I have always found that it is better to allow some breathing space and thinking time and allow heated emotions to cool down in order to take stock of a situation in a calmer and more rational manner before committing my thoughts and opinion to paper. Now, a day or so after yet another home defeat and shambolic defensive performance by Brentford the dust has settled and it is time for the future of the hapless and indeed luckless Head Coach, Thomas Frank to be discussed.
On the face of it the evidence is damning. His record since taking over from Dean Smith is appalling and would appear to make his position untenable. He has been in charge for nine games now of which only one has been won, one drawn and seven lost with four points gained out of a possible twenty-seven. Brentford, a team that traditionally dominates at home and boasts an excellent record at Griffin Park have lost four out of his five home games and have now conceded an eye-watering eighteen goals with only one clean sheet and thirteen goals scored in Frank’s reign.
He has been in charge now for the equivalent of a fifth of the season and his record, if continued would equate to a miserable total of twenty points over the course of an entire season. The Bees have never lost by more than a single goal since his appointment and have performed well in parts of most of his matches but have done just enough every time to guarantee defeat and in most cases have committed defensive hari-kari and contributed greatly to their own downfall. Seven goals have been conceded from set pieces and both defensive organisation and cover have been sadly lacking.
Brentford came into Saturday’s match boosted by a last minute equaliser and unexpected and unlikely point from their draw at West Brom on Monday night, a game in which they were totally overrun and battered for the opening half. They needed to build on that fortuitous result and make a good start against a Swansea team also lacking confidence after a poor run lately. So what happened? Straight from the kickoff a truly soft and avoidable self-inflicted goal was conceded after a mere twenty-five seconds, caused, yet again by overplaying at the back and losing possession in a dangerous position. The heads went down straight away, the crowd were on the players’ backs and the agenda for yet another desperately disappointing afternoon was set.
A second goal, well worked though it was came soon after with Brentford (through Watkins and Dalsgaard) failing to track runners and the ball being put into the net by the hapless Chris Mepham and a third arrived after a totally unnecessarily conceded and appallingly defended free kick in a dangerous position when the ball was about to go harmlessly out of play for a goal kick. Total madness and lack of discipline. The three goals were scored in the opening twenty-seven minutes – no wonder Frank described the opening of the game as a “horror movie.” Not for the first time Brentford conceded goals in quick bursts, something also done lately against Preston, QPR and Sheffield United.
The home attack looked reasonably potent and the spirit is still there. Brentford fought to the end and came within a whisker of making up the three goal deficit when Sergi Canos hit the bar from seven yards in the last minute – a gilt-edged chance that he simply had to take. A point would have been welcome but would only have papered over the cracks. You cannot give away three soft and quick goals and expect to get something out of a game
The heads went down after the early goals and an on-pitch team talk apparently instigated by Henrik Dalsgaard, the culprit for the third goal, went some way towards restoring a vestige of pride and ensuring that the team started to fight rather than slink off the field, which is what several players appeared to want to do at the time.
So much is wrong about the team, and indeed the club at the moment and given the weight of the problems, some of which were totally unexpected such as the tragic death of Robert Rowan and that, allied to the impending departure of Chief Executive Mark Devlin and the loss of Dean Smith to Aston Villa have all contributed to a perfect storm and a sense of turmoil and uncertainty.
Given the evidence outlined above and indeed the ineptitude being displayed on the pitch, it would appear a total no-brainer to send Thomas Frank on his way, and do it quickly too before the rot sets in and the club sinks like a stone. With a new stadium on the horizon, relegation is unthinkable and yet, in a season when it was realistically hoped that the Bees would indeed leave the Championship, but from the other end of the table, the doomsday and nightmare scenario has to be at least contemplated and steps taken to ensure that it does not occur.
Brentford have rightly prided themselves for making calm, rational, measured and enlightened decisions and of never being guilty of knee-jerk reactions. The league table does lie, they say and instead refer to their own so-called League of Justice which provides a more accurate description of how the team is doing and where it should be in the league. No action was taken after the run of eight games without a win at the start of last season because it was obvious to all observers that this was simply a statistical anomaly that would eventually correct itself given the quality of Brentford’s performances. Now the situation is surely different. The Bees are dropping like a stone, confidence is naturally at a low ebb and performances are declining and deteriorating with much of what was displayed in the last two home games against Sheffield United and Swansea being totally unacceptable and a massive decline form the early season form.
If this was not all bad enough worrying if unsubstantiated rumours emerged last night on a fans’ website forum of indiscipline at the training ground with some players apparently arriving late for training and allegations that they are not buying into the new head coach. As I said these are all rumours and scuttlebutt and perhaps should be treated with contempt or at least suspicion but some might say that there is no smoke without fire.
I met Thomas Frank very briefly after the Sheffield United match last season and found him pleasant, polite and highly intelligent company. There is absolutely no doubt that he is a knowledgeable and enlightened football coach with an excellent track record. From listening to his press interviews my doubts are about his ability to communicate his thoughts and instructions concisely, clearly, colloquially and memorably to a predominately young set of players with probably very low and limited attention spans. English is not his first language and I suspect he finds it hard to get his thoughts over as well as he would like particularly in the key but short periods of time available immediately before a game as well as at halftime. The ability to instruct, lead and inspire his team is a necessary prerequisite for a head coach and it might be, given his language difficulties, he is not able to exhibit the necessary man management and communication skills. Unfortunately, however talented a coach he is, Frank is not Dean Smith, a father figure to the squad who provided a winning combination of humour and firm leadership and commanded instant respect. Nobody mucked around on his watch.
As far as I am aware Dean Smith was the number one who delegated some of the coaching duties to Thomas Frank who also contributed his views to the tactics and team selection but was never the main man. It was Smith who gave the team talks and final instructions to the players. Richard O’Kelly was the traditional number two who acted as a sounding board, buffer and shield where necessary between Smith and the players and gave the manager his total support. Frank was the man with the clipboard providing valuable tactical input but was never the front man. Now he has been pushed into a role that, in all fairness, he performed well at Brondby but that was in an environment that perhaps he was far better equipped to thrive in.
It is always hard for a number two – or even number three in Frank’s case to take over the top job. Players have perceived him in another role and some promoted coaches find it hard to adapt to the added role and responsibility.
Brentford’s decline can easily be measured statistically with the team dropping catastrophically from top in Expected Goals chart when Smith left to twentieth in that table today. Aston Villa have risen in that same period from nineteenth to top. That is a massive demonstration of the influence of Dean Smith and how getting a team to play with confidence can achieve such huge results
The fans are also beginning to voice their displeasure and concern at the current situation and gates are starting to decline. Warning signs that should not be ignored.
I have taken the best part of fifteen hundred words to examine the situation as rationally as I can and it hopefully has not come over as a diatribe against Thomas Frank who is an excellent coach and football man but the evidence against him is certainly strong.
In his defence is the chaos behind the scenes and the appalling tragedy of Robert Rowan’s death which has understandably cast a pall over everything at the club. The injury list is brutal and never ending with Marcondes and Macleod the latest potential long term absentees. As soon as some players come back others go down. The luck has been totally against him. The club’s strategy of having a smaller but higher quality squad this season has so far not worked given the influx of injuries. Around twelve of a diminished squad have missed large chunks of the season so far through injury ensuring that the head coach cannot change things around as he might like to do so – it is more a case of trying to get eighteen fit bodies onto the pitch.
It could also be said that parts of the team are still functioning reasonably as we still look dangerous going forward and it really should not be a Sisyphean task to get the defence to do its job better.
Frank had also been at the club for a couple of years. The directors of football knew how he worked, as did the players. He was a known entity and it was obviously felt that there could be a successful and seamless transition after Dean Smuth’s departure.
It is also not Thomas Frank who is making those repeated and infuriating errors on the pitch which are costing the team so dear and the players have to take a large share of the blame for not executing his instructions and for brain fades, but unfortunately the buck stops with the head coach.
I would state categorically that in essence, having taken everything into consideration, with regret, as Alan Sugar would say, he has to go. But it is not as simple as that.
Dean Smith, the last head coach, was recruited from outside and his appointment took a couple of months to come to fruition with at one time Pep Clotet also in the frame. I also do not know if he was headhunted or applied for the job. Since his arrival all the new assistant coaches have been recruited from Scandinavia – perhaps from the contacts of Rasmus Ankersen. There is talk of a new assistant coach to come in now to help Frank, particularly in terms of defensive organisation and the names of Lee Carsley and Keith Millen have been mooted. They might provide a short term boost, particularly Carsley who was massively popular with the players during his previous spell at the club but he is his own man and perhaps might not be considered to be reliable enough. Millen has a decent reputation but again is probably an unknown quantity to the Directors of Football who might have found it difficult to verify his credentials. They, or even a Michael Appleton, might help Frank communicate his messages more clearly as well as add their own contributions particularly about strengthening our defensive performances.
But would they even want to come if they felt that the Head Coach was perhaps on borrowed time, unless of course they felt they could take over as number one?
My other key question is to ask if we have the necessary contacts to recruit the best possible candidate to become either an assistant or even head coach? I might well be wrong, but I have my doubts, particularly given the loss of Robert Rowan who was particularly well connected within the game. If Frank was to go then I doubt if we would know where to turn and that to me is the main problem.
I suspect we have been caught with our pants down. The powers that be expected Frank to be a success and therefore have no Plan B ready to implement. Frank was always going to be the Dean Smith replacement and ideally we would have had plenty of time to groom his eventual replacement, perhaps another internal appointment such as Kevin O’Connor.
Perhaps bringing in a new assistant would provide a sticking plaster or a short term and temporary boost but it is unlikely on present form to provide the solution we require. I do feel on the balance of probabilities if not with a sense of absolute certainty that Thomas Frank is not on the evidence we have seen so far, the man to take us forward.
That is all very well but I also believe that we will have a massive problem in replacing him and that will be a process that will take time as well as a level of contacts and an expertise that we are currently short of given our diminished resources.
So where to we go? Do we stick or twist? Frank obviously thinks he will be given as much time as he needs as he answered “the whole season” when asked over the weekend how long he had to get things right. I am not sure that is or even should be the case.
I think that whilst we should definitely twist, we are unable to do so straight away without perhaps holing us even more seriously below the waterline. We would run the risk of a leadership void in the key run in before Christmas. Unfair to a decent man though it is, we should keep him in post for the time being, and certainly bring in a Millen or Carsley to help him in the short term. Give him the opportunity to turn things round in the next couple of crucial and eminently winnable games against Hull and Bolton. However we should be aware that unless things improve immediately – and for all Frank’s positive words I see very little evidence of that happening, then strenuous efforts have to be made immediately behind the scenes to begin the long and arduous due diligence process required to find an eventual replacement whether it be from home or abroad.
This might seem unfair and position Thomas Frank as Dead Man Walking, but it is what it is. if he decides to leave in the meantime of his own volition then so be it. He has not been able to rise to the challenge, and unfortunately at this juncture he appears to be a victim of the Peter Principle. It is not all his fault, as he grasped a poisoned chalice given that the situation was already deteriorating in the last days of the Dean Smith reign and everything that can go wrong has subsequently done so.
I want my club to always behave in a honourable and above board manner but Brentford FC is bigger than any one individual. The search must begin now for the new Head Coach.