Dean Smith – Thumbs Up Or Down? – 1/3/16

Given the indisputable fact that the Bees are currently in the midst of an appalling run of results since the New Year with only two wins and a solitary draw to set against seven Championship defeats, plus of course suffering a painful FA Cup giant killing at the hands of Walsall, it is hardly surprising, given the fickle nature and impatience of football supporters, that there have been murmurings and rumblings and some questions and concerns have already been raised about the new Brentford manager, Dean Smith and whether he is up to the job.

The criticisms levelled against him can best be summarised as follows:

  • He is not getting the best out of the squad and is out of his depth
  • We are porous in defence and concede too many goals
  • We no longer come back and recover after going behind in a match
  • The quality of football is declining and we no longer play the Brentford way
  • He is unable to attract new players to come and play for the club
  • His substitutions are ill thought through and generally make things worse
  • He is not animated enough on the bench and appears to allow things to drift
  • He sometimes refrains from acknowledging the Brentford supporters
  • He is not Mark Warburton or Lee Carsley – delete where applicable

How fair are these accusations? Have we hired another dud or, in the interests of fairness, do we need to make allowances for circumstances totally beyond his control that have made the manager’s job difficult if not impossible for the time being?

I wanted to get an informed, objective and detached view about Dean Smith so I asked former Chronicle journalist and now PA Match Day reporter Jim Levack to give his own measured opinion on a man, who, given his midland base, he already knew extremely well from his successful spell in charge at Walsall.

Here is what Jim had to say, and it certainly makes interesting reading:

When the constant stress of the football season ends in May, chances are you will find Dean Smith settling back to take in a rather more sedate sport.

As an ardent cricket fan he’s adept at playing the longer, more tactical game.

He did so to impressive effect at Walsall, where he repeatedly contended with an annual summer break-up of his squad only to return the following season even stronger.

That his squads were repeatedly torn apart by predatory clubs looking to pick up exciting young talent speaks volumes for his gift of spotting promising youngsters, developing them and then selling them for a profit.

Presumably that is what brought him to the attention of Matthew Benham, who I’m sure – unless he is a fool – will listen very closely to Smith’s end of season shopping list.

The jury is out on the club’s Co-Directors of Football, whose track record, at Brentford anyway, has so far been patchy in the extreme.

The signing of Konstantin Kerschbaumer, for a reported seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds, is symptomatic of a system that, in my view, will only work with strong input from a footballing man with great knowledge of the English game.

That man is Smith, a bloke who will stand by his footballing principles come what may and who is, most importantly of all, a good man who has been plunged into a difficult situation.

Comments on websites – this one included – suggesting he is “not the man for the job” or “out of his depth” are, quite frankly, totally laughable.

Kerschbaumer, contrary to some of the unkind comments being levelled at him, will be a decent player with bags of energy, good legs and an eye for an incisive pass… but not for another season or so when he has bulked up and shaken off his lightweight tag.

The fact that he is still playing and has not been sent out on loan to a League One side says more about the paucity of the squad and limited options available to Smith. Well I hope that’s the case anyway and nothing more sinister.

Smith has inherited a squad bereft of its quality players who have all moved on for a profit that the club couldn’t say no to. And that will be the way of things until we move to Lionel Road.

The loss of defensive lynchpin Tarkowski and midfield protector Diagouraga since he took the job has turned Brentford into a side that, without the presence of Alan Judge, does not look consistently competitive in a league that demands that at the very least.

We have a soft underbelly and has been chronicled elsewhere, there doesn’t appear to be the same fight and desire that the Griffin Park crowd have always demanded as a bare minimum.

I posted recently on another site the list of players who have left and – in my opinion – not been replaced on a like for like or quality basis. It was met with the inevitable responses of “yawn” or “stop being negative.” Not negative. Just realistic.

Smith, like a footballing Mike Brearley, is playing a tactical game and deploys an impressive dead bat forward defensive shot every time he is questioned about personnel… or the lack of it.

He has clearly been told plans are afoot for the summer, which is good news. I’ve heard some deals are close to completion already and other quality signings are on the radar.

Great news and a cause for optimism if Messrs Ankersen and Giles find the right people this time round and the existing signings finally come good after a bedding in season.

But here’s the rub. When my son and others like him stumped up the increased season ticket price – student rates were scrapped in favour of a young person’s card – they did so on the premise of a Big New Ambitions advertising slogan.

The club’s failure to remain properly competitive after January will make him and others think twice in future. After all two hundred and thirty pounds plus is a lot to a teenager doing an apprenticeship.

Should the ad blurb have read – “Big New Ambitions until we decide to call it a day and watch the season peter out midway through the season?”

I think we’ll be safe – Charlton will be a big game – but I do hope that next season’s season ticket prices reflect the wasted four or five months of this.

One thing is certain though. Dean Smith is the right man for the job and once he’s allowed to put his mark on a depleted squad, any doubts currently held will evaporate leaving the cynics to turn their attention to something or someone else… probably me after this.

Just to sum up, Dean Smith’s treatment – so far at least – has been like asking journalist Tom Moore to go into the office and asking him to knock out a back page or web lead without a laptop, Mac, notebook or recording device.

Smith is working with one hand tied behind his back given the lack of numbers and quality in his squad. 

Smith is no fool, is the best man for the job, is a great fit for our club and will have us challenging and competitive next season – of that I have no doubt.

I just hope we’re not being too cocky thinking that safety is guaranteed because at the moment we look neither of those things.

I am sure that many supporters reading Jim’s words will have much to say about the sentiments expressed in them and I look forward to the debate which is certain to ensue.

Where do I stand on this issue?

I feel that Dean Smith was an excellent match for our specific needs and requirements as he understands our approach and buys into it. He is an eminently intelligent, pragmatic and sensible man who motivates and inspires footballers and he can also manage upwards as well as down.

I also suspect that given his knowledge and experience of the lower divisions we have moderated our modus operandi and Smith will be intrinsically involved in all decisions regarding recruitment and it would not surprise me if we bring in several promising young players already well known to the manager.

It would be very interesting to know what his terms of reference are for the remainder of the season. Probably no more than remaining as competitive as possible, picking up enough points to remain well clear of the scrum in and around the bottom of the league, playing high tempo attacking football and continuing to integrate and involve the foreign signings from last Summer so that we are in a position to make informed decisions on their future and as to whether they are able to cope with the demands of the Championship.

That means a hopefully temporary scaling down of our lofty ambitions and frankly we are currently struggling to achieve even these limited aspirations given the recent run of results and disappointing performances.

In his defence, there have been some excellent spells of football but a lack of consistency, Smith has seen the loss of three quality first team players in January without any hint of replacements, good fortune has not been on our side with a succession of contentious refereeing decisions and injuries continue to bite deep into our limited resources.

Perhaps yesterday’s welcome and long-awaited return of Scott Hogan who came back with a bang with a poacher’s goal and a spirited sixty-minute run out in the Development Squad match against Crystal Palace will provide a much needed boost and hopefully Alan McCormack will also be in line for a much needed return against Charlton on Saturday.

In truth, I was disappointed with the negative and pusillanimous way he set the team up against Derby County which totally ceded the initiative to a team also struggling for confidence and in my opinion, contributed to our eventual defeat in a match where we never attempted to play our customary style of football.

It is also very easy to look back with hindsight, however I wonder if he now regrets throwing away the chance of a morale boosting FA Cup run by fielding a weakened team against Walsall particularly given our subsequent defeats by Middlesbrough and Burnley in what turned out to be a totally dispiriting and demoralising week?

To lambast the manager given the obstacles he currently faces is patently unfair, unrealistic and absurd and he needs and deserves our total support at the moment.

The time to judge him will be next season assuming that, as expected, he is given the necessary tools to work with and the opportunity to rebuild the squad in conjunction with the Co-Directors of Football and we recruit players with the required level of ability and experience.

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13 thoughts on “Dean Smith – Thumbs Up Or Down? – 1/3/16

  1. I have a lot of time for Jim Levack’s writing and views. Indeed during his time at the Chronicle I bought it regularly despite living 40 miles from its circulation area.
    My only mild disagreement is with the reference to the club’s marketing strategy at the beginning of the season. I have also seen widespread comment on other sites (not from Jim) about the statement at a fans’ forum, from one of our DoFs that the club was aiming for a top 6 finish this term. Is that surprising? Is it not a little naive to imagine that a Marketing Dept would do anything but ‘big up’ our prospects or a man charged with player recruitment would say the club was ambitious.
    OK, with the magnificent gift of hindsight, these statements appear laughable but at the time they were appropriate. season tickets are expensive but there is always a risk involved that the season could turn sour. But it’s a risk many of us are happy to take.
    My view on Dean Smith is that he must be given time. Despite the impression given by Marinus’ sacking, we have always been fair to managers (maybe Mickey Adams excepted) and let them build their sides. I see no reason to change now.

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  2. A balanced and measured article on where we currently are at Brentford FC. Opinions, fans and pundits split on almost every aspect of the club and how it is being run this season. Now, here’s a thing, with regard to the lack of perceived investment and ambition in order to enable us to compete in the top half of the league, are we (Mr Benham), awaiting the outcome of the Lionel Road Public Inquiry before any more money is invested in the club? The decision was reportedly due to be published in December, it is now March. Apologies if I have missed the decision or have repeated previous views.

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    • No I think we are just keeping our powder dry until the Summer although I also believe that we will not be spending as much as we might all like given the restrictions of FFP and the fact that we are unlike;y to be in a position to maintain a sustained promotion challenge until Lionel Road becomes a reality.

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      • I’m not a fan of ‘slogans’ but if you are correct in your above comment then if we absolutely have to have a slogan I suggest it should be downgraded to …#excitingeconomysizednewambitions……..or not of course.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Over the past eighteen months I have been involved with a couple of non-league clubs in an advisory capacity and concerning their finances. On occasions I was in touch with Matthew Benham and asked for his advice re some player transfer/loans…….I was wondering how far down the league ladder his stats went in truth and perhaps whether he had info on lower league players who were not good enough for Brentford but players whom I could perhaps recommend that the team manager review and consider.

    As always Matthew was very generous with his time and he sent to me a long thoughful email setting out his preferred strategies and with reasons.

    He actually said this :

    (quote)in terms of signings my favourite types are young, hungry players from the leagues below whichever one you are playing in (moses, tarky, andre). the reasons:……(unquote)

    The reasons which were lengthy I won’t put in this comment as they are Matthew’s and which he was happy to share with me although he didn’t state them as private The quoted comment rather surprised me at the time because I had rather supposed that the ‘favourite signings’ were foreign players, off the radar at the time of our interest and who were perceived to bring with them ‘value for money’ as opposed to expensive English players.

    I should add that the email was last summer and pre- dates the foreign signings although they may have been committed to by then.

    I looked in vain for Matthew’s P.S. saying that if it helped me out then I could have Judge and Jota on loan for a couple of months at £500pw each but I guess he was interrupted and pressed ‘send’ before he could finish it in the way he would have wished…….LOL.

    Given his stated preferred policy/ ‘favourite signings’ which I suppose is a mix of the odd foreign player who has been well researched and the hungry players from the league below the one we’re currently in then Dean Smith will prove I suspect the ideal manager especially if there has now been a change of emphasis and weighting with the policy shift towards young, homegrown players.

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  4. Great piece today as ever, interesting thoughts from Jim & the subsequent comments make for good reading.

    I’m neither thumbs up or down on DS to this point, but I do feel that he needs the time to show he can really add value in the role of head coach. I’m having to think carefully when judging the things he has done to date, clearly he’s arrived during a season of major upheaval and has lost key players that haven’t been replaced. I also think that the standard of judgement needs to be relative to his role, and unless this has been changed he is essentially coaching the players that are provided by the DoF’s – with a degree of his own input of course. Maybe he has far more input than I realise, just not the contentious veto – I really don’t know – however when I regularly hear that DS needs time to build his own team, I have to admit to being very confused. That wasn’t the gig that Marinus signed up for was it? What I absolutely believe is that all of BFC’s resources must be channeled into supporting the head coach, to give him the best chance of success – and that his failure would also be the failure of everyone around him.

    The Derby game was interesting, admittedly I didn’t like the starting 11 or the way we played. But after the drubbing at Sheffield he did get us into the break 0-0, and 1-0 after Judgey’s wonder goal. You could make a case for his plan working, he then made 2 poor substitutions at a really bad time imo, and the game was taken away from us. I’ve felt that his changes in games haven’t worked on a number of occasions – kind of the opposite to Marinus who pulled a few games out of the fire with his.

    What is important is that Dean shows that he can navigate us through this season safely, and that he can improve the players he coaches. One of MW’s biggest assets was that he really improved Rosler’s players very quickly – the rest is history. We simply have to finish this season in better shape than we started it, then everyone can get to work to try to recruit the players needed to keep us competitive.

    That said, a bad defeat to Charlton followed by more poor results (including the remaining derby games) & life will get very tough for him. Saturday is big – he needs a decent result.

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    • Many supporters of the current regime urge fans like myself to demonstrate more patience.What is good for the goose is good for the gander as the saying goes. I just hope the powers that be have the patience to give Dean Smith all the time he needs.

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  5. He still deserves the benefit of the doubt, many successful managers have not had a good start, and he really has not been dealt a good hand. The noises he makes are promising, at least.

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  6. An excellent article but wrong on two counts. The jury is not out on the co directors . They have voted them an appalling failure . In terms of their signings and their incredibly inept PR. Secondly KK does not have the technique to be a championship player. He is a foreign Jake Reeves. Works hard but pointless.
    Lastly there is no excuse for poor work rate . None at all. Our team excepting Wolves game has not been working hard enough and that is the managers fault .
    That aside a superb summary of where we are.

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  7. Hypothetical I know, but would the general view on DS change if we were to be relegated?

    Blackburn pulling away from trouble now I see – the gap not looking so big and with our form who knows.

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    • Not even a little bit Spanish – even if we went down?

      I’m inclined to agree at the moment, but DS took on a team looking up not down, yes he has lost key players and not been able to bring any in, but should have just enough to keep us safe.

      I’m certainty not writing DS off, far from it – but the home defeat against his former side, and some of his other team selections and tactical changes have raised a few doubts in my mind.

      Up to him now isn’t it – keep us away from trouble and he’ll have something solid to build on.

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  8. Dean Smith’s treatment – so far at least – has been like asking Tom Moore to go into the Chron and asking him to knock out a back page or web lead without a laptop, Mac, notebook or recording device.
    Smith is working with one hand tied behind his back.
    He is not such a poor judge of a footballer that he has sat down in the handover meeting with Lee Carsley – who let’s not forget publicly stated that KK wasn’t ready and needed time – and has decided that he was talking rubbish and should be ignored.
    KK is not ready for the physicality of the Championship. That’s obvious, but I’m guessing that either the lack of options or instructions from on high are behind his decision to keep giving him invaluable experience at this level.
    I disagree with people who say he’s shit etc… he has clearly got an eye for a pass and if you can hone that and add other aspects to his game he could go on to become a firm favourite.
    Smith is no fool, is the best man for the job, is a great fit for our club and will have us challenging and competitive next season – of that I have no doubt.
    I just hope we’re not being too cocky thinking that safety is guaranteed because at the moment we look neither of those things.

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