There has been a lot of recent speculation and concern amongst Brentford supporters about the future of some of our best young players and our ability to hang onto them, The rumours abound and continue to grow, linking David Button to Aston Villa, Moses Odubajo to Everton, Tarky to Fulham, Jota to Swansea and Leicester, Andre Gray to Hull or QPR and Stewart Dallas to Glasgow Rangers.
Despite all the rumours as of today only two players have left the club for other teams with misfit Nick Proschwitz returning to SC Paderborn 07 and promising defender Alfie Mawson joining Barnsley.
The trickle of transfers is now about to become a veritable torrent as we enter July, a time of the year when contracts have expired and players are free to move on to pastures anew. Speculation is rife as rumours abound in the press, on social media and message boards alike of moves actual and mooted, likely and ludicrous – football is back on the agenda with a vengeance, and we await the next ten months with relish, excitement and not a little foreboding too.
Yes, there certainly have been rumours about any number of our players leaving but that was ever the case. Remember two years ago when Harry Forrester and Simon Moore decided to move on, and last season when we lost star assets in Clayton Donaldson and Adam Forshaw?
That is simply the way of the game as players are led by the nose by rapacious agents who are programmed to sniff out more lucrative opportunities elsewhere and many is the time when players seem to be ruled by their bank balance rather than by their head.
It would be hard to make a strong case that any of the four aforementioned former Brentford favourites have made good footballing moves even though they have undoubtedly benefited financially and I suspect that deep down perhaps a couple of them regret their impetuosity in deciding to leave Griffin Park.
It is no use my bemoaning the situation, as one has simply to accept that the days of the loyal one-club heroes like Peter Gelson and Alan Hawley and indeed Kevin O’Connor are dwindling as players can now enjoy the benefits of freedom of contract and have little or no compunction in moving on a regular basis to the highest bidder.
Brentford are not high payers by Championship standards, and neither should they be, given that we are entering only our second season at this level after promotion from the third tier of the game and the club understandably prefers to incentivise players more through a generous bonus scheme that rewards players for actual achievement rather than for merely turning up.
It is therefore inevitable that until our revenue base grows exponentially with a combination of sustained success as well as the enhanced revenue streams emanating from our new stadium at Lionel Road, we will run the risk of losing players, perhaps even over the next few weeks, as richer clubs higher up the food chain jockey for position and attempt to divest their less fortunate brethren of their star assets.
If the predators do come sniffing around us then there are a few things that are certain:
- They will be looking to sign one or more of our top players – the likes of Jota, Gray, Odubajo and Button rather than players sitting like wallflowers at the end of our bench
- If a player really wants to leave because he and his representative believe that the grass is greener elsewhere, then in truth there is little that can be done to salvage the situation, even if the player is safely in contract
- We are no longer a soft touch, encouraging external approaches and keen to sell our family heirlooms for a song and a fraction of their true worth as was the case for time immemorial. We will only sell on our own terms when we are ready to do so even if the player’s departure becomes inevitable, and we will extract top dollar for him
- Whoever leaves us will be replaced by another promising player identified by our impressive team of analysts who are scouring the football world and crawling under rocks to discover new gems to ensure that we are continually able to replenish our squad
I look at the current situation as a backhanded compliment to us, as we now possess so many young talented players who are only going to improve and appreciate in value and I would far prefer that other clubs covet our assets and might even possibly succeed in spiriting some of them away, rather than our having a squad full of anonymous mediocrities and journeymen as has so often been the case in the past.
I remain firmly of the opinion that we are on our way to the Premier League, it is simply a question of when, rather than if we get there, however it might well be that for players of the calibre of Odubajo and Jota that incredible day might not come soon enough for their immediate ambitions to be fully realised and we might simply have to accept that the time might well come, sooner rather than later, when they decide to leave us.
At the other end of the spectrum there are several valuable and highly experienced squad players like Tony Craig, Sam Saunders and Alan McCormack who, given our recent progress, we have outgrown and whose time might well have come to move on to a new home where they can play every week, a privilege that is likely to be denied them if they remain at Brentford.
Players of that calibre and loyalty deserve better than to wither on the vine and should be treated with respect and allowed to find a new home where they can inspire a fresh generation of young players albeit at a lower level of the game.
Like time, football waits for no man and it might also be that several regulars from last season’s team also begin to feel the hot breath of fresh challengers for their shirt. Harlee Dean, Jonathan Douglas and Toumani Diagouraga might be particularly vulnerable and Jake Bidwell might also benefit from having a new competitor breathing down his neck and fighting him for possession of his place.
One of the complaints justifiably levelled against Mark Warburton last season was his undoubted loyalty to his squad, and all eleven of those who started the first match of the season also featured in the squad for the final game over nine months later.
I anticipate a larger and deeper squad this season with more and tougher competition for places and increased squad rotation. With that will come the problem of keeping the non-playing members of the squad onside and this will be a massive task for the new coaching staff. We were a happy and tight-knit unit last season, a factor that contributed greatly to our success and we need to ensure that this positive state of affairs remains if we are to be successful over the coming months.
One of my great pleasures over previous years has been trying to work out who we were likely to sign, and very often it was possible by applying a bit of logic, a keen nose for clues and a reasonable knowledge of the UK football scene, to make a decent stab at guessing who was going to arrive. That is certainly no longer the case.
In those days, which now seem so distant, we were shopping in a totally different market, and given the way that we now operate and how our analysts interpret the data they receive from around the world, I suspect that new British players will be the exception rather than the rule.
This is a situation that I fully accept given that we need to be smarter and better informed than our richer competitors but it isn’t as much fun for me given that I had not previously heard of any of our new foreign imports!
We have already signed Akaki Gogia, a Georgian winger from the German lower leagues, Yoann Barbet, a highly promising left sided central defender from Chamois Niortais and, more familiarly, midfielder Ryan Williams from Morecambe.
Quite frankly I knew nothing at all bar what I researched online about the first two and as for Williams, who I have seen play, I see him as a decent each way bet as he has shown real skill on the ball throughout his career as well as the ability to put the ball on a sixpence from free kicks, whilst also demonstrating that his skills set is not best suited for the hustle and bustle of lower league football. Maybe he will make it with us, maybe not, but he is an inexpensive gamble well worth taking.
It is also likely that we will imminently be announcing the signings of giant Austrian box-to-box midfielder Konstantin Kerschbaumer and potential club record signing Danish international defender Andreas Bjelland who is expected to arrive from FC Twente in return for a fee of over two million pounds, a figure that quite frankly I still struggle to get my head around when talking about Brentford,
Of course we are now entering another stratosphere and if we have done our homework correctly then players of this ilk will be a massive upgrade on what we have seen previously. I hope also that they will all fit in off the field, engage with supporters and not merely prove to be mercenaries looking for another payday. We must not lose our sense of identity and community and we should ideally keep a solid British base to the team. This is also where the likes of Kevin O’Connor, who fully understands the history, heritage and tradition of Brentford FC and what it represents, will be truly crucial.
I am not complaining, far from it, as I welcome ambition, progress and evolution, traits were were sadly lacking for decades, but I also recognise that with them come potential problems and we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Given the intelligence and perspicacity of those running the club I doubt that I have anything to worry about, but I am a supporter and that is what fans do!
Ahead Of The Game
For anyone interested in reading my take on everything that happened both on and off the pitch last season, as well as the odd diversion into nostalgia, player profiles and club history, leavened with some (hopefully) pertinent and amusing comments, my new book Ahead Of The Game is available now.
Here are the Links to where the book can be purchased:
Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99