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.