CHANGES!

We are now three months and 14 games into the new season. Surely time enough for patterns and trends to have emerged and for pundits to begin to make predictions based on hard evidence and reality rather than mere guesswork and wishful thinking?

So where do Brentford find themselves? Rising up the table on the crest of a wave after 3 consecutive wins, still back in 12th place, but now only 3 points away from the Playoff zone and 9 points ahead of the bottom three. Head Coach Thomas Frank is also surely well in the running for the October Manager (or Head Coach in his case) Of The Month Award after the Bees won 10 points in their 5 games this month. The well-regarded Experimental 361 Expected Goals table which is the nearest we can get to the club’s own private League of Justice also has the Bees in 3rd place in the Championship table.

So are we going to make a serious challenge for the Playoffs this season or – perish the thought – even higher, or are we simply currently in a good spell and flattering to deceive with mid table mediocrity a more likely outcome?

Just to remind everyone, last season saw the Bees end up in 11th place, their worst finishing position since they returned to the Championship, and end up 10 points behind the 6th placed team. As is the norm with the Bees we scored loads of goals, 73 – the equal 5th highest total in the league – and were leaky in defence, conceding 59 times – the 10th best record in the Championship.

What I really want to do in this article is examine and explore the changes that have been made in terms of the style, approach, composition and make up of the team since the end of last season of which there have been many.

The first point to make is to highlight the massive turnover of players. In the close season 9 first team squad players left the club in Daniel Bentley, Yoann Barbet, Ezri Konsa, Lewis Macleod, Josh McEachran, Neal Maupay, Romaine Sawyers, Moses Odubajo and Chiedozie Ogbene followed by Emiliano Marcondes and Marcus Forss being sent out on loan in August.

To replace them in came 10 new players in David Raya, Dominic Thompson, Dru Yearwood, Ethan Pinnock, Christian Norgaard, Mathias Jensen, Nikos Karelis, Joel Valencia, Pontus Jansson and Bryan Mbeumo.

As we discovered at the beginning of the 2015/16 season when a similar number of new recruits arrived, many of them from abroad, it takes time to get accustomed to the relentlessness, frenetic pace and pure physicality of the Championship as well as settling down to living in a new country.

Remember also how inconsistent Neil Maupay was in his first year with us before turning into Superman last season? No wonder we made a frustrating and inconsistent start to the season given that the players were largely an unknown quantity to each other and pretty much had to learn each other’s names.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the upheaval is to note that only 2 of the team that started Brentford’s last game at Loftus Road just under a year ago, Dalsgaard and Benrahma, began Monday’s match against QPR. Dasilva, who played on Monday, and Daniels were also on the bench last November. 8 of last season’s team, in Bentley, Konsa, Mepham, Odubajo, McEachran, Yennaris, Sawyers and Maupay have left the club as have substitutes Judge, Barbet and Marcondes (temporarily at least) and Canos is injured.

Such is the way of the world at Griffin Park and given the amount of churn and rebuilding pretty much each year it is frankly (no pun intended) amazing that we finish as high in the table as we do – albeit frustrating, as if we were able to maintain some level of continuity – which of course we can’t owing to our financial constraints – we would almost certainly be playing in the Premier League by now.

The most obvious factor to note about our new arrivals is that they reflect a totally new approach by the management. The likes of Norgaard, Pinnock and Jansson are far older and more experienced than most of our normal recruits. This is reflected in the prices that we have had to pay for them, which of course have been more than met by the huge sums we have earned from outgoing sales over the last 18 months. Only Thompson, Valencia, Jensen, Yearwood and Mbeumo fit the customary Brentford template of our signing young unknown players possessing little experience but massive development potential.

Listening to Thomas Frank in his regular series of interviews it is also clear that he has used his year in charge to reflect carefully on what it takes to bring about success and challenge for promotion. He has continually emphasised the need for a drastic improvement in the defensive side of the game. This is something pretty alien to the accepted Brentford philosophy which can be best summed up by stating “you score 3 and we will score 4,” with an emphasis on vibrant attacking football.

Since gaining promotion to the Championship in 2014 Brentford have scored 78, 72, 75, 62 and 73 goals per season and conceded 59, 67, 65, 52 and 59. Interestingly enough the season we came closest to the Playoffs in the past 4 seasons was in 2017/18 when we fell 6 points short when both scoring and conceding the least number of goals.

Frank has doubtless realised that history demonstrates that you generally need to concede no more than 50 goals if you are to challenge for honours and he has certainly taken this on board, something that is reflected in the signing of 2 tall, experienced central defenders in Pinnock and Jansson who both go against the grain of the customary profile for a Brentford defender in that they are predominately defenders who can also play a bit of football rather than the likes of Barbet, Mepham and Konsa who were first and foremost gifted footballers who also tried to defend. With Dalsgaard, perhaps Brentford’s best performer to date this season, this means that the defence contains 3 tall International players who can all head the ball and defend properly.

This is reflected by the improvement in the overall defensive record. At this point last season the Bees had just commenced a run of 8 defeats in 10 games, were sinking like a stone down the table and had conceded 19 goals, keeping only 2 clean sheets. After 14 games this season the Bees have conceded only 12 goals, and kept 4 clean sheets, a record bettered by only Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday.

Another reason for the huge defensive improvement to date is the arrival of a new goalkeeper in David Raya who has settled in seamlessly and successfully replaced the hapless and error strewn Daniel Bentley who conceded at least 10 goals last season that were purely down to goalkeeping errors. By comparison, Raya oozes confidence, is decisive dealing with high crosses rather than hesitating or flapping at the ball, is quick off his line and accurate with the ball at his feet. You will note that I have not dealt with his shot-stopping capabilities and that is solely because the Bees to date have conceded far fewer chances this season than in previous years and he is rarely seriously tested, but he certainly came up with the goods with exceptional reflex saves at both Swansea and QPR.

After a spell of horrendous results immediately after his appointment last season, punctuated by poor defending, costly unforced errors and a plethora of soft goals conceded; in mid-December Thomas Frank turned the season around and maybe even saved his job by switching from his favoured 433 formation to a 343 in an attempt to plug the defensive holes. At the time of the change the Bees were languishing in 19th place with a mere 22 points after 22 games, had lost 8 of their last 10 matches and were in freefall. In those 22 games the Bees had scored 33 goals and conceded 34. For all their promise and potential Konsa and Mepham were struggling as a defensive pairing and their inexperience was becoming extremely costly.

After switching to 343 Brentford climbed to 11th place in the Championship gaining 42 points in 24 games, scoring 40 goals and conceding only 25 times. 343 proved to be a massive success as the Bees remained a vibrant attacking force and the addition of a third central defender provided extra defensive depth and cover and helped support Ezri Konsa. Yoann Barbet also added another dimension with his cultured left foot and ability to break the forward press and turn defence into attack.

At club level you set the system to best suit the players that you possess, and given the quality of the new central defenders who had just been signed, plus the fact that the 2 new central midfielders lacked match fitness and experience of both the Championship and English conditions Thomas Frank might have realised in the Summer that the 343 system was not the best way forward for the new season. However he decided not to change things and to start the current season with the same 343 system that had proved so successful last season, particularly as the emphasis would now be on solidifying the defence and becoming a far harder team to beat.

So much for the best-laid plans as Brentford began the season poorly and whilst the defence tightened up considerably, the midfield and attack – traditionally Brentford’s strongest point – failed to function and the goals dried up. After 8 matches Brentford had won 2, drawn 2 and lost 4 times, conceding only 6 times but scoring a minuscule 5 goals, three of them in the first half when everything clicked against an abysmal Derby County team.

The Bees were spluttering and firing on one cylinder and the reasons were not hard to identify. The 2-man midfield of Norgaard and Jensen was misfiring, lacked mobility and energy, was failing to cope and generally losing the midfield battle against opponents fielding 1 or even 2 extra men in the cluttered midfield area. Last season Romaine Sawyers and Kamo Mokotjo dovetailed well and their partnership was skilful and mobile enough to dominate, now our 2 newcomers were finding it impossible to match their success, hardly surprising given their lack of experience of English conditions and the Championship, plus fitness issues after a season wracked with injuries for the pair of them.

Less chances were being created in most matches and the forwards were also far from clinical in front of goal. This was again, hardly surprising given the lack of success in replacing the 28 goal machine that was Neal Maupay and the sluggish start from the magical Said Benrahma, slowly recovering from his serious injury incurred at Reading late last season. Ollie Watkins was doing a manful job down the middle but he was learning a new position, he was not Maupay, he lacked the body strength to hold the ball up and link play and we also missed his pace, incision and goal threat cutting in from the wing. The mercurial and frustrating Emiliano Marcondes had singularly failed to take the opportunity granted him early in the season and B Team goal machine Marcus Forss was sent out on loan to AFC Wimbledon where he has thrived at a time when many feel he could have done a job at Griffin Park, despite his lack of experience.

Something had to change particularly as Pontus Jansson and Julian Jeanvier, who had forced his way into the team ahead of Ethan Pinnock, had proved themselves to be perfectly adequate defenders in their own right and the third centre half was proving to be an unnecessary luxury particularly as none of our defenders had proved to be as adapt on the ball as Barbet had been and able to start us on quick counter attacks.

Thankfully, not before time, and maybe even better late than never, Thomas Frank identified the problem and decided to do something about it and at the end of September reverted to the 433 formation dumped last December. In retrospect the change could and should have come much earlier.

The reversion to 433 has proved a great success to date as the Bees have won 13 points in the 6 matches since they switched formations, winning 4, drawing 1 and losing only once. The defensive record has remained impressive, with only 6 goals conceded, but the Bees have scored 13 times themselves.

Ironically, serving only to emphasise the success of this tactical switch, Frank reverted to 343 late on in an attempt to hold onto a narrow 1-0 lead against Bristol City in a game where the Bees had previously hardly looked in danger of conceding, but an annoying and totally avoidable late equaliser was conceded shortly after the change was made. Hopefully the lesson has been learned – attack is certainly the best form of defence as far as Brentford are concerned.

The midfield has also greatly benefited from having an extra body in there. Norgaard has settled down well and is beginning to exert his influence as a defensive midfielder adept at breaking up the play but also with an eye for a pass when coming forward. He was involved in 2 of the 3 goals scored at Loftus Road on Monday. He is providing excellent cover to the back four and ensuring that the extra central defender has so far not been missed. Kamo Mokotjo has also recently regained full fitness and his place in the team and has dovetailed well with Norgaard in a box-to-box role.

Mathias Jensen has struggled to make a major impact as he still appears to be coming to terms with the demands of Championship football and has yet to allay the ghost of the departed and sadly missed Romaine Sawyers. Fans who are quick to criticise should remember that Sawyers also took time to settle down at Brentford and patience is required. Jensen has shown glimpses of his undoubted ability and contributed an assist with a sublimely struck cross for Watkins’s first goal at Barnsley before laying his second on a plate for Watkins at QPR.

For the time being Josh Dasilva fully deserves his starting place and has responded with goals, energy, vision and some sublime passing and skill on the ball. He is yet another star in the making. His pirouette before sliding a perfect defence splitting pass through to Mbeumo on Monday almost beggared belief and attracted an approving tweet from the maestro himself, Romaine Sawyers.

The attack has obviously missed the goals and tireless harrying and winding up of defenders of Maupay but Watkins – although he comes over as far too nice and lacking the Frenchman’s devil – has stepped up to the plate with an impressive tally of 10 goals so far, including a rare hat trick of headers away at Barnsley, so no words of praise are too high for him. Nikos Karelis was signed as a post transfer deadline free agent but the Greek international was a gamble that did not come off and suffered a season-ending knee injury on his full debut and joins the much-missed Sergi Canos on the long term injury list.

We are therefore wafer thin up front until January and any further injuries will hurt us badly. Thankfully Said Benrahma has recovered his form and fitness and finally appears to be playing with a smile on his face and his brilliance is much needed if we are to maintain our progress and even make a challenge for promotion. Bryan Mbeumo is also becoming an increasing influence as an inverted right winger with a wand of a left foot and a real eye for goal.

As Mark Warburton highlighted in his pre-match interview last week, long shots are generally of low value and are more likely to end up with possession ceded to the other team rather than with a goal being scored. Brentford have traditionally followed this principle and looked to create better chances from closer to the opposition goal but something has changed lately with 3 goals being scored from outside the box in the last 3 games, twice by Mbeumo and once by Dasilva. Maybe the quality of the players taking the long-range shot must also be taken into account and Brentford now possess players who can hit the target regularly from distance and they appear to have been given the green light to do so.

Much has therefore changed from last season and it is no surprise that it took a while – and a major tactical change for things to finally gell. We are on a knife edge at the moment. As the Millwall home game approached the last 5 minutes on the 19th October the Bees were 2 goals down despite dominating the match and there were even some rumblings from parts of the crowd. Suddenly it all came right, the Gods smiled down upon us, our luck turned, the goals started to fly in and we have now scored 9 goals and won 9 points in the last week or so. We were also awarded a penalty at QPR at a key time when the home team had come back into the game that some referees might not have given. That is how close is the difference between success and failure in the Championship.

We are certainly good enough to challenge for honours as players become accustomed to their roles and their teammates, but a couple of injuries to key players before the end of the year could still turn things on their head. Brentford are all about innovation, taking calculated risks and managing change and this season is a prime example of all these characteristics.

 

A QUESTION OF BALANCE

It is generally acknowledged that it is unsafe to judge a team’s progress until they have played their first ten matches of a new season so I extend that thought as a caveat when giving my initial analysis and viewpoint on the first month of Brentford’s new season.

It is fair to say that there was a general air of optimism and anticipation – if not expectation – surrounding the club before the big kickoff given the number of mouthwatering new signings and the excitement generated by this being the last ever season at Griffin Park before next season’s much anticipated move to the Community Stadium at Lionel Road.

Again, it is far too early to be scrutinising league tables but to find ourselves today languishing in nineteenth place with a mere four points is not really what any of us expected.

The Bees have won only one of their opening five Championship games, drawn one and lost three. The defensive record is good, with only four goals conceded but the problems are obviously at the other end of the pitch where only two goals have been scored to date.

This is extremely odd as Brentford are widely recognised and renowned for their vibrant brand of exciting attacking football with goals generally easy to come by and it is rare to see a Brentford team so well organised and tough to break down defensively.

So have we metamorphosed into a Middlesbrough or is this a statistical anomaly given the lack of empirical evidence to date? Perhaps the latter as the well-regarded statistical site Experimental 361 has just published its own League of Justice, based on expected goals, which places the Bees in fourth place with ten points (rather than the four we have actually won) and with a cumulative expected goals total of 6.6 compared to the two we have actually scored. Even that is not great – 6.6 goals in 5 games and well under our normal scoring ratio.

It is clear that we are not firing on all – or many cylinders and watching the Championship highlights over the weekend and a well-oiled Leeds machine taking a frankly inept Stoke City apart, shows how far below the pace we are at the moment.

We are seriously undercooked and the reasons seem pretty clear to me.

  1. We are trying to integrate nine new players into the squad
  2. Four of them have never played in the UK before
  3. Six of them have never played in the Championship before
  4. Two of the new foreign signings barely played last season
  5. We have lost eight regular members of last season’s first team squad including the likes of Neal Maupay, Romaine Sawyers, Ezri Konsa and Yoann Barbet
  6. Many of the squad are either coming back from injury, played throughout the summer in International competitions or are still striving to find full match fitness
  7. After a triumphant Transfer Window everything went pear shaped on the final day resulting in Brentford starting off the season without a recognised first team central striker

There has been a regular pattern emerging in four of the five opening games. Brentford dominating possession as is customary and then creating and squandering a number of gilt-edged opportunities. Both Birmingham and Charlton scored with their only shot on target in the entire game so there is nothing wrong with our defensive organisation where Pontus Jansson has made an immediate and massive impact. He and Ethan Pinnock have formed an almost impassable barrier with Luka Racic and Julian Jeanvier vying for the third central defensive spot in Thomas Frank’s favoured 343 formation.

Even there a problem has emerged. Last season one of the three would burst out of defence with the ball, break the opposition press and move menacingly into midfield, quickly turning defence into attack. Barbet was particularly good at this with his ball playing ability almost offsetting his lack of defensive strength and nous. None of the current trio has taken up the mantle and we seem laboured and ponderous in the transition, passing the ball endlessly from side to side and getting nowhere very, very slowly allowing the opposition to set up their defensive shape and restricting our attacking opportunities. Jansson showed on Saturday at Charlton that he does possess the passing ability to fill the void and it is ironic that his one poorly judged pass put Norgaard under pressure near the halfway line, where he was quickly dispossessed and ten seconds later the ball was in the back of our net.

The midfield, one of Brentford’s traditional strengths is also underperforming. Neither Norgaard nor Jensen played much last season and both are only now slowly gaining full match fitness and to make matters worse Norgaard also missed the latter part of the preseason with a knock. Both are sluggish, lack mobility and are easily knocked off the ball and Jensen, the new playmaker, has remained a fairly peripheral figure, not yet managing to seize control and create space and chances for his forwards. Romaine Sawyers is the elephant in the room and his influence, mobility and vision is sorely missed after the decision was made to take the £3m on offer for him rather than allowing him to run down his contract. Jensen is highly regarded and it is hoped that he can develop into the missing link, midfield influence, chance creator and inspiration that we need. Brentford traditionally play slick, quick, sharp passes to create space and open up defences and we currently have lost our tempo and pace in midfield.

Many fans are advocating scrapping the 343 formation and reverting to the previous 433, thus allowing a extra body in midfield, feeling that two central defenders with the ability of Jansson and Pinnock should be enough to cope with most threats. I can see this point of view but advocate caution. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is my motto and it is far too soon to start tinkering when I suspect that most of our early problems and issues are easily rectifiable given a modicum of time and patience. If we are still in a similar position in a month, struggling to dominate and create in midfield then maybe we could do with the energy of Josh Dasilva. As it is we looked far more mobile and creative when Kamo Mokotjo replaced Norgaard in the second half on Saturday and I would certainly start with him against Derby if it is thought he can last the ninety minutes.

The further forward you go in the team the more the problems emerge. Club record signing Bryan Mbeumo is clearly a massive embryonic talent as he demonstrated when crashing that long ranger off the Leeds United goalpost last Wednesday. But he is just twenty years of age, new to the league and needs careful nurturing and easing into the side probably as an inverted right winger although given his strength he could perhaps also play down the middle.

Joel Valencia is another new signing who must be allowed time to find his feet in a new country before challenging for a role on the wing. Despite massive speculation and appearing to make it known that he wanted to leave the club, Said Benrahma remains at Griffin Park ideally determined to demonstrate his match winning ability before the Transfer Window reopens in January. Brentford should be the beneficiaries of this however he is only now slowly returning to full fitness after his bad ankle injury sustained late last season, and it is rumoured that his rehabilitation was not as smooth as was hoped for. We need Said to hold the ball, beat defenders, create space, terrify the opposition and score goals or lay chances on a plate for his team mates and hopefully we will begin to see some of his old magic very soon. He impressed when he came on at Charlton but, quite understandably, he lacks sharpness and is very rusty.

Neal Maupay eventually joined Brighton for a massive fee and has already opened his EPL goal tally. Nobody at the club could begrudge him his opportunity after his 28 goal season. He will flourish at the higher level and I, for one, can’t wait for him to do so. The problem was that the club was unable to replace him. Normally Brentford sign the replacement before any star player is allowed to leave, as was the case with Konsa and Sawyers this summer, but it just did not happen with Maupay. Strikers are notoriously expensive and difficult to sign and perhaps we felt unable to push the button until we were sure that Maupay was actually going to leave us as at one point it seemed like he might not get the move he wanted or us the fee we required.

Rumour has it that we were very close to signing Swiss/Albanian striker Albian Ajeti from Basel and thought that the deal would be completed until West Ham muscled in at the last minute with the carrot of Premier League football. Nineteen year old prospect Halil Dervisoglu did sign from next January from Sparta Rotterdam as it was felt that he would benefit from playing regular Eriedivisie football now rather than sitting on our bench – a sensible decision at the time it was made but one which now looks flawed given our misfortune in not signing a Maupay replacement.

At one point it seemed that Samman Ghoddos would sign from Amiens but despite long, hard and maybe acrimonious haggling at Jersey Road an acceptable deal could not be reached and he returned to France – maybe in retrospect not such a bad outcome for the Bees?

The final target was far closer at hand, Lyle Taylor at Charlton, but because of the lateness in the day we were unable to persuade his club to sell him despite offering £4m for him – it would have been patent madness had they done so and we were left in the lurch.

Good management saw Ollie Watkins given a new, improved contract as he was announced as the central striker and he has indeed scored both Brentford goals this season with sharp close range finishes against Middlesbrough and Hull respectively, but you sense this heart is not truly in his new role. He is far better and more dangerous bursting in from the wings with a dropped shoulder and a burst of pace. He does not link play as Maupay did, nor does he seem to possess the natural instinct that strikers need if they are to find space in packed penalty areas. Watkins always seems to be just too late on the scene or hovering on the periphery.

Marcus Forss who is now apparently injured and Emiliano Marcondes provide other unproven options but it is hard to go from last season’s front three of Maupay, Benrahma and Watkins with Canos on the bench to what we currently possess given the uncertainty of Benrahma’s lack of fitness and Watkins’s change of position.

Nikos Karalis, an oft-injured free agent Greek International striker has just signed for the club and it is to be hoped that we might have pulled a rabbit out of the hat and that he might turn out to be the solution once he regains sharpness and match fitness but at the moment the attacking picture is vague and fuzzy and extremely worrying.

A bit of luck would also not have gone amiss as we have so far hit the woodwork four times in five games with every effort bouncing out rather than in.

Patience and understanding is required with no knee-jerk reactions as all could change for the better after the International Break as players gain confidence, sharpness and fitness. Karalis might prove to be an inspired signing. Benrahma might hit a purple patch and Jensen might start tearing offences apart with his passing ability.

Much more will be known over the next month or so but at the moment there are far more questions than answers.

10 QUESTIONS ABOUT BRENTFORD ANSWERED BY GREVILLE WATERMAN & STATS GURU DAVID ANDERSON

For those of you who haven’t already read this on either the Bees United website or David Anderson’s own blog site here are our joint answers to the top ten questions relating to the how’s and why’s of Brentford FC last season as well as an early sneak preview of how we both feel we might perform next season.

I hope you enjoy this and we would both welcome your comments and feedback.

1. Chairman Cliff Crown rated last season as a 7/10. Do you agree with him?

DAVID: I do. I also went with a 7 when asked to score the season.The majority of fans seem to be in the region of 4-6 out of 10 so 7 may be a confusing answer to them and seem far too generous when looking at the strength of Brentford’s data and where underlying performance suggests Brentford should finish in the table. (Most datasets point to Brentford being a top 6 side). Therefore, the main reason behind such a high score is adversity. The disruption throughout the season with Dean Smith leaving, the Thomas Frank transitional period and the tragic death of Rob Rowan is going to impact any group, let alone a young one. Key injuries to Watkins and Mokotjo and a couple of players proving they weren’t worthy of the faith showed in them at the start of the season, all lead to a squad, that combined with departures over the course of the year felt like it was getting thinner and thinner. To still finish 11th in a league as difficult as this cannot be taken for granted.

GREVILLE: At halftime at Ipswich on 18th September with Brentford seemingly cruising to a comfortable victory that would have seen the Bees firmly established at the top of the table, I saw promotion on the horizon. On 22nd December as we took on Bolton with the Bees in free-fall in 19th place having lost 8 of their last 10 games, I was simply praying for mid-table mediocrity and yet when we won for the first time in decades at Middlesbrough on 9th March I started dreaming about the Playoffs again. What a ridiculous rollercoaster of a season. We all know the reasons why our form tailed off so dramatically due to injuries, the loss of Dean Smith, unforeseen circumstances and even acts of God. A young team lacking leadership floundered and struggled to cope with these massive body blows and it required firm and decisive action from Thomas Frank to right the ship. The Directors of Football intended the squad to be lighter in numbers but higher in quality, but injuries, player sales and a lack of sufficient cover in key positions took their toll. The decision to rely upon Macleod and McEachran to anchor the midfield also totally backfired. Watkins’s lingering toe injury hampered his effectiveness and it is fortunate that the likes of Konsa, Mokotjo, Sawyers, Canos, Maupay and Benrahma took up the slack and provided massive quality and much promise for the future. Last season was not a vintage Championship and our tally of 1 point out of 6 against the eventual title winners Norwich, which should really have been 4 but for an astonishing Maupay miss and yet another Bentley cockup, demonstrated just how narrow were the margins between success and failure. We recovered well, finished strongly and were brilliant and unstoppable on our day – which made matters even more frustrating – but we really should have achieved more. 2018/19 will always go down as a massive lost and wasted opportunity in my book and I would therefore rate the season as no more than 5/10.

2. 433 v 343 v 352 – Have Brentford nailed it or is there still work to do with the formation? 

GREVILLE: When Brentford abandoned their long-established 433 formation in mid-December they were languishing in 19th place with a mere 22 points after 22 games and had lost 8 of their last 10 matches. In those 22 games the Bees had scored 33 goals and conceded 34. Since switching to 343 Brentford climbed to 10th place in the Championship gaining 42 points in 24 games (including Bolton), scoring 40 times (including the Bolton “goal”) and conceding only 25 times. End of discussion! 343 allows for extra central defensive cover with one of the centre halves (initially Barbet) coming out from defence to link with the midfield. The two wingbacks rampage forward acting as auxiliary wingers supporting the front three and the two central midfielders rotate, with one playing deep and the other moving forwards. It is a flexible formation as against Leeds we played a 523 with withdrawn fullbacks for the majority of the first half in order to take the sting out of our visitors. The 343 totally suits our players and has resulted in our winning more points, scoring more goals and conceding less. It also meant that we no longer had to rely upon the sporadically effective Lewis Macleod and Josh McEachran. We will need to recruit two additional central defenders and ensure that all our midfielders are mobile, strong and can play both attacking and defensive roles but for me the decision is an absolute no-brainer. 343 rules!

DAVID: Brentford haven’t quite nailed 343 yet, it’s still a work in progress. We clearly saw significant improvements as a defensive unit, mainly down to an eye opening switch in shape for Brentford fans which grew in its overall effectiveness as the season progressed. Expected Goals Against plummeted and there was much more solidity in the approach to games  The home match v Stoke City was a high point and the single most complete performance I believe I’ve seen at GP. Limiting Stoke to a single shot, (which unfortunately flew into the top corner), it was fair to say Brentford dominated both defensive and offensive aspects of the game. A lot of that was down to the updated system.

There were still games in which it felt like Thomas Frank didn’t trust the side enough to change away from the new 343 shape, even though he possibly wanted to or the situation required it. In some instances, a 352 system could have also offered the extra midfield protection in those tough northern away games when the side seemed to give up big chances through tactical inefficiencies, lack of concentration, fatigue or errors. The ultimate aim is to not to be locked into a solitary system or a single way of playing, but to be able to switch between the 3 or a 4 at the back methods, depending on opponent or available personnel. Phase two on the route towards that is having both the time to work with, but also the right players able to cope with the required tactical, intellectual and physical demands placed upon them.

On reflection, it bodes well that Thomas Frank has shown that he can come up with solutions to solve on field problems and do so with a limited squad. It has been a delight watching some of the tweaks in shape, combinations and phases of play, and seeing the Head Coach’s ideas unfold this year are all positive insights into what could be a fruitful future.

3.Brentford had one of the best home records but also almost the worst away from home. Why?

GREVILLE: Brentford have always enjoyed a decent home record and looking at the confines of Griffin Park, it is easy to see why. A small, narrow pitch with raucous home fans close to the touchlines baying their support has ensured that no away team enjoys their trip to West London. The Bees use the pitch well, invariably dominate possession and put opponents under the type of pressure that not too many teams can withstand. The likes of Maupay, Benrahma, Canos, Watkins and Sawyers are always going to create chances. No wonder the Bees enjoyed their best ever Championship season at Griffin Park last season winning 14 of their 23 home games and scoring 50 goals. Away form home things were totally different. In their previous 4 seasons since promotion to the Championship Brentford won 11, 9, 7 and 9 away games – a more than decent record. In 2018/19 they won 3, the last of which was in the “game that never was” at Bolton. Why did their record decline so greatly? Brentford play the same brand of attacking football both at home and away and sometimes they did not treat their opponents with enough respect and got caught on the break generally with both full backs caught up the field and the centre halves exposed. A young team lacked resilience and organisation and also conceded goals in spurts, particularly at QPR and Preston. There were too many individual errors particularly by Bentley. The move to 343 helped with 16 goals conceded in the last 11 away games (not including Bolton), compared to 20 in the first 11 away games, but that was still far too many and there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done before the start of next season. A young team like Brentford can also lose heart and confidence more easily and perhaps the fact that Brentford only obtained 3 points from their opening 4 away games when they fully deserved all 12 meant that even subconsciously they went into away games almost expecting the worst. Things can, must and will improve next season.

DAVID: This question has so many possible answers. Squad size, playing style, formation, goalkeeper errors, injuries and luck only begin to scratch the surface. I recently tried to look at some of the reasons below.

https://davidanderson.substack.com/p/brentford-fc-and-home-v-away

4. Bentley or Daniels, or Neither? 

DAVID: Bentley has had a difficult season. In fact, it’s been an awful season. In his own words it has been one to forget. Analysing the goals he’s conceded over and over again, I believe it’s fair to say his actions have directly lead to 10 goals . And that’s being generous. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what has gone wrong for Bentley, with off field issues, a change in goalkeeper coach and a young side transitioning all mooted as reasons behind his drop off and not being able to do the fundamentals. Expected Goals conceded (which looks at the post-shot probability of a goal being scored) suggest he should be around the 38 goal mark. Bentley has conceded 45. Good goalkeepers are not producing numbers like this. They’re saving their teams goals and over performing against what they are expected to concede.  His game has dipped to such a level that I’d be concerned going into the start of next season with him as Brentford Number 1. Daniels has been better. His numbers are the inverse of Bentley’s with Expected Goals Conceded suggesting he should have been beaten around 16 times, he’s conceded 13.  There’s a more assured feel across the back line when Bentley is out of the side and it’s difficult to admit how disruptive he feels. It’s gotten to the stage that you’re almost waiting for him to make a mistake. Both Daniels and Bentley can be upgraded massively and from a position of absolute ruthlessness, I believe both should be moved on if top six aspirations are serious. The talk around David Raya at Blackburn is not filling me with a huge amount of confidence either. Raya feels too small at 6ft and when Blackburn came to GP last year, he himself was guilty of the type of error we’re trying to eradicate. How much of an upgrade, if any, would he be against the current pairing? Goalkeepers can both benefit or take the brunt of certain team styles. If a team defends deep, a goalkeeper may gain unfair plaudits from having to make a low number of saves from low quality shots. Defenders and Midfielders are doing their share of blocking and limiting the shots faced. If you’re a goalkeeper in an expansive side that looks to press high and dominate the ball in the opposition’s half, the side may become susceptible to counter attacks and one v one goalkeeper-striker situations. This can make you look bad. A possession heavy team that looks to press high without that ball and engage as early as possible is the strategy Brentford favour. As a result of this and when counter-pressing fails, giving away set-pieces and corners become a huge concern due to the sides make-up and weaknesses aerially. Having a goalkeeper that struggles with the basics, such as commanding the box and decision making, are flaws the side cannot afford to continue to drag around. For Brentford, this is where we end up. The style can make the goalkeeper look worse, but in Bentley’s case, the majority of his errors are coming from set piece situations, poor technique and questionable decision making. However much or little it is down to style, great deals of those insecurities were removed when Daniels came into the side. Daniels himself isn’t the answer to this conundrum and it feels like an area to heavily invest in or maybe exploit the options raised in the following question.

GREVILLE: When Dan Bentley signed a 4-year contract for the Bees in 2016 for an initial £1.1m fee you could see what the game plan probably was. Develop and improve him for 3 seasons and then probably sell him for a profit this summer. He initially impressed, came though a sticky spell in 2017, but the wheels came off last season which started badly with his misplaced clearance gifting Andre Gray a goal in the Watford preseason friendly. It really didn’t get much better for him as his season was punctuated with a series of costly and confidence sapping errors with at least 9 goals down to him – and that’s a generous estimate. His excellent distribution continued to play a major part in our swift breaks from defence but his loss of form was a mystery. Could it be attributed to the new goalkeeping coach or was there another cause? Bentley has recently announced that he and his partner are about to have a Rainbow baby and this might help explain why perhaps football was not his main priority last season. If we sell and replace him now he is damaged goods and is unlikely to net us much of a profit. Maybe therefore we could give him the benefit of the doubt and keep him as first choice in the hope that he recovers his lost form and confidence? If that was the case he would need to extend his contract as otherwise we risk losing him on a free transfer in a year’s time. I think this is too much of a gamble and that he will be sold and replaced this summer – but not by Luke Daniels. The perennial reserve goalkeeper was unfortunate to be dropped by Thomas Frank as soon as he took over from Dean Smith and, apart from one poor match at Swansea, did little wrong and appeared to be growing into the job, ending the season with 4 clean sheets in his last 10 games, conceding only 12 times (not including the cancelled Bolton match). He was calm and consistent but his distribution (a key requirement for a Brentford goalkeeper) was not as quick or sharp as Bentley’s. Daniels has spent 2 seasons away from his family and I expect him to return to the North of England and find a first team berth elsewhere.

5. Should Brentford change their loan policy? 

GREVILLE: There was a time when loanees played a crucial part in Brentford’s recruitment policy. Harlee Dean, Adam Forshaw, Alan Judge and Jake Bidwell all came on a try before you buy basis. The likes of Tom Adeyemi, Marcello Trotta, George Saville, Alex Pritchard, Jon Toral, Sergi Canos and John Swift gave us good service too. Everything changed in 2016/17 when two nondescript loanees in Callum Elder and Sullay Kakai came and went without making any impact and since then the Bees have totally relied upon their own players. This is quite understandable, as why should they pay inflated loan fees to develop another club’s players when they have a lot of promising young B team players of their own to bring through whose pathway would be blocked by loanees? I am in agreement with this policy but sometimes when you see the influence that an elite loanee such as Harry Wilson, Tammy Abraham or Mason Mount can have on a team you start to wonder whether Brentford should dabble in the loan market. The truth is that we cannot compete for players of this calibre so why go for second best given how high the bar has been raised in terms of the quality of the players that we are now looking to sign? If we could find a gem of a loanee with an option to buy him, then perhaps we should reconsider but otherwise we are right to rely upon developing our own players as the number of B Team players making their first team debut last season clearly indicates.

DAVID: This is a tough question but I’m edging towards the side of yes. Well, relaxing it. The arguments against tend to be along the lines of developing another clubs assets or how loans are similar to leasing a car. You’re paying for it, of course, but are never going to own the vehicle, with the actual owner reaping all of the long term rewards. What I’m getting at is that there should be a nuance to the decision as it does go against long term stability for short term impact. Whether or not to loan players should not be a strict yes or no policy, more an assessment of how much improvement can be gained within the squad. Does paying a potential loan fee and covering part of the wages for the right player increase the probability of the squad making the playoffs or gaining promotion? Is having a more open mind and allocating an amount of the annual budget for a potential loan a better use of some of the transfer or wage kitty? Remember, there are players that are always going to be impossible for Brentford to own in the current guise, but in the short term, specifically an elite defensive minded player (along the lines of a Kristian Bielik), there could be players that fit the missing pieces and therefore pass the cost benefit analysis. I’m never going to be able to own a Ferrari, but for a short period, I could maybe lease one as I up climb up the social ladder (And fall rapidly down soon after it’s return). It’s a far more aggressive variant, but we only have to take a look at the manipulation of the market at Derby and the impact their loan army has had on their season.

6. Most Undervalued player of 18/19 & Most Exciting B Team Prospect? 

DAVID: Moses Odubajo is my choice of most undervalued player: he had a solid return from injury. He’s had plenty of defensive cover due to the 3 at the back system but still has played both full back/wing back positions effectively. Mainly covering on the left for Henry, he physically grew stronger with every minute on the pitch. In an attacking sense, Moses could feel a bit hard done by with his final season numbers.

Expected Assists (xA) assigns a value to passes based on their likelihood to creating a goal.

His xA total for the season is around 2, yet he registered no assists.

His xG total for the season is around 1, yet he scored no goals.

It’s fair to say Odubajo could have registered both assists and goals had it not been down to wasteful finishing by teammates (very Brentford), being faced with an in-form goalkeeper or missing the target with his attempts on goal.  A decision has been made to not trigger an extension to his contract, which proved widely unpopular and certainly surprised a number of people. It does go to show that being 100% physically fit and also a perfect fit, in terms of personality, you have to be, to succeed in the precarious world of football. The decision makers believe that other options both internally or externally are better value.

Theo Archibald is my most exciting B team propspect: Theo went on loan to League Two’s Forest Green Rovers and came back a man. Physically imposing, a left footed technician with pace to burn, Archibald is much more than just a prospect and could step into the first team if required. A powerful, 21 year old, he feels like a Thomas Frank type player. Intelligent and versatile enough to cover both attacking and defensive sides of the game, he’s equally comfortable at Full-Back or in the Wide Forward positions. It’s time for his career to gain speed, so here’s hoping his versatility doesn’t work against him and whether with Brentford or not, he makes a further dent on league football. His progression points to 19/20 being a great year for Theo Archibald.

GREVILLE: If by “undervalued” you mean someone who is taken for granted, and just gets on with his job with metronomic efficiency and totally without fuss, the obvious answer is Kamo Mokotjo who thrived on the change to a 2-man central midfield and effortlessly shared the defensive and attacking load with the wonderful Romaine Sawyers. He plugged the gaps and even managed to score 4 times including a quite brilliant team goal at Rotherham. Hopefully he will extend his contract after the African Cup of Nations, otherwise he is likely to leave in the Summer. A mention too for the recently departed Moses Odubajo who arrived and left without fanfare, overcame his long-term injury horrors and played effectively on both flanks in 30 league games. It is a testimony to the conveyor belt of talent emerging from the B Team that it is hard to single one player out. Marcus Forss showed that he can score goals in the Championship, Mads Bech Sorensen steadily improved the more he played in the first team and Patrik Gunnarsson, Jan Zamburek and Jaakko Oksanen all impressed in their cameos. For me the most exciting prospect is Luka Racic who resembled an embryonic Chris Mepham when making a couple of late season appearances. He won his headers, read the game well and was strong in the tackle but, most noticeably; he was so calm, composed and comfortable on the ball as he played his way out of trouble. He is really one to watch for next season.

7. Indispensable players going into season 19/20? Who must DOFs ensure we keep? 

GREVILLE: Since our promotion to the Championship we have been privileged to watch so many star players who at the time we felt were indispensable and then worried about the effect of their potential departure. How could we possibly thrive or even survive in this league without the likes of Jota, Max Colin, Andre Gray, Alan Judge, Scott Hogan, Ryan Woods, Lasse Vibe, Chris Mepham and Philip Hoffmann? OK, I was joking about the last named one! None of them play for Brentford any more and yet we have managed to finish in the top half of the table for the past 5 seasons. Of course I would like Romaine Sawyers, Kamo Mokotjo, Ezri Konsa, Neil Maupay, Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins to still be at Griffin Park next season but I trust the Directors of Football to manage these complex situations well and if we do sell some of the above – and it would be some and not all next season – then I am confident that the model will continue to work and that those that leave will be replaced by a new coterie of even better players and our progress as a club will continue. So my answer is “none.”

DAVID: Said Benrahma & Neal Maupay are my nominees.So where have we reached with the pair? How do you replace the irreplaceable and is it silly to think of them as indispensable, knowing how successful succession planning has been at Brentford?

The quality of Maupay and Benrahma is now as such that if they were sold, there could be the breaking of transfer records to bring in players able to immediately replicate their output. Maupay has contributed 35% to Brentford’s overall league goal total. Of Brentford’s non-penalty Expected Goals total, (the value of all of the chances created excluding penalties) Maupay amassed approx 43% of the teams total. This does make sense; Brentford’s system is heavily focussed on creating chances for the player at its tip. Maupay is the only genuine central striking option, and if fit, he starts every game and is almost never subbed. That being said, this is a large amount of exclusive output, and in terms of shots, the most reliant any side in the Championship is on a single player. Maupay is a special talent but he could be more ruthless in front of goal. In terms of the amount of chances he converts, he’s weaker than that of the other strikers around the top of the scoring charts. What sets him apart from Tammy Abraham or the experienced Billy Sharp is his all round game. His work in deeper central areas in terms of off the ball pressure, possession regains and forcing opposition into riskier passes. What price do you put on his off the ball work as well as replacing 25 Goals and 8 Assists?

Leading the way for Assists in his debut season in the Championship, Said Benrahma too has had an awesome year. With his directness and the ability to receive the ball in half spaces on the turn, he’s raised the bar with not just wide play but also what Brentford fans thought was physically possible with the ball at your feet. 10 Goals and 14 Assists is a fantastic return and Said has outperformed his underlying numbers in terms of Expected Assists and Expected Goals from the shots he’s taken and chances he’s created. He very much could be one of those exceptional talents that continually do this, looking destined for a future starting for a side in one Europe’s top 5 leagues. Whether that is with Brentford, or without remains to be seen. As great as they have been, they’re not irreplaceable. Nobody is. They’re heavily relied upon and very good but still developing young players. Neither is the finished article with both able to significantly improve efficiency in front of goal. Especially Benrahma, as for instance 64% of his shots have come from outside the box for a return of 3 goals. Shot location and selection, you say,? A work in progress.

Brentford feels at a tipping point. As talent levels increase at the top end of the squad, the money involved to replace said talent will inevitably increase with it. It’s the scouting of players at a higher tier which brings with it the greater risk in outlay and the more to lose if the transfer doesn’t unfold as planned. With the extra outlay, more of a guarantee in future performance is built into the price. And while you wouldn’t trust anybody much more than the Brentford decision makers with spending money, nothing is guaranteed in football.

8. You have a blank cheque, which one player from the Football League would you advise Lee Dykes to put to the top of his scouted list? 

DAVID: Technically he’s not owned by a Football League club, so I’m cheating a bit here and in doing so struggling to look beyond Kristian Bielik. Having spent the season on loan from Arsenal in the third tier at Charlton, he has shown himself to be able to comfortably step up a division. He’s a defensive monster, producing stand out numbers all season. He’s incredibly versatile and not only organizes, tackles, heads and intercepts anything that comes his way, he is highly technical on the ball, able to progress possession to advanced teammates. On top of all of this he’s also a danger in the opposition’s box leaving very little that he can’t do. Having made it to the League One Play-Off final, he should cap off a superb year for the Addicks and is the kind of classy and shrewd defensive minded player Brentford have missed all season.

GREVILLE:The days of being in the know about player arrivals through boardroom leaks are long gone and I no longer have any idea beyond rumour and scuttlebutt who our intended targets are. I would expect that any creative or attacking players would come in from overseas where, as clearly demonstrated by the likes of Maupay and Benrahma, there are still bargains to be had – if you know where to look. As far as the EFL is concerned I would be targeting the lower divisions to see if we could find another Tarkowski, Hogan or Watkins. A left sided central defender is a priority and there has been talk of interest in Ethan Pinnock at Barnsley but I prefer Matt Clarke at Portsmouth, a massive unit who defends well but has a delicate touch on the ball and enjoyed a great season, winning 13 Player of the Season awards at the club.  With Barnsley promoted and Pompey staying down, Clarke will definitely be leaving for the Championship as he has many suitors, including the likes of Stoke and Swansea. I just hope that we are one of them. Given the identity of Lee Dykes’s former employers I also had a look at Bury and there is an undiscovered jewel at Gigg Lane in Danny Mayor. Bury played some scintillating one touch football last season when gaining promotion from the fourth tier with Mayor, a skilful two-footed attacking midfielder always the fulcrum. He is 28 now but a late developer who would thrive playing with better players. I would love to see him given an opportunity at a higher level.

9. Josh McEachran and Lewis Macleod failures or victims of circumstance?

GREVILLE: I cannot think of another Brentford player who has polarised opinion amongst fans as much as Josh McEachran with his thread on the Griffin Park Grapevine running to an amazing 348 pages. There was much excitement when he signed for the club In July 2015 for a reported £750K fee but even at the time I saw his signing as a gamble, given that he had never kicked on anywhere after falling out of favour following his meteoric start as a Chelsea wunderkind. Perhaps things might have gone better for him had he not fractured his foot twice in his first season but that really set the tone for his four year stay in which he never fully established himself as the match winner he was hoped to be, suffered a series of ill-timed and lingering injuries and in all played barely 100 games. He was capable of brilliant defence splitting passes and tore Aston Villa apart on one glorious January evening back in 2017, but we saw them all too seldom. He could put in a tackle when required but he seemed to lack energy and mobility and perhaps even hunger, and rarely lasted a full 90 minutes. He was undoubtedly a good player who seemed unsuited to the hurly-burly nature of the Championship and he could not cope with the switch to the 343 formation and faded from the scene. It will be fascinating to see where he emerges next season and if he can finally, at the age of 26 fulfil his undoubted promise. Lewis Macleod must be wondering what he has done to deserve the ill fortune that has dogged him since he arrived to a fanfare of trumpets from Glasgow Rangers in January 2015 for a fee approaching £1million. Due to a seemingly never-ending series of injuries, both minor and major, he played a mere 41 games in all. Perhaps the Bees should have been forewarned, as Macleod had been no stranger to injury whilst at Ibrox. Finally fully fit for the 2016/17 season, he impressed as an attacking midfielder who became our set piece specialist before incurring a season-ending knee injury at QPR. His last 2 seasons at Griffin Park were also dogged by injury although he scored twice in the early part of last season and headed a crucial late equaliser at West Brom before succumbing to yet another hamstring injury. He too is looking for a new home next season. Both McEachran and Macleod can only be deemed failures but in my opinion the failure was not of their own making. McEachran is a leopard who cannot change his spots and has not shown he can be relied upon to become a team leader or major influence, and as for Macleod, he never really got started – but should Brentford have done better due diligence upon him and realised that he was far too risky a proposition to sign?

DAVID: Both players’ time at the club will be looked back on as failures. Their performances on the field have odd dashes of positive moments but their Brentford careers are mostly filled with nothing but disappointment. Because of this, neither will be missed. At all.

Lewis Macleod can be afforded the unlucky one with injuries tag as there has been some truly bizarre problems over the years. When he has manage to get onto the pitch, he boasts some impressive creative numbers and chipped in with 4 goals and 5 assists. The problem has always been getting him on the pitch. 2334 Championship minutes is his Brentford legacy and that is where it’s hard to view his time at club with anything other than frustration. Josh McEachran is arguably the only failed result in terms of succession planning since Brentford’s return to the second tier. Almost every important player that has moved, striking fear into fans about the future, has been replaced by another player that has simply performed to a higher level and has bluntly, been a better player.

When McEachran and Macleod fluttered their eyelids against Rotherham on the first day of season 18/19, their performances had to be viewed with plenty of caution. These are players that have a long history of not playing football matches, so to pin hopes on them performing at a high level across a large chunk of 46 Championship games would be them achieving something extraordinary and highly unlikely.

While better at progressing the ball into the final third than Ryan Woods, McEachran is not robust enough to perform week in, week out in the way the now Stoke City player did. He neither has the off the ball discipline, nor the athleticism to regularly complete 90 minutes at Championship level. A head coach starting him almost rules out one of the three allotted substitutions before a ball is kicked.The thought that McEachran could replace Ryan Woods alway struck me as a bizarre stance. It went so wrong that Thomas Frank had to devise an entirely different shape for the team to play, dropping the deep lying playmaker role entirely. Many make arguments backing McEachran, using the very case of victim of circumstance or he’s been unlucky with injuries. The brutal truth is that football has passed him by and quickly turned into a sport of elite athletes during his critical development years. If you’re not an elite athlete, the game has very few openings.

He’s brilliant in training, say those that train with him. Never actually fearful that he’d take their place on Saturdays starting lineup sheet.

Unfortunately for McEachran, he arrived with a big reputation and leaves as one of the most disappointing players of this Brentford era.

10. Frank v Smith – Main differences and can Thomas Frank eclipse the work of his Predecessor? 

DAVID: Dean Smith and Thomas Frank have contrasting approaches to the game. The former was rigid in his attacking approach to football, almost exclusively opting to play 433, whatever the situation, opponent and whether it suited the players or not. We can get too hung up on formations but his use of John Egan during his time at Griffin Park is a case in point. Had Brentford switched to 3 centre-backs to support Egan, instead of continually playing him in a central pair with a high line and huge spaces in behind, we may have seen some of the performances that have contributed to Egan winning promotion to the Premier League. The brilliant team in front of him obviously have a lot to do with it too but we do have to question whether Smith was getting the most out of the players at his disposal.

Frank seems to take on the game with much more of a holistic approach. Viewing defending as importantly as he sees attacking; controlling games in both areas is what he ultimately wants from his side. The positional tweaking of Romaine Sawyers has turned the captain into one of the best central midfielders in the division. Moving to a system using wing-backs has seen the side become tougher to beat whilst keeping the attacking flair that makes Brentford such a dangerous opponent. Maupay has had his most prolific season to date and Mokotjo has at times made it look unfathomable that if Ryan Woods were to return, there would be room for him. Sergi Canos has finally begun to show glimpses of the player from years ago with Dalsgaard too growing in defence and attack due to a positional change. Dasilva has himself shown signs that if he continues to do the work Frank asks of him, he could be a EPL midfielder. Though the league finish feels disappointing, I’m not convinced a number of these things would have necessarily happened under Smith. Next season, with a full squad to select from, Frank has the mindset to eclipse the top 10 finishes of his predecessor and make a sustained assault at the Play-Offs.

GREVILLE: Dean Smith’s three highly successful years at Brentford saw the club established as a top 10 Championship team – a truly excellent achievement given our lack of resources – but he was never able to produce a team consistent, defensively sound or robust enough to make a serious challenge for the Playoffs. He favoured a 433 formation apart from a brief foray with 532 in late 2016. An excellent man manager and teacher, popular with his squad, who encouraged the team to play on the front foot; but results were streaky and he never convinced me that he could take us further than he did. Thomas Frank has great inner strength and self-belief, as he never appeared to falter despite the start from hell when taking over from Smith. Instead he quietly analysed the situation and came up with a perfect tactical solution. His switch to 343 enabled the team to throw off the shackles of fear and indecision, defend in greater depth, allowed the attacking wingbacks to support an already potent attack and most importantly, a mobile and flexible midfield two in Sawyers and Mokotjo made a faltering and inconsistent McEachran redundant. Frank seems far more tactically astute than his predecessor whom he totally outfoxed, outsmarted and out-managed when beating Aston Villa in February by totally pulling the wool over Smith’s eyes when unveiling Sergi Canos as an attacking wingback. The football under Frank is as vibrant and exciting as ever and the home performances against Villa, Stoke, Blackburn, Hull and QPR were exceptional, but there is a steely depth and pragmatism to the man that makes me feel that we can go even further under his astute leadership once he manages to sort out the appalling away form. Quite how far remains to be seen depending upon the makeup of the squad we both start and end next season with.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s There To Look Forward To?

It’s the beginning of April and at the start of the season I, along with many other supporters, was hoping with no little justification that by this stage of the season we would be cheering our beloved Brentford team over the line as they looked to cement a Playoff place, or – heaven forbid – something even better. That being said as the winter nights drew in and after a listless performance and defeat at Hull City on 15th December the Bees had plummeted to 19th place in the table, and we were anxiously looking downwards rather than up. We now find ourselves safely anchored in mid table mediocrity, nine points from the Playoff zone – still tantalisingly close, but surely out of reach, but a massive fourteen points away from the dreaded bottom three.

Quite why the season has been such a topsy-turvy rollercoaster as we have oscillated from near the top of the league almost to the bottom and now halfway back again is surely a subject that will be discussed and analysed carefully at the end of the season and there is no need for me to rehash some of the reasons, justifications or even excuses at this juncture. What is more important is to look forward rather than back and highlight what we have to look forward to before the season draws to a close in just under five weeks’ time.

  1. At the time of writing we have eight games left to play, four at home and four away and with 24 points still to play for we can at least aim to finish in the top ten for the fifth season running which would be an incredible feat for a club of our size and standing, and highlight just how much we have been punching above our weight and making a little go a very long way indeed. The last year has seen a grudging acceptance and even appreciation of our methods, playing style, ethos and business strategy from many former sceptics from within all areas of the football world and a top ten finish would emphasise just how great our achievements have been and the progress we continue to make both on the field and off.
  2. We are just over a season away from the move to Lionel Road and the club is trying to attract a new generation of supporters to the club who will be attracted not just by the quality of the enhanced, updated and more modern facilities that they will find on offer at the new stadium but also by the evidence of a club on an upwards curve of achievement. This is why we must retain our focus even when we are playing what could be seen as a number of dead rubbers over the next month and ensure that matters are not allowed to drift.
  3. Experimentation in terms of lineups if not formations as we need to assess what works best for us and which players are up to the challenge and can remain with us and contribute fully on our journey and who is not quite good enough, as well as providing a first team opportunity to the most promising of the B Team squad whilst ensuring that the team put out on the field is always strong enough to compete in every game – a potentially tricky juggling act where the Directors of Football might conceivably want to see more experimentation than the Head Coach.
  4. To continue in the courtship and recruitment process for next season given that we are likely to require a large number of high quality reinforcements in almost all positions in order to ensure a squad good enough to compete next season. This season we have relied upon a strategy of quality over quantity and the depth of the squad has creaked ominously from time to time as we have struggled to cope with player losses through sales and injury.
  5. To come to some level of decision regarding the goalkeeping position. Daniel Bentley is an exceptional professional and talent who has endured a terrible season riddled with costly errors and now injury. Can he be rehabilitated for next season or will he be sold – probably at a figure far lower than we at one time anticipated? if so can we rely upon Patrick Gunnarsson or Ellery Balcombe as deputies? Surely they will both be properly blooded over the next eight games. We are well aware that Luke Daniels is a Steady Eddie number two – no more – no less.
  6. Can Rico Henry return to the team after yet another injury and, in a 3-4-3 system seemingly made for him, return to his previous high levels of performance and – most importantly – remain fit.
  7. To ensure that Lewis Macleod, Josh McEachran and Yoann Barbet are ushered off the premises at the end of the season with suitable thanks for past achievements and service whilst minimising their minutes on the pitch. McEachran has already been marginalised and the injury to Barbet at Wigan is perhaps a Godsend as it provides an opportunity for the massive hulk that is Mads Bech Sorensen to be given a run in the team and demonstrate his quality and promise for next season and beyond.
  8. Can Neal Maupay reach the rare and coveted 25 goal mark in the Championship? What an achievement that would be. Gary Blissett scored a remarkable 21 league goals in the 1992/93 First Divison relegation team and Neal trails him by a mere one goal at the moment. Maupay has been grossly overworked given the lack of other striker options – another deliberate policy that has merited much debate both pro and con, and can he retain the energy and drive to increase his goal tally over the matches that remain?
  9. The chance to derail the promotion hopes of both Leeds United and Derby County when they both visit Griffin Park.
  10. Attractive local(ish) derbies at Reading and Millwall.
  11. Seeing if Josh Dasilva, who enjoyed a promising full Championship debut at Wigan on Saturday, can be integrated into the team and prove to be a viable midfield option for next season.
  12. Giving Emiliano Marcondes, who has had nothing but bad luck since he joined the club, the chance to prove that he is a major talent and crowd pleaser who will enhance the team and prove to be a star next season.
  13. Enjoying the artistry and sheer brilliance of the likes of Said Benrahma and the peerless Romaine Sawyers, two of the most gifted players I can ever recall gracing the Griffin Park pitch (and I do remember Stan Bowles if not Johnny Brooks).
  14. Demonstrating to the likes of Henrik Dalsgaard, Kamo Mokotjo and Romaine Sawyers that our ambitions remain unchanged and convincing them to buy into our vision by extending their contracts with the club beyond 2020 as long as we do not receive attractive offers for them this Summer.
  15. Offering Chiedozie Ogbene and Marcus Forss a little light at the end of the tunnel by giving them some first team minutes too.
  16. Providing a carefully controlled first team opportunity to the vastly talented Jaakko Oksanen and Jan Zamburek and considering the same for the promising Kolbeinn Finnsson and Theo Archibald too if they merit their promotion.
  17. Cheering on the enormously successful Brentford B team as they seek double cup glory and the chance to put some silverware into our fairly barren trophy cabinet
  18. Saying goodbye and thank you to an exceptional coach and thoroughly decent man in Lars Friis.
  19. Seeing if we can hit the elusive fifty league goals at home mark. We need to score ten in our last four games.
  20. Hopefully saying good bye and good riddance to the dreaded and detested (by many) Jaffa Cakes away kit
  21. Appreciating just how much Head Coach Thomas Frank brings to the team and club. We are fortunate to have such a decent, grounded, intelligent and talented man at our helm – and apologies for ever doubting him!
  22. Rejoicing in the sheer quality of the football that we are privileged to enjoy at Griffin Park- we are the envy of so many other football fans forced to stomach and endure far thinner gruel.
  23. Hoping that we will find the mindset to become far less of a soft touch away from Griffin Park where we need to win at least ten away games if we are to challenge next season.
  24. Making the most of what little time remains at Griffin Park – my home from home and a ground which is seared into every pore of my being.

“Done Deal” by Daniel Geey. Fascinating, comprehensive & a must read!

 

Time was when footballers had much in common with the supporters who watched them. Until 1961 a maximum wage of £20 per week was in force, which meant that the gap between the salaries of the top footballers and the fan in the street was not massive or insurmountable. Fans would travel to and from matches on the bus and would very often bump into some of the players they had just cheered or booed from the terraces.

Thanks to the sterling work of Jimmy Hill and the PFA, the maximum wage was scrapped, Johnny Haynes was awarded the massive salary of £100 per week and footballers were finally and correctly treated as the entertainers they were and the void between the player and the fan grew ever wider.

That being said I recently wrote the biography of a lower league journeyman, Bob Booker, who played for Brentford and Sheffield United between 1978-1993. He joined the Bees as an apprentice upholsterer on piecework earning between £170-200 per week, good money in those days. He exchanged the security of a job for life for a one-year contract with Brentford at £60 per week. As a lower division footballer he was seen as easily replaceable and it took him until 1986, eight long years on, for him to earn £200 per week as a professional footballer and catch up to where he had been before he came into the game. Like most players of his time he had no security, worked on a series of one-year contracts and he would be handed a new contract at the end of each season, given a pen and told, “sign here.” Negotiation was unheard of and he just felt grateful to still be in a job.

The bad old days are long gone and now it is the player, particularly those at the top end of the game that calls the tune and possesses all the power.

Football books used mainly to be anodyne ghost written autobiographies of the stars or leading managers. How things have changed. Supporters bombarded and fuelled by a constant stream of information and consciousness on social media and in the press are more demanding than ever and take a vicarious delight in learning what happen behind the scenes.

Now a leading sports lawyer, Daniel Geey, has granted their wishes with the long overdue publication of “Done Deal,” a book which provides a comprehensive, insightful , fascinating and all encompassing overview of how the game is really run and how in most cases how it is now the players and their agents who call the tune. The game has finally turned full circle.

Geey has wide experience of advising players and clubs alike as well as rights holders and other sports companies. He ranges from topic to topic and in clear and succinct prose, studded with case studies and examples, he provides the answers to the questions that most fans, and indeed even those working within the game would like to pose.

Most appropriately, I am writing this review on Transfer Deadline Day and Geey explains the dynamics behind a deal and covers every aspect that needs to be covered off and how things can so easily go wrong.

Personally I have always found it hard to understand how an agent ostensibly working on behalf of a player can be paid a fee or commission by the club rather than by his client in what seems like a clear conflict of interest but this, and various other anomalies and even perhaps weird practices are covered clearly and explained by Geey.

The timing of this book is also highly relevant given the tragic situation of Cardiff’s new striker Emiliano Sala, recently lost without trace after his private plane had gone missing. Now is the time for mourning rather than recriminations but you can only begin to think about the knotty legal issues and questions that will at some time soon need to be dealt with in terms of liability, insurance, the payment of the transfer fee plus many others.

Geey sheds light on some of the weird and wonderful contractual clauses put into player’s contracts such as Neil Ruddock’s famous weight clause and Barcelona agreeing to fly over Neymar’s friends from Brazil to spend time with him in Spain every two months – you’d think the player could have easily afforded to pay their costs himself but it was the club who footed the bill!

Some seemingly astute businessmen seem to switch off their brains when they involve themselves in football and become totally star struck and it was good to be reminded of Mark Goldberg spending £22.8 million to buy Crystal Palace but still having to lease the stadium, Selhurst Park from Ron Noades and also paying Terry Venables a fee of £135,000 simply to open talks about becoming the manager of the club. Crazy times!

Geey explains how the work permits system works and the potential problems that BREXIT might cause for the game as well as covering the thorny question of media and broadcasting rights and television fees.

Every chapter contains fresh nuggets and it is illuminating to read about how so many footballers have fallen foul of social media through misguided and Ill-thought through tweets and also to recap Nicolas Anelka’s appalling quenelle gesture which deservedly cost him a ban of five games and a fine of £80,000.

This is a comprehensive and illuminating primer for anyone interested in how the game operates today and fully emphasises the importance of providing watertight legal agreements to cover all eventualities.

Geey will not win any style points or prizes but the book flows and is an easy and illuminating read that is highly recommended.

“DONE DEAL” BY DANIEL GEEY IS PUBLISHED BY BLOOMSBURY SPORT AND COSTS £16.99. KINDLE VERSION IS ALSO AVAILABLE.

 

Brentford’s January Transfer Window – Much Ado About Nothing?

Brentford supporters have come to regard the January transfer window with something approaching dread as they are well aware that given its status as a stepping stone club, Brentford prefers to sell rather than buy at a time when prices are inflated and skewed by desperation and it is therefore far harder to find value and bargains.

Perhaps it is worth investigating whether their pessimism is justified? Has a pattern emerged over the last four January transfer windows since the Bees were promoted to the Championship?

The beginning of 2015 saw the upstarts from Brentford unexpectedly challenging for honours and with their star players still massively under the radar, owner Matthew Benham was apparently keen for the squad to be strengthened for the final promotion push, however the story goes that manager Mark Warburton was not keen to risk upsetting the applecart in a happy dressing room by bringing in newcomers and the likes of Bernardo and Marco Djuricin remained unsigned. Three signings were however made with the future in mind in Jack O’Connell, Josh Laurent and the seemingly injury jinxed Lewis Macleod, a semi-permanent sicknote ever since.

January 2016 saw the calculated decision made that the club was unlikely to either challenge for the top or fall into a relegation tailspin so nobody new arrived and Toumani Diagouraga, Laurent and James Tarkowski were allowed to leave. The former for a grossly inflated sum after it was clear that he had jumped the shark, the latter for top dollar after forcing the issue by virtue of his appalling strike action. A ghastly run in the new year of 10 defeats in 13 matches at one time made it seem more than possible that the gamble had not come off but Brentford recovered to finish ninth.

January 2017 again saw the likelihood of midfield stasis and with Scott Hogan in scorching goalscoring form Aston Villa signed the predatory marksman for a fee rising to a club record £12 million. Lasse Vibe seamlessly took up the goalscoring mantle and excellent additions were also made in two wingers in former loanee Sergi Canos for a club record £2.5 million and Florian Jozefzoon. The talismanic figure of Jota also returned from his exile in Spain and Hogan was barely missed. This was a brilliant transfer window for the club with a star player sold for a massive sum and two excellent players brought in at reasonable cost and performances actually improved in the latter part of the season.

Lasse Vibe was the only departure in January 2018 leaving for a huge fee to China – great business for a player approaching the end of his contract, and the Directors of Football decided to rely upon the improving Neil Maupay supported by Ollie Watkins to lead the attack, a gamble that did not totally backfire although there were times when the Bees lacked firepower and strength in depth. The Bees fell narrowly short of the Playoffs and the nagging thought remains that extra strike power might have enabled them to do so. Most of the action had already taken place near the end of the previous August’s transfer window with the “Birmingham Three” of Max Colin, Harlee Dean and Jota departing for St Andrew’s in a triple deal worth the best part of £11 million but all three had already been replaced in typical Brentford fashion at far less than half the cost by Henrik Dalsgaard, John Egan and Ollie Watkins.

Four consecutive top ten finishes would tend to suggest that Brentford’s transfer window decisions have more than paid off to date but a recent perfect storm of injuries, poor form, off field problems, Robert Rowan’s tragic death, the loss of Dean Smith and bedding in a new Head Coach in Thomas Frank all contributed to a miserable first half of the season and the gamble on relying upon a smaller but ostensibly higher quality squad has certainly not paid dividends so far. The Bees have recently recovered some of their form and confidence after an excellent unbeaten run of six games and whilst it would still be tempting fate to say that they are completely safe, we are beginning to look up the table rather than down.

Traditionally Brentford only sell when they are offered their valuation (including a January premium) for any of their star players, or when somebody is approaching the end of their contract. Andreas Bjelland and Alan McCormack are the only players I can remember leaving on a Bosman free transfer in recent years. This month the Bees will have some interesting and difficult decisions to make as they have a plethora of players who have attracted the attention of bigger clubs higher up the food chain. That is something they are quite accustomed to and indeed, relish, but what is much more surprising is that they also have five players who will be out of contact at the end of this season and several more who could potentially leave on a free transfer at the end of next season. Added to that is a squad that is lacking in numbers and strength in depth with two long-term injuries in Emiliano Marcondes and Lewis Macleod.

The club’s strategy at this time of the year is normally to be totally reactive and respond to any offers that might come in for star players and it is interesting to note that of the key players who have previously left in January – Tarkowski, Hogan and Vibe, none of them were actually directly replaced in the same window given that Dean, Barbet and O’Connell, Vibe and Maupay were already in the building and took up the mantle.

As has been noted, Brentford do not like buying in January however given that there could well be, for a variety of reasons, more than half a team that needs to be replaced before the beginning of next season, should they in this instance be looking to bring in some new players this month? The club learned the hard way at the start of the 2015/16 season that new players, particularly those arriving from abroad, need a lot of time to settle down and it is difficult to bed a large number of new arrivals into the team simultaneously, so apart from the undeniable fact that signings will cost less in the close season rather than January, should Brentford be looking to bring in some high quality replacements now rather than wait to do all their business in the Summer and risk jeopardising the start of next season?

It is also important to note that Brentford have absolutely no problems with Financial Fair Play and have already brought in significant sums this season through the sale of several players considered to be non-essential in John Egan, Florian Josefzoon, Ryan Woods and Konstantin Kerschbaumer. The imminent sale of Nico Yennaris to China where he has enhanced value as a homegrown player will further boost our income by an eye watering sum and ensure that the club’s losses for this season have been more than covered. There is therefore no pressing need to sell anybody in the January Transfer Window.

In order to examine the club’s options this month more thoroughly it might be worthwhile to specify which players are out of contract at the end of each of the next few seasons and consider what plans the club might have for some of them in the next few months:

2018/19

Yoann Barbet

Alan Judge

Lewis Macleod

Josh McEachran

Moses Odubajo

2019/20

Theo Archibald

Dan Bentley

Canice Carroll

Josh Clarke

Reece Cole

Henrik Dalsgaard

Luke Daniels

Tom Field

Kamo Mokotjo

Romaine Sawyers

Justin Shaibu

2020/21

Sergi Canos

Marcus Forss

Rico Henry

Ezri Konsa

Emiliano Marcondes

Neil Maupay

Chiedozie Ogbene

Mads Bech Sorensen

Ollie Watkins

Nico Yennaris

2021/22

Said Benrahma

Josh Dasilva

Julian Jeanvier

Chris Mepham

Of the players out of contract at the end of this season the club retains an option on Moses Odubajo which will surely be taken up should he remain injury free. He took time to regain fitness and sharpness after a two-year hiatus but managed to play three times over a crowded Christmas schedule and has really benefited from the change in system to attacking wing backs. The Directors of Football should be congratulated on taking a gamble on him when nobody else was willing to do so.

Given that the club rarely allows players to run down their contracts one can only assume that none of the other players out of contract shortly are currently in the club’s future plans.

Alan Judge has cut a frustrating and frustrated figure as he has been unable to cement a regular starting position. He has been used regularly by Thomas Frank as a late substitute predominantly out of position on the wing where he has been at best a peripheral figure. For those of us who remember just how exceptionally good he was before his sickening injury it has been desperately hard and even upsetting to watch him struggling to recover some semblance of form and fitness Sadly, given how talented he is and the horrendous ill fortune he has suffered, his time at Brentford is up. He quite simply needs regular football and whilst the Head Coach might like to keep him around as a comfort blanket there is now serious talk of Ipswich (how ironic is that?) coming in for him. I expect that any such deal will initially be on a loan basis as the stumbling block will be his high wages and Brentford will surely need to pay a chunk of his salary if a move is to happen.

Lewis MacLeod’s stay at Brentford has been dogged by injury and I had to remind myself that he has been here for four years now so peripheral a figure has he become. This season has been no different and immediately after his late and unexpected headed equaliser at West Bromwich Albion he suffered yet another in a constant and seemingly never ending series of hamstring injuries that has rendered him hors de combat for the foreseeable future.

Lewis started the season well as a midfielder making late runs into the box and provided a real goal threat but his performances declined dramatically and he apparently showed no inclination to extend his contract. I suspect that had he been fit strenuous efforts would have been made to sell him this month, perhaps back to Glasgow Rangers, but given his injury he will almost certainly leave on a free transfer at the end of the season. The move just has not worked out for either party and he needs a fresh start and a change of luck somewhere else.

Josh McEachran is a Marmite figure who totally divides the fan base. To some he is a misunderstood genius who has been totally let down by the shortcomings of his team mates who fail to read his mind and intentions, create space or make the correct runs for our playmaker to find them. To others he is a frustrating, peripheral and oft-injured figure who coasts through games with a series of backwards and sideways passes and is playing totally within his comfort zone and not pushing himself to excel or maximise his undoubted talent.

The truth lies somewhere between these two contrasting viewpoints, however what is certain is that for whatever reason Josh has not provided anywhere near the impact that was expected when he arrived with a fanfare and became one of our highest paid players an apparent age ago back in 2015. He has shown no evidence of wanting to extend his stay and I’m sure that no real efforts have been made by the club to persuade him to do so. Barring unforeseen circumstances he will leave the club at the end of the season with his potential still unfulfilled and the clock ticking on a career that has so far flattered to deceive. He appears unsuited to the hurly-burly of the Championship, no Premier League team would take a chance on him and he might well need to contemplate a future abroad in a country such as Holland where the physical pressure is less relentless.

A month ago I would have said with certainty that Yoann Barbet would leave on a Bosman free unless we were able to sell him in the January Transfer Window. He was then languishing on the bench, his stint at left back over given the return to fitness of Rico Henry, and not considered a starter in his preferred position as a central defender. However football is a game of ever changing fortunes and someone’s snake is another player’s ladder. The change in formation to three central defenders allied to the recent injury to Chris Mepham has meant a recall for the Frenchman who has really impressed and come into his own as a left sided centre half and has benefited from having two other defenders around him to provide additional cover.

Most fans saw the formation change to 3-4-3 as a last throw of the dice by beleaguered new Head Coach Thomas Frank as he attempted to save his job amidst a torrent of defeats and soft goals conceded. The change has worked like a dream with the Bees currently on a run of six games undefeated which has seen them keep three clean sheets and concede only three goals and turn a defence that previously resembled a sieve into one of the tightest and meanest in the league. The latest defeat of Stoke City saw the visitors confined to a measly two attempts on goal, but, more importantly, Brentford played like Brentford should, producing a wonderful brand of free flowing football which saw them tear the visitors apart seemingly at will and create a plethora of chances – and this time take three of them. Why change what is now working so well. The 3-4-3 formation is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.

That means that Barbet suddenly is a far more valuable asset. He has undoubtedly been frustrated by his lack of playing time at the club and was probably looking to run his contract down after four seasons at the club and Brentford similarly were unlikely to offer him a new contract lucrative enough to persuade him to stay. I now begin to wonder if the club might change its mind and make an attempt to keep the ever popular Barbet at the club rather than allow him to depart for first team football and a larger paycheque elsewhere?

Assuming that all four players leave the club then they will all need to be replaced however Brentford face an even bigger rebuilding job in the near future when you consider the likely fate of the key players who will be out of contract at the end of the 2019/20 season given the club’s understandable aversion to allowing valuable assets to depreciate. Romaine Sawyers tore Stoke apart with his vision and ability to see passes that others cannot and has established himself as one of the most skilful and intelligent midfielders in the league despite some fans still refusing to acknowledge what he brings to the team and instead obsessing upon his languid style of play. He has gathered a host of admirers and will most likely be sold for around £5 million at the end of the season particularly as Emiliano Marcondes, another gifted footballer who we have barely seen owing to a series of injuries since he joined us a year ago will probably be tasked with the job of succeeding him. Sawyers will be yet another prime example of the Brentford business model working perfectly – arriving on a free transfer, providing three years of exemplary service, improving markedly as a player in the meantime and then being sold for a large profit.

The future of goalkeeper Dan Bentley is more problematical as a season littered with errors led to him being dropped from the team and the large transfer fee that was expected at the end of the season is currently in jeopardy. He will need to recover form and confidence and perhaps given the circumstances now might be a good time to offer him an extension to his contract. He is quite simply an excellent goalkeeper going through a torrid spell and he will recover.

Henrik Dalsgaard and Kamo Mokotjo are two other regular first teamers whose futures will need to be sorted at the end of this season. Neither has perhaps been quite as successful as had been anticipated. Dalsgaard will always be a footnote in Brentford’s history as their first ever current player to play in the World Cup finals but his form has been patchy in the extreme this season and his temperament also open to question. Kamo’s influence has been growing significantly lately and it might well be that no decision has yet been made as to whether they will be offered new deals.

That leaves the elephants in the room. Brentford’s star players who will be on the shopping list of so many predators, and there were many scouts at Saturday’s game. I put the likes of Chris Mepham, Ezri Konsa, Rico Henry, Ollie Watkins and Neal Maupay in this category with Julian Jeanvier and Said Benrahma bubbling under. All of them are surely destined to play at a higher and perhaps even the highest level of the game – the question is when and for whom? The goodish news for all Brentford fans is that all bar Mepham are in contract until the end of the 2020/21 season with the club also holding an additional year option on Konsa and Watkins, and Mepham’s contract does not expire until the end of the 2021/22 season.

That means that there is no immediate need to sell any of them immediately, although Maupay and Henry would probably peak in value at the end of this season when they have two more years left on their contract. Will any of them go now? That totally depends upon what offers the club receives and whether their predetermined value is met, if the club feels that they can or already have been replaced.

Neither Mepham nor Konsa, who for a time formed the youngest central defensive partnership in the EFL, have had the most consistent of seasons, both being guilty of careless errors at times whilst impressing at others, but their talent is obvious for all to see. Mepham is also currently out of the side following his hamstring injury. Frankly he is probably the most expendable of our high ticket items on account of the cover we currently possess at centre half given the emergence of the powerful Julian Jeanvier, yet another wonderfully talented capture from the French second division who is now the bastion of the defence and surely destined to become one of next season’s most coveted players. Should a Premier League team offer us the near £20 million package that we are seeking then I think Mepham will go, if not now then in the Summer.

Goal scorers are always in demand, particularly in January, and Neal Maupay has enjoyed an incredible first half of the season in which he has scored sixteen goals and assisted on six more. He is reaping the rewards for working incredibly hard, is sharp, energetic, creates space for others and never gives his opponents a moment’s peace. He is aggressive and sometimes crosses the mythical line but he is coveted by many teams. At the moment there is no need to sell him and the club has put a £20 million price tag on his head and can afford to wait and see if anyone is brave or indeed desperate enough to offer anywhere near that figure. Personally I doubt if that will happen and I believe that he will remain at the club until the end of the season by which time he will probably have raised his tally to around 25 goals which will ensure an auction for his services in the close season. That would also give Brentford some time and breathing space in which to replace him.

Marcus Forss, his young intended deputy, has been injured for several months and is only now back in full training. Ollie Watkins did score a winning goal against Nottingham Forest when deputising for the suspended Maupay but has clearly demonstrated that he is far more productive playing off a striker or preferably down the flanks. If Maupay were to leave this month then there would be a massive hole to fill and one that the club would definitely prefer to fill in the close season. Even with Maupay in situ there is a view that a loanee should be brought in now to help take the weight off him and provide cover if he is suspended – perhaps even someone who could initially be signed on loan but with the intention of becoming a full transfer at the end of the season, a strategy previously employed highly successfully by the Bees but one that has been surprisingly ignored for several years now.

Rico Henry has barely returned from his long term injury torment but is already reminding everyone just how good he is and in my hopefully unbiased opinion is a full international fullback in the making. Again, there is no immediate need to sell him particularly as he has barely played since Brentford signed him owing to injury, and his value can only appreciate. Ollie Watkins is also a wonderful talent who is slowly regaining his Mojo after a poor spell exacerbated by a lingering toe injury, but still requires more seasoning. The club apparently rejected a £12 million offer for him from Southampton last Summer and there is newspaper talk that they are still monitoring him as well as Mepham however I would be surprised if anything materialises with Watkins this month given his lack of form.

So it is finally time for me to come off the fence and predict what will happen between now and the end of the month.

Josh Clarke, a forgotten man lately, has already left to join Burton Albion on loan and I wonder if we will ever see him back at Griffin Park. He is talented and versatile, quick and enthusiastic and deserves to play regular EFL football but I doubt if it will be at Brentford. Judge and Yennaris will surely join him through the exit door very shortly. Youngster Canice Carroll has also joined Swindon Town on loan and other B Teamers such as Reece Cole, Theo Archibald and Tom Field might also be farmed out, but not the explosive Chiedozie Ogbene who has a bit part to play from the bench for the remainder of this season.

It may well be that there are no more departures in January, however if pushed I am predicting that Chris Mepham will leave for the Premier League for a club record fee. There will probably also be some speculation over Neal Maupay without a move being finalised.

As for incomings, obviously should Maupay leave then a replacement would be imperative, and one who can hit the ground running – a terribly difficult ask. I believe we have enough cover to cope with the potential loss of Mepham until the end of the season given the emergence of Mads Bech Sorensen and Luka Racic. Otherwise I predict that the Bees will leave much of their rebuilding and replenishment until the close season. This will also give the club time to hopefully replace Robert Rowan who played such a crucial role in the identification and signing of young prospects.

It is possible that some of the available budget is put into re-signing one or more of the players out of contract in 2020 and perhaps even Barbet. Given Brentford’s attitude towards the January Transfer Window it could well be that despite the squad being very tight for numbers, the club feels that we can compete as we are until the end of the season, perhaps utilising some talent from the B Team, and nobody new arrives. The most I expect is a loanee striker to support Maupay, ideally someone who we could potentially sign permanently at the end of the season.

I fully expect to have the contents of this article thrown back in my face at the start of February if and when it proves to be totally inaccurate, so, apologies in advance!

Stick Or Twist?

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.