I am writing on behalf of every Brentford supporter to welcome you and Richard O’Kelly to Brentford and to give you a fan’s view of what you will both find there once you both get your feet under the table.
Brentford is a series of contradictions – small but ambitious and punching well above its weight, possessing traditional values but also very ambitious and forward seeking, community focused but also looking to broaden and develop its footprint and fan base.
The club is unrecognisable from what it was a mere few years ago before Matthew Benham took control and is now an exemplar and poster child for innovation, originality and breaking the mould, and also as Phil Giles highlighted in his note yesterday, gambling and taking calculated risks.
On the field we used to play either 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, knocked it up to a big man up front, worked off scraps and we could be pretty agricultural at times. Now things have totally changed and as I am sure you have discovered, we have the highest ball possession percentage in the Championship and under Mark Warburton we developed a patient style of football which concentrated on passing the ball along the back four, keeping possession and patiently probing and searching for gaps before breaking forward quickly and striking with deadly speed and effect. We are small and skilful and at our best can run rings around larger and less mobile opponents.
The system depends upon every player, including (and particularly) the goalkeeper, being comfortable on the ball, taking risks (which sometimes do not come off, with cataclysmic effects), having a five-man midfield in which every player rotates position and takes responsibility and has the ability to find a man quickly and accurately as well as getting forward to support the attack.
The lone forward has a difficult and thankless role as he needs to make selfless runs, hold onto the ball and bring others into the game as they advance to support him and also have the energy and prowess to take his chances in front of goal when they eventually come along.
We rely on a combination of inspiration and perspiration and a team ethos as everyone has to work hard, press and cover and there are no real stars, rather a combination of gifted, young and enthusiastic professionals who are all looking to improve and eventually better themselves.
That leads to another problem as we have become a victim of our own success with players like Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray attracting interest from larger and better funded predators higher up the food chain which has resulted in an influx of new players this season to replace our outgoing heroes.
Many who came from abroad and lacked experience of English conditions and the demands of the Championship are only now beginning to find their feet and have required time to settle in. You will need to find the best blend of homegrown and foreign players if we are to progress.
Hopefully your arrival and influence will also help persuade some of our players who are coming towards the end of their contract, such as Harlee Dean, David Button and Alan Judge, to decide that they can fulfil their ambition at Brentford and agree terms to stay with the club.
The most important thing to say is that we possess a treasure trove of talent in almost all positions and it should be an absolute pleasure for you to work with such a bunch of talented and enthusiastic players who are all eager to learn and improve.
Footballers are also footballers but we do our utmost to avoid signing self-obsessesed or difficult players and prima donnas and you will find a bunch of good pro’s who will work hard for you.
I am sure that you are well aware that we do things differently here and you will find a phalanx of advisers, analysts and support staff at the club – far more than you are used to in your previous job. You will have to face the challenge of how you manage upwards as well as down and create a positive working environment where all these innovative tools are used effectively and help us maintain a competitive advantage.
Similarly you will need to develop a positive and effective working relationship with the owner, Chairman and Co-Directors of Football who will all be determined to support you and ensure that you are working in tandem and towards a common goal.
We play good, attacking, positive football, just as you did at Walsall. Maybe you will want to tinker with things and put your own stamp on the way we set up but I suspect that you will find that there is not too much that needs changing – merely refining.
Perhaps you will tighten us up a bit at the back as we are not the biggest and strongest of teams and sometimes our midfield stands around admiring opponents rather than pressing, covering or getting stuck in. We also find it hard to get bodies in the box to support our lone striker and do not make sufficient goal attempts from within the penalty area.
I believe that you are used to playing with only one man up front so I doubt if you will be looking to change our 4-2-3-1 formation which has served us so well
We have a set piece coach but our scoring record from free kicks and corners is abysmal and given our speed on the break we generally look more dangerous from opposition corners than our own. You might well have your own thoughts on how best to deal with this knotty problem!
The elephant in the room is our recruitment strategy and whilst you might not have the final word on who comes in I am sure that you will make your influence felt as you and Richard O’Kelly will be responsible for getting the most out of the squad you are given and the buck will stop with you, so hopefully you will get the type of players that you want and feel most comfortable with.
Pre-Benham we brought in whoever we could and had a squad packed with journeyman players generally way past their best. Now the emphasis is on young burgeoning talent.
A year ago we had great success with signing players from the lower divisions but the emphasis shifted last Summer to a hotchpotch of fairly unknown foreign players as we sought to make our money go further. As mentioned earlier, the jury is still out on them as they were all thrown into the team far too quickly owing to our injury crisis and generally sank rather than swam.
The signing of Ryan Woods demonstrated a welcome reversion to the policy of finding homegrown nuggets and it will be interesting to see what your preference is given that we are coming closer to the January transfer window.
I do not think that we need many additions at all as we are if anything slightly overloaded in the midfield department once the likes of Jota, Macleod and McEachran return from injury, but you might have a few thoughts about the forward line as we always seem to be struggling to have sufficient strikers at the club and have not yet been able to replace Andre Gray with an affordable player possessing similar assets of pace and power.
We have also been really successful with our loan policy with players such as Alex Pritchard, Chris Long and now John Swift and Sergi Canos sparkling and adding massive value to the squad. We already have a structure in place as well as excellent relationships where it matters but ideally you will also have your own valuable contacts which will help ensure that we will be able to continue our success in this area and get hold of more emerging stars.
There is a root and branch review going on of the Academy and given your background in youth development it will be fascinating to see how you attempt to raise standards in that area and also attempt to integrate our best youngsters into the first team arena. We made a massive error of judgement in throwing four inexperienced youngsters to the wolves when we played them all together in a Capital One Cup disaster against Oxford United and that mistake must not be repeated however it would be wonderful if we could get to a point soon when the eighteen players named in every first team squad always include at least one locally developed young player from the Academy.
Dean, I am sure that you will find many similarities between Walsall and Brentford in terms of the passion and enthusiasm and determination to play positive attacking football but here there is a real sense of ambition, and a determination to question traditional ways of doing things and to invest and progress in a controlled manner, ideally to the Premier League. There is a plethora of talent at the club, both on and off the pitch and I am sure that you will find it a positive, refreshing and also challenging environment in which to work where everything possible will be done to support you and your endeavours.
As for the fans – the majority of us are still in dreamland and are happy just to be in the Championship. We rejoice in the quality of the players that we are privileged to watch out on the pitch and are more than happy with our lot. We simply crave good attacking football combined with passion, enthusiasm and a real rather than contrived or simulated pride in wearing the shirt. We do not tolerate dilettantes or ego maniacs, they are not welcome at Griffin Park.
Yes, you might need to manage a few expectations as some fans have got a bit above themselves and have forgotten from whence we have come and how far we have progressed in so short a time, but if you are able to give us a team of hardworking and skilful players who play attacking football and demonstrate their commitment every week, and engage in regular and open and honest dialogue with the supporters as you did so well and thoughtfully in your Bees Player interview today then we will have very little to complain about and you will receive our full and undivided support.
I will end by wishing you both every good fortune in what I fully expect will turn out to be a magnificent platform and opportunity for you to shine and be the catalyst for further improvement and development at this great club of ours.
Good luck to you both!