The fans’ message boards and social media have both been red hot over the last couple of days and filled with vituperative comments concerning the potential imminent sales of up to three of Brentford’s star players, Moses Odubajo, Andre Gray and Stuart Dallas. I wanted to wait and see whether any of them played in the final friendly match against Norwich City on Saturday afternoon before providing my viewpoint on the situation, and given that only Andre took part then that perhaps provides further evidence that a couple of deals might well be in the offing.
Everything in the garden was looking rosy for Brentford just a few short days ago with eight high quality new players coming in to provide additional options and jockey for position and the remainder of the squad had remained intact with the exception of Tony Craig rejoining Millwall and the understandable decision to allow Jonathan Douglas to leave.
Now, seemingly in the twinkling of an eye, things have changed dramatically and the general feeling of confidence has swiftly evaporated and many supporters are feeling concerned, unsettled and uncertain about what might be about to happen and how that will affect the strength of our squad and our prospects for the new season.
Let’s look in some detail at the situation regarding each of the three players who are rumoured to be on the move so that we can see why they might possibly be considering a transfer away from Griffin Park and how, indeed, the club should respond.
Many eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Brentford had managed to sign winger Moses Odubajo a year ago for what was the first ever seven-figure fee paid by the club. Spurs were just one of several Premier League clubs rumoured to be sniffing around the highly rated youngster and it was a surprise that he chose us rather than other potentially more attractive options.
Whilst the Bees had won promotion to the Championship, it could be argued that for a large proportion of the 2013/14 season Leyton Orient had looked the more likely club to go up and that joining Brentford was really not such a massive move given the other interest in him from bigger fish.
Of course he bought into the project at Griffin Park as he could clearly see the potential of the squad that Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton were building at Brentford. Perhaps he saw the move as a stepping stone and a way of putting himself into the shop window whilst proving himself at Championship level.
Whatever transpired in the negotiations between Odubajo’s agent, Hootan Ahmadi of CSM, and Brentford, we now learn that a buyout clause of three and a half million pounds was incorporated into his contract. There is much criticism about the club allowing such a clause to be included but this is arrant nonsense! It was simply an agent doing his job for his client and I well suspect that this was the only way that we could persuade Moses to join the club, as from his point of view, it protected his upside should he perform to his true potential. From Brentford’s perspective it might well have seen a long shot at the time despite his obvious talent and potential, that Moses’s stock would improve by such a massive margin in so short a time.
As it happened, everything that Moses touched last season turned to gold. He started well as a winger but he really flourished when he was replaced Alan McCormack at right back after Macca’s unfortunate injury at Bolton. Moses never looked back, became almost two players in one as an overlapping, attacking fullback and combined brilliantly with Jota. It is not an exaggeration to say that he looked like a future England international in the making and he also impressed when playing for the England Under 20 team this summer.
Given the circumstances, and I am sure that Mr.Ahmadi made it his business to ensure that the buy out figure became widely known within the game, it is hardly a shock that Hull City have agreed to meet the terms of the clause, indeed what is more surprising to me is that bigger fish than Hull haven’t done the same, as the fee now looks an absolute steal. Release clauses have become increasingly popular in the game and you only need to look at the example of current international Fabian Delph who recently left Aston Villa for a measly eight million pounds when Manchester City exercised a similar clause. Like the situation at Brentford, Aston Villa were forced to accept such a clause if they were to persuade the player to extend his contract.
Moses has now publicly made it perfectly clear that he wants to further his career by leaving the club and if that is the case and he has rejected any approaches from Brentford to perhaps sweeten his contract and stay for another year, then there is really absolutely nothing that we can do about it.
Just over a year ago Moses’s agent described Brentford as a Premiership club in the Championship. It is just a shame that he seems to have changed his opinion so quickly and feels that his client can now do better for himself – such is the way of football!
From Brentford’s point of view the best possible outcome if the player has irrevocably decided to leave is for Moses to go as soon as possible so that we can get on with deciding upon his successor, whether it be a new signing or one of Nico Yennaris and Alan McCormack who are vying for his position from within the club. That being said Moses in my view has easily been our best player, our X Factor, and the one who might well be the most difficult for us to replace.
From Moses’s perspective it would be good if a Premier League club also decided to swoop for him, although I feel that he would benefit from another year spent learning his trade in the Championship.
There is still some confusion as to the contents of the release clause. Is three and a half million pounds merely the opening gambit and the starting point to be allowed to talk terms with the player, in which case perhaps Brentford can encourage an auction and get the price raised significantly closer to his real value? Or is it the final agreed sum at which he will be allowed to leave the club?
Leyton Orient will also be due a fairly heavy slice of the profit we have made and the other query I would have about the deal is whether we can insert a sell-on clause into any transfer deal or whether it will be the initial fee and nothing more? Another possibility, although surely a slim one is to sell him to a Premier League club and then loan him back.
Looking at the bright side, whilst it is now plainly obvious that Moses is already worth a lot more than the buyout figure and will likely be transferred for a massive sum in the future, we will have more than tripled our investment in him and realised what will be easily be a club record fee.
At the moment we are still a selling club which looks to use our analytical expertise and proprietary player statistics to uncover and then bring in emerging young talent and unhewn nuggets from either the lower divisions or abroad, develop them into the finished article, or as close to it as we can do, and then sell them on at a massive profit.
We have already done this with the likes of Simon Moore and Adam Forshaw who arrived for nothing and left for huge transfer fees. Despite the continued investment from Matthew Benham, without which we would be playing the likes of Forest Green Rovers rather than Ipswich Town next weekend, we have to be realistic and there is no other option given our own particular circumstances.
We play in the smallest stadium in the division and our average attendance of ten thousand eight hundred and twenty-two last season was higher than only two other teams in the Championship. Our commercial income streams are therefore restricted given the lack of suitable facilities at Griffin Park and we have never had the benefit of the massive parachute payments lavished on clubs relegated from the Premier League. No wonder we are competing with one hand tied behind our back!
A lot of our supporters have been openly sneering at the prospect of Moses and maybe also Andre Gray joining Hull City and suggesting, rightly or wrongly that we are on an upward curve whereas they are in decline and are maybe another Wigan Athletic in the making given their recent relegation and the current uncertainty over their ownership. Hopefully, when Lionel Road comes on stream we might well become a so-called bigger club than them, but at the moment it is fanciful in the extreme if not utter nonsense to suggest that that is the case.
Just look at the facts; Hull City have spent four of the past seven seasons in the Premier League and benefited accordingly. In 2012/13, in the Championship, the club’s accounts state that they received just over two million pounds from Football League TV and other league income. The following season, after promotion to the Premier League, that sum immediately increased more than thirty-fold, to over sixty-eight million pounds, an increase of over sixty-six million pounds as a result of being promoted.
Last season they had to make do with a mere sixty-six million pounds and their disappointment at being relegated will be partially allayed by an initial parachute payment of twenty-four million pounds. In fact they will receive a massive sixty-four million pounds split over four years – the aforementioned twenty-four million pounds this season, then nineteen million three hundred thousand pounds in 2016 followed by nine million six hundred thousand pounds for each of the next two years.
What a ridiculous reward for failure and you can see how uneven the playing field is in the Championship. Looking at these figures perhaps makes it clear just how incredible Brentford’s achievement was in managing to finish fifth last season whilst overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. We spent our limited resources far better and far smarter than pretty much every other rival Championship team but we have to keep doing the same every year if we are to even maintain our position let alone continue our progress to an even higher strata.
It is therefore fanciful in the extreme to suggest that we can outbid clubs such as Hull City who have had recent Premier League experience – we are dwarfed by their resources, also bearing in mind that their average attendance last season was well over double the figure we achieved, twenty-three thousand five hundred and fifty-seven, filling ninety-two percent of their stadium capacity.
No wonder a player’s head can be turned. I am not for one moment suggesting that this is the case with any of the Brentford trio we are discussing, but very often impressionable young footballers are egged on by unscrupulous agents who benefit financially, often by massive sums, by encouraging their client to move. Leaving aside any footballing reasons, and I honestly believe that a strong argument can be made for choosing Brentford over Hull City in that regard, it is quite another case when you come to consider wages as Moses and Andre can expect to cash in significantly should they decide to move as Brentford cannot get anywhere near matching what they might be offered elsewhere.
I have already mentioned Simon Moore and Adam Forshaw, two other high profile departures from Griffin Park in the recent past. They joined the likes of Harry Forrester and Clayton Donaldson in deciding to move on. Financially I am sure that they have all benefited significantly, although they might perhaps rue missing out on the more than generous bonuses paid out for reaching the playoffs at the end of last season.
In footballing terms they have all had mixed fortunes. Simon Moore’s career has disappeared into a black hole and he has gone backwards owing to a lack of opportunity. At he moment he reminds me of Paul Smith, so promising a young keeper whose career was stymied after he left the club and who never went on to fulfil his massive potential. First choice Cardiff keeper, David Marshall, is apparently, on the verge of joining West Bromwich Albion so perhaps Simon’s time has finally come – I certainly hope so, but so far his move has been a disaster.
Harry Forrester is also treading water at Doncaster and must surely regret his terrible decision to leave Brentford. The jury is still out on Adam Forshaw. Will he become a first team regular at Middlesbrough next season and become the player he promised to do whilst at Brentford? Clayton Donaldson, in truth, had an exceptional season at Birmingham and has earned a contract extension until 2018, so he can perhaps justify his move, although those missed bonus payments might have come in handy too!
It is clear from these examples that leaving Brentford, its exceptional coaching and support staff and an environment that is positive, supportive and nurturing is not necessarily a good thing and that there is no guarantee of success for players, however talented, who choose to follow this route.
The situation with Andre Gray is totally different as this time, unlike with Moses, the club holds the aces. Of course he is in demand, he is a young player of immense talent and potential who has proved that he can score the best part of twenty goals in the tough environment of the Championship. What is there not to like about him? He is quick, strong, can score goals of all shapes and sizes and has responded well to the help and support he has received at the club. He can only get even better and frankly, I am surprised that Hull City are the only club that has been linked with him in a serious way as I would have expected that many other teams would have been trying to extract him from our clutches.
I have heard no whispers of unhappiness behind the scenes or any agitating for a move on the part of his agent and he has two more seasons left on his contract so for another year at least, Brentford can control his destiny. In that case the situation is totally clear, for all the reasons given earlier, Brentford currently remain a selling club, but as they demonstrated with Adam Forshaw, we will only allow him to leave on our terms and at a price that we feel is acceptable as we are under no immediate pressure to sell him.
Of course we have no desire to lose our best, and only proven striker at this juncture but if a club overwhelms us with its offer then he, like every other player will have his price. The asking price is unknown but is rumoured on social media to be in the region of around seven million pounds plus significant add ons related to appearances and achievement. This would represent our receiving over ten times what we paid for him just over a year ago.
This is an eyewatering sum and should Hull City, or indeed any other club match it, then I am sure that he would be on his way. Such a figure would also solve any potential problems with Financial Fair Play in a stroke and the fact that we would even contemplate selling Gray in my opinion demonstrates a massive confidence in our ability to unearth another gem to replace him.
Personally I hope that he stays with us and increases his value even more by scoring the goals that enable us to reach the heights of the Premier League. His form this preseason has been awesome and he has looked sharp and already scored four times including a brilliantly taken effort at Norwich yesterday. I expect Andre to have a great season and score over twenty goals – for Brentford and not another club!
Stuart Dallas is also rumoured to be on the verge of joining his former manager Uwe Rosler at the madhouse that is Leeds United. A fee of almost one hundred times the fifteen thousand pounds we paid for him to Crusaders has been discussed and apparently agreed and in this case I can see the virtue of him moving on.
Stuart is now an established international footballer with Northern Ireland but, at twenty-four years of age, his place is still not guaranteed at his club. He scored eight times last season including that incredible double at Fulham and improved us whenever he came onto the pitch with his pace, power, directness and shoot-on-sight policy. He played in thirty-eight of the forty-six Championship games but only started twenty-three of them. That is surely not enough for a player of his quality, age and experience and maybe he feels that with the recent arrival of both Gogia and Vibe his chances of starting every week have been further diminished. He is quite good enough to be a first team regular but his pathway has been blocked at Griffin Park and perhaps he feels that it is time for him to move on.
Whether the new Head Coach is right to prefer others is a matter of opinion and the success of that decision will be revealed over the coming months. Managers and coaches are paid to make such judgements and it is also conceivable that players also decide that they would rather play somewhere else in a different environment and in this instance I can quite understand why Stuart might perhaps prefer to seek a fresh opportunity elsewhere. Rosler certainly knows the player and his capabilities although it is perhaps slightly perplexing that Dallas might be prepared to play for a manager who it is reputed that he did not totally get on with in the past, but perhaps those rumours are unfounded. Maybe Stuart also wants a fresh start where he will be welcomed as an international footballer and go straight into the starting eleven.
We are at a crossroads and it remains to be seen what happens over the coming days and weeks. The fact that three of our players are so desired by other clubs pays a glowing testament to our growing reputation and success in finding and developing players, and larger clubs find it easier to allow us to do the hard work and then attempt to pry our stars from our grasp. If that turns out to be the case then they will have to pay top dollar to do so and whilst I look forward to the day when we are able to refuse any offer for our players I am also pragmatic and realistic, and accept that we will have to wait until we are at Lionel Road before we are in a position to do so.
What is also certain is that we will only keep players who are committed to the club and the cause and that anyone who wants to leave will be allowed to do so – but only when it best suits us and for a price that is deemed acceptable and meets our valuation of him. Moses is a special case because of the release clause and, to a large extent, our hands are tied. Should we lose any of the three aforementioned players then they will be replaced quickly and properly ideally by players who have the potential be even better than the ones who went before them.
Of course it is unsettling but the era of the loyal one club player – the Peter Gelson’s and Alan Hawley’s – has long since gone. We are now in the big time and are perhaps a victim of our own success and we also have to adapt to changing circumstances. I am sure that we will do so and every Brentford supporter will just have to accept things as they are and trust in the club to get things right. Something they do more often than not.
Welcome to the new world of Brentford.