I wanted to write some original and perceptive comments about what Brentford should be looking to achieve in the current Transfer Window but we seem to be on ever shifting sands with the situation seemingly changing every day and what I write now might well be totally out of date by the time that you read it.
All my conversations and soundings over the last week or so seemed to reinforce the view that this would be a quiet month for the Bees with a minimum of activity. In other words we would be reactive rather than proactive, not seeking to strengthen or change the squad too much, or even at all, unless our hand was forced by enemy action with players leaving the building.
Now things are completely different with rumours abounding about the likes of Alan Judge, James Tarkowski, Jota, Harlee Dean and Toumani Diagouraga and the prospect of some or all of them finding new homes before the end of the month.
As Phil Giles stated in his excellent interview with Beesotted, we would certainly struggle to cope with all of them going at the same time but he felt that it is very unlikely that all of them would be on the move.
I have already written about our philosophy and how, whilst we are not looking to sell our best players, everybody has his price and if we receive an acceptable offer and can replace the player properly then we will do so assuming that the player wishes to leave the club.
I do not intend to bore you by repeating why in my opinion we are for the time being a stepping stone club, vulnerable to approaches by our richer rivals, but the fact remains that contracts are often not worth the paper they are written on and if a footballer becomes disaffected and decides for whatever reason that the grass is greener elsewhere then it is almost invariably the best policy to allow him to leave as long as it is on our terms rather than his.
Adam Forshaw is a perfect example of this policy as he was made to kick his heels on gardening leave until Wigan finally and belatedly coughed up a high enough fee to persuade us to sell a player who had made it perfectly clear that he wanted to leave.
Footballers are well aware from the grapevine and the bush telegraph just how much other clubs are paying in terms of salaries and given the uncertain nature of their career which can end at any time and is highly unlikely to last for more than eight years, they cannot be blamed for chasing the money and seeking to maximise their earnings.
Sometimes you feel that money is the overriding priority and that ambition and career development can take a back seat.
Only Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo of our recent departures can really be said to have bettered themselves as they are both currently starring in teams challenging for promotion to the Premier League as well as earning sums that they could only have dreamed about at Brentford.
Adam Forshaw has criminally allowed a burgeoning career to at least temporarily wither on the vine as he sits gathering splinters on the Middlesbrough bench instead of playing every week and proving himself as one of the best midfielders in the Championship.
Stuart Dallas has had an in and out season for a massively unpredictable and inconsistent team in Leeds United, Clayton Donaldson plies a lonely furrow as Birmingham’s lone striker and Simon Moore has disappeared almost without trace as he waits patiently for David Marshall to leave Cardiff City. Harry Forrester has had a couple of years in the wasteland at Doncaster – what an appalling career decision he made when he decided to jump ship, and might now finally be on the road to resurrection at Glasgow Rangers.
The point I am making is that sometimes chasing the money does not bring guaranteed career progress and success, a message that some of our current squad might benefit from taking into consideration.
What happens next is to a large degree out of our own hands and we simply have to wait and see if any of the clubs rumoured to be interested in our players step up to the plate and meet our asking price.
Even should that be the case the player will need to decide if he wishes to remain within the positive and nurturing environment at Griffin Park where everybody mucks in and there are no cliques or rampant troublemakers amongst what is a young and dedicated squad.
Looking at the situation with each of the five Brentford players who are rumoured to be attracting external interest, my view is as follows:
Alan Judge has quite simply been the best player in the Championship throughout the first half of the season as his highly impressive tally of goals and assists clearly testifies. No wonder there is serious interest in him from the likes of Sheffield Wednesday who are rumoured to have offered to triple his wages. I also wonder if a Premier League team might yet come in for him.
On the one hand Alan is the man at Griffin Park, everything revolves around him and he is the catalyst and fulcrum for most of the good things that we do. He is the conductor who sets the tempo and the rest dance around him feeding off his magic and inspiration.
He is in an ideal situation to show off his talent and earn a place in the Eire squad for the European Championship tournament this Summer.
But, money talks, and at twenty-seven, he is not getting any younger and might never again recapture his current form. Maybe he should strike while the iron is hot and take the money that will surely be on offer before the end of January.
He needs to play every week and as long as he does not become a bit part player and fall out of the spotlight then I could understand him deciding to move to a bigger club, even in the Championship, despite the fact that he and his family seem settled and happy – such is the nature of football. Opportunities do not come along very often and need to be carefully considered whenever they do and not frittered away.
The situation from Brentford’s perspective is also very interesting. Ideally he will either sign an improved contract, something that I feel is highly unlikely to happen, or we will keep hold of him unless our valuation, and I hear figures of between six to eight million pounds being bandied around, is reached. As for Sheffield Wednesday, they seem to be bidding for all number of players so who knows how serious they are about signing Judge.
We are obviously a far better team with Judge than without him but I can also understand the viewpoint that he is at the absolute peak of his game and is unlikely to improve much or any more and perhaps we should take the money if it is on offer, particularly bearing in mind that promotion is far less likely a prospect this season than it was last, his contract expires at the end of next season and he will soon become a depreciating asset.
Personally I hope that he remains at least until the end of the season as it would be wonderful to see a Brentford player competing at the Euro’s but I think that we will probably have a difficult decision to make about him in the next few weeks.
James Tarkowski is a different kettle of fish as at twenty-three he is still improving and is nowhere near the finished article and given hard work, dedication, good coaching and the right attitude, he could turn out to be pretty much anything he wants to be. He really has the potential to be that good and if he progresses as I hope then I see him developing into a Premier League regular at the very least.
There was talk of interest from Fulham in the last Transfer Window and now Burnley are reputed to be making overtures for him with a fee of around four to five million pounds being mooted on social media. Tarky can be infuriatingly casual and inconsistent and make schoolboy howlers in defence, but he also has games when he resembles a reincarnation of Alan Hansen, winning the ball, selling an impudent dummy and striding imperiously into the opposition half. Of all the players in the current squad I believe that Tarky could go the furthest given his youth and relative inexperience.
I would go so far as to say that given the choice of keeping Tarkowski or Judge then I would choose to sell Alan Judge – as long as Tarky is not allowed anywhere near penalty taking duties at any time in the future.
The Jota situation is totally unexpected and has come as a bolt out of the blue. Unfortunately it appears that he has a serious personal family issue which makes it almost impossible for him to remain in this country if he is to maintain a family unit. This will almost certainly result in his being loaned back to a club in La Liga, perhaps Eibar, where he had a massively successful loan spell a couple of years ago.
This would enable us to keep Jota prominently in the shop window and give us the best chance of making a decent return on him should his situation not change and we are eventually forced to sell him. This is doubly frustrating for us given that we have waited so patiently and with such a sense of anticipation and expectation for Jota to recover from his long term injury and we were all looking forward so much to watching him play every week and entertain us with his genius and magic wand of a left foot.
We will simply have to wait and see what happens over the coming months but if we are forced to sell him to a Spanish club, given the financial constraints of all but a minority of teams, it is very unlikely that we will be able to obtain anywhere near the level of fee for him that at one time looked likely. That is just how it is and we simply have to accept a difficult situation and wish him and his family all the best.
As for Harlee Dean, I feel that there is definitely some brinksmanship being played on both sides. Will the club make him a contract renewal offer that the player deems acceptable or will Harlee allow his existing deal to expire so that he can leave on a Bosman free at the end of the season? Are the club happy to allow him to leave for nothing or will they even try and sell him in the current Transfer Window and get some sort of return for him?
It is almost impossible to answer any of these questions with any degree of certainty and Harlee’s future could also be tied in with whatever happens to James Tarkowski as I cannot see the club allowing both of them to leave this month.
Harlee presents a bit of a conundrum as he is a complete enigma. There are times when he is able to add concentration and discipline to his total commitment and he looks the real deal – a polished mid to high level Championship calibre central defender. At others he lets himself down both on and off the pitch with a combination of sloppy play and thinking and he looks out of his depth.
He is a valued member of the old guard and continuity is precious but I think there also comes a time when every player has had his day and in my heart of hearts I do not believe that Harlee is good enough to help us progress much further than where we currently find ourselves.
The same could be said for Toumani Diagouraga, a veteran of over two hundred games for the club. His play last season was truly astonishing as he raised his game several notches and dominated the midfield. This season has been different and more difficult for him and I think that he has missed the presence of the combative Jonathan Douglas alongside him as he has been forced to forage for the ball and tackling is not one of his strong points.
Toumani has been no better than average this season and has not really stamped his presence on games as was the case throughout last year, and with Ryan Woods and Josh McEachran breathing down his neck and challenging for his position in the team I would not be too surprised if Mark Warburton succeeds in prising him away from Griffin Park either this month or perhaps at the end of the season.
Toumani has been a loyal servant of the club and is quite deservedly a massive fan favourite but I believe that he has jumped the shark and at twenty-eight it is time for him to be rewarded by earning another payday elsewhere at a level where he can shine and become a greater influence on proceedings.
Bill Shankly and Arsène Wenger are both managers renowned for knowing exactly when to sell a player by identifying before any opposition scouts and managers that he is just slightly past his best and I think that Toumani might well fit into this category and that his time might have come.
Hopefully other major influences on the team such as David Button and Jake Bidwell will remain well under the radar and not be subject to any unwelcome bids.
As it is I am feeling a bit conflicted as I am both concerned and yet pretty sanguine about matters at the moment and I would urge others to do the same.
As I stated right at the beginning of this article, things change on a regular basis and I might well be setting off a false alarm, and most importantly, I have learned a couple of things from observing affairs at Brentford since the start of the Benham regime, firstly that nobody is irreplaceable and finally, whoever does leave the club will be replaced, and replaced by somebody who is just as good if not even better.