The old season might only just have ended but there is already frenetic speculation on the fans’ message boards as well as on social media about the identity of the players who Brentford FC might be looking to bring into the club in order to strengthen the squad for next season.
I am not sure if I have very much to add to the debate and anything that I write is, of course, pure speculation as unfortunately I am not now nor have I ever been, a fly on the wall in the room where the Brentford Brains Trust congregates in order to discuss potential signings.
Let’s imagine, just for a moment or two, unlikely though it might be, that I did have a seat at that table and was asked for my opinion. If so, what suggestions would I make about the moves that we should make?
OK then, here goes:
Starting in goal, everything is totally up in the air until David Button’s future is decided once and for all. He only has one year remaining on his contract and should he decline to sign a new deal he is far too valuable an asset to be allowed to run his contract down and leave on a Bosman free transfer next Summer. The bottom line is that if he does not extend his contract shortly, then he quite simply has to be sold before the start of the next season. The key question though is what is best for him? On the one hand he is the established first choice in a top ten Championship team and has not missed a league game for over two seasons. He and his family are also settled not too far away from the club. It just depends on what else might be on the table for him. At twenty-seven he is still improving and is not yet at his peak. As we are all well aware, he could very likely earn far more more money elsewhere but if he went, would he play every week, something that I am sure is crucial to him? I believe that Button is just as good as many goalkeepers already playing in the Premier League and teams such as AFC Bournemouth, Everton, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough are considered likely to be looking to strengthen in that department. Button could well feel that now is his best and perhaps only opportunity to play at that level and I am sure that he and his agent at Key Sports Management are currently exploring what might be out there for him.
A couple of weeks ago I felt that the odds were on Button remaining at Brentford, but now I am not so sure. There has been no suggestion that talks between the club and his representative have been taking place, but there again, why on earth should I know if they have or haven’t? If we are to lose a key player this Summer then I suspect that it will be David Button and should that transpire then he would ideally justify a fee of at least ten times what we paid Charlton Athletic for him and massively in excess of what we received from Cardiff City for Simon Moore whom Button replaced.
If he does leave Griffin Park then he will need replacing by somebody who is considered capable of fitting into the way that we play, in other words, acting as a sweeper keeper, being totally comfortable with the ball at his feet and distributing the ball to defenders quickly and accurately. It is no great secret that we are one of many teams who have shown interest in Southend’s Daniel Bentley who seems certain to be on the move this Summer. He has had three seasons as first choice at Roots Hall, is confident and accomplished and will not come cheap. There will also be a lot of competition for his services from clubs with greater resources than ours but we would be able to offer him first team football. He would certainly be my number one choice to replace David Button should that become necessary, but I very much hope that David will still decide to re-sign for us.
Irrespective of what happens with Button I am sure that we will also be looking to bring in a young number three keeper to replace Mark Smith who has left the club, and several trialists received auditions in the Development Squad last season.
As for Jack Bonham, I feel strongly that he needs to go out on loan and play some first team football as sitting on our bench game after game is doing nothing for his development as a goalkeeper. Whether that happens or not totally depends on who comes in as third choice, and whether he is considered capable of acting as substitute keeper with the possibility of some emergency action.
Moving further upfield, on the surface we are looking particularly strong in defence but does that view survive deeper scrutiny? Let’s take a good look at our resources and then come to a final conclusion.
Maxime Colin, Nico Yennaris, Alan McCormack and Josh Clarke can all play right back with Jake Bidwell and Tom Field available on the other flank. Yennaris is more likely to be needed to play in midfield where he established himself late on last season and at the time of writing Clarke has yet to sign a new contract. Should he do so and Colin returns fit and well and fully recovered from his niggling groin injury then we have more than sufficient cover at right back.
Left back is another matter given that Jake Bidwell, like David Button, is entering the final year of his contract. He has even more in common with Button, sharing the same management company, and I wonder if he is receiving similar advice to his teammate?
Again, does Jake feel that the time has come to move on from Brentford FC given the long and loyal service he has given us? He has massive experience given his relative youth, has adapted well to the challenges of the Championship and must surely be coveted by many for his tenaciousness, consistency, calmness and overlapping ability. He too might well feel that he could do better elsewhere and seek pastures new. If that is the case and he will not sign a new contract, then how does the club respond? Sell him him now and pay Everton a hefty sell-on percentage from the proceeds, or continue to play him, allow him to run his contract down and face the risk of him leaving for nothing in the hope that he changes his mind and re-signs at some point during next season?
Not an easy choice, but whatever happens, a new left back who can challenge, or indeed replace, Bidwell, is an imperative. Given our style of play, he will need to be somebody who can both attack and defend as Jake snuffs out so much danger when other defenders are caught upfield.
Scunthorpe’s Conor Townsend is a name that has been bandied about and he certainly impressed when on loan at Grimsby Town. He gets forward well and has a wand of a left foot and is deadly from set pieces, a skill that always comes in handy. I am not too sure about his defensive capabilities and he is also not the tallest and he therefore would not be able to act as our goalkeeper’s out-ball when he is unable to pass the ball to one of the centre halves. Tom Field enjoyed a wonderful debut against Fulham but he is one for the future and his time will come, but probably not next season.
We are currently extremely well-served at centre half with Harlee Dean, Yoann Barbet, Jack O’Connell and Andreas Bjelland. But again, all is not what it seems. Dean is our only natural right-sided defender and Bjelland is a question mark as he is only now approaching full fitness, having missed the entire season as a result of his serious injury received against Oxford United in August. It currently seems likely that Gillingham’s excellent right-sided defender John Egan, will join us this Summer and if the deal is concluded, perhaps after a tribunal ruling on the transfer fee, then he will certainly put pressure on Harlee Dean as he is reputed to be quick, good on the ball and also dangerous in the opposition box, as is evidenced by his more than impressive tally of six goals last season. If Egan does join us we will have more than adequate options and cover on both sides of the pitch and the only problem might be how to keep everybody happy. Jack O’Connell is still only twenty-two and has two years remaining on his contract but he only started eleven times last season and I do wonder if he might be looking to move on, perhaps initially on loan? I would like us to keep hold of him as he showed some promise last season and could yet develop into a real asset.
So, to summarise, our defensive options are plentiful, and we possess some extremely talented players, but some tinkering will definitely be required this Summer.
It really will not take too long to consider the wingers that we currently possess in Andy Gogia and Sam Saunders. Someone very closely connected to the club told me late last Summer that Gogia was a player who was considered highly likely to impress and quickly attract serious attention from other clubs. So far that has yet to happen, although there were signs by the end of last season that, like several others of our foreign contingent, he was slowly beginning to acclimatise to the unfamiliar conditions he faced both on and off the pitch. He will certainly get the opportunity to prove himself next season given the paucity of our resources. Sam Saunders can certainly still play wide and provide good service from the flank. He has always depended upon guile rather than pace and he proved far more effective when playing in a more central role where he had more influence on the proceedings. Sam will doubtless more than play his part next season but I would be surprised if he is a regular starter.
Now that Sergi Canos has returned to his parent club, Liverpool, we lack a winger with pace, drive, incision, the ability to turn defence into attack in an instant, score and make goals and provide the odd moment of genius and inspiration. Not too much to ask for in one player, surely, and we will need to find somebody suitable on either a permanent or loan basis. We all live in hope, or is it merely wishful thinking, that Sergi will return to us, and he would certainly be my first choice, but if not we could be struggling to find a homegrown player who can provide the impact that we need. Jamie Paterson, who played for Dean Smith at Walsall has been mentioned as a possibility but his situation is fairly complex as he is still under contract at Nottingham Forest who are currently without a manager and are therefore unwilling to make decisions about players until an appointment is made, and Huddersfield Town, for whom Paterson impressed whilst on loan last season, including scoring against the Bees, are also hovering in the wings as they want to sign the player on a permanent basis. Perhaps this might be an area where we look abroad for a suitable signing? Who knows, but this is a crucial gap to fill.
The two defensive midfielders play a vital role in the team, covering the back four, snapping into tackles, ideally winning the ball and also taking it off the goalkeeper or defenders to set us off on the attack again. They also need to make lung-bursting box-to-box runs, weigh in the odd goal or two, as well as getting back to cover when our attacks break down. Perhaps we will be looking to bring in a replacement for the departed Toumani Diagouraga but Dean Smith might well feel that there are other more pressing needs elsewhere given the presence of Ryan Woods, Nico Yennaris, Alan McCormack and Josh McEachran. Konstantin Kerschbaumer can also play there at a pinch. Woods and Yennaris combined superbly in a defensive midfield partnership at the back end of last season and were tenacious and rugged and also used the ball excellently, and it could well be their position to lose. Alan McCormack will provide his customary aggression and organisational skills when required, but the real conundrum is Josh McEachran. Will be recover full fitness from his second long-term injury in time to make a real contribution and how will he fit into the team shape? He showed glimpses of his undoubted ability particularly against Cardiff, Leeds and Wolves, but was otherwise a peripheral figure who lacked confidence, strength, fitness and sharpness. Given the impact that he was expected to have, and might well still, I really doubt if the club will make a serious investment in this area until Josh is given another chance to make the position his own.
Two seasons ago we had an embarrassment of riches in midfield and we could choose from players of the quality of Pritchard, Judge and Toral alongside Jota and Dallas on the flanks. Last season we ended up scoring twenty-four goals in our last nine games with the likes of Saunders, Kerschbaumer and Woods as our attacking midfielders with Canos on the wing. Judge missed the last six matches and Swift barely featured. The team ethic prevailed and these unheralded and unfancied players gelled together into a cohesive and successful whole.
Next season we will certainly start without Judge and probably Canos and John Swift too, and we will be looking to recruit a winger, as previously mentioned, as well as one or perhaps even two attacking midfielders of whom Romaine Sawyers will ideally be the first. He excelled for Walsall last season, he is an elegant player who always has time and space on the ball, and he possesses the ability and vision to cut opposition defences apart. He enjoyed playing for Dean Smith previously and given our failure to sign George Evans, it is important that we manage to get this deal over the line.
The decision regarding whether Brentford sign one or two attacking midfield players might well be determined on whether Lewis Macleod is available for selection. What a boost it would be for everybody if he returns to preseason training fit and raring to go and I see no reason why he won’t. As for Judge, he will eventually need replacing but not until his future is decided on his eventual return from injury. Jota remains in limbo and, genius that he is, is totally irreplaceable anyway.
With Marco Djuricin having left the club at the end of his loan spell, Scott Hogan, Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hofmann are the three strikers who remain under contract. Hogan and Vibe were revelations in the final part of last season and we all hope that they can both pick up where they left off. Hofmann is another matter as he was rarely fully fit and only started six matches and struggled to make an impact. I simply hope that last season was a learning curve for him and that he comes back in July totally determined to make a go of it in English football. The jury is still out on him and it is entirely possible that he might decide to cut his losses and return home and if so he will need replacing, assuming we are then able to sell him, however I can see something in him and expect that he will prove to be far more successful next season as he acclimatises to this country.
Assuming we have three main strikers to choose from and rotate where necessary, there will be no need to bring in a young loan striker unless we feel that given the change in the emergency loan rules we should have someone waiting on the sidelines who can fill in as necessary..
So, to recap I would expect us definitely to sign:
- A third string goalkeeper
- A left back
- A right-sided central defender
- A winger
- An attacking midfielder
In addition, depending upon whether some of our current contracted players leave or lack fitness, we might possibly sign:
- A first choice goalkeeper
- A second attacking midfielder
- A striker
- A young loan striker
I have nailed my colours to the mast and I wonder how many, or more likely, few, of these predictions will come true?