We Know He Is Good! – 31/7/15

It certainly came as no surprise to me and every other Brentford supporter to learn from our new friends up at Glasgow Rangers that the partnership of Mark Warburton and David Weir has already made a massive impression in the first few weeks of their reign and that they have started to both revitalise and restore pride to what was a faltering club. The real surprise would have been if Rangers fans felt anything other than delight and renewed confidence at their appointment and how they have begun to tackle the massive task that awaits them.

It is surely the ideal appointment given that Weir is steeped in the history and tradition of the club, and, it must also be said, the recent chaos that has ensued there, and Warburton is simply an excellent all round manager, or as I have described him before a Renaissance Man who is a wonderful motivator, communicator and man manager as well as an excellent and positive coach who also has an excellent eye for unearthing and then placing his faith in young, vibrant talent.

If they are given the necessary support then I really cannot see them failing in their task and I look forward to Rangers returning in triumph to the top flight of Scottish football at the end of the season.

Several other Brentford fans shared my pleasure in hearing yesterday’s positive update. Patrick Sutton commented succinctly:

Well that’s a mighty fine assessment of Mark’s start at Rangers and I wish him all the best. It would be fantastic if he succeeds north of the border as well as he did in the south, if only to prove he is no fly by night merchant but indeed a good young manager who is not only able to create a positive attitude but to also get results.

Alan Bird looked at his broader management skills:

The assessment of the excellent start that Mark Warburton seems to have made at Rangers suggests to me that if he ever left football he’d make an excellent CEO somewhere.

He seems to have the knack of making people happy in their roles and positions and they seem to want to work for him and do a good job. I really liked  and was impressed that he asked the players to write their own Code of Conduct………any future issues and he can say ‘They’re your own rules not mine’.

I wonder if that is something that he wishes he’d tried to do at Brentford.

RebelBee was also impressed:

Thank you for reaching out to the Rangers supporter who has written an excellent piece on Mark Warburton’s early days in the hot seat up there. I watched the highlights of their six-two win at Hibs and it was vintage Warburton – you get two goals we’ll just keep coming at you and get six, even the odd not so good bit had his DNA all over it. He will do brilliantly up there, and given time and support will totally revive Rangers – I’m sure of it.

Also thank you for avoiding the temptation felt by some Bees fans, to move on so quickly from the Warbs era that his incredible achievement is now overlooked or at worst devalued. This type of piece doesn’t in any way undermine the new team at the helm, but serves to remind us of the talent and ongoing progress of our finest post war manager.

Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton working in partnership provided my best memories as a lifelong supporter of our great club, I will never forget Warbs and his legacy –  and it was also nice to see the interesting comments from Alan Bird who would know more than most.

Matthew Benham continues to back the club to an incredible level, and we have a new coach in Marinus who I’m warming to day by day. Who knows where we’ll end up, maybe the best is ahead, but for now I’ll look back on the Benham/Warburton period at Brentford as the best ever.

Good luck to the Gers too.

Former Brentford striker Richard Poole also had some astute comments to make:

Well Greville your recent words about Warburton going far away and not coming back to haunt us ring true with me! I have a strong feeling that we have not heard the last of somebody who I am quite certain will be an excellent manager at whatever club he works at. What he achieved in so short a period at Brentford clearly reminds me of what Frank Blunstone started to do in my time at the club, but as we all know he was not given the time even with the pitifully small resources he had to play with.

I await fresh news and updates from Glasgow with relish and anticipation. Mark Warburton is a young manager in terms of his experience in the position and he is still learning and developing new skills. He appears to be one of those rare multitalented individuals who can turn his hand and use his common sense to adapt to most new situations and opportunities.

I am glad that the Brentford blueprint and framework seems to be working for him there too and like my fellow Brentford fans I can see nothing less than continued success for him wherever he goes.

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Warburton Already Winning Over The Doubters – 30/7/15

I have been talking recently to some Rangers fans who were seeking some background information regarding their new manager, Mark Warburton. I was happy to provide them with an article which set out his managerial style and approach at Brentford last season which was very much one of positive reinforcement and encouragement and asked them in return to let us know how Mark and David Weir were settling into their new posts in Glasgow.

Jordan Campbell of The Rangers Report blog has kindly obliged and provided a fascinating update which summarises, as if we ever doubted it, just what an impact Mark has already made on the supporters of his new club. Here is Jordan had to say:

It has been just forty-one days since Mark Warburton was appointed as the fourteenth permanent manager of Rangers Football Club, and just thirty since the heavily depleted squad he inherited returned to the training ground in Auchenhowie for the start of pre-season. But last Saturday, his new-look side put on a rampant second-half performance which could have fooled you into thinking that he had been implementing his footballing philosophy for a whole lot longer.

Although we are very much in the infancy of his tenure, the last thirty minutes’ showing must have proved to the doubters that his Ibrox transformation is well and truly underway.
It is far too premature to judge whether he will be a success in the long run (challenging Celtic within two years and then progressing on the European front – not much to ask for) but if I were to grade his report card so far there would be no other option than to give him top marks; he is yet to put a foot wrong.

Since our financial collapse in 2012 we have had to endure three and a half years of torture with the chronic football on the park providing little escape from the drama in the boardroom. However, it seemed like last Saturday finally heralded the start of a new chapter of success as the supporters witnessed the most entertaining ninety minutes of football served up in three seasons.

I was a huge admirer of Warburton’s work while he was at Brentford and even earmarked him as a potential candidate for the managerial position as early on as March. His style of play and the bond he had established with the fans, combined with Weir’s knowledge of the club made it the perfect partnership in my opinion. But even with high expectations of what he and Davie were capable of, I cannot help but be impressed with how they are managing every aspect of the club whether that be the recruitment, the youth structure or the media.

They were exactly what was needed in our situation: strong figures who wouldn’t be fazed by the spotlight or by the fact that they had to imprint their footballing vision from virtually a blank canvas.

It has to be put into perspective just how mammoth the task they faced was – and still is. Having to rebuild every department of the club and ensure that we win promotion, all the while playing a brand of football which will pack out Ibrox is no mean feat when you have to face forty-odd thousand expectant supporters every second week. And when I said he had to rebuild every department I really meant it.

When he took charge, the club had just released eleven out of contract players who were part of the side that lost heavily to Motherwell in that humiliating playoff final. That left him with a nineteen-man squad consisting of mainly academy graduates and existing players who had woefully under performed. There was no scouting system in place whatsoever which meant the board had to trust in his extensive knowledge of the market down south in the hope that he could identify value for money himself.

The club had no footballing identity either. Ally McCoist’s long ball tactics and refusal to promote youth players had consigned our modern training facility to a state of redundancy as the conveyor belt of talent lay dormant with no direction or pathway into the first-team.

Warburton has gone about addressing every one of these points in an efficient and diligent manner which is what the supporters have come to expect from him in the short space of time he has been here.

Eight players have since come through the door but there have been no panic buys. Some managers may have come in and decided that there had to be an entire clear-out but Warburton took the sensible option of assessing the squad for himself before he made wholesale changes. Goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, defenders Danny Wilson, Rob Kiernan and James Tavernier, midfielders Andy Halliday, Jordan Thompson and Jason Holt along with striker Martyn Waghorn have all been brought in while John Eustace trains with the squad hoping to secure a deal.

All of these players have had up-and-down periods so far in their short careers with most of their CV’s littered with loan moves around the country. Six of them were plying their trade in League One last season which is why some fans were sceptical of Warburton’s recruitment policy, but the vast majority of them showed up really well on their debut which has put to bed some of the initial worries.

But he has been unequivocal in his desire to bring in players who still have years ahead of them to develop. Rangers are no longer in the position where they can spend millions on established internationals, bringing in young, British talent with sell-on value is the only viable option going forward. At a total cost of around seven hundred thousand pounds, the six players he has signed look as if they will go on to represent great value for the club.

Whereas McCoist repeatedly spoke of the need to add ‘experience’, Warburton stresses the need for any signings to ‘add value’ and reiterates the need to keep the core of the squad ‘young and hungry’. This fresh outlook has been exactly what the fans have been crying out for and it was evident on Saturday as the average age of the starting eleven had been reduced to twenty-four compared to twenty-nine in the reverse fixture last year.

He has taken a holistic approach to overhauling the youth department along with the recently appointed Head of Youth Development, Craig Mulholland. Every age group will now play with the exact same system (4-3-3) making the transition for players progressing through the ranks smoother and allowing them to seamlessly slot into the first-team when the time comes.

He has made it abundantly clearly that he has no qualms about putting youngsters in if they are good enough and it seems to have acted as a source of motivation for the Under 20s as they have been flying in pre-season, beating senior outfits such as Tynecastle and Arbroath by comfortable margins.

Warburton’s handling of the media has been superb so far, but the increased spotlight was never likely to trouble a man who turned over hundreds of millions of pounds per day as a city trader was it? However, the animosity shown towards Rangers from the majority of Scottish football is at an all-time high and the reaction to the club’s pursuit of Hibs midfielder Scott Allan typified the sort of response the club have become accustomed to in recent years. Rangers had two bids turned down for Allan last Thursday and Friday which saw a BBC journalist question Warburton over the ‘morality’ of bidding for a player that would be facing his side just a day later – yes, that’s right, how immoral of him to bid for a player during the transfer window!

Don’t get me wrong, the timing of the bids was clearly tactical as Allan informed Hibs that he wanted to join less than twenty-four hours before the match which prompted manager Alan Stubbs to drop him to the bench. But his handling of the situation has been exemplary as he has remained calm and dignified, refusing to speak about another club’s player when he could have easily taken exception to those questioning the ethics of himself and the club. His open and candid media persona presents a great image of the club.

It is the product on the park that is the main focus though and is ultimately what he will be judged upon. It will inevitably take time for his new style of play to bed in and for the newly assembled squad to gel, but in his first two games there have been clear signs that his ideas are speedily getting across to the players.

Being brave on the ball and playing out from the back are two non-negotiables of his philosophy which incorporates a high-energy approach to the game revolving around ‘dominating the ball’ – a phrase we have become familiar with. The full-backs are pushed on very high and the whole team presses as a unit, which, while it can leave us exposed at the back makes for an open game.

The most refreshing aspect of the game was that when we went two goals up he didn’t allow us to drop deeper and deeper and rest on our laurels, instead he brought on Kenny Miller and Dean Shiels who helped further increase the winning margin. I can envisage there being a number of high-scoring games this year where it may be a case of ‘if you score four, we’ll score five’ or if Saturday is anything to go by, ‘if you score two we’ll score six’!

It seems that he has created a real togetherness within the squad and the players have already struck up an affinity with the fans which had been sorely lacking. This was shown as he ordered each and every one of the squad to march over to the travelling supporters to thank them for their support.

It’s the little things that make a huge difference to the overall feel of the club. On day one he held a team meeting where he outlined what was expected of them. Honesty and respect were the traits that seem to have ben stressed as the key principles on which the season will be based upon. He has even given the players the task of producing their own code of conduct which ties in with his preference to give them more responsibility as he is a firm believer that they should give their opinion in tactical meetings.

The quality of the training sessions seem to be the biggest difference that the players have noted. Triple sessions have been a regular feature and all the endurance training has been with a ball compared to the aimless running which they have been used to under Head of Sports Science Jim Henry. He, along with first-team coach Gordon Durie have subsequently left the club as Warburton and Weir say they prefer to do all of the coaching themselves.

Even Warburton’s demeanour on the touchline gives off a more positive vibe. In keeping with tradition he was suited and booted and was animated from the first whistle to the last, barking out instructions. Not satisfied with the four goal margin of victory, he lamented his side’s poor start to the game in his post-match interviews and demanded that they meet the high expectations they have set themselves.

He also showed what a gentleman he is when he made the effort to travel to Ibrox to meet the club’s oldest season ticket holder on his one hundredth birthday to present him with his new season ticket on the pitch.

With Warburton and Weir at the helm, it feels like the club are in safe hands. They have a clear direction in which they are heading in and as the weeks and months roll on I can only see the team going from strength to strength as the players familiarise with themselves with the new set-up. The feel-good factor surrounding the club has given birth to a wave of optimism which was can only be compared to when Dick Advocaat arrived in 1998 and even has some fans talking about potentially winning a domestic trophy which seemed a long way off just a couple of months ago.

In everything he has done so far, he has shown that he possesses the managerial nous and the level of class required to be a Rangers manager. His professionalism and the way he went about things is clearly what endeared him to the Brentford support and it seems that the fans up here have taken to him too as the ‘magic hat’ song has proved a big hit with him.

Good luck to the Bees this season and I’m sure all Rangers fans will be keeping a close eye on how you get on with your new statistical approach to the game. Oh, and if it doesn’t work out with Lewis MacLeod, feel free to send him back up the road! 

Thank you Jordan for this wonderful incisive article and I am sure that all Brentford fans will be delighted to hear that Mark has settled down so quickly in his new home and it sounds as if he is establishing firm foundations at Rangers and replicating many of the systems and philosophies that he implemented at Brentford.

We all wish him and Rangers every success over the coming months and most importantly of all, we would really welcome your suggestions regarding how on earth we can get Lewis MacLeod back onto a football pitch at some time soon?

The Rangers Report can be found at therangersreport.com.

It Was Just A Friendly! – 29/7/15

Going to Kenilworth Road is like travelling back to Dickensian times. A horrid, squalid, filthy stadium half hidden amongst the maze of terraced houses, the decrepit Lego-like DIY hospitality boxes strung erratically all along one side of the ground, the ghastly cramped away end with no leg room and that dark, dank, narrow alley behind the stand where you anxiously watch out for Bill Sikes lurking in the shadows.

Luton is never the friendliest or most welcoming of venues and Brentford contributed to the gloom by subsiding to a disappointing two – one defeat in last night’s friendly match.

In truth, there wasn’t too much wrong with the actual performance with the Bees enjoying plenty of possession, fizzing the ball around comfortably where it didn’t really count, but there was a lack of devil, precision and penetration in the final third and when chances were created they were squandered and busy keeper Elliot Justham brought off a series of acrobatic saves to earn a narrow and hard fought victory for his team.

The goals conceded were sloppy in the extreme. An unopposed simple far post header from a corner by Luke Wilkinson and then, late on, veteran Calvin Zola was allowed to bustle his way, elbows jutting, to the edge of the box and slide a well placed shot into the corner of the net. Poor defending and perhaps a wake up call for a Brentford team which, up to tonight, had been sailing serenely through the preseason with three consecutive clean sheets.

The rump of the squad featured last night but the big guns in Gray, who received a rapturous reception from his former supporters, Judge, Dean, Bidwell, Diagouraga and Jota did not see action until the dying embers of the game and it was a mixed squad which competed for most of the proceedings. Several other likely first teamers such as Button, Kerschbaumer, Odebajo and Vibe were nowhere to be seen.

This game epitomised what preseason matches should be all about, gaining match fitness, shaking out the cobwebs, getting used to playing with new team mates and most importantly, allowing the team management to assess the quality and depth of every member of the squad.

It is generally accepted throughout football, except apparently at Bashley where the manager has already lost his job after some poor preseason performances, that the actual results are of secondary importance.

Nobody likes losing, particularly at lower league opposition but if last night helps us improve our learning curve and some of the weaknesses that were clearly demonstrated are also eradicated before they become costly, then that is fine by me.

I am sure that our complete first team, whatever that is, would have defeated Luton but that would surely have proved little as our new Head Coach needed to see some of the so called lesser lights in action against what turned out to be a more than decent Luton team which played crisp football and pressed and covered like demons. This was a good work out and Dijkhuizen must have been left with much to chew over.

Some of the squad did their prospects no harm but others unfortunately did not fare so well.

Bonham and Smith were relatively untroubled, had no chance with either goal and both looked the part in goal. Yennaris was always involved and overlapped eagerly but he never entirely convinced. I see him as a benchwarmer at best, valuable to have around but unlikely to start. Barbet looked every inch a footballer, calm, composed and powerful with a hint of pace and a real eye for a pass. He looked really at home at left back.

O’Connell played the entire match and did his prospects no harm. He is probably nearer the back of the queue than the front but he looked an exceptional defender in the making with the advantage of being left footed. Tarkowski and Bjelland also each had a decent runout and were under little pressure. Quite who starts at centre half is still an utter mystery to me – a nice problem to have.

Williams is slight with a low centre of gravity but busy and always on the move and looking to bring others into the game. He lacked some sharpness, but this will come. He also came close with a swerving free kick that forced a full length save. I would best describe him as a sleeper, he’s not ready to start for us yet but one day, in the not too far distant future, he could well be.

He was partnered in midfield by Tebar and McCormack, neither of whom really advanced their case for selection. Tebar was peripheral and lightweight and Alan had one of those nights when he lost touch and concentration and gave the ball away far too often.

Dallas was dangerous when fed the ball but was too often starved of possession and Gogia always looked to be positive and forced a great save from the keeper, however he needed some reminding about his defensive responsibilities.

The Hoff scored his first goal for the club, turning in a Gogia cross with such lack of fuss and economy of effort that the two hundred and forty-two Bees fans scattered behind the goal far away in the Stygian gloom at the other end of the pitch barely realised that the ball had gone in. Hofmann was determined and clever on the ball and always shot on sight. He will be a danger, score goals and create chances for others, but he lacks the dynamism and sheer pace and energy of Andre Gray.

Gray terrorised the opposition and we looked far more potent once he came on. Only a brilliant save denied him a goal with his first touch and he miscontrolled with the goal yawning right at the death.

Yes, the result was disappointing, as were some of the individual performances too but the peripheral squad members all got some valuable match practice and the Head Coach is now surely far closer to deciding who will be included in his first choice starting eleven.

Saturday’s team against Norwich will certainly be near to the one that will begin the first game of the season against Ipswich but valuable lessons were learned last night and whilst I hate losing any game this was a mere skirmish – the real battle commences on Saurday week.

Heroes – 28/7/15

feBack in the late 60s and early 70s I used to spend most of my school Summer holidays at Lord’s cricket ground where, like many youngsters of a similar age I spent the day not watching the cricket and glorying in the achievements of the stars of the time in the Middlesex team such as Peter Parfitt, John Murray (an ex-Brentford Junior), Mike Brearley, John Price and Fred Titmus but instead, I remained glued all day to the back door of the Members’ Pavilion in the hope and anticipation of actually meeting the players in the flesh.

An MCC steward, an ex-military type in full commissionaire regalia would guard the pavilion door seemingly with his life and suspiciously look down his nose at us lest one of us should attempt to enter the hallowed and forbidden ground which was the province of lords and gentry rather than a bunch of ragamuffin kids like ourselves. He would establish a cordon sanitaire and we were not allowed to come within a few yards of the entrance in case we obstructed the path of our elders and betters.

Players would come and go throughout the day, some of them would sign our dog-eared autograph books with lordly disdain, others would engage us in a bit of patronising banter and small talk and we would barely manage to stammer our replies so overwhelmed were we that they had actually deigned to speak to us, a few (and one day I shall name and shame them) would ignore us and mercilessly push past the beseeching pack of schoolboys as we clamoured for their signature.

One sweltering hot Summer’s morning Lancashire came to town and we boys salivated at the prospect of obtaining the cherished autographs of the likes of stars such as Clive Lloyd, Jack Simmons and Peter Lever. They drove into the ground in a convoy of vehicles and we surrounded them in the car park in search of their signatures. One of the players was struggling under the weight of his massive cricket coffin and I instantly zeroed in on him. It was the wicketkeeper, Farokh Engineer, an Indian Test player of massive ability, charm and flamboyance. Wicketkeepers always seem to accumulate more equipment than their team mates and he was desperately looking for some help.

I seized my opportunity and without being asked, I grabbed hold of one end of his case and together we manhandled it towards the pavilion door where the jobsworth steward awaited us.

He can’t come in here he roared with relish as he pointed at me scornfully, and to my undying surprise and pride Farokh said he’s with me and I have invited him in. Stunned, the steward stood back and I accompanied Farokh inside the holy of holy’s and together we puffed our way up the stairs to the away dressing room bent double with the weight of his case – now I know where my bad back came from!

I expected to be peremptorily dismissed once we had arrived but instead Farokh sat me down and took the time and trouble to engage me in a long and detailed conversation about myself, my schooling and whether or not I played cricket. He, an established Test player and superstar treated me, a young kid whom he had never met before and would never see again, with interest and as an equal, and I have never forgotten his kindness.

Forty-five years or so on, and I still have the pictures that he autographed: To Greville with Best Wishes from Farokh Engineer and he inspired me to become a wicketkeeper.

You will not be surprised to learn that to this day Farokh Engineer, now a portly man of seventy-seven years, and long since retired, remains an absolute hero to me and always will do.

As I hope you will understand from that convoluted story, given the example he set and how wonderfully Engineer behaved towards me, since that occasion sportsmen do not earn the sobriquet of hero very easily from me and in fact there is only one other sportsman who has ever come up to the mark.

I have been watching Brentford, man and boy, for fifty years now and however much I have liked and admired so many players there is only one who I would actually class as a hero, and he and the others who come very close to earning that accolade all come from the same era – the late 60s and early 70s, a time when I was still young and impressionable and in those more innocent days I still saw some of the Brentford players in an heroic light.

My first couple of years watching the Bees passed by in a blur as the players were largely faceless and indistinguishable to me as I was still earning my spurs as a supporter and was not yet able to identify them as the individuals that they were.

sma_31_allan_mansleyAllan Mansley was the first Brentford player who truly stood out to me initially as much for his looks, as he had the long flowing locks and sinuous gait of a George Best, as for his ability. In an era of plebeian mediocrity when players with real flair and talent were the exception rather than the rule – particularly at Brentford, Ollie Mansley completely broke the mould. He played with passion and effervescent joy, galloped down the left wing with gay abandon and beat his opponents by virtue of a combination of pace, body swerves, dribbling ability, trickery and the precocity of youth.

He had an annus mirabilis in 1968 when he was touched by the Gods and scored goals of every hue – swerving free kicks, rasping volleys, solo runs, clinical angled finishes, even a looping twenty-yard header over a mesmerised Halifax goalkeeper. I followed him with the rapture of a star struck thirteen year old and he could do no wrong in my eyes and I ached to be as talented and handsome as he was.

However like all the best heroes, his fame was glittering but transitory and shortlived as he was irrevocably hobbled by the thuggery of the pantomime villain, Chesterfield’s Keith Kettleborough and never truly recovered his pace and verve and within a year or so he was gone and his career withered on the vine.

Alan Mansley remains a hero to me to this day because he was the first Brentford player who stirred my emotions and made me realise that football was a beautiful art as well as a sport and that there was room for guile and intelligence as well as organisation and brute strength.

The fact that despite his outrageous ability his career never reached the heights that had once looked likely, was truncated through injury and that he also died tragically young, makes him even more of an heroic figure to me, if a more tragic one. I never spoke to him – I never dared to do so, and can only hope that the man himself lived up to the image. Thankfully I am reliably informed by others who knew him that he was indeed a lovely young man and I am glad to hear so.

There were others of that same long past generation who I also revered although not to the same extent that I hero worshipped Allan Mansley. The likes of Chic Brodie, Gordon Phillips, Peter Gelson, Alan Hawley, Alan Nelmes, Jackie Graham, Roger Cross, John O’Mara and Bobby Ross were all talented players who gave the club long, loyal and dedicated service. I admired them all but none moved me as much as Ollie had.

Over the years the club has boasted many more players of massive ability and personality including such personal favourites likeFrancis Joseph and Stan Bowles but as I grew up and the players indeed, became younger than me I knew that the day for heroes had both come and gone and was now long since passed.

As an adult my eyes have been well and truly opened and I see the players for what they are – good honest professionals doing a job generally to the best of their ability, living separate lives off the field and possessing the foibles, weaknesses and shortcomings of all men.

I know that their loyalty to the club that I have supported for nigh on half a century and will do for the rest of my life, will last for the duration of their stay with us and not a jot longer – and nor should we expect anything else. Brentford, in most cases, is simply a staging post in what they hope will be a long, varied and successful career.

70s launchThe nearest I came to feeling any different was when we launched The Big Brentford Book Of The Seventies four years ago and Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I invited some of the most popular players from that decade to a launch event at the club and Alan Hawley, Jackie Graham. Peter Gelson, Paul Bence, Terry Scales, Pat Kruse, Andy McCulloch, John O’Mara and Paul Bence all attended.

They were without exception a delight to be with, reminiscing happily about the club to which they had all devoted so great a proportion of their footballing career. Icons they, and the likes of Kevin O’Connor, most certainly are, but real heroes, in the true sense of the word are rare on the ground and I have only had two sporting heroes and I will be forever grateful to Farokh Engineer and Allan Mansley for providing me with so much joy and inspiration.

More Of The Same – But Even Better – 26/7/15

Results in preseason friendly matches can be notoriously misleading but we saw more than enough from Brentford in their comfortable two-nil victory over Premier League Stoke City to be reassured that the transition from Mark Warburton to Marinus Dijkhuizen’s leadership will be a seamless one and that the season looming ahead is one to look forward to with relish.

Stoke fielded a team packed with first team regulars with international fullback Glen Johnson making his debut, but they were made to look second best in all departments by a rampant Brentford team which included the rump of last season’s team and saw only three of their eight newcomers make the starting eleven.

There were certainly tweaks and improvements to be seen particularly in terms of our set pieces which saw us actually score a goal from a corner, and also in our defensive organisation where we funnelled back in two solid banks of four and denied them space whenever Stoke threatened us. Button made an excellent full length save from Odemwingie’s free kick and Walters lobbed narrowly wide with our heart for once in our mouth as an equaliser looked on the cards, but we otherwise kept them at bay and it was the Bees who created the lion’s share of the chances.

Andre Gray started upfront in an unchanged 4-2-3-1 formation and he led Ryan Shawcross a merry dance, using his upper body strength to brush off the challenge of the far bigger man before forcing an excellent tip over save from Butland, and he never gave the visitors’ defence a moment of rest. He was well supported by Jota whose seemingly languid approach belied his committed and positive display and he was a constant danger to the unfortunate Cameron who was often left trailing in the Spaniard’s wake.

The real surprise came from one of the newcomers. This was our first opportunity to see Andy Gogia, an unheralded signing from the lower reaches of German football who had missed the Boreham Wood match through injury, and we were left boggled and awestruck by his trickery, as were the Stoke defence who could not get anywhere near him. A veritable box of tricks with a constant series of feints and back heels he led them a merry dance, but he was not a show pony, never tried to do too much on his own, and he played with his head up and was always looking to set up one of his team mates. One piece of defensive work when he tracked back and left Johnson standing with a perfectly executed back heel was worth the price of admission on its own. He too forced a desperate save from Butland before scoring the opener soon after the half hour. He drove infield from the left wing with the ball glued to his right foot and his thirty yarder was on target but hit Shawcross on the edge of his penalty area and the ball arched over Butland in an unstoppable parabola into the roof of the net.

Toumani Diagouraga and the second new signing, Konstantin Kerschbaumer dominated the midfield and after a slow start the Austrian grew into the game and looked the perfect all-energy box-to-box midfielder. He was everywhere on the pitch, winning the ball, running with it and invariably finding a Brentford player with his careful selection of passes. Alan Judge was the spark plug, with a license to roam, and he simply got better and better as the game progressed, showing a real vision with his passing and relishing the freedom he was given to create.

The back four were solid and undemonstrative and played the ball around between them in what we now recognise as the Brentford way of doing things. Moses and Jake Bidwell rampaged up and down the field as auxiliary wingers in support of the elusive Jota and Gogia but never neglected their primary defensive responsibilities and Bjelland and Dean were imperious in central defence. Andreas Bjelland bestrode the pitch like a colossus, always a move ahead of his opponent Walters, always there first to snuff out any danger, calm and serene and skilful on the ball. He went off on the half-hour with a slight strain but had done more than enough to convince us that we have massively upgraded our central defensive resources.

Harlee Dean looked a different player, lean, clean-shaven and re-energised, he relished the extra responsibility of being named captain and the penny seemed to have finally dropped and he simply let his game do the talking. Like many others, I fully expected Harlee to have gone through the exit door by now, but perhaps he has finally realised that this is a truly exceptional club to be with and I hope that he remains to fight for his place as on Saturday’s performance it will be hard to leave him out of the team.

Yoann Barbet replaced Bjelland and the young Frenchman wowed the supporters with his strength both in the air and on the ground combined with the unerring ability to find a team mate with his passes. He roared forward on a couple of occasions to support his attack and looked a real danger to the opposition. Barbet is another example of our scouting and analysis department hitting the jackpot and is yet another unknown gem for us to nurture and cherish.

Stoke started the second half on the front foot but we managed to keep them at arm’s length before regaining control. The newly arrived Lasse Vibe was given a run out and looked sharp and fit and twice shot narrowly wide. Others also impressed in their cameo roles. Stuart Dallas had a point to prove given the two new forward arrivals and more than stated his own impressive case for selection. Fast and direct he ran past and through defenders, almost set up Judge for a tap in and then sent a perfect volley screaming into the net after a Judge corner was allowed to bounce in the box and go through a crowd of players congregating at the near post. Dallas is such a clean striker of the ball and adds so much to the team when on the pitch.

Alan McCormack and Nico Yennaris both slotted in as fullbacks late on and it has not gone unnoticed how impressive Yennaris has been in every appearance he has made this preseason. He looks solid and clever on the ball and perhaps he will yet establish himself at the club after looking a near certainty to move on. Jack O’Connell was calm and measured when he came on and the newly arrived Philipp Hofmann gave us something different up front once he replaced Andre Gray. He offered us a focal point and the ball stuck to him as he brought the midfield into play. He also brooked no aggression from the porky looking Charlie Adam who soon backed down when faced by an irate giant German.

Yesterday proved that we have a squad to be reckoned with as well as a plethora of options in every position. The euphoria was slightly tempered by the sad news that Josh McEachran has broken a foot in training and will apparently miss the first three months of action. He will certainly be missed but we have more than enough strength in depth to cope without him in the meantime.

There are still worries that with over five million pounds spent on incoming transfers there might be players leaving to help balance the books. There will also be a number of quality players who will be unable to force their way into the starting eleven. Whether players leave or not will be revealed over the next couple of weeks, but as things stand, the squad has been greatly improved and enhanced both in depth and in quality, the football is as positive and effervescent as ever but there seems also be a massive improvement in our defensive nous, solidity and organisation.

There is still a lot of hard work to be done before the season starts and this was, admittedly, just a preseason friendly and not too much should be read into it, but our future looks bright, our appetite has been whetted, and there is so much for us all to look forward to.

Jonathan Douglas – Will He Stay Or Will He Go – 22/7/15

There have apparently been some unsubstantiated rumours flying around over the last day or so suggesting that Brentford might be prepared to allow midfielder Jonathan Douglas to leave the club and find a new home. As of yet I have neither seen nor heard anything that fully convinces me that there is any truth in this suggestion, but sometimes there is no smoke without fire and it has got me thinking about the player and how much of a role he is likely to have at Griffin Park next season.

Firstly let’s look back at his contribution over the past four years. It can simply be summed up in one word – massive. Uwe Rosler persuaded him to leave Swindon Town, where he had spent a couple of successful seasons, been voted Player of the Year and was an established member of the team, and spearhead his new project at Brentford. Swindon fans reacted to his departure with vitriol and fury, just as they were to do subsequently when Alan McCormack and loanee Alex Pritchard also joined us after spells at the County Ground. We simply cherry picked their best players by convincing them that there was a far better future to be had at Griffin Park and subsequent events have proved us right.

Douglas has played over one hundred and sixty games for us, averaging over forty appearances per season and when fit has been an automatic first choice selection under both Rosler and his successor Mark Warburton. Not bad for a Bosman free transfer. He is perhaps best remembered for his crucial last minute headed goal against Oldham which gave Mark Warburton a winning start in his first match as Brentford manager, took away any uncertainty that might otherwise have crept in, and ensured that our promotion challenge remained on track. In fact it is hard to isolate too many individual stand out moments for Douglas as he rather eschewed the spectacular for the massively reliable and consistent.

He was voted Player of the Season by the supporters in his first season at Brentford and also captained the side on many occasions despite his assertion that he did not see himself as a natural leader. He led more by example and became a source of inspiration to his team mates by dint of his swashbuckling and buccaneering performances in midfield which combined non-stop effort and energy, an engine strong enough to cover almost every blade of grass on the pitch, hard tackling, the unerring ability to read the game and snuff out danger as well as an eye for a pass and a goal. He possessed almost every attribute required for a midfield player in today’s game, bar pace, but given that the first yard is said to be in the head, he was rarely left trailing so well did he read the game.

In other words he never accepted second best and was tough on fellow players who fell below his own high standards. He was an alpha male and a powerful presence in the dressing room who was not slow to make his opinions heard and he had strong views that he was quick to express. This trait, I would surmise, did not always make him the most popular player with either management or directors but he was always true to himself and searingly honest.

In his first three seasons at the club he proved that he was amongst the top midfielders in the third tier but doubts remained as to whether he could raise his game and adapt to the challenge and requirements of the Championship. Predominantly a defensive midfielder, did he have the skill on the ball and vision to hold his own against the better players he would be facing at the higher level?

The statistics speak for themselves. In all Jonathan Douglas played four thousand and forty-three minutes last season, more than any other outfield player, and missed only two games, one through suspension, and the other when he was rested to eliminate the risk of a second suspension at a crucial stage of the season. He seemed to be inspired by the challenge and demonstrated a skill on the ball and a subtlety of passing that had previously lain dormant. As soon as Toumani Diagouraga won his place back into the team Douglas knew that he had someone to watch his back and with the defensive gaps filled behind him, he was given the freedom to advance forward with the ball and he became a potent attacking force, scoring a career high tally of eight goals, including four headers, and assisting on four more. It is rare that a player of his age and experience improves and develops new skills but Dougie was the exception that proved the rule.

He made a habit of sneaking late and generally unmarked into opposition penalty areas where he found pockets of space and he should really have notched an unprecedented double figure goal tally given the opportunities that fell his way. His confidence was boosted by a wonderfully taken goal against Crystal Palace in preseason with a perfectly placed curling effort that proved that he was far more than a mere destroyer. He became more flamboyant and ambitious on the ball attempting any number of subtle flicks in and around the opposition penalty area that sometimes came off and created chances for the likes of Gray and Jota. He made no less than forty-six passes per game with an impressive eighty-two percent accuracy rate.

Perhaps his acknowledged value and indeed, indispensability to Mark Warburton proved to be his undoing. He was played too often and for too long as he missed only two league matches and was taken off early only three times all season. He was overworked and at his age this took its toll. It often seemed in the latter part of the season that the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak as he was just that split second too late to spot an opening or make an interception. Douglas celebrated his thirty-third birthday during the season and given his seniority, I believe that he should have been used more sparingly and that over four thousand minutes of action was too much for him. I am not carping or criticising as he had a quite exceptional season and proved that he more than belonged at Championship level. The Middlesbrough playoff matches, however, proved to be an eyeopener as Jonathan gave everything but there was nothing left in the tank and he and Diagouraga were left chasing shadows by the roadrunners Leadbitter and Clayton who combined vision and subtlety on the ball with a level of energy and a dash of ruthlessness that we simply could not match.

They demonstrated quite clearly the gulf between the exceptionally good players that we possess and the real elite at this level and that leads onto where we find ourselves now. It is crucial that we keep improving, raising our standards and enhancing and developing our squad, new players have already arrived with the expectation of more, and stalwarts such as Tony Craig, Sam Saunders and Alan McCormack have sadly began to be left behind and I suspect that Jonathan Douglas is next on the list. Such is the cruel and inexorable way of football.

All would be fine and good if he was able to reconcile himself to the inevitability of the situation and the fact that given the increased competition for places he is no longer likely to be an automatic choice next season and give us perhaps twenty games of top quality performance. Maybe that is what will happen as the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer are vying for his position, however I believe that Jonathan is such a competitive and proud individual that he will find it extremely hard if not impossible to accept not playing every week and if that is indeed the case it might well be in everyone’s best interests for him to be allowed to move on to another club where he can become the fulcrum of the team and play as often as a player of his stature, experience and talent deserves to do.

I am sure that the truth will be revealed over the next week or so and I find myself rather conflicted by the situation. I fully support the desire to upgrade and have real competition in every position and time waits for no man, however I also worry at the prospect of losing good, solid, proven professionals like Douglas, Craig, Saunders and McCormack as you know exactly what you will get from them. They will fight for the cause with skill and passion, give everything and never accept defeat until the final whistle. I can only hope that our new recruits share their work ethic and will to win.

Such is progress but time will tell.

 

Final Cover 020615AHEAD 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:

http://www.brentforddirect.co.uk/product/400/0000-4811

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season-ebook/dp/B00ZPO1OBU/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3&keywords=ahead+of+the+game

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ahead-Game-Brentford-2014-Season/dp/1910515140/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1434732211&sr=1-3

Published 17 June 2015 | 978-1-910515-14-3 | 408 pages | Print and Kindle | £15.99, £8.99

The Season Starts Here – 20/7/15

It was a beautiful lazy and sunny Sunday afternoon in Boreham Wood and even the short walk from the car park was hard work in the blistering heat. The sun beating on my back and the tropical heat made a mockery of the fact that the football season was fast approaching but despite the sweltering conditions there was a spring in my step if not a song in my heart as Brentford’s first preseason friendly in the UK was a milestone that I was certainly not going to miss.

But this was far more than just a mere football match, this was a rite of passage marking the beginning of another nine month’s worth of – who knows what, and also the long awaited opportunity to meet up with lots of old friends and acquaintances, compare suntans, swap tall stories about the happenings of the past couple of months without our regular football fix and look forward with relish and anticipation to what lies ahead of us over the coming season.

Boreham Wood has become a regular fixture on our preseason calendar over the past couple of years and it is always a pleasure to visit this ambitions and friendly club, particularly as their excellent Meadow Park stadium is no more than a relative hop, skip and jump from my North London home.

The afternoon was a pleasant and successful one as Brentford strolled to a comfortable three – nil victory against a Boreham Wood team which, as always, tried to play positive and pleasing football without exhibiting any killer touch. The presence of the willing but limited Ricky Shakes in the home team, a Brentford regular no more than eight years ago, gave further evidence, if it was really needed, of just how far we have come in the intervening period.

Neither David Button nor Jack Bonham were greatly extended in the Brentford goal with Button’s comfortable first half diving save from a long range Montgomery effort the nearest that either of them came to being brought into serious action.

If truth be told Brentford did not create too much themselves, but were far more clinical when their opportunities arrived. Andre Gray was a livewire up front, with his pace and movement far too much for his more cumbersome opponents who were left with twisted blood after his sinuous turns. Gray it was who converted from the spot with a shimmy and half stop to deceive the keeper and then a side foot neatly into the corner after Nunn panicked and upended the striker as he was running harmlessly into a blind alley following his air shot in front of goal – shades of Reading at Griffin Park last season when Pritchard seized upon Gray’s similar aberration to score our second goal.

Stuart Dallas was a lonely and peripheral figure largely starved of possession on the left wing, but he showed just how lethal he could be when he emerged with assists for the other two goals. First he passed inside, Douglas dummied cleverly, thus creating some space for Jota who needed no second invitation to control the ball and send it searing unerringly into the top corner of the net with a twenty-five yard thunderbolt with, naturally, his left foot. James Russell was left clutching thin air and the keeper was beaten for a third time on the stroke of halftime when Judge’s long diagonal cross was miscontrolled by the hapless Nunn who will surely today be praying for divine absolution after his two ghastly errors and Dallas passed the ball inside for Gray to poke home without fuss from close range.

That completed the scoring although Gray came close to a hat trick when substitute keeper Preston Edwards just managed to block his sharp angled effort at the near post.

The victory and three goals scored were the icing on the cake, and such a comfortable victory even against second rate opposition will certainly help to boost confidence, but what really mattered and was the subject of close scrutiny from the Brentford masses in attendance was the quality of Brentford’s performance, the formation employed and the players who took part.

After a slow start Brentford gradually captured their rhythm, kept possession well and calmly played the ball around the back four whilst probing for openings. Surprisingly the two left footers Bjelland and Barbet formed the first half central defensive partnership with Bjelland looking completely comfortable on the right hand side whilst Barbet was strong and positive on the left.

It is far too early to make any sort of accurate prediction concerning the makeup of the team for the first league fixture on the eighth of August but in my initial analyses of all the potential permutations I was fully expecting that Bjelland and one of Tarkowski or Dean would probably get the nod in central defence against Ipswich next month, but yesterday changed my thinking as it was plainly evident that Bjelland and Barbet could also play together given that Bjelland was more than happy to use his right foot.

Yennaris and Bidwell were efficient if largely untroubled at fullback. Diagouraga sat in front of the back four allowing Douglas to move forward and they dovetailed well and used the ball effectively. Jota and Dallas hugged the touchline, with Jota encouragingly showing as much energy in defence as he did in the opposition half of the field and Judge was given a free role acting as the playmaker feeding the bullets for Gray.

Practically an entirely new team took the field for the second half and the new back four of Odubajo, the freshly clean shaven Dean, O’Connell and McCormack was barely tested with Moses offering us a welcome attacking outlet when he overlapped menacingly.

Diagouraga and McEachran played as a screen in front of the defenders and Josh still looked a pace behind the others but gradually grew into the game. Jota and the lively Courtney Senior played out wide with Kerschbaumer operating from box to box and Gray up front. The Austrian looked an excellent addition to the squad with his nonstop running and energy as well as a good touch on the ball.

The fun started with twenty minutes to go when the three players remaining from the first half, Diagouraga, Jota and Gray wearily left the field after a job well done. Tarkowski went into an unfamiliar holding midfield role and Aaron Greene replaced Jota but the referee refused to allow the already substituted Yennaris to return to the field and Brentford were forced to play out the match with ten men, gaining experience for a situation that hopefully they will rarely find themselves in throughout the course of the forthcoming season.

The Bees took up a 4-2-3-0 formation, which, with the pacy Greene valiantly attempting to fill two gaps and play right wing and centre forward simultaneously, looked strangely symbolic and symptomatic of our current struggle to fill the striker role adequately. With the recent sale of Will Grigg to Wigan, a decision with which I totally concur, Andre Gray is pretty much the only striker left at the club barring a few promising youngsters who are not yet considered to be in the first team reckoning.

It is far too early to start panicking as I am sure that there is frenetic activity going on behind the scenes to fill the gap but I am also well aware of how hard it is to acquire strikers of the requisite standard at a realistic and reasonable cost. Brentford also play with only one genuine striker which is a difficult role to master, so it is essential that the correct decision is made about who we eventually bring in, both as potential first choice and as cover.

Even more worrying have been the rumours which refuse to go away regarding the possibility of Gray leaving for pastures anew. Who knows if it is necessary for us to sell any of our prize assets in order to keep within the draconian requirements of Financial Fair Play and, if that is, indeed, the case, we will only sell from a position of strength and ensure that our valuations of players are met before they leave the club, and anyone leaving will also be replaced. The potential loss of Gray, in particular would create a massive problem given the lack of an obvious replacement. At this point last season we had already acquired Gray and Scott Hogan and we eventually found our third striker, Nick Proschwitz, immediately before the first game of the season.

Football supporters are never happier than when they have something to worry and moan about so I make no apologies for focusing on a potential problem as well as highlighting the many positives that came out of yesterday’s match.

Football is back and all is well with the world!