The Clock Is Ticking – 31/1/16

Tick, tick, tick.

Time marches inexorably on, but yet ever so slowly and interminably as all Brentford supporters count off the days, hours, minutes and even seconds until eleven o’clock on Monday evening when the Transfer Window slams shut and then, and only then, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

The wait is both agonising and tortuous as the longer time passes by with no bad news the more the sense of fear and foreboding that something disastrous and horrible is bound to come to bite us up the backside perhaps even at the last possible moment.

Hopefully that is just my natural sense of pessimism talking rather than a real and justifiable concern of the worst happening.

What makes the situation even less tolerable is that we have no real sense or idea of what may be happening behind the scenes and whether behind closed doors the Brentford high command is currently engaged in actively fending off predators determined to prise away our most valuable assets, negotiating the arrival of some fresh blood or even doing very little except simply hoping that the phone doesn’t ring, the fax doesn’t chatter into life and that the broadband goes down.

So now it is time for me to consult my crystal ball and predict what I think is likely to happen between now and Monday evening, and I fully understand that I am sticking my neck out and laying myself open to ridicule should, as is extremely likely, I get things totally and completely wrong.

Let’s first review where we are at the time of writing: we have lost three players and gained two, with Toumani Diagouraga, Jota and Daniel O’Shaughnessy leaving and young defenders Nathan Fox and Emmanuel Onariase both arriving at Griffin Park from Cray Wanderers and West Ham United respectively. Sergi Canos and John Swift have also extended their loans until the end of the season.

Toumani’s departure after six years of solid and committed service came as little surprise, and given that a fee of around half a million pounds was mooted, we have certainly sold at the top of the market and at a time when his transfer value was more than likely to decline over the coming months and years.

The magic and sparkle had left his game and his most recent appearances showed quite clearly that he had lost his touch and even his enthusiasm and that he no longer really merited a place in the team.

He needed a change of scene and a fresh stimulus and challenge and fully deserved the lucrative and extended contract that he was offered by his new club.

Whether or not he will flourish at Leeds and respond to the unique management style of the inimitable Steve Evans is an intriguing question but Brentford should be congratulated at sucking the last ounce of value out of a player whose best days have perhaps gone and then extracting top dollar for him.

Toumani marked his first full appearance for his new club by quite amazingly scoring his first goal for nearly three years in the FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers yesterday so perhaps he will yet have the last laugh.

And no, nobody invaded the pitch to help celebrate his goal.

I watched Jota come on as a second half substitute for Eibar last Sunday with a sense of resignation coupled with sadness that circumstances have forced us to allow him to return to his homeland, at least for the time being.

Who knows if we will ever see the Spanish wizard in a Brentford shirt again, perhaps his family situation will eventually allow him to return to us, but, if not, he leaves us with a plethora of wonderful memories as one of the most gifted players in our recent history and given that he has extended his contract we should eventually at least receive a reasonable fee for him, if not as much as might have been expected if he had moved onto a Premier League team, as had at one time seemed likely.

Daniel O’Shaughnessy simply needs the chance  to play first team football in order that we can find out whether he is good enough to play in the Football League, and I am sure that he will receive his opportunity during his loan spell at our sister club FC Midtjylland whom he has joined for the remainder of the season.

He has recently made his full international debut for Finland so he must possess ability even if he has never yet threatened to break into the Brentford first team since his arrival on a two year contract in 2014.

His move does beg the question about the relative standard of the Championship compared to the Danish Superliga and how someone not considered good enough to play for us can hope to feature for the current Danish champions.

Hopefully we will all get the chance to see how he gets on should he be selected to play against Manchester United in the Europa League next month.

It is possible that there will not be any additional departures from the club before the end of the Transfer Window but I will not feel certain about that until eleven pm tomorrow given that there are still two players who might well be in play.

James Tarkowski in my opinion totally burned his boats by his behaviour when he refused to play against Burnley the other week and despite attempts to rectify the situation and put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound his continued presence at the club still casts a pall over affairs at Griffin Park and polarises opinions amongst supporters.

His recent statement, however carefully crafted, reeked of tergiversation and in my opinion begged more questions than it provided answers and I firmly believe that it would be better for all parties should he leave the club as soon as possible.

Whether that happens now totally depends if anyone comes in with an acceptable offer, which rumours suggest would need to be in excess of three million pounds plus add ons.

Any interested parties are sure to smell weakness and try and take advantage of the situation over the next couple of days however in Matthew Benham they will find an opponent who will simply refuse to blink first or accept anything under the price that he has set.

Michael Keane has not left Burnley so it remains to be seen if they remain in the frame or whether a new club will come to the negotiating table. My money would be on Burnley coming back for another attempt to sign him.

If a move does not come about then we will simply have to get on with things as we cannot allow such a valuable asset to wither away and Tarkowski, having made an apology and provided an explanation of sorts, will doubtless be available for selection should the need arises.

Dean Smith has already made it clear that he will be welcomed back into the fold and the manager was totally correct in doing so, however Tarky has now fallen behind Harlee Dean and Yoann Barbet in the pecking order, has lost match fitness and will simply have to wait for his opportunity to arrive should injury or loss of form strike the current first choices.

Alan Judge, with twelve goals and seven assists has quite simply been the best and most exciting and effective player in the Championship this season and he is a man on a mission and is determined to force his way into the Eire squad for the European Championships in the Summer.

There has quite naturally been serious interest in him, and all Brentford fans, fearing the worst, would have been reassured by press comments yesterday, attributed to the player, confirming that he will remain at the club for the rest of the season.

Judge is a talismanic figure to us all and is our leader, conductor and inspiration on the pitch as most of our positive play and goal threat emanates from him. It is hard to see how we can replace him, particularly in the short term given the additional loss of Jota, and hopefully we will not have to deal with that situation until the end of the season.

And yet… and yet, it would not surprise me in the slightest if one of the myriad clubs seeking promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, or even indeed a club at the lower end of the Premier League does not come in at the last minute and attempt to prise him out our grasp. It seems a real no-brainer as Judge would improve any team whose presence he graces and the fee would be chump change for most of them.

Will we stand fast and resist any potential suitors? Who knows? It all depends upon the sum that we are offered and any figure in excess of five million pounds would merit serious consideration.

As for Judge, despite his acknowledged happiness at the club both on and off the pitch, more money would obviously be welcome as well as the chance to play in a team likely to challenge for honours, but he also has to consider that at Brentford he is guaranteed to start every match and within reason is afforded a free role which entirely suits his game and keeps him in the spotlight, and he might not be so prominent elsewhere.

There is a lot for him to ponder upon and we will simply have to wait and see what happens over the next day or so.

Sam Saunders will also have a decision to make and perhaps the prospect of Tampa Bay is slightly less alluring now that he seems to be back in favour and in and around the starting eleven. Alan McCormack might also have been considering his position but for the niggling injuries that have hindered him recently.

There might also be moves, temporary or permanent or maybe even contracts being cancelled, for the likes of Montell Moore, Josh Clarke, Ryan Williams and Josh Laurent who all appear to be surplus to requirements at Griffin Park.

There are no rumours of interest in any other of our players although I am sure that the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell have their suitors and admirers.

What is more important is that we succeed in persuading them to sign contract extensions as they are the backbone of the team and I am sure that every effort will be made to do so and that ideally neither player will be allowed to enter the last year of their contract next season.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Tarkowski and the fact that Dean Smith appears to be a fan, perhaps there will also be a change of heart regarding Harlee Dean and a way might be found to keep him at the club for next season and beyond?

That is a move which would again polarise the supporters but Harlee appears to have matured both on and off the pitch (the Nottingham Forest nonsense excepted) and could well develop into the right sided centre half that we need.

What is far more intriguing and exciting for all supporters is the prospect of new players arriving, and here I think I need to dampen expectations as I do not anticipate any permanent incomings or transfer fees to be paid unless we lose additional players from the squad.

In those circumstances I would suspect that there are contingency plans in place should either Tarkowski or Judge leave the club before tomorrow evening.

Apart from what I stated above, why do I not expect any other permanent signings given that we have already lost the likes of Toumani and Jota?

Quite simply because the players we want are either not available or will cost prohibitive sums in January, a time when fees are generally inflated and might well be available on Bosman free transfers at the end of the season.

I would hazard a guess that there is also a view in and around the club that whilst the playoffs remain a possibility it would perhaps make better sense to keep our powder dry for the time being and make whatever changes are necessary in the close season.

There is also the omnipresent spectre of Financial Fair Play looming over us. We are now allowed to lose a maximum of thirteen million pounds per season and we remain hamstrung given our lack of income and resources.

Our expenditure needs to be carefully managed and controlled and perhaps it is felt that now is not the best time to go into the transfer market given the likelihood that we will finish in a comfortable position in the league and further consolidate within the Championship with our existing squad.

There could well be some major changes in the Summer as we look carefully at who has adjusted to the demands of the Championship and who has not settled down or has been found wanting.

In addition, given that we will lose Sergi Canos and John Swift, leaving alone what happens to Alan Judge, it is pretty obvious that we will need to bring in some creative midfielders for next season and maybe we will be looking seriously at the likes of Romaine Sawyers as has already been suggested on social media.

There are rumours that high quality targets are already being lined up for the Summer which is encouraging news and that would also give us time and breathing space to replace Alan Judge should he decide to leave the club either now, or as anticipated, in the Summer.

Jamie Paterson, currently at loan at Huddersfield from Nottingham Forest, and a player well known to Dean Smith from his Walsall days has been mooted as a potential arrival and perhaps that might happen either in the close season or even as a loanee next month.

I would expect that a winger will be brought in on loan next month given our lack of options in that area and maybe a defensive midfielder as well, although Josh McEachran will be given every opportunity to settle into the team and we also have the enticing prospect of the long overdue appearance of Lewis Macleod.

Will Scott Hogan also regain sufficient fitness to be given an opportunity to boost our flagging strike force before the end of the season? That would certainly be an exciting prospect although we should not hold out too much hope of it coming to pass or harbour any sense of expectation.

The arrival of the two young central defenders initially for the Development Squad is also very interesting and is evidence that we are looking to strengthen our resources in that area of the pitch and that perhaps we will be looking to sign more youngsters who have not quite made it at a higher level elsewhere in order to boost our talent pool given that we are still waiting for some payback from the expenditure lavished on the Academy, where I am led to believe that the majority of our crown jewels are still a few years away from consideration for the first team squad.

I have not tried to paint a gloomy picture, but have simply attempted to take an objective look at the situation that the club is facing as we go into the last crucial days, hours, minutes and seconds of the Transfer Window and provide my own viewpoint of what might possibly transpire.

I am fully prepared to eat humble pie on Monday evening should I be proved wildly inaccurate in my predictions.

What does everybody else think will happen?

Please let me know!

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A Missed Opportunity – 27/1/16

Let’s just get things into context for a moment.  I am sure that most Brentford supporters left Griffin Park last night frustrated and not a little fed up after Jake Bidwell’s calamitous and most untypical error gifted Leeds United a late and totally unmerited equaliser that cost Brentford two crucial points as we attempt to stay on the coat tails of the playoff chasing pack.

This morning I have had some time to think more carefully and rationally about the events of last night and now my overriding view is quite simply how far we have come as both a team and a football club when we are moaning and gnashing our teeth at our failure to defeat one of the country’s biggest and most established teams – tarnished and faded glory that they undoubtedly are.

I well remember our inferiority complex when we played Leeds in 2009 after a gap of several decades and our sheer incredulity that the minnows of Brentford were allowed to share a pitch with the giants of Elland Road.

Oh, and by the way, times have changed. Leeds have not beaten us on any of the six occasions that we have played them since then and there was only one team trying to play football out there last night.

It was also Groundhog Day as there was a similar sense of frustration earlier in the season when we totally dominated proceedings at Elland Road, squandered chance after chance to score what would undoubtedly have been a match clinching second goal and then succumbed to a late equaliser after an unforced error when Ryan Woods was caught in possession.

Last night saw us play some quality football particularly in the first half when we totally dominated but failed to make our possession count – a failing that came back to haunt us after the break when we put the handbrake on and created very little.

Had we held on, as we should have done, and emerged with a confidence boosting and much needed and long overdue home win, as well as the first clean sheet of the year, then we would today be congratulating the team for a solid, competent and professional performance.

The fact that we were unable to see the game through was certainly galling and provided further proof, if any was needed, that we are still a work in progress and nowhere near the finished article, but there was also much to take pride and pleasure in.

Sam Saunders was a bundle of energy and effervescence and he frolicked around with the enthusiasm of a new born lamb.

He scored a beautifully taken goal when he ran at the heart of the Leeds defence from the halfway line and distracted as they were by the excellent decoy runs of Judge and Vibe, they criminally backed off him and Sam picked his spot perfectly into the corner of the net from the edge of the area before deservedly milking the applause from the Ealing Road faithful.

Sam is rumoured to be on his way shortly to Tampa Bay but given the sheer professionalism and excellence of his performance last night there is surely still a place for him in and around the first team squad at Griffin Park.

Given the current uncertainty over James Tarkowski, Yoann Barbet needed to step up to the plate last night and he more than met expectations, winning all of his aerial challenges, showing strength and pace as well as demonstrating his skill on the ball and ability to pick out a pass.

He is a real find and there is now a refreshing French feel and Gallic flamboyance in our defence with Barbet and Max Colin both looking as if they will be in the team to stay and I prophesy that it will not be too long before they attract serious attention from other interested parties.

There has been some recent criticism, both veiled and overt, regarding the quality of our recruitment since the end of last season so it is also important and only fair to give praise and recognise the achievements of our Directors of Football whenever it is justified, and in Colin, Barbet, as well of course in Ryan Woods, we have struck gold and made potentially exceptional signings.

We might well be talking about another one very shortly if Josh McEachran continues in the same vein as last night.

Toumani Diagouraga, watching for most of the match from the Leeds dugout where he must have recoiled from the nonstop verbal onslaught from his uncouth new managerial team, must surely have appreciated the sheer quality of his likely successor’s performance as Josh combined some welcome and unexpected grit, pressing and tackling with the eerie ability to find time and space in a congested midfield as well as the vision to invariably find a team mate with his pass.

McEachran clearly demonstrated that given full fitness he will become a massive asset for the club and his burgeoning partnership with the bustling Ryan Woods, lightweights that they both are, augers well for the future and will ideally prove that brain overcomes brawn.

John Swift and Alan Judge too often dribbled into blind alleys and their final ball was often lacking, but we never stopped probing for openings and perhaps the key moment came soon after we had scored when Swift found Judge who turned inside his marker, switched the ball onto his left foot and curled his shot inches over the bar with Silvestri helpless.

A second goal then would surely have put the game well beyond Leeds but we rarely threatened after the break and Leeds finally took advantage when the normally reliable Jake Bidwell shanked his clearance when under no real pressure and Carayol took full advantage with a well placed curling shot just out of the reach of the straining David Button.

So a curate’s egg of a performance which reconfirmed many of our strengths and weaknesses.

We do not make the most of our possession and let teams off the hook and I would hate to count up the number of giveaway goals we have gifted the opposition this season.

The formation we play requires our midfield to flood forward far quicker in support of our lone striker and I am afraid to say that in my opinion we need far better up front than the three strikers we currently possess, as none of them have really convinced that they are the solution to the problem.

We are not using Lasse Vibe to the best of his ability and his minimal threat was easily snuffed out last night which meant that the ball rarely stuck in the final third and the pace and bubbly enthusiasm of the injured Sergi Canos was also badly missed.

However the good easily outweighed the bad and we now move on.

Who knows what might happen in the next few days before the end of the Transfer Window?

Will we escape unscathed or suffer further losses and depredations, and if so who might come in to augment our depleted squad?

That though is a reflection for another day.

 

Tarky’s Tale – 26/1/15

James Tarkowski finally broke radio silence yesterday when he issued a personal statement intended to explain his actions last week when he refused to play against Burnley.

Here is what he had to say:

I wanted to share a message with the fans following last week’s events. My plans were to do this sooner but I agreed with the club that it was better to do so once I’d returned to training.

I have always enjoyed giving 100 per cent playing for Brentford and am always proud to wear the shirt.

As a team, and with your support, we’ve had two years of great progress. From the promotion to the Championship through to last season where we reached the Play-Offs, I have so many special memories of this club and of the backing we’ve had from you, the fans.

I have always had a strong bond with my team mates and the fans. I also have a very close relationship with my family who, like you and my team mates, have been thereand supported me throughout my career.

Unfortunately my mum has a serious, incurable illness and her condition has been getting steadily worse. I live a good four hours away from her and during the autumn, it became clear to me that I needed to get closer to home to support both her and my dad.

I was open and up front about this with the Club, who were sympathetic and said they’d work with me and my agent to try to reach a solution which worked well for the Club whilst giving me the possibility to move to closer to my mum.

We decided to keep this matter confidential in the best interests of everyone. I decided not to put in a transfer request as we agreed it would be better to work together on this.

In the run up to the match against Burnley, I felt completely frazzled and unable to concentrate properly. I felt that to play in the match in this frame of mind may actually do more harm than good. I thought that my distraction may result in an error that would let my team mates and the fans down. After much thought and consultation with the gaffer, my family and my team mates, I felt unable to guarantee my usual standard of performance and said as much to the gaffer.

I would like to apologise to my team mates, the gaffer and the fans. I hope that you can understand the pressure I was under and that no offence or insult was intended to anyone associated with the Club. I have taken the sanction given to me by the Club with good grace.

I would also like to thank everyone who has offered me support over the last ten days, and thank the Club for continuing to understand my situation at home.

I am still under contract at Brentford and am committed to giving my best for the Club, the team and the fans, as I always do when wearing the shirt.

James Tarkowski

When I last looked earlier this morning there were already pages and pages of comments on social media endlessly and forensically examining the runes and entrails and taking every single word apart in an attempt to analyse the exact meaning and nuances of what Tarkowski had said and in many cases comparing his situation with that of Jota who was pretty much given compassionate leave recently given his own personal problems.

Please feel free to wade through them all if you have the time, energy, interest and desire to do so and the general tenet of the comments ranges from a continued and unchanged feeling of anger at his original behaviour to a sense of understanding that the seriousness of the situation relating to his Mother’s illness had led him to behave irrationally and unacceptably.

I have no intention of giving an opinion on the matter as quite frankly I don’t really think that it matters one iota or jot what I think. What is more important is where this now leaves us.

Frankly the club is betting each way and covering the bases as nothing has really changed. Tarkowski still wishes to leave the club and Brentford will still only sell him if they are offered an acceptable sum for his transfer. Everything else is pure gloss and window dressing.

It would be to everybody’s advantage if a club does come in for the player before the end of the Transfer Window and offers a sum in excess of three million pounds. Should that be the case then I would fully expect that Tarkowski will be on his way. The key question is whether clubs will now be looking to take advantage of the unedifying situation and offer us well below market rate?

Given what he had to say yesterday it will be particularly interesting to see how he copes with the dilemma should a club south of the Watford Gap attempt to sign him given his stated intention to return to the North of England.

What the statement did, given that it included an apology to all parties, is open the door to the possibility of Tarkowski playing for us again should his move not come to fruition, and that is where the problems arise.

There is absolutely no point in leaving the player in purdah for the remainder of the season, thus further eroding his transfer value and turning him into damaged and shop-soiled goods.

Tarkowski is finished at Brentford, that is quite obvious to me. A parting of the ways is inevitable and it is just a question of whether he leaves in the next week or at the end of the season.

As for his playing for us again should he still be at the club after the Transfer Window shuts, I would hope fervently that the form of Dean, Barbet and O’Connell makes his presence on the pitch unnecessary and superfluous, not because I feel any personal vitriol towards him, but simply because his presence would be turned into a sideshow which would take attention away and distract everybody from the only thing that matters – winning football matches.

The Tarkowski situation and how we should handle it has totally divided and polarised the supporter base and is just one more unsettling episode in what has been a season that in so many ways has resembled a soap opera in terms of some of the off field happenings.

I have no way of knowing what will happen between now and the end of the month however I believe it would be in the best interests of everybody if James Tarkowski, talented player that he undoubtedly is, finds a new home as soon as possible.

Resilience! – 24/1/16

I tried to tell it just as it is in my article yesterday and I stand by every word that I wrote about the problems that we currently face in order to progress, but I also made it totally clear that for Brentford to maintain a top ten place in the Championship is a truly fantastic achievement given the fact that we are competing against far better funded teams pretty much with one hand tied behind our back.

Yesterday was a time for all the talking to stop and for actions to speak louder than words and the Bees stepped up to the plate and turned the form book on its head by ending a run of four consecutive defeats with an exceptional performance leading to a three – one victory at Preston.

Had we lost then the knives would have been out and confidence would have further drained away but a week is a long time in football and we can now forget about the last week or so from hell and concentrate on what lies ahead – firstly a mouthwatering home clash with Leeds United and then the end of the Transfer Window, which cannot close quickly enough for our liking.

There was further scandalous muckraking journalism on the Sky Sports website last night claiming how angry and upset Alan Judge was at our apparent reluctance to offer our star player a new contract commensurate with the eight million pound transfer value we have apparently put on his head. This drivel has surely emanated from an agent desperate to stir up some late interest in his client before the window clangs shut.

I suspect the truth might lie in the fact that Judge’s representative has apparently insisted on a ludicrously low buy out figure being inserted into any new contract offered by the club, thus making it impossible for a new extended deal to be agreed.

This one will run and run until the beginning of February and Judge’s wonderfully taken goal at Preston will obviously make scouts and managers take note of his quite obvious class but I remain hopeful that we will not receive an offer that meets our valuation of him and Alan remains a Bee until the end of the season and that we will enjoy the rare and wondrous sight of a Brentford player competing at Euro 2016 this Summer.

The Bees made four team changes at Preston with Barbet, McEachran, Saunders and Vibe replacing O’Connell, the soon to be departed Diagouraga, Canos and Djuricin, and Lewis Macleod was named in the travelling squad for the first time this season but did not make the final cut.

Brentford controlled long periods of the game and their slick, accurate pass and move style of play made Preston look clumsy and agricultural in comparison. The Bees comfortably out possessed and out passed the home team and scored with all three of their shots on target. Preston managed to outfoul the Bees and also had four players booked to our two.

They also somehow managed to retain a full complement of eleven players for the entire match despite the ghastly Garner and Gallagher giving the referee every opportunity to send them both off but what can you expect when the official is called David Webb?

Our performance was both controlled, disciplined and resilient with Colin the best player on the field and never losing his composure despite receiving a ridiculously soft booking. Barbet too more than justified his promotion and his wonderful long diagonal pass from left to right led to Judge’s instant control and incisive run inside from the wing, leaving his marker trailing behind him in his wake like a constipated camel before he finished clinically for our second goal.

Bidwell had given us the lead with a perfect angled free kick from the edge of the box which took a slight deflection but is surely his goal despite it currently being deemed an own goal, but we squandered our advantage immediately afterwards when a typical neanderthal long up and under was not dealt with by Dean, who had been forced to turn, and the loose ball was eventually poked in by Reach.

We recovered from that self inflicted setback with Woods and the immaculate McEachran seizing control of the midfield, Saunders playing his role as senior pro to perfection and Swift’s energy and trickery on the ball was also far too much for Preston to cope with and they were unable to catch him even to kick him as they chased shadows.

We fully earned our halftime lead which was almost stretched by Woods and Bidwell just before the break but the second half was a far less comfortable affair as we were pushed back and after Doyle and Vibe had both missed early chances at either end of the pitch, Preston took control and for fifteen minutes the home team laid siege to our goal.

Huntington’s header hit the bar, Garner had a goal disallowed for offside and Button made a stupendous save when Garner deflected a Johnson shot and the big keeper somehow changed direction in mid air to turn the ball onto the crossbar for a match winning save that totally beggared belief. His aberration against Middlesbrough is now totally forgotten and firmly put behind him!

Just when a equaliser seemed inevitable, the tide turned and we found our second wind. Kerschbaumer made a valuable contribution with his energy and running after replacing the exhausted McEachran and Canos, the destroyer of Preston at Grifin Park earlier this season, made a similar impact when his immaculate and audacious flick enabled Colin to run through a challenge into space and cross low for Swift to finish Preston off with a clinically taken low shot which also took a helpful deflection and beat the straining goalkeeper.

Brentford fully deserved and had totally earned that slight stroke of good fortune and this was a performance to be proud of as the players simply rolled up their sleeves, worked hard, silenced a vociferous crowd, ignored the intimidation they faced on the pitch as well as a weak and inept referee and played Preston off the park for large portions of the match with some eye catching football.

Suddenly the world seems a far happier place and let’s hope that we can put our recent poor spell of results behind us and that this victory will give us the impetus and confidence to maintain a challenge for the playoffs. And why not? Despite the unavoidable loss of some leading players, yesterday clearly demonstrated that there is still so much talent and ability in the squad and that they are certainly playing for each other and the team.

Colin is a star in the making and Barbet also made a positive impression. Josh McEachran faced a tough task in proving that he is fit, robust and resilient enough to play in the key holding role alongside Ryan Woods, particularly at a tough and unwelcoming bleak Northern outpost and he came through with flying colours. There is also the imminent prospect of Lewis Macleod being given the opportunity to show us what he can do.

There is an old and wise saying that patience is a virtue and yesterday showed that there is so much for us all to be proud about and that those in charge of our club understand far better than us supporters exactly what needs to be done in order to ensure that we maintain our progress and development as an established Championship club. We need to trust them more whilst still retaining the right to question where necessary.

We also have to repeat the mantra that margins are so narrow in this incredibly tight division. We could quite easily have lost at Reading and also picked up points against Birmingham and Middlesbrough. Such is the way of life in the Championship. Yesterday too, for all our dominance turned on one piece of magic from Button.

This was a good day for the club and everybody associated with it and we should all simply enjoy the moment, take a deep breath and look forward to the future with renewed vigour and confidence.

It Is What It Is – 23/1/16

The realities of life are being made quite apparent at the moment to all Brentford fans, and the truth, to be quite honest, is pretty chilling and unpalatable.

Recent events and the possibility of future player departures have only gone to further highlight how much we are punching above our weight in maintaining a comfortable place in the Championship and also just how vulnerable we are.

We treat our players very well, pay them as much as we can afford, offer an extremely generous and lucrative bonus scheme and have created a positive and empowering environment where players receive excellent coaching, are encouraged to express themselves and even take risks and to play an exciting brand of attacking football with nary a long ball in sight.

The truth of the matter is that we are and will remain for the foreseeable future, a stepping stone club where we identify young emerging talent from at home and abroad, mould and develop them, put them in the shop window and on the conveyor belt to riches and success and then inevitably lose them when the bigger fish come calling.

It is annoying and frustrating particularly when pretty much all the players who have left us such as Gray, Douglas, Odubajo, Dallas and now Diagouraga have joined clubs who are currently competing at the same level as the Bees. If players were leaving for the priceless and rare opportunity to play in the Premier League then our supporters would doubtless accept the fact that they are bettering themselves. It is when they join clubs who competitively are on a par with, or only slightly better than us, that we find matters far harder and more difficult to accept.

That is however a totally misleading fact as Burnley, Hull, Ipswich and Leeds are either benefiting from the iniquitous Parachute Payments, are larger, better established clubs with far greater income potential than us or perhaps are not as fiscally responsible as we are. They are all able and willing to offer our best players wages far in excess of what we are able to do and you cannot blame them for chasing the money.

I can only hope for the day when we are in a position to hang onto our best players, send all predators packing and reject any offers no matter how attractive. Unfortunately that will not happen until we finally move to Lionel Road and attract far larger attendances and have the opportunity to earn much more from off field and commercial activities.

The key will be for Brentford to remain in the Championship until we reach that point. That is by no means a given and would be a truly massive achievement given our current size and income levels.

To a degree our whole attitude and indeed, expectations and judgement, have been clouded by the incredible season we enjoyed last season which might well turn out to have been a one-off and a statistical anomaly.

It also did not help to have senior club officials state and assert that we would be looking to build upon the achievements of last season and ideally finish even higher up in the table.

Whilst every football team starts each season aiming to improve and to push for promotion, sometimes you are simply paying lip service to reality. It is no use raising expectations unrealistically and given the forced sales of so many of last season’s stars, the loss of the talismanic Pritchard, the ever increasing injury list and the need to bed in a new manager as well as a host of players with no experience of English conditions, let alone the demands of the Championship, it was surely foolhardy to talk about anything other than consolidation.

Mid table mediocrity, however meritorious, does not sell season tickets though and I feel that our prospects were overhyped and expectations were unreasonably raised. And more fool us for listening!

The club might reasonably point out that departing players have all wanted to leave rather than being pushed out of the door and have invariably been replaced by new arrivals who are cheaper and possess the potential to be even better, and a close examination of the facts does go a long way towards backing up this assertion.

In addition, we did for once refuse a massive offer for Tarkowski late in August, one that far exceeded our own valuation of him, as we perhaps felt that we had sold more than enough players already that month and one more might well be seen as a tipping point.

Perhaps in retrospect the club should have remained true to itself and in fact made a massive error in not going through with the deal as we are now in the midst of an awkward and difficult situation where the player has refused to play for us and we are currently unable to offload him at anywhere near our valuation for him.

I can only imagine that if no club makes a reasonable and acceptable bid for him in the last week of the Transfer Window then Tarkowski will have to be seen to make a suitably contrite if ambiguous apology, perhaps on Bees Player, as I cannot imagine any independent journalist being allowed anywhere near him, and he will then be welcomed back into the fold for the time being before leaving at the end of the season. This will not go down well with many fans and will only serve to divide the supporter base.

I am worried that all the talk is of players leaving and very little is of new arrivals and I am also concerned that there are fundamental flaws in our overall recruitment strategy.

Last season saw a level and quality of recruitment far beyond our wildest dreams and one that made the football world stand up, open its eyes and finally pay attention to us. It also set a standard and benchmark that quite naturally is proving impossible for us to surpass or even match.

I still do not understand how we managed to get deals for the likes of Gray, Pritchard, Odubajo and Hogan over the line as they were the cream of the crop in terms of emerging young British talent and the arrival of Jota represented the stats based foreign recruitment policy at its best.

Not only had no Brentford supporter ever heard of him, I can quite honestly say that from all my research I am totally unaware of his appearing on any other club’s radar either.

Now we are hoist by our own petard. Other clubs watch us closely and we are never again going to have a free run at any worthwhile player.

Given our progress we are also quite naturally looking to bring in better players and perhaps take fewer gambles on unknown and untested foreign players.

Players of the calibre we are seeking will all have lots of other options and that is where our problems start. A Gogia or a Kerschbaumer might bite our hand off at our offer but a George Evans won’t – and didn’t.

Evans signing for Reading was a particular disappointment and indeed, eye opener for us. He ticked all of the boxes – young, elegant, strong, talented, a box to box player who could put his foot in and score goals. He would have been a proper New Brentford signing and likely become a potentially massive upgrade on Toumani Diagouraga, and given that he had played for Dean Smith at Walsall he was surely bound for us when we made our interest known until we were pipped seemingly at the post by Reading.

Perhaps they blew us out of the water with their financial offer to the player or maybe it was the better facilities and infrastructure available and on offer to him at a club that also has recent Premier League experience?  Who knows but not signing him was a real blow and another warning sign.

We are now faced with the task of replacing Diagouraga and unless Kerschbaumer or McEachran step up to the plate, sooner or later we will need to look outside the club. Maybe it is a fanciful suggestion but how about a return to Griffin Park, even on a short term basis, for Tom Adeyemi, a powerful box to box midfielder currently on loan at Leeds from Cardiff City and surely surplus to requirements at both clubs?

Toumani gave us six years of excellent and committed service and last season he reached heights that were beyond everybody’s dreams as, touched by genius as if he had made a Mephistophelian pact with the Devil, and protected by the menacing presence of Jonathan Douglas, he totally dominated the midfield and acted as the perfect linkman for the likes of Judge, Jota, Pritchard and Gray.

This season he has returned to normal after his annus mirabilis and on the one hand it makes sense for Brentford to cash in at the top of the market given that a fee of over half a million pounds has been suggested in the Leeds-based local media (remember also that at one time, not too long ago, it looked as if he might join Coventry City potentially on a free transfer) and from Toumani’s point of view he might well feel that he has not been on as lucrative a contract as some of his team mates and is looking to secure his future with one last big payday.

He goes with our gratitude and best wishes and hopefully he will not hammer the ball into the roof of our net from twenty-five yards when the two teams meet next Tuesday – The Immutable Law of the Ex combined with Sod’s Law might well suggest that he breaks the habit of a lifetime and does so!

I have done some rough calculations on the back of the proverbial fag pack and also taken into account the figures that Paul Briers kindly posted on the Griffin Park Grapevine yesterday and if you take the fees that we have received for the likes of Forshaw, Grigg, Dallas, Gray, Odubajo and now Diagouraga over the past eighteen months then there is the potential for us to receive around seventeen million pounds, less any sell-on payments that we have to make to their former clubs.

Who knows, we might yet receive even more money should either Tarkowski or Judge be sold before the end of the Transfer Window.

Looking in turn at the eighteen players we have brought in: Judge, Gray, Tebar, Odubajo, Williams, Hogan, Jota, Macleod, O’Connell, Gogia, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann, Barbet, Bjelland, Vibe, Colin, Woods and McEachran it is fair to say that we have paid around fourteen million pounds, not taking into account signing on fees, loyalty bonuses and wages. So the lion’s share of monies received for players has in fact been reinvested on new faces. I have also not included Nick Proschwitz but I suspect that his free transfer was not so free after all when his entire remuneration package was taken into account.

How much of it has been wisely invested is a moot point and one that is sure to cause much debate amongst all Brentford fans but the truth is that the club has certainly more than kept its word.

The main problem is to be able to maintain the conveyor belt of promising young and ideally underpriced talent and as I intimated, this will get harder and harder as other clubs get smarter and we run the risk of losing our edge.

So what happens now? Do we need to buy new players this month? Yes and no. Perhaps we should keep our powder dry and wait until the Summer when prices will not be so ridiculous and more of our potential targets will be available? Romaine Sawyers is certainly one that has caught our eye, according to scuttlebutt and rumour, and will then be available on a Bosman free transfer – but after the Evans situation, will he decide to go elsewhere even if we are in for him?

Jota might well be irreplaceable in the short term but we are desperately short of width and pace and I am certain that Gogia will be given the chance to step up to the plate. We are fine for central defenders should Tarkowski leave and perhaps the Harlee Dean situation might even be re-evaluated before his departure becomes irrevocable.

I am not desperately happy with any of our three strikers but up until the turn of the year we had been scoring freely although the goals seem to have dried up lately, and I cannot see us changing things up front in the short term.

Kemar Roofe was the nearest that I have seen to an Alan Judge replacement but I suspect that that ship has sailed given his recent form and enhanced profile and hopefully we will not have to worry about that problem until the end of the season and, in the event that Judge does go this month, I really cannot see how we can replace him at all adequately in the short term.

I do not want signings just for the sake of it and spending money without proper thought and consideration does nothing except jeopardise our position regarding Financial Fair Play.

Given our lack of income we have to ensure that all monies spent are invested wisely and not wasted purely to appease the fans.

I can therefore understand if nobody arrives this month, bar perhaps a young untested loanee, however even looking back at the muddled situation last January we still managed to bring in three promising young players for the future in Josh Laurent, Lewis Macleod and Jack O’Connell.

Leaving aside how they have all fared up until now, I would feel reassured if we managed to bring in a couple of exceptional young prospects next week who would challenge for a first team place next season. This might well be pie in the sky, however.

Results have also been poor so far this year and that simply makes us all feel even more anxious and uneasy.

Hopefully we will get back into the swing of things and put some points on the board over the next four days.

Brentford are in a strange situation and one that needs careful managing if we are not to fall over a precipice either from spending too much, too unwisely or even not enough.

 

Happy Birthday To Bees United – 21/1/16

It is all too easy looking down from our exalted perch in the Championship with the financial future of the club secure under the benign ownership of Matthew Benham and with the new stadium at Lionel Road on the horizon to forget just how far we have come in so very short a time and to realise just how close Brentford FC came to foundering on the rocks.

Cast your mind back a decade or more and remember how we were lurching from crisis to crisis:

  • The best players leaving in droves after owner Ron Noades lost interest
  • An ever mounting debt
  • Running on a shoestring
  • Averting the threat of a move to Woking that would surely have choked the life out of us
  • Watching a series of cheap journeymen and overmatched kids floundering on the pitch
  • Heroic supporters rattling their collecting boxes to help stave off disaster for another week

The club was simply not sustainable and it was death by one thousand cuts – slow, painful but inexorable and in our hearts we feared dropping like a stone and even losing our cherished Football League status.

Even when Martin Allen arrived and by sheer will and force of personality stabilised us and restored some semblance of pride on the pitch by making bricks without straw, his efforts were hindered by the financial realities that we faced.

The cup was dashed from our lips and the gloss taken off our achievement when star man DJ Campbell was sold for relative peanuts to the dreaded Birmingham City in order to stave off the threat of administration immediately after his goals had seen us defeat Premier League Sunderland in the FA Cup on an afternoon of glory and triumph at Griffin Park.

The club was on a financial precipice and the only way was down, and that was the situation that Bees United faced a mere ten years ago on the twentieth of January 2006 when the Supporters Trust took the massive and brave step of taking control of the club by purchasing the majority of shares in the football club with Greg Dyke taking over as Chairman and Ron Noades finally departing.

Things got worse before they got better with another player exodus leading to a pathetic season of capitulation when an appallingly weak, hapless and overmatched squad put together on s shoestring budget plummeted into the bottom division in 2007.

Under the aegis of BU things began to stabilise  off the pitch and a semblance of financial control was established which resulted in our fortunes on the pitch recovering under Andy Scott.

Promotion back to the third tier was gloriously achieved in 2009 and the last five years have seen continued progress and success culminating in the Bees celebrating their most best season since the War in 2015 when we came within a whisker of reaching the Premier League.

The catalyst for this success has obviously been the arrival on the scene of lifelong fan Matthew Benham and it was Bees United who structured an initial partnership with him and then sounding out the views of the supporter base before deciding to sell their shareholding to Benham and ceding control of the club to him in 2012.

One of the secrets of success is to know when to let go and the timing of that deal was perfect and it has proved to be the springboard for our current success.

I will let David Merritt, the current Chair of Bees United and a Director of Brentford Football Club summarise precisely how things have developed since that memorable day a mere ten years ago when BU took the momentous decision to take control:

The ten years since BU took majority ownership of Brentford FC have been immense for the Club.

It was Brian Burgess, Chris Gammon and the Bees United Board that created that historic moment for the Club, and it has been Matthew Benham who has enabled the Club to be so successful since.

We started the decade in crisis – we finished it with the most successful season since World War Two, and we head in to this anniversary year for Bees United more positive than ever.

What an incredible decade!

I will declare an interest as I have been a Bees United board member for the past few years and I am proud and honoured to be a tiny cog in a wonderful organisation that has played such a crucial role in ensuring the very survival of Brentford FC.

BU remains totally relevant and still has a crucial role to play today even though we are now in far calmer waters.

We remain as a watchdog and a safeguard, observing and contributing to the running of the club and we are determined to protect the interests and long term future of Brentford FC should the need ever arise again.

BU continues to have two representatives on the Brentford FC Board and one on the Lionel Road Board, we also nominate the independent adjudicator under the Club ticketing charter, and most crucially we still retain the critically important Golden Share which prevents the inappropriate sale of Griffin Park.

Everything is now stable and secure at Brentford FC but you only have to take a look around us at some of our less fortunate brethren, shudder with relief, and realise just what a close run thing it was and how easily affairs could have turned out completely differently for our beloved Brentford.

It is also imperative that thanks, recognition and eternal gratitude are given to every Bees supporter who shook a bucket, helped fill one or joined BU, bought a Loan Note and gave their support at a time when the club was in crisis and turmoil. Your contribution will never be forgotten and can never be overstated.

Bees United continues to protect the long term future of Brentford FC and it is still vital that we all continue to support this incredible organisation without which we would not be celebrating so much success both on and off the field today.

Happy birthday to Bees United and I will celebrate and raise a glass tonight to everybody who has supported or joined it since its inauguration.

 

Don’t Panic! – 19/1/16

The last week or so has been pretty hard to take for most Brentford fans given the worrying combination of bad results and even worse news relating to off field matters.

It is hard to keep smiling and your spirits up when you lose three home games in that short period of time, scoring only one goal in the process, see your most skilful and charismatic player return home to Spain out of the blue with his future shrouded in doubt owing to serious non football related problems and then have to suffer the final indignity of watching one of your best and most promising players publicly announce that he doesn’t want to play for the club.

There is also the continued uncertainty regarding the future of the likes of Alan Judge, Toumani Diagouraga and Sam Saunders whose loss before the end of the Transfer Window would leave the squad seriously weakened and bereft of quality and depth.

As of yet there is no solid news of any incoming transfers apart from the suggestion that an apparent target in George Evans has apparently spurned us in favour of joining Reading.

Quite rightly, Brentford make a point of conducting their transfer dealings and negotiations behind closed doors so who knows what other plates are currently spinning in the air and whether we are close to augmenting the squad or simply waiting until we know for certain which players are leaving this month and may then need replacing.

We also do not know if a decision has yet been made in terms of our recruitment strategy for January and if so whether it is an ever changing feast and one that we have to reassess on the basis of whether acceptable offers are made for any of our players.

Maybe we would also prefer to make do with what we have rather than look for permanent acquisitions who we can also bed in for next season or even bring in short term loan signings who can plug any immediate gaps, as required.

The key point is that we remain competitive on the pitch for the remainder of the season and maintain our comfortable position in the league.

More upsettingly we have also been subjected to some negative and in my view, ignorant and provocative comments from the likes of Martin Samuel and Adrian Durham in the Daily Mail and Shock Jock Durham has today written a bilious column packed full of innuendo and half truths and supported James Tarkowski in the face of all logic for his refusal to play for us on Friday.

In my opinion it is provocative, inflammatory and nonsensical drivel written by a man with an agenda who is employed predominantly to polarise his audience and seek a reaction as well as being someone who has previous with Brentford, or Loanford as he ridiculously and disparagingly dubbed us when squealing about the manner in which the Bees gained promotion in 2014 and finished above his beloved Peterborough United.

I well remember writing an article poking gentle fun at Steve Evans this time last year by forensically dissecting his post match press conference after Rotherham’s defeat at Griffin Park and pointing out all of his inconsistencies, half truths and non sequiturs and I am sorely tempted to do the same for Adrian Durham but I will not rise to the bait and respond, as that is exactly what he would like everybody to do and his article does not deserve to be either read or really taken seriously.

You can all find it quite easily if you want to take a look at it and come to your own conclusion.

I am quite certain that all right minded and informed Brentford supporters will see articles such as these for what they really are – pure rabble rousing.

But it is still unpleasant and annoying to see the club you love, its owner and his far sighted approach and way of doing things subjected to ridicule and unjustified, unfounded and scathing criticism from the outside, and unfortunately there are more then enough impressionable readers out there who are unaware of the truth of the matter and will take smug attacks on us such as these as pure gospel.

The media dislikes and is suspicious of whatever it does not understand and they really have yet to get their heads around what is going on at Griffin Park, just how well we have done bearing in mind our status in the football food chain and where we are going in the near future.

This is a time when we just need to keep our nerve, trust in the wisdom and perspicacity of the people running the club and follow the sage advice of Corporal Jones and don’t panic!

Change is always difficult to cope with and it is hard to accept that there will be players leaving of their own volition who prefer to go elsewhere, as well as others who we feel have reached their full potential with us and need to be moved on as well.

As long as we recruit well and cleverly we will continue to thrive and progress and I firmly believe that there are lessons to learned for the future from our recruitment strategy in the Summer which has not yet paid as many dividends as might have been anticipated.

It is now a question of balance as we have over a third of the season still to play and it would be both dangerous and wrong to merely write it off and declare that we are just building for next season.

Supporters expect entertainment and results and Brentford fans have enjoyed a lot of both in recent seasons and I would hope and expect that the Bees continue to provide a combination of exhilarating and successful football which will keep the fans happy and engaged.

We have had a bad patch both on and off the field and neither Preston nor Leeds will be easy marks for us.

Who knows if there will be ins or outs before the weekend but I am as certain as I can be that we will put a end to our poor recent run and the smiles will shortly be back on all of our faces.