Second Time Lucky? – 30/11/15

So The Chosen One is now the Walsall manager Dean Smith as Brentford supporters await agog for confirmation that he will hopefully become the new Head Coach at the club.

Whilst Pep Clotet was apparently the first choice for the job, that deal could not be consummated for a variety of reasons perhaps not unconnected with the current uncertainty at Swansea as well as the total cost of the package required to bring him to Griffin Park.

It is important to say up front that second choice does not mean second best as I understand that the club would be more than delighted if either candidate decided to take up the challenge.

So whilst we wait for the situation to be resolved and I am sure that the cameras tonight at Bolton will be panning the stands in the Macron Stadium in the hope of seeing Smith lurking in the background or skulking in the shadows, I thought that it might be helpful if we examined his career in greater detail and looked at his background and achievements.

Smith is still relatively young in managerial terms at forty-four years of age and had a long and distinguished playing career as a no-nonsense centre half who played well over five hundred Football League games for the likes of Walsall, Hereford, Leyton Orient and Sheffield Wednesday.

He will fit in perfectly with Brentford as he played in four unsuccessful playoff campaigns for Walsall, Hereford and Leyton Orient and fully understands and has experienced the heartache of falling short at the final hurdle!

His best friend would not have described him a cultured defender but he read the game well, was tough and effective and he almost broke the heart of every Brentford fan back in 2004 when he equalised for Sheffield Wednesday in Martin Allen’s Great Escape season seemingly long after James Alexander Gordon had begun to recite the final scores after the referee, George Cain, had lost all sense of time and played on until the home team scored.

After retirement, Smith became Youth Team Coach and Assistant Manager at Leyton Orient and remained there until 2009 when he was named as Head of Youth at Walsall before taking over as manager in January 2011, making him the fourth longest serving manager in the game, behind only Arsène Wenger, Paul Tisdale and our old friend Karl Robinson with an incredible tenure, given the vulnerability of any manager’s position, of four years and three hundred and twenty-nine days.

I am sure that all Brentford fans, desperate for a speedy resolution to the current situation, sincerely hope that he does not make it much beyond that impressive figure!

He is a well qualified and respected coach who possesses his UEFA Pro License and he encourages his teams to play positive, passing and attacking football and to play the ball to feet, as we have learned to our cost in previous meetings between the two clubs.

His time at Walsall has been highly successful given their relative lack of resources, and he took them to Wembley for the first time in their history last season in the final of the Football League Trophy and he has established them in the top half of the table with the promise of a promotion challenge this season as they hover around the top six in League One.

He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the lower divisions and youth football at all levels and has brought through or purchased many young players of exceptional ability such as Will Grigg, Florent Cuvelier, Sam Manton, Romaine Sawyers, Tom Bradshaw and Rico Henry.

Brentford have never found Walsall a pushover in recent years and I well remember a hard-fought draw at The Bescot Stadium in January 2014 when The Saddlers ended our run of eight consecutive victories and could easily have won the game late on.

Mark Warburton’s verdict on the home team that day: It was a tough game and Walsall worked hard and moved the ball well, perfectly sums up the approach of a typical Dean Smith team.

From what I can tell Dean Smith fits the bill as far as Brentford is concerned. He has nearly five years’ worth of managerial experience and has gained a deserved reputation as a excellent coach who more than makes the most of what he is given. He develops and encourages young talent and allows them to flourish within a positive environment and I am told that he is good at man-management.

Smith is a great friend of Martin Ling, so cruelly afflicted by depression in recent years and he has now amended his approach to the job now given the potential risks to his health:

What Martin went through made me realise how important it is to appreciate that there is an outside world, away from football. The support network of your family, friends and staff is integral.

I have always seen myself as a positive person and you come to realise that you are dealing with the natural sensitivities of human beings. That’s why I don’t go into the dressing room after games. It is too emotional a time. I would rather wait, and speak to the players rationally on Monday morning.

Thanks to Mike Calvin and Living On The Volcano for that quote which emphasises just how thoughtful and well-rounded a character is Dean Smith.

It is quite obvious that his team respects and plays for him and he has also done a good job of managing upwards to a tough Chairman in Jeff Bonser who does not attend home matches because of his unpopularity with the Walsall supporters.

Bonser admires Smith and his achievements at the club:

His philosophy is to play good football and, regardless of the results, I think that’s how we play. We’ve stuck to the philosophy and we’re going to continue to stick to it, because it’s bringing us some success.

I can totally see why Brentford want Smith and let us just hope that the feeling is reciprocated. Bonser will probably be a hard nut to crack in terms of compensation and he refused his manager permission to talk to Rotherham when they came calling a few months ago.

Hopefully Smith will want to take up the challenge at Griffin Park and make it obvious to his Chairman that this time he wishes to leave.

Smith was fairly disparaging towards Brentford at the time when we signed his star striker Will Grigg, whom he felt should have joined a bigger club, rather than another League One outfit, however I will take that as a simple case of sour grapes as all is fair in love and war – and football too!

I am sure that nothing is finalised at the present time and that this, just like the Clotet deal, could still go either way. There are no guarantees as there are so many intangibles and potential obstacles that can arise as well as a plethora of different parties involved in any deal including agents and family members.

We also have to keep within our budget and ensure that the entire recruitment package is realistic and affordable.

There will also be the need to decide if he brings any of his staff with him. Bonser might have something to say about that as might Matthew Benham given the continued presence of Paul Williams who would surely expect and fully deserve a coaching role in any new set up. Lee Carsley’s role will also need to be clarified if it is not already decided.

As you can see, there is much to ponder on and a lot that needs to be settled before we can breathe easily. Walsall have a crucial match against local rivals Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night and I am certain that all parties would like to know where they stand before then so I expect a speedy decision one way or the other within the next twenty-four hours.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed!

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