Immediately after the disappointment of the Blackburn Rovers defeat on Saturday I gave my suggestions concerning what we should do next and how the team and management should use the International Break productively in order to both rest up and also prepare for the next crucial batch of eight matches in April which will decide our immediate fate.
I also suggested that a change of formation as well as approach would probably serve us well as if the way we are playing at the moment continually fails to provide results, as has been the case, then you need to change it or risk more failure.
Rightly or wrongly it has always been my stated policy to provide Brentford supporters of all persuasions with the platform within this column to express their own opinions. Sometimes I agree with them to a greater or lesser extent, more often I do not, but despite our differences we all share a passion for the Bees and are in awe of what Matthew Benham has done to revitalise our club, and it also provides a catalyst for other supporters to respond and have their say.
Lately emotions and tempers have been rising and patience and tolerance are in short supply, hardly surprising given the events since the turn of the year and I can well understand why people feel the way that they do.
By sharing conflicting opinions on the club I am not trying to rebel rouse, neither am I aiming to cause mischief or gain attention for myself and I have urged us supporters many times to unite and get behind our team at such a crucial time when perhaps our ambitious plans for the immediate future are at risk should we return to the lower divisions. Inquests and recriminations can wait until later.
I fully intend to continue as I have done and today welcome back Jim Levack who has been a regular contributor to this column and he now shares his view about what is happening at the club, how we have allowed ourselves to get into this mess and what can be done to improve matters and I concur with some but not all of what he has to say:
In almost half a century of watching Brentford I can’t recall a time when the club has been more riven by division than now. Fans fighting fans, terrace arguments, acrimonious and frequently personal internet battles, the current situation is sad beyond belief.
Not even during the dark days of Webb and Noades were the fans so divided over the right way to take the club forward. I have my own personal view of where the blame lies for this rift but it’s an opinion far too unpopular and incendiary to ever share.
Irrespective of what I think, one message board has almost four thousand posts on the subject of Dean Smith and a relatively low thirteen hundred on the subject of the Co-Directors of Football.
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.
Because Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen are Matthew Benham’s right hand men, they have inexplicably escaped much of the criticism for the current slide towards the trapdoor.
Why? Their job is, as the club widely and foolishly proclaimed last season, to identify undiscovered talent with potential to avoid paying the ludicrous transfer fees and wages that make other clubs financially unstable.
I say foolishly because the second we did so and effectively got rid of Mark Warburton – no, he wasn’t sacked but we made his position untenable – the whole football world turned against us to the extent that if we now move for a player it sets alarm bells ringing.
No problem with the concept though. The strategy makes perfect sense for a club with limited revenue streams like Brentford. But why did we feel the need to shout about it?
Strip the whole thing down and the players we’ve brought in – Woods and Colin being notable exceptions – are patently not ready to play in a thriving Championship side, let alone one fighting for survival.
Last season’s side had a great balance, strong competition for places and a ruthless edge.
If Pritchard got knocked about, Douglas was there to drag him to his feet and snarl at the bloke who did it.
Diagouraga, if the ball did get past the midfield, mopped up the bits and pieces and gave it away simply and accurately, a fulcrum if you like.
Tarkowski and Dean were a peerless combination, Gray was powerful, quick and usually clinical, the likes of McCormack couldn’t get a start.
When Pritchard wasn’t doing it we had Jota, Dallas, Toral, or even Odubajo bombing on as well as Judge, all capable of producing a moment of magic.
We effectively had a four-pronged attack as well as creative, vibrant, skilful, quick options on the bench who could change a game that was drifting away from us.
Saunders and Yennaris were plying their trade in League Two. Now they are pivotal to our survival.
Don’t think for a second I’m denigrating the current squad in any way. They are, mostly, technically strong with huge potential, but are being asked to do the job of seasoned professionals with several years knowledge of the Championship. That’s not fair or sensible.
Josh McEachran is a case in point. We were told that he was the Douglas replacement. Don’t make me laugh!
Skilful yes, intelligent occasionally, but a ball winner? I’m sorry. The sooner he casts off the Chelsea starlet tag and starts bossing games as his talent suggests he surely can, the better. He was given the opportunity when Blackburn went down to ten men and singularly failed to take it.
Now we have a midfield lacking steel and stature that is overrun on a weekly basis.
McEachran and Woods are so similar it’s painful to watch, Judge has drifted into an I’ll play where I want thanks mentality to the side’s detriment, and Canos and Swift are young lads with huge potential who would benefit from a protector alongside them.
The best football teams are combinations of different characters, personalities, types of players, but if I had to pick one word to describe the current Brentford side, it would be lightweight.
Dean Smith must go posts and worse have littered social media whilst Rasmus and Phil have got off relatively lightly.
Grossly unfair in my view as they have effectively assembled this squad for Smith whose use of the word “finally” on bringing in Leandro last week was perhaps the first public hint of his frustration.
It’s far too easy to go to the other extreme and actually blame the Co-Directors of Football for everything too, as I’m sure they are moving heaven and earth to bring in loanees. Their reputations are, after all, on the line here.
I know that several quality players have been lined up for the Summer, but I’m guessing they won’t want to play in League One so we need to sort out this mess soon or I fear for our immediate future.
As Greville confirmed in his interview recently, Phil Giles comes across as a likeable, thoughtful and decent bloke doing his best and I’m sure he’s crunching the numbers to get it right, but sometimes football is – as I said at the time of Warburton’s exit – about far more than numbers.
As far Rasmus, I’m not entirely sure what his role is or the extent of his involvement at Brentford so it’s probably unfair to comment. Suffice to say that I’m sure he’s feeling the pain the same as Giles.
What I will say though is that the signings of Gogia – remember him? – and Kerschbaumer epitomise the malaise surrounding our new system.
I’ve watched Kerschbaumer closely when he’s played and although he may well become a decent player in the future, his positional awareness is poor. The best players have an unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time and if I’m honest it’s an innate ability and not one easily learned.
The ball never breaks to him because he’s constantly out of position. When it does, he’s brushed off it far too easily at the moment.
Now, after all the carefully placed pro-pieces in the media surrounding our strategy, whenever we approach a club or agent they think one of three things:
- This lad must be better than we think if Brentford are in for him.
- We can get more money for him if Brentford think he’s good.
- If Brentford want him and see something in him, then bigger clubs will too so I can get him more money in wages.
Last season I read somewhere that Matthew Benham’s theory meant that a side near the bottom wasn’t necessarily bad because over the course of a campaign things even themselves out as luck plays its part. Right now though I’m reminded of the saying “you make your own luck in this game.”
The bottom line is that most Brentford fans with a brain have seen for many months that we lack steel, guile, bottle, balls, size, strength or whatever you want to call it. So why couldn’t Giles and Ankersen when the window was open?
If it’s because we don’t want to play that way and won’t abandon our principles then that’s arrant nonsense and, I hate to say it, arrogant in the extreme.
We also lack quality where it matters, but I accept that only comes at a price and, if rumours of a sudden cash squeeze are to be believed, it’s one we’re not prepared to pay whatever the outcome.
However, and here’s the stark truth, we are now staring trips to Northampton and Oxford in the face unless the squad is strengthened fast or the approach or pattern of play changes.
My fear is that a refusal to stray from the principles of finding young fringe Premier League players – unless they are exceptional talents – will not help our cause at a time when we currently need people with knowledge of this league.
To bleat on about Smith not being able to motivate the same side Lee Carsley had at his disposal is a red herring.
Carsley had Tarkowski and Diagouraga, two key players who both, in differing ways, played their part in ensuring the back four didn’t look vulnerable.
Importantly he was also given a short-term brief by Matthew Benham to steady the ship, stop the rot and stabilise by whatever means possible after the Dijkhuizen departure.
By contrast Smith has been told to work towards a longer term project with far less quality to call on. I might be wrong but I’d put a few bob on the fact that in confidential company, he isn’t happy at having his reputation put on the line by the club’s lack of activity in January, however valid the reasons for doing so.
That same lack of activity and dare I say it Big New Ambitions will, I hope, be reflected in season ticket prices for next season when people will adopt a once bitten, twice shy approach.
So what is the solution? To stick or twist? It’s a dilemma that Matthew Benham, as a gambling man, may well be relishing but I for one am not.
It’s fairly obvious to me – bring in a quick, pacy young winger on the fringes of a Premier League start and a mid-twenties defensive midfielder with a bit of bite and Championship know-how because a youngster in that role simply won’t do given our current predicament.
Maybe easier said than done at this stage of the campaign given our cash constraints, but the financial ramifications of relegation will be far more damaging than a few extra quid shelled out now.
I’ll leave the final word to this probably over long ramble to Jeff Stelling, whose stunning on screen analysis of Aston Villa’s season and predicament made me sit up with a start.
Without detriment to our new signings – some of whom may well go on to be real assets to the club IN TIME – or our scapegoat manager, there are clear parallels to be drawn.
If you haven’t seen it take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL_zCdeIyQ8