There were quite a few comments from my fellow Bees supporters about my last article which set out all the myriad of questions that I still feel need answering after Brentford’s rickety start to the season. I urged patience and for everybody to allow the squad time to gel on the pitch given the large number of additions and subtractions to the squad and also for the massive and fundamental root and branch changes made off the pitch to ideally start to take beneficial effect.
Dave Washer agreed with this approach but still bemoaned the upheaval that has taken place in recent months:
Another excellent article, as always. When the view of other Brentford fans is either one of complete and utter apathy or a kind of ‘support the team at all costs otherwise you’re not a real fan’ attitude, your insightful writing serves as a refreshing (and honest) alternative.
I too was at the Reading game and I, like many, thought we were abysmal. Uncomfortable on the ball, lacking ideas, very little going forward and, most worrying of all, absolutely clueless at the back. When Reading scored their third right at the death, I somewhat rakishly said, at the top of my voice, ‘statistically speaking, we’re losing 3-1’. A fellow Bees fan close to me in the Ealing Road stand took exception to this and things became a bit heated. But are we not allowed to express discontentment when we play as badly as that? According to some people, no. Which is frustrating. Because on Saturday we were bad. Very bad indeed.
The worst thing is the comparison with last season: assured, measured, confident, totally comfortable in possession. Brilliant going forwards, solid (more often than not) in defence. I still wake up in a cold sweat when I think about Benham’s (misguided) decision to let Warburton go. In hindsight, could he not have put his Moneyball plans on hold, signed Warbs up for two or three more years and gone again this season with the existing (and very successful) management structure in place?
But that’s all hypothetical. We are where we are and we have to deal with it. All the main points have been made, so I don’t have to go over them again. Suffice to say, the club were massively naïve when it came to players wanting to depart. Warburton was a leader, and a great one at that. Once the club decided he was out, it was inevitable that many of his team would want out too. And so we are left with a load of new players, none of whom have Championship experience, all of whom need time to adjust to the rigorous demands of one of the most competitive leagues in European football. Trouble is, it’s time we don’t have.
Bringing in Djuricin and Canos looks like a great (and desperately needed) move; but to me it seems like papering over some pretty enormous cracks. The defence is terrible, central midfield is awful, and we need at least one new explosive winger.
The big question for me is centred on Dijkhuizen. Yes, he’s been dealt a terrible hand, but disregarding that, is he up to the task? Of course he needs time to prove himself, but I have an awful feeling he simply isn’t the right man for the job. Yes, he’s lost Odubajo, Dallas, Pritchard, Jota, Bjelland, McEachran and Gray, but is he able to galvanize the players and get them scrapping? From what I’ve seen, the answer is no.
Of course, we have to give him another 10 or 15 games to work with the players and prove he’s up to it. Then and only then can we judge him. But injuries and departures aside, I fear he lacks the necessary qualities (leadership, passion, knowledge of English football and the capability to rouse the squad into fighting for every single ball and every single point) to keep us up… let alone get us pushing for the playoffs.
The Championship is a formidable league and last season we had a manager who was beyond exceptional. This season we have a guy with limited experience and a squad that literally doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. If it were up to me, I’d give Dijkhuizen twenty games. If we stabilize, great. If we are fighting a relegation battle (or worse, are by that point ‘doing a Blackpool’ – i.e. cut adrift by ten points or more), I would seriously consider putting Lee Carsley in charge, with support from Kevin O’Connor. Two passionate English pros who might just be able to get the players to fight as hard as they’ll need to to survive this season.
Final thought: last season, brilliant as he was, many of us said that Warburton didn’t have a Plan B. This season, Dijkhuizen hasn’t even got a Plan A.
I agree with much of what he said however I think that Dave is being extremely harsh about Marinus Dijkhuizen who, whilst still an unknown quantity, has certainly been thrown in at the deep end and already suffered several serious and unexpected body blows. It is far, far too early, in my opinion, to make any judgement at all about his qualities and capabilities and whether he is able to cobble together and create a cohesive and effective team out of the squad that he has been given.
For me the next couple of weeks are crucial as he finally has some uninterrupted time on the training ground to work with his new squad, with the exception of Vibe who is on international duty, and can hopefully integrate the new additions, of whom more shortly, and have the breathing space to decide how he wants to play, what formation best suits the players now available to him and who is in his first choice eleven given all the departures and injuries. He desperately needs our support during this tough settling in time, not brickbats.
Mike Rice had also given a lot of thought to the current situation and the problems we face:
Mark Warburton’s departure was a massive loss to the Club not least in that he had ideas and skills derived from outside of football. Len Shackleton may have been right – and right about the current Brentford board as well – but it’s not the board that have caused this mess. It’s down to the owner and his clear-sighted view of what needed to be done to secure the club’s long-term sustainability. I use the word long-term deliberately because in the long-term he’s right. But it’s in the short-term that we have the problem, and possibly the medium-term as well if the whole project goes pear-shaped, which on Saturday seemed highly likely.
As things stand, I think too many steps have been taken too quickly. Maybe some were out of our hands, like the long-term injuries. But others have been taken by the owner. We have gone from one director of football to two, an unusual step in itself. One of them has no direct experience of football and the other leads another club, in another country, as chairman, with all that involves. That strikes me as taking novelty to ridiculous lengths. An accumulated risk, to use an appropriate metaphor, when a win-double may have been more appropriate (I know nothing about gambling).
Why not twin the statistician with somebody steeped in the English leagues and football academies, or at least a grassroots football person with good club contacts? As if intoxicated by the novelty, we’ve then taken it further by appointing a foreign coach with no experience of the Championship, and apparently little influence on how the other two are thinking and operating. That may not be the case, but as somebody said above, having taken such radical steps isn’t it incumbent on the Club’s well-staffed PR machine to discuss and explain to fans the reasons behind such radical thinking and how it is intended to work?
The answers to all of the questions will become much clearer in time. It’s far too early to say whether all or some of the gambles will pay off. I agree with the long-term strategy, but I have a horrible feeling that the execution in the short-term may damage the club’s medium-term plans and perhaps cause the strategy to be abandoned altogether.
I said in an earlier comment that we are ill-equipped for a relegation battle and I think Saturday showed why. I desperately want the strategy to work, but I don’t think that at moment it’s being given a fair chance. I really want to be able to eat my words come Christmas.
Mike has eloquently expressed all the fears that many of us are experiencing at the moment and the next few weeks will be crucial and illuminating and go a long way towards determining how the season will eventually pan out.
The Transfer Window shut last night and high praise must be given where it is due, as it would seem that our recruitment and analysis department came up trumps as three new top quality players arrived who, all being well, will massively strengthen the squad and fill gaps that were previously of concern to us all.
Austrian international striker Marco Djuricin arrived on loan from Red Bull Salzburg. Yes, we have signed a young, current international striker, what is there not to like about that? He is initially here on a season-long loan deal and I suspect that we will have a chance of making the deal permanent at the end of the season if things turn out well. Marco was close to joining the Bees in January after scoring for fun at SK Sturm Graz but instead signed for Red Bull. So what can we expect from him? Ideally goals, and plenty of them, but it would seem that he is quick, an excellent predatory finisher, plays on the shoulder of the last defender and is not afraid of hard work.
Most importantly, we now have some options in attack with three strikers who all bring different and ideally complementary skills to the team. Philipp Hoffmann is tall and strong and holds the ball up and Lasse Vibe can play wide or just behind the front man. Will we play with one striker or two? That is an interesting conundrum for Marinus to ponder over before our next match.
Brentford also demonstrated that the current regime retains the crucial ability to prise priceless nuggets and jewels from the grasp of the Premier League when eighteen year old Spanish youth international attacker Sergi Canos arrived on a half-season loan from Liverpool. A highly sought after product of Barcelona’s youth academy, he can play either wide or through the middle and given his age, size and lack of experience, I would expect that he will play, initially at least, on the wing and hopefully inject us with some much-needed pace and guile.
We need to manage our expectations about him as he will need careful nursing, and we should not expect any miracles. Hopefully he will be given far more opportunity to bed in and impress than our last loanee from Liverpool, Joao Carlos Teixeira, who despite his obvious talent, was ignored and left to wither on the vine by Uwe Rosler. Maybe in time he might be able to fill the playmaker role that we so desperately lack, but that is a massive ask of such a young player.
Brentford also beat the deadline with the rare and welcome signing of a homegrown player in Shrewsbury Town’s much vaunted midfield player Ryan Woods for an undisclosed fee. The twenty-one year old has impressed over the last couple of seasons, particularly since he moved into midfield from his initial right back berth. He looked calm, composed and comfortable on the ball when we beat Shrewsbury a couple of years ago but it has to be admitted that he was partially culpable for the winning goal when he was left for dead by Kadeem Harris’s step-over and instant acceleration and Marcello Trotta scored from the resulting cross. Ryan enjoyed a wonderful season in 2014/15 when he inspired his team to promotion, was named as one of the best ten young players in the Football League by FourFourTwo magazine, earned a place in the League Two PFA Team of the Season and finished second in the voting for the League Two Player of the Season.
He has been compared in both looks and style to the late, great Alan Ball, uses the ball well, tackles and presses like a demon, and he is expected to slot into the role of holding midfield player which we have struggled to fill so far this season. Ideally this will then allow Toumani Diagouraga the freedom to roam forward as he did so successfully last season, secure in the knowledge that his back has been covered as he ventures upfield.
There was more good news last night when the club announced that the unfortunate and luckless Scott Hogan has been offered and signed a new contract, extending his stay at Griffin Park for a further year until the end of the 2017/18 season. Ideally this will allow him sufficient time to recover fully from his second knee operation and return to contention for the first team. This decision was both generous and honourable and has certainly shown the club in an excellent light. Similar action was taken in previous decades when both Brian Statham and Danny Boxall, both recovering from long term injuries, received the same treatment from the club.
So a good day for the club and one which will ideally help us on the long road to recovery, revitalise us and restore our fortunes and buy us some breathing space as everybody associated with Brentford tries to get things back on an even keel so that we can all face the challenges of the season, stronger, better prepared and in a much calmer state of mind.