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.
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