appalling tragedy of Robert Rowan’s death which has understandably cast a pall over everything at the club. The injury list is brutal and never ending with Marcondes and Macleod the latest potential long term absentees. As soon as some players come back others go down. The luck has been totally against him. The club’s strategy of having a smaller but higher quality squad this season has so far not worked given the influx of injuries. Around twelve of a diminished squad have missed large chunks of the season so far through injury ensuring that the head coach cannot change things around as he might like to do so – it is more a case of trying to get eighteen fit bodies onto the pitch.

It could also be said that parts of the team are still functioning reasonably as we still look dangerous going forward and it really should not be a Sisyphean task to get the defence to do its job better.

Frank had also been at the club for a couple of years. The directors of football knew how he worked, as did the players. He was a known entity and it was obviously felt that there could be a successful and seamless transition after Dean Smuth’s departure.

It is also not Thomas Frank who is making those repeated and infuriating errors on the pitch which are costing the team so dear and the players have to take a large share of the blame for not executing his instructions and for brain fades, but unfortunately the buck stops with the head coach.

I would state categorically that in essence, having taken everything into consideration, with regret, as Alan Sugar would say, he has to go. But it is not as simple as that.

Dean Smith, the last head coach, was recruited from outside and his appointment took a couple of months to come to fruition with at one time Pep Clotet also in the frame. I also do not know if he was headhunted or applied for the job. Since his arrival all the new assistant coaches have been recruited from Scandinavia – perhaps from the contacts of Rasmus Ankersen. There is talk of a new assistant coach to come in now to help Frank, particularly in terms of defensive organisation and the names of Lee Carsley and Keith Millen have been mooted. They might provide a short term boost, particularly Carsley who was massively popular with the players during his previous spell at the club but he is his own man and perhaps might not be considered to be reliable enough. Millen has a decent reputation but again is probably an unknown quantity to the Directors of Football who might have found it difficult to verify his credentials. They, or even a Michael Appleton, might help Frank communicate his messages more clearly as well as add their own contributions particularly about strengthening our defensive performances.

But would they even want to come if they felt that the Head Coach was perhaps on borrowed time, unless of course they felt they could take over as number one?

My other key question is to ask if we have the necessary contacts to recruit the best possible candidate to become either an assistant or even head coach? I might well be wrong, but I have my doubts, particularly given the loss of Robert Rowan who was particularly well connected within the game. If Frank was to go then I doubt if we would know where to turn and that to me is the main problem.

I suspect we have been caught with our pants down. The powers that be expected Frank to be a success and therefore have no Plan B ready to implement. Frank was always going to be the Dean Smith replacement and ideally we would have had plenty of time to groom his eventual replacement, perhaps another internal appointment such as Kevin O’Connor.

Perhaps bringing in a new assistant would provide a sticking plaster or a short term and temporary boost but it is unlikely on present form to provide the solution we require. I do feel on the balance of probabilities if not with a sense of absolute certainty that Thomas Frank is not on the evidence we have seen so far, the man to take us forward.

That is all very well but I also believe that we will have a massive problem in replacing him and that will be a process that will take time as well as a level of contacts and an expertise that we are currently short of given our diminished resources.

So where to we go? Do we stick or twist? Frank obviously thinks he will be given as much time as he needs as he answered “the whole season” when asked over the weekend how long he had to get things right. I am not sure that is or even should be the case.

I think that whilst we should definitely twist, we are unable to do so straight away without perhaps holing us even more seriously below the waterline. We would run the risk of a leadership void in the key run in before Christmas. Unfair to a decent man though it is, we should keep him in post for the time being, and certainly bring in a Millen or Carsley to help him in the short term. Give him the opportunity to turn things round in the next couple of crucial and eminently winnable games against Hull and Bolton. However we should be aware that unless things improve immediately – and for all Frank’s positive words I see very little evidence of that happening, then strenuous efforts have to be made immediately behind the scenes to begin the long and arduous due diligence process required to find an eventual replacement whether it be from home or abroad.

This might seem unfair and position Thomas Frank as Dead Man Walking, but it is what it is. if he decides to leave in the meantime of his own volition then so be it. He has not been able to rise to the challenge, and unfortunately at this juncture he appears to be a victim of the Peter Principle. It is not all his fault, as he grasped a poisoned chalice given that the situation was already deteriorating in the last days of the Dean Smith reign and everything that can go wrong has subsequently done so.

I want my club to always behave in a honourable and above board manner but Brentford FC is bigger than any one individual. The search must begin now for the new Head Coach.

What Should We Do To Address The Slump?

I really don’t think anyone either at the club or supporters alike needs any reminding that Brentford FC is currently on the crest of a slump after a truly horrid run of six defeats in seven games since Thomas Frank took over the reigns as Head Coach in October. What is more important is coming up with a strategy to help arrest the slide before it becomes terminal. So here is my action plan which would hopefully help do the trick.

  1. Accept that there are issues that need addressing urgently but keep calm and don’t panic – we have all been here before. Remember that ghastly run of only two wins and a solitary draw in thirteen games in early 2016, yet we recovered and finished the season in sparkling form with seven wins in the last nine matches. We CAN and WILL recover from this as good players do not become bad overnight and our squad is jam-packed full of excellent players.
  2. There were murmurings from within the club after the Sheffield United game about the negative reaction by the crowd to Tuesday’s game. I know it is hard when we lose after a truly dire and insipid performance but we all have to stay together and, to use a cliche, “Keep the Faith” however hard it is to do so. Thomas Frank and the squad are obviously well aware of how badly things are going and really do not need any reminding from us fans. Frank has also been working with one hand tied behind his back given the length of the injury list and the fact that, Sod’s Law, it is many of the most valuable players that have been affected. The tragic death of Robert Rowan should also help put matters into context and perspective and his loss has understandably had a deep effect on everyone involved with the club, both on and off the field. In other words cut them all a bit of slack!
  3. Get Thomas Frank the extra coaching help he desperately needs. There is a gaping hole alongside Frank and Brian Riemer both on the bench and at the training ground. We need another experienced Assistant Coach who understands and has good knowledge of the Championship, someone who can ideally organise a defence and can speak to the players in their own language. Thomas Frank is an excellent coach but I wonder if a native English speaker might help him get his ideas and instructions across more succinctly and pithily particularly in the crucial moments immediately before a game and at halftime.
  4. Keith Millen has been a constant presence at recent Brentford matches. He has vast experience and an excellent reputation, knows the club and the division well, is a clear communicator and would fit the bill, as of course would another former club employee in Lee Carsley, if he were also available.
  5. We have conceded by my reckoning six goals from set pieces in our last seven games – a truly shocking and frightening figure which clearly demonstrates our lack of organisation and concentration. I know that there is a lot of hard work going on at the training ground to address this problem, including a double session yesterday, but I would strongly advocate that we drop our zonal marking policy and go man-to-man. We lack height and strength throughout the team and allowing taller opponents a free run at the ball is costing us dear.
  6. For a variety of reasons we have recently lost leaders and talent throughout the club. Dean Smith understandably left for so-called better things, Robert Rowan is no longer with us and Chief Executive Mark Devlin is also on the verge of leaving the club after seven years of exemplary service. You can’t lose people of this calibre without there being  a hopefully temporary negative impact. Dean was a popular figure at the training ground whose very presence commanded respect. He knew his job inside out and was an exceptional man-manager who apparently made a point of making the time to speak individually to every player each day. He was a leader and an inspiration and his are tough boots to fill. Thomas Frank has to rise to the challenge, move out of the background and prove that he too is a leader and motivator rather than just a talented coach. Can he adapt to becoming THE man rather than a number two. He did it at Brondby so hopefully he will succeed given time, encouragement and support. It is far too soon to even begin to guess how Robert Rowan can and will be replaced as his personality, influence, knowledge and contacts will be greatly missed. A new Chief Executive will also take time to be recruited and start in post. Perhaps in the meantime it would be helpful and supportive for Phil Giles to base himself at the training ground for the next couple of months where he can be seen and consulted on a regular basis.
  7. The appointment of one or more Club Ambassadors might also be helpful not just in terms of PR and fan engagement but also in providing the benefit of their broad knowledge and experience of the game. Mark Bright performs a similar role at Crystal Palace. There are several potential candidates such as Dean Holdsworth, Marcus Gayle and Nicky Forster.
  8. The goalkeeping situation has to be addressed as Daniel Bentley had gone from being one of the best goalkeepers in the division to amongst the worst. Why? He appears to lack confidence and he is constantly making poor decisions and he is even struggling with shot-stopping which is the most straightforward part of a goalkeeper’s game. Thomas Frank has made it clear that Bentley is his first choice when Dean Smith had given an opportunity to his deputy, Luke Daniels, who seemingly did little wrong. Bentley should be responding to the faith shown in him and performing better than he is and his body language is also not encouraging. All that has changed from last season where he recovered from a dodgy early season spell is the appointment of a new goalkeeping coach replacing the long-serving Simon Royce. Perhaps his current inconsistency is simply as a result of getting used to the different methods employed by a new coach but it is crucial that a goalkeeper goes out onto the pitch boosted and full of confidence and feeling that he is both supported and rated. Is there something in the current set-up that needs examining?
  9. Romaine Sawyers has been appointed as team captain replacing the captaincy by committee policy introduced by Dean Smith which in itself recognised the lack of a true leader in the squad. We have a young team that would not respond well to a constant bawling out and finger pointing but is Romaine still the best choice? Has Chris Mepham got enough on his plate at the moment without the added burden of the captaincy?
  10. Brentford’s medical team is rightly recognised as being dedicated and totally professional. Would it be fair to suggest that after Scott Hogan broke down with a re-occurence of his cruciate injury soon after returning to training that every possible care is taken to ensure that players do not return to action until they are absolutely certain that they are ready? Could the likes of Rico Henry and Josh Dasilva be given an opportunity sooner rather than later?
  11. There is work that needs to be done with the midfield which is currently not firing on all cylinders and lacks balance. Lewis Macleod has surely underperformed and sleepwalked his way out of the team and Josh McEachran totally divides opinion. Many feel that Ryan Woods has not been adequately replaced and that we miss his ability to anticipate and snuff out danger and set the attacking tempo. Kamo Mokotjo is badly missed as he could in my opinion provide experience, a much-needed shield for the beleaguered back four as well as use the ball well. He could replace McEachran who is perhaps a luxury we cannot afford at present. Romaine Sawyers looked reinvigorated on his return to the team on Tuesday and brought us vision and movement. He will also be relishing the opportunity to play against his former team West Bromwich Albion on Monday. Josh Dasilva would certainly be a gamble as he has yet to start an EFL match but from what we have seen in his brief appearances he would provide a strong and positive box-to-box presence that is sorely needed. Perhaps Frank needs to be brave and take a chance on him lasting a full match.
  12. Until Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and to a lesser degree Marcus Forss return from injury our choices up front are sorely limited. Sergio Canos lacked both energy and discipline on Tuesday and his non-performance raised many questions about his fitness and attitude. Alan Judge is surely a short term solution. We desperately need a fit Ollie Watkins to provide  strength and support to the ever-willing and dangerous Neil Maupay and on his return Benrahma need to prove that he is more than a peripheral influence flitting in and out of matches and also demonstrate better self-discipline. Without them I would play Moses Odubajo or even the seemingly forgotten Josh Clarke on the wing although it is possible that Watkins and Benrahma will return to the squad on Monday. Emiliano Marcondes has already proved to be an influential impact substitute who has shown increased determination although is hard to see where he fits in as a starter at the moment unless he replaces or partners Sawyers as a Number Ten.
  13. Rico Henry has been back in training for quite a while now and would provide balance and attacking brio at left back and must surely replace poor Yoann Barbet who suffered a ghastly game against Sheffield United. Until Julian Jeanvier recovers from a troublesome and unspecified hip problem we have little option but to stick with Chris Mepham and Ezri Konsa who are two brilliant individuals, both eventually bound for the Premier League, whose partnership is currently far less than the sum of their parts.
  14. Hard though it is we need to try and start playing the Brentford way again, something that we have seen less and less of recently. We thrive on slick, quick short passing and potent wing play to create space and pull teams apart, but this is something that has largely disappeared lately as we have been hamstrung by lack of confidence and that injury list. We have become slow and predictable and allowed grateful opponents time to form two solid banks of four to thwart us. The sooner we are able to get key players back onto the field the better our results will be.
  15. The elephant in the room is the January Transfer Window in which there are a frightening number of permutations. Do we stick or do we twist? Will clubs meet our high valuations for our most attractive players in Mepham, Konsa, Maupay and Watkins. How many can we afford to sell? How easily can we replace them first? How do we maximise value from the large rump of players who will be out of contract in either 2019 or 2020? Can we keep them motivated? Brentford traditionally do not like spending in January at a time when prices are inflated. Will we keep to the model or maybe break the mould and bring in some much needed experience? Can we afford to buy home grown players or only rely on foreign gambles who do not demand the wages we cannot afford to pay? Will we change our policy and loan in players to provide a short term boost and fill gaps? It is likely that there will have to be a major squad rebuild at the end of the season but what happens when largely depends on our results in the short term and how we address our current poor run. Watch this space for a more detailed analysis in the next month!

The situation is worrying in the extreme but not yet drastic. We need to keep believing in what we are doing, but also change what is patently not working – and that is probably more than the mere tweaks initially promised by Thomas Frank. I have made a few suggestions which would hopefully improve rather than aggravate matters. What does everyone else think?

 

NARROW MARGINS

I am trying to distract myself and take my mind off Saturday’s local derby against Millwall that is now looming on the horizon. It is barely November and far, far too soon to start talking about “must win games” and “six pointers,” but after a worrying and depressing winless run of eight Championship matches stretching back to 15th September a Brentford victory is long overdue and much needed if only to restore some flagging confidence, put smiles back on grim faces and provide new Head Coach Thomas Frank with his first win since replacing Dean Smith.

The Lions are also coming back to form after consecutive home wins and will be relishing the opportunity to extend our woes. There is an obvious clash of styles between the two teams. Millwall are strong and relentless, excellent at set pieces, employ a set pattern of play, are not an easy team to play against and will do their utmost to harry us, put us under pressure and force us to go long rather than play our normal short passing game.

Most games in the Championship are close run things and settled by either a piece of genius, an error of judgement, outrageous good or bad fortune or the lottery of a referee’s decision. Mark Warburton and Dean Smith would both correctly talk about the narrow margins between success and failure and last season’s games between Brentford and Millwall perfectly illustrate this point. Both ended in narrow and closely fought 1-0 home victories but the away fans left both matches bemused and bemoaning their fate and ill fortune. Brentford were clinging onto the lead given to them by Romaine Sawyers when the referee awarded Millwall an extremely soft penalty late on. Bees players and fans felt that it was neither a foul by Dalsgaard nor was the tackle made inside the penalty area, but an instant after Lee Probert put whistle to his lips, Lee Gregory put the loose ball into the net. Now both sides were upset at the referee, but it was the Lions who went home muttering when Daniel Bentley saved the resulting spot kick from Gregory. Millwall scored in the first minute of the return game but from then on Brentford dominated proceedings and did everything but score. A Barbet effort was contentiously disallowed for offside and Canos and Egan both hit the frame of the goal before Meredith made a last ditch clearance off the goal line to preserve the home victory.

Given how tight the Championship table is at the moment, with a mere nine points separating Nottingham Forest in seventh place from Rotherham currently languishing in twenty-first position, I thought that I would look at Brentford’s opening fifteen games openly and objectively and highlight the specific incidents that turned or decided each game and from there highlight how many more or less points we could reasonably have won at this point of the season.

ROTHERHAM (H) 5-1

A comfortable win with Brentford’s victory never in any real doubt – it was more a question of how many they scored – however with Brentford in total control, Daniel Bentley made a stupendous save just before halftime to stop Joe Newell from equalising. Who knows what might have happened had he scored.

STOKE (A) 1-1

Another match dominated by Brentford who gave up a terrible goal after a mix up between Bentley and Chris Mepham and were then chasing the game. Watkins equalised but Brentford were unable to force the winner. Two points thrown away.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (H) 2-0

Brentford dominated from start to finish and should have more than doubled their goal tally but they needed a penalty kick awarded after a stupid off the ball challenge by Sam Hutchinson to take the lead.

ASTON VILLA (A) 2-2

An end to end tussle that either team could have won. Villa dominated the first half but Brentford defended desperately and went into the break level. The second half was more even and Brentford eventually got on top, scored a second goal late on and then carelessly missed two massive chances to score a match clinching third. Villa huffed and puffed before referee Moss awarded a terribly harsh free kick against Mepham that was poorly defended and led to a 95th minute equaliser. Brentford also benefited from the officials missing an obvious off the ball stamp by two-goal Neil Maupay that should have seen him dismissed and indeed led to a three match retrospective ban.

BLACKBURN ROVERS (A) 0-1

Brentford’s lack of incision on a poor pitch led to their first defeat. Despite having 61% possession and 11 shots, the Bees could only hit the woodwork twice and lost to a well organised team that scored with its only shot on target which came after the referee missed a blatant foul in the build up.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (H) 2-1

Forest niggled and wasted time from the outset and were the main culprits in a game that saw Brentford also lose control, resulting in 12 yellow cards. Bentley’s appalling fumble  gifted Matty Cash an equaliser but Brentford responded well with a late Ollie Watkins winner.

WIGAN (H) 2-0

The Bees missed chance after chance to at least double their goal tally. Wigan were hampered by the red card to Sam Morsy for an aerial challenge on Yoann Barbet which was later rescinded on appeal.

IPSWICH (A) 1-1

Brentford could not score the second goal they needed despite creating excellent chances and failed to adapt to Ipswich’s change of tactics after halftime. Barbet’s free kick clanged off the cross bar just before the equaliser which was carelessly conceded.

DERBY COUNTY (A) 1-3

The Bees were given the boost of a Dalsgaard opener after 44 seconds but Benrahma’s pathetically under hit corner kick when he was on a different wavelength to his team mates soon set Derby up for a breakaway equaliser and the Bees were second best and never in the game after that gift.

READING (H) 2-2

Brentford were cruising when Bentley totally misjudged a long range effort from Swift to gift Reading an undeserved equaliser. Referee Eltringham then allowed Reading to stop the game and waste time with impunity, with the nadir a six minute delay before Reading finally allowed the Bees to take a free kick on the edge of the box. Bentley fumbled a 25 yard free kick and Reading were ahead out of nowhere. Brentford lost their heads, incurred six bookings and Benrahma was sent off for two stupid yellow cards before Barbet equalised in injury time. Frustrating is not a strong enough word to describe the goings-on that afternoon.

BIRMINGHAM (H) 1-1

A muted performance from the Bees aided by another rescinded red card for Birmingham’s Kieftenbeld after a clash with the feisty Neil Maupay. Brentford never opened Birmingham up or created enough chances to deserve a win.

LEEDS (A) 1-1

Brentford put on their best and most determined and organised display of the season at promotion favourites Leeds and deserved more than one point. Benrahma lost the ball, tracked back and conceded a late free kick that allowed Leeds to equalise after Mepham was pushed. Leeds felt that Watkins dived before the referee gave Brentford a penalty and Moses Odubajo escaped a blatant second yellow card after tripping an opponent. For their part, Brentford missed too many opportunities and were annoyed at not being given a second penalty after Watkins was dragged back.

BRISTOL CITY (H) 0-1

Thomas Frank lost his first game in charge to a last-gasp goal from the visitors who benefited from the harsh sending off of Chris Mepham for two soft and questionable yellow cards. Brentford were more than decent and Maupay missed a glaring chance early on that would surely have settled nerves. Watkins came within a whisker of giving ten-man Brentford the lead when his rasping shot hit the inside of the post and bounced out rather than in.

PRESTON (A) 3-4

Brentford lacked the suspended Mepham and were forced to play Barbet at centre half as Julian Jeanvier was injured. Poor defending, turning the ball over in dangerous positions, unlucky bounces and deflections and Bentley’s aberration in picking up an obvious back pass gifted Preston a three goal lead within twenty-three minutes and for all their efforts and commitment Brentford were always chasing the game and narrowly fell short.

NORWICH CITY (A) 0-1

Another game of narrow margins with Brentford defending a long straight ball badly to allow Norwich to take the lead. Watkins was penalised harshly for a penalty which Bentley saved right before halftime to keep Brentford in the game. The Bees dominated possession after the break but created little apart from an easy opportunity for Maupay which he blazed onto the crossbar from less than six yards.

Apologies for going into such narrative detail and I suspect I might have lost quite a few of you earlier in this piece but what is crystal clear is how close pretty much every Brentford  game has been so far this season, and how many of them might just as easily have gone the other way. Derby are the only team to have outplayed the Bees but even then had Brentford held onto their early lead for longer, rather than take perhaps the most bizarre corner kick that I have ever seen, then who knows what might have happened. Preston too deserved their win because of the unforced errors we made but the defeats against Blackburn Rovers, Bristol City and Norwich City could just have easily brought a return of seven points rather than none. It would also not be unreasonable to suggest that Brentford could and even should have won five of their six drawn games with perhaps Birmingham City the only opposing team who might feel slightly shortchanged by going away with only one point.

By my reckoning then (and I have tried to be as fair and objective as I can) the Bees could and should have gained an additional twelve points over their opening fifteen matches which would now see them sitting proudly at the top of the Championship table rather than languishing in sixteenth place as they currently find themselves. Whilst I am sure most of the other teams in the division might well have similar tales of misfortune to tell, this is hopefully an encouraging thought to keep in mind as we look forward to Saturday’s match.

 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Well it was all looking so good at halftime on the 18th September. The Bees were firmly ensconced in second place in the Championship with the plaudits of all the pundits ringing in their ears. A well-taken Neil Maupay goal was the least they deserved as they had totally outplayed a toothless Ipswich Town team marooned at the bottom of the table and the long-overdue first away win of the season should already have been homed and hosed, so dominant had the Bees been in a totally one-sided first half.

That was the zenith and high spot of the season so far and it seems hard to believe that here we are at the end of October – at a time when given the peerless free-flowing performances displayed in most of the first seven league games a majority of Bees fans would have expected the team to have further demonstrated its promotion credentials – now on an appalling run of eight games without a win (nine if you include the Arsenal Carabao Cup tie) and seemingly in free-fall, having dropped like a stone to sixteenth place, with the seven points separating them from the playoff spots beginning to represent a seemingly insuperable chasm.

So what has gone wrong in the last six weeks? Were we really as good as we seemed in the first few games or merely flattering to deceive? Is our decline terminal or can we recover and still fulfil some of the extravagant expectations for the season? These are the key questions that every Brentford supporter wants answering and over the course of this article I will do my best to provide my own viewpoint on each of them.

Let’s firstly look at the positives. Reviewing the footage of the opening seven games of which we won four and only lost one, ridiculously, at a Blackburn Rovers team that scored with its only shot on target, it is clear that Brentford did at times play some exceptional and exhilarating football with the midfield and wingers breaking forward with pace and directness to create a myriad of chances for the voracious and suddenly deadly Neil Maupay who scored 7 times in his opening 5 games and probably missed twice as many opportunities as well. Ollie Watkins too seemed to have come of age and was direct and deadly scoring 4 times and he was too much for many teams to handle, a Premier League player in embryo. Sergi Canos, who resembled a little boy lost for much of last season was showing welcome signs of recovering form and confidence and he was rotated with new signing Said Benrahma who was already settling down into English football and demonstrating his trickery and ability on the ball with four assists.

The Bees scored 14 times in those 7 games with the aforementioned players accounting for 12 of them. Only 2 came from midfield with Lewis Macleod, finally restored to fitness arriving late in and around the box to score well-taken goals against Rotherham and Nottingham Forest. Josh McEachran was imperious, seeing openings that were beyond most mere mortals and opening up defences with the accuracy of his passing. He was averaging nearly 50 passes per game with an impressive 84% accuracy rate. The influential Ryan Woods seemed not to be missed after his departure to Stoke City.

The defence had seemed fairly watertight with only 6 goals conceded and it was clear that the Directors of Football had picked Charlton’s pocket when they emerged with the fabulous Ezri Konsa for a bargain fee of around three million pounds. His confidence, defensive solidity, ability on the ball and reading of the game were astounding for a 20 year old and he formed an impressive central defensive partnership with the equally young and gifted Chris Mepham and it was clear that they would both shortly be on the radar of predatory Premier League teams.

The Head Coach, Dean Smith alongside his trusty assistants Richard O’Kelly and Thomas Frank kept their hands on the tiller and there was a sense of calmness, consideration, control and confidence in most things that they did in terms of team selection, tactics and substitutions.

There was therefore much that was positive in the early games but even then despite the excellent performances and results there were a few clouds on the horizon and warning bells that were sounding. The Bees had the most attempts on goal and the least against them in the division but remained wasteful and careless at both ends of the field. Blackburn should have been put to the sword as Brentford wasted 61% possession and 11 shots to somehow lose a game they had dominated to a poorly conceded goal. Aston Villa had also out-pressed Brentford and cancelled out their midfield but Brentford weathered the storm, brought on runners and tacklers in Nico Yennaris and Kamo Mokotjo and turned the game around, taking the lead near the end and then wasting two gilt-edged chances to score a certain match-clinching third goal before conceding a soft free kick in the 96th minute which was poorly defended for a last gasp Villa equaliser. Stoke too were totally out-footballed with Watkins scoring a brilliantly worked and taken goal after a move involving almost the entire team but a defensive aberration and misunderstanding between Mepham and Dan Bentley again meant that two valuable points were thrown away.

Goalkeeper Bentley, who had a spell of the yips last season before recovering his form and consistency made another error when he fumbled a totally innocuous shot (although it was hit so softly that it barely even merited that description) from Forest’s Matty Cash into his own net in a game where the Bees recovered from that shock to score a late and fully deserved winner. Brentford also persisted in playing without a recognised left back since the loss of Rico Henry a year ago and Yoann Barbet, for all his height and danger at set pieces, always looked like an accident waiting to happen. Brentford are all about risk and reward and the decision was also taken not to bring in any experienced cover in the Transfer Window for Neil Maupay and to rely upon the untried 19 year old Marcus Forss as well as moving Watkins centrally when required. What might not have been taken into account when this decision was made was the unpredictable temperament of the volatile Frenchman. Maupay earned a fully merited 3 match ban for a daft off the ball stamping incident at Aston Villa and remains a yellow card (or worse) waiting to happen in every game and is currently on the verge of another ban. Forss struggled to make an impact on his debut at Blackburn and is now long-term injured and Watkins remains the only other option unless Romaine Sawyers reprises his occasional false nine role.

Dean Smith turned a negative into a positive by deciding that a captain would be nominated for each game, a unique solution to the long-term problem of a lack of leadership and experience within Brentford’s squad which is the youngest across all 92 Premier League and EFL teams averaging a mere 24.3 years. The Brentford model demands the introduction of a constant influx of young, talented and emerging players who can be developed and improved and then sold on (after being replaced) as soon as another club offers more than their valuation. This means that fans can enjoy watching players of immense promise strut their stuff in a welcoming and encouraging environment but also suffer the naive mistakes and inconsistency of the young and inexperienced. What also became apparent early on is that the players had either been instructed or taken it upon themselves to stand up for themselves and each other which led to some over-reactions and mass confrontations one of which resulted in a horribly niggly and cynical Forest team receiving 7 cautions and yet Brentford, so often the innocent party, allowed themselves to lose their discipline and earn 5 yellow cards of their own.

The good therefore massively outweighed the bad in the opening 7 games but things have changed dramatically over the course of the current winless run. The goals have largely dried up with only nine being scored in eight games and three of them came in one fruitless match at Preston last week. Why is that as Maupay continues to look dangerous and has scored 4 times recently, as well as perpetrating the worst miss since Cardiff last season at Norwich on Saturday when he managed to hit the bar of an empty goal from 4 yards out? You need to look at what is – or more importantly – isn’t happening around him to explain our goal drought and current lack of success. Maupay now represents pretty much our entire goal threat given that Ollie Watkins has suddenly become a peripheral figure, flitting in and out of matches without taking them by the scruff of his neck as is his wont. His poor form might well be explained by a lingering toe injury that is partially incapacitating him but we are only rarely seeing that trademark dropping of his shoulder and venomous shooting. His only recent goal dribbled in at Preston after a helpful deflection and when we really needed him to produce when down to 10 men against Bristol City his Exocet crashed against the inside of the post and came out rather than going in – so narrow are the margins between success and failure in the Championship.

We need him fit and back on form so badly given the paucity of our attacking options but he probably needs to be rested, something that we cannot afford to do. So much of Sergi Canos’s hard work has come to nothing with little end results as his shots and centres have been blocked or found a defender, but he has continued to keep his head up and his exceptional goal at Preston will help improve his confidence. Said Benrahma has threatened only to deceive and exhibited a shocking lack of discipline when two stupid and needless fouls saw him dismissed against Reading and a naive and needless attempt at a tackle gifted Leeds a late free kick in dangerous territory from which they scored an undeserved equaliser. It would appear that he is now seen as an impact substitute rather than the influential match winner that we all think we possess. We need to see much more from him but he firstly has to regain the management’s trust.

Given the stuttering up front the midfield need to have taken up the slack but the real problems are currently in the engine room where it is difficult to pick the best blend at present and nothing seems to be working. McEachran had the boost of scoring his first ever goal recently with an angled free kick against Birmingham but he has lost form and is understandably distracted by the birth of his new child. We need him and the likes of Sawyers to start zipping the ball around with pace and incision. Hopefully Josh will shortly come again as he is the fulcrum who now, with the departure of Woods has to win the ball or take it off the goalkeeper or back four and set the tempo and get us playing. Lewis Macleod was expected to make late runs into the box which he certainly did at the beginning of the season but he seems to have lost his Mojo and impact and has become a peripheral figure. He rotates between a box-to-box and a more advanced role but is providing little goal threat, the occasional tackle and he now averages a minuscule 25 passes per game with a 73% success rate – unacceptable figures. His rival for the box-to-box position in Nico Yennaris is suffering from a lack of match practice and currently averages under 19 passes per game.

All this means that greater responsibility has to fall upon Romaine Sawyers, but he too appears slightly confused by his role. Is he supposed to be the most attacking of the midfield trio or should he hang back more given Macleod’s ability to get forward? He has been neither fish nor fowl and remarkably he has yet to obtain either a goal or an assist and his shooting has also lacked its customary venom and accuracy. Kamo Mokotjo has filled in effectively both in holding and box-to-box roles but suffered a serious looking injury at Norwich. When you look at the statistics and see that the entire Brentford midfield has 3 goals and 1 assist between them after 15 games you can see where the problems lie. Our greatest strength has become our main weakness.

With so few options the Head Coach can only keep juggling what he has in the hope that something will come good and it would appear that the McEachran/Yennaris/Sawyers axis will prevail although there is hope on the horizon with Josh Desilva rapidly gaining match fitness in the B Team after joining from Arsenal where he was highly rated. At first glance it seems that he is a powerful and skilful left footed box-to-box player with a excellent shot on him and it might be that he is brought into the squad on Saturday. It is a tough ask of a youngster with no EFL experience but we need him to contribute and come good very quickly. Emiliano Marcondes, the gifted Danish attacking midfielder was inked in for an attacking midfield role alongside Sawyers but has yet to kick a ball this season after taking a pummelling from a Watford team that did not seem to understand the meaning of the expression “friendly match”. He had looked so promising in the preseason and will undoubtedly offer a goal threat if the club can get him fit and healthy – something that is by no means certain at the moment. Midfield has for so long been the strength of the Brentford team and it is disconcerting to see how quickly it seems to have unravelled and the right blend needs to be rediscovered quickly if results are to improve. This in my opinion is the key to Brentford achieving anything for the remainder of the season.

As one part of the team ceases to function effectively so another also misfires. Daniel Bentley is a mistake waiting to happen and has so far contributed directly or indirectly to 7 opposition goals that could well have been prevented. He cost us the win against Reading when 2 abysmal handling errors gifted goals to the visitors and turned what looked like being a comfortable home win into a desperate slog for a point. He was rested for two games in which Luke Daniels did little wrong although his hesitation was partially responsible for the Leeds equaliser. Recently restored to the team,Bentley saved a penalty kick on Saturday and hopefully will recover his lost form and become an asset rather than the liability he currently is.

Apart from a penchant for conceding stupid free kicks and late crucial goals from set pieces the defence has overall not performed badly. Mepham was badly missed at Preston where the team caved in and conceded 4 eminently avoidable goals and – Sod’s Law – just when he was needed the most our spare centre half, Julian Jeanvier was injured which allowed Yoann Barbet to prove categorically that he is not a Championship calibre centre half. Mepham received a second yellow card from another myopic referee after a non-existent holding back offence which followed a stupid yellow card obtained by pushing an opponent away in a melee. Yes, he was defending a team mate who was being kicked on the floor but it was still a naive booking which cost us dear given that Bristol City who were second best for large parts of the match went on to win with another last second goal.

In reality there is little wrong with the Brentford back four which will be strengthened immeasurably when Rico Henry recovers match fitness and is restored to the team having missed the last 13 months of action. Yes we will miss Barbet’s strength and height defending the far post but Henry offers so much more going forward and is a potent attacking threat. Moses Odubajo, recovering his fitness still, is also available to cover in either full back position or even as an auxiliary winger when required.

When I listened to all the preseason preview shows I was both exhilarated and horrified by so many respected pundits tipping the Bees for promotion. Brentford have remained snugly and safely under the radar for so long and been underestimated by so many and in my view, long may that state of affairs continue. Now things are totally different as teams have finally taken notice, sussed us out and have worked out how best to stop and frustrate us. Teams now try to press us very high up the pitch knowing that Bentley will invariably throw the ball out short. This has resulted in some hair-raising near misses where disasters have narrowly been averted and ensured that we find it harder and harder to beat the press.

We have also seen a lot of time wasting and tactical fouling in an effort to slow us down and stop us playing. Apparently the ball was only in play for 30 minutes in the recent game against Reading who achieved new lows in gamesmanship when they prevented the taking of a free kick on the edge of their box for almost 6 minutes, aided and abetted by a totally ineffectual referee. This has resulted in poor discipline and frustration and a couple of totally unnecessary red cards. Sawyers in particular has been fortunate not to see red when HE saw red.

The key to this problem is keeping a calmer head and getting the pace and zip back into our game. If Brentford keep moving the ball quickly as they customarily do when on song then they will tire out the opposition and create chances. This needs the midfield to start functioning again and it is in the laps of the Gods as to when and if this will occur.

The elephant in the room is the loss of Dean Smith to Aston Villa. My last article dealt at length with the potential ramifications of his departure and the likely appointment of Thomas Frank to replace him as Head Coach. This has now taken place and the new man is an unfortunate 0 for 3 from his first three games. Not much has changed yet in terms of team selection, bar the reinstatement of Bentley, and tactics although there was a change late on at Norwich when Brentford moved Watkins alongside Maupay up front in the hope of snatching a late point. He has appointed a fellow Dane in Brian Riemer as the first of two Assistant Coaches and there is speculation that Bees legend and current B Team Head Coach Kevin O’Connor might be promoted to first team duties, but that is something for the near future.

Brentford find themselves at a crossroads. The season is a third of the way through and the team is currently in the middle of a slump. This is mainly because the negatives now massively outweigh the positives – a total reversal of the trend in the opening 7 games. Luck too has turned its back on the Bees in several games and it is not long since they put on a deeply impressive performance at Elland Road that fully merited a victory. The attempted recovery from a three goal deficit at Preston also clearly demonstrates that the spirit is still there but confidence is slowly draining away.

Something has to change quickly. It might be a piece of good fortune but I firmly believe that you make your own luck and someone needs to grasp the nettle and make something happen. You win as a team and you lose as a team and we need a Sawyers, a McEachran, a Canos or a Watkins to start delivering. The blend is not working at the moment and there needs to be a revamping of the midfield to make the best use of the resources that we possess. Thomas Frank needs to start making his influence felt through making some subtle changes and ensuring an improvement in discipline.

I firmly believe that Brentford will quickly recover form and start to climb back up the league table. How far I am not quite sure, but if the midfield starts to contribute again, Watkins regains his Mojo, Maupay stays on the pitch and keep scoring, Bentley recovers his form and confidence and Dasilva and Henry can be successfully integrated into the squad then I feel that the season can be turned around. That is quite a lot to ask for but just as quickly as things turned bad, I believe they can turn good again. You do not become a bad team overnight and Brentford at their best are a very good team.

Time to take stock

I had roused myself from my torpor and lethargy and almost finished writing a long and analytical review of the first couple of months of the new season when news broke of Dean Smith’s departure to Aston Villa.

So I have scrapped all of my previous observations, gone back to square one and tried to assess his impact upon the club and then I consulted my crystal ball to see how we might do without him.

It would be entirely wrong not to start by thanking and paying tribute to Dean and his long term assistant, Richard O’Kelly who is also accompanying him to Villa, for all their efforts, skill and hard work over a near three year period – a lifetime in Championship terms where the average lifespan of a manager is around ten months.

Smith was not the club’s first choice to succeed Marinus Dijkhuizen and caretaker Lee Carsley but terms could not be agreed with Pep Clotet, and judging by his subsequent failure at Oxford United perhaps we had a lucky escape.

Carsley had done an excellent job of restoring confidence, fitness and morale amongst a group of players who had been dismayed and confused by the chaotic disorganisation of the short and ill fated Dijkhuizen era.

Smith proved to be an exceptional choice. Calm, measured and intelligent he soon got the squad onside by showing that he would treat them as individuals and grown ups and always be available to speak to them on a one to one basis.

He ensured that standards would be maintained both on and off the pitch and ensured that the squad joined in the club’s outstanding work in the local community.

From his previous spell at Walsall under the parsimonious Jim Bonser, he was used to making bricks without straw and he totally bought into the Brentford philosophy.

He understood that he was there to motivate, teach, improve and develop a group of outstandingly talented young players, knowing full well that the best of them would at the right time be sold from under his feet once a club further up the food chain met or even surpassed their value.

This has to be the Brentford way of doing business for the time being, allowing them to compete with, outthink and outperform clubs with far greater resources but more stereotyped and outmoded ways of thinking and doing business.

Smith never – publically at least – bitched and moaned about losing star players such as Scott Hogan, Jota and Ryan Woods as he realised that the club could not match the bloated salaries on offer elsewhere and he knew that they would be replaced with another influx of untried but talented youngsters.

Teacher that he is, he simply got on with the job of improving the players under his control and Neal Maupay might well be the most striking example of how a young striker who was struggling to find his feet last season, missing open goals, not anticipating chances, with the ball clanging away from his imperfect first touch has under Smith’s guidance now developed into a predatory marksman, currently the top scorer in the country, but – unlike Hogan – someone who also plays a full part in holding the ball up and setting up play.

Maupay is not alone and the improvement of others such as Chris Mepham – a Premier League star of the near future – Ollie Watkins and Josh McEachran has been startling, testament indeed to the quality of Smith’s coaching and development ability.

This to me has been his greatest strength and is not surprising given that he made his bones as a youth team coach at Orient and Walsall.

He would not be human if he did not bemoan the lack of more experienced recruits either up front or in a defensive midfield role but that is not the Brentford way of doing things and he fully understood why massive sums could not be invested in such players or even in bringing in loanees who could potentially provide a short term impetus. Why should we pay to improve someone else’s players?

January was a case in point as Maupay was stuttering and Lasse Vibe had finally recovered his potency in front of goal, scoring six times against the likes of QPR, Norwich and Aston Villa as well as a predatory and crucial late winner in a tight game at Reading.

Given that he was out of contract at the end of the season and likely to leave on a Bosman free transfer the Brentford business model dictated his sale, admittedly for an eye watering sum to China.

All fine so far but the view from the top of the club was perhaps that our chances of reaching the Playoffs – themselves a one in four lottery – were too low to merit an investment in a new striker. Perhaps in retrospect a mistake?

Even with this handicap the Bees came within a whisker of gatecrashing the top six and one can only conjecture whether Dean Smith felt that he was managing with one hand tied behind his back?

To lead his team to three consecutive top ten finishes was undoubtedly a magnificent achievement given Brentford’s miniscule budget compared to so many of their rivals, buttressed as they are with ineffable parachute payments, ostensibly rewarding them for their failure in relegation from the Premier League.

The football too was often sublime with every player confident on the ball and their game was based on initially playing the ball out patiently from the back, switching it from side to side probing for weaknesses and then fast flowing attacking football featuring an alluring combination of pace, short passing, dribbling and astute switching of play.

At their best the Bees were almost unstoppable and the likes of Fulham, Derby and Aston Villa were sent packing with their tail between their legs.

And yet…. and yet….. despite the quality on offer and our delight and gratitude at having such wonderful fare to feast upon, the feeling lingered that possibly, just possibly we should have done even better and got over the line certainly to reaching the Playoffs.

Perhaps such thoughts are patently unfair and Smith was indeed overperforming, but given the quality that we possessed I feel that even more could have been accomplished.

We travelled away to the so-called bigger teams without fear and apart from at Newcastle and recently at Derby we invariably put on a performance, stifled the opposition and dominated chances and possession. But we could never quite get over the line and win such games and with the exception of Brighton we have never won at the ground of a promoted team although often going close.

Credit has to be given to the opposition of course but last season we drew at Middlesbrough and Fulham, both games we dominated and should have won, and this season the pattern has already been repeated at Stoke, Aston Villa, Ipswich and Leeds. Four drawn matches when the performances fully merited twelve points and eight points have been thrown away – perhaps the difference between promotion and being an also-ran.

Smith’s team was the youngest in the Championship and perhaps understandably they made the naive mistakes of the inexperienced. They had a soft underbelly and rarely seemed able to close out a tight away game. All too often an individual mistake, a lack of clinical finishing, a set piece, careless and catastrophic defending and it has to be said refereeing errors would ensure a late goal against (or two at Loftus Road last season) that would cost us dear.

Smith would correctly protect his players in public and perhaps he castigated them when necessary behind closed doors, but little seemed to change and the same errors and shortcomings were repeated.

Tactically he could be very astute as he was in his final game in charge at Elland Road when he learned from what happened at Villa Park when his ball playing midfielders were totally overrun. He left out McEachran and Macleod and their more energetic replacements Mokotjo and Yennaris wrested control of the congested midfield.

For the last couple of years he has also been assisted by Thomas Frank, a former manager of Brondby and he has appeared to have played an important part on the touch line. The team’s pressing has also improved immeasurably. Frank made his name coaching young players in his native Denmark and he was originally brought in to help players make the step up from the B team to the first team squad.

Frank is understandably seen as the new head coach in waiting and as we are waiting impatiently for the white puff of smoke that announces the appointment of Smith’s replacement the question remains, how much of the team’s success was down to him?

More importantly, would the players, used to the demeanour and approach of Dean Smith, respond well to the ministrations of Frank?

Given his two years of service it would be strange indeed if Frank was not given the opportunity of becoming head coach, but this is Brentford we are talking about and the club has never been averse to producing a rabbit from the hat and making a left field appointment.

Director of Football Phil Giles did intimate that no decision had yet been made and that some potential candidates would be approached and spoken to.

Nathan Jones and Danny Cowley are two highly promising managers whose names have been mentioned and who knows, perhaps they and others will come under consideration.

Brentford’s motto has never been “if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it.” It’s been more “let’s try and improve it,” so maybe someone new will arrive.

Whoever takes charge will inherit a fantastic squad bursting with ability and potential. Players are also returning from injury and it is likely that Matthew Benham will authorise squad strengthening in January and just as importantly refrain from selling any star players if the Bees remain in the running for promotion.

Dean Smith did an incredible job. He steadied the ship, improved individual players, totally bought into the Brentford approach and has more than laid the foundations for success.

The system at the club is far more important than any one individual and the new man need do no more than tinker with what has already been done (although perhaps a return to man to man marking rather than zonal defence would be welcomed).

Normally a new manager or head coach has to sort out the mess of his predecessor but this is a totally different situation. Very little has to change for Brentford to make the slight improvement needed to gain promotion. Hopefully Frank or whoever else is chosen can organise and motivate them to eradicate the slight errors that are costing them so dear at both ends of the pitch.

As for Dean Smith, he leaves with our thanks and gratitude for a job exceptionally well done. Just as our players harbour ambitions why shouldn’t our management staff? The Aston Villa job is a dream come true for him and given time and support he could well bring them the success they crave. I’m not well enough informed to have a educated view as to whether he’s inherited a poison chalice. For his sake I hope not as he deserves far better.