Well the long-awaited statement finally arrived late yesterday afternoon. Brentford supporters have been clamouring for information and clarification from the club ever since Matt Hughes’s bombshell article last Tuesday, which had set the cat among the pigeons by announcing that Matthew Benham had decided to change the management structure at the club and dispense with the services of Mark Warburton. Supporters were confused, angry and disappointed not just at the proposed changes but also because they had been forced to wait for a week until the situation was confirmed. Personally, whilst I welcomed the statement which in its carefully and well drafted nine hundred and twenty-four words gave chapter and verse into the owner’s thinking I thought that it had not arrived late but in reality was three months too early.
I have absolutely no problem with what Matthew Benham is proposing as it demonstrates his vision, openness to change, uniqueness of approach, passion for the club and determination for it to progress and excel. I simply wish that his hand had not been forced prematurely and that the changes could have been announced and implemented as originally intended after the end of the season. Had that been the case then the ensuing uproar could have been handled and managed far better and the fallout would not have been as damaging as has been the case in the last appalling eight days which have seen the club mocked, pilloried and heavily criticised throughout the media and football world and supporters turn on each other. Not just that, but two crucial matches have been lost, we have fallen out of the playoff positions and the players are naturally saddened, angered and confused at what has transpired as well as the lack of clarity.
The statement confirmed that Mark Warburton and David Weir will leave at the end of the season and Sporting Director Frank McParland has been put on immediate gardening leave. Again, their departures, harsh though they might appear, had not been intended to be discussed, formalised and announced until the close season and it remains to be seen if Warburton and Weir can maintain their focus and commitment to a club that they know will shortly dispense with their services and, crucially, manage to re-motivate and inspire the players to climb off the floor, redouble their efforts and ideally maintain our promotion challenge – a tall order indeed.
At least the players now know where they stand and the doubt and uncertainty has been removed. They know that they are playing for their future and for the right to remain at a club that for all the setbacks of the last few days, remains ambitious, progressive and determined to progress further. Getting to the crux of the matter, the players are also well paid and I understand that there is a highly lucrative bonus scheme in place that is worth significant sums to every squad member should we finish at or near the top of the Championship table. There now needs to be a show of unity and togetherness and Mattthew Benham needs to visit the training ground straight away and address the players face to face, stare them in the eyes, discuss his plans with them and persuade them to get back onside. Mark Warburton and David Weir will also be determined to leave on the highest possible note and ideally complete the job that they have both so ably started. They need to convince potential new employers that it is as much their management, coaching and motivational abilities as the structure and system employed at Brentford that has been responsible for the club’s success and at a more basic level there is the natural human reaction of wanting to show the world that Benham has made a massive error in his decision.
Not many Brentford supporters would disagree with the owner that the squad, admirably though it has performed, or even over-performed, needs strengthening both in numbers and quality to cope with tired legs and the pressure of the business end of the season. That opportunity was spurned in January, which, of course, led to the schism between Benham and Warburton and the fateful leak of the news of the owner’s determination to make the changes in both approach and personnel. There is still a final opportunity to bring in loanees and I would hope that a new striker and centre half are at the top of the agenda. Who scouts or selects them now is open to question but the bottom line is that the supporters and players alike would be reinvigorated by a couple of high quality, experienced players who could take the slack off some of the existing squad members who have been visibly wilting under the telling pressure they have experienced. Let’s hope that something is being planned and implemented in time for the visit of Bournemouth and that two of the injured players, Alan Judge and James Tarkowski are also fit to return. The eyes of the world are on Brentford and we need to respond on Saturday.
It is hard to know what to write about the situation facing Mark Warburton. So far forty-two managers have lost their job this season and looking through the list of names and examining their individual records, it seems laughable that a man as obviously successful and gifted as Mark will soon be joining their number. I have written pages of praise about him over the past few months and even described him, accurately, I feel, as “The Renaissance Man of Football.” Without delving too deeply into the stats, his nominations and awards as Manager of the Month and success in getting Brentford over the line last season into the Championship after an interval of over twenty years, his record is unparalleled as he has led to club to wins in fifty-four percent of his matches and the Bees are currently undefeated in seventy-two percent of the games in which he has managed the Bees.
Those figures are quite staggering and yet I am not quibbling with the owner’s decision to move on. Benham knows exactly how and where he wants the club to go and he has rarely been proved wrong in the past. He wishes to remodel the club’s management structure and employ and implement a system rare in the UK but far more common elsewhere in the football world. A Head Coach will be appointed to work alongside a new Sporting Director and he will rely upon a new recruitment structure using a mixture of traditional scouting and other tools including mathematical modelling. Crucially as a key part of the new recruitment structure, the Head Coach will have a strong input in to the players brought in to the Club but not an absolute veto. That, I am sure, was the main sticking point between Benham and Warburton and ensured his departure, given that they apparently disagreed over player recruitment last month and several deals failed to be completed, which brings us full circle.
Mark Warburton will depart with the sincere thanks and gratitude of every Brentford supporter as he has done an outstanding job and he now faces the biggest test of his career with the challenge to ensure that the Brentford players do not merely go through the motions for the remainder of the season.
It was been a horrible week for the club and everybody associated with it and there has been a lot of collateral damage. Now we have to learn the lessons from the mistakes made, lick our wounds, move on and determine never to repeat them. The club also needs to repair the disconnect with the supporters. There is a Brentford style and way of doing things, which appears to have gone by the wayside over the past few days, not I am sure by choice. The club and supporters are generally as one, acting in concert and the two need to be reconciled as only by doing so can we maintain our progress. Matthew Benham’s statistics, formulae and hieroglyphics are crucial to our future, but not nearly as much as the bond between club and fans.