Good Hunting! – 13/3/16

Over three thousand Brentford supporters went to Loftus Road yesterday afternoon, perhaps more in hope than in expectation and for half an hour or so the team, and we will come back to its composition shortly, was well in the game with Canos twice and Judge going close before conceding a brilliantly taken but eminently avoidable opening goal which was totally demoralising after we had given as good as we had got.

Even after such a sickening blow we showed some fight and resilience and came so close to an immediate equaliser when Ryan Woods took a short free kick in his stride and drilled a long ranger against the post. The second half was a different story as after Judge curled narrowly but wastefully over we created next to nothing and the ball became a hot potato as we conceded possession with monotonous regularity and our final ball was invariably overhit or poorly directed.

We conceded two quite appalling goals after schoolboy errors firstly when Woods was dispossessed and then after Swift played a careless and suicidal pass across the midfield, each time leaving us with a yawning chasm down the middle. QPR took full advantage of both gifts, that horrible celebratory Pigbag tune blared out and assailed our senses and eardrums and yet another game had slipped away without any reward.

We collapsed like a pricked balloon as the fight and confidence drained out of us and the last twenty minutes was more notable for a mass exit as Brentford supporters left in droves, shocked, horrified, confused, infuriated and let down by what they had seen and, sadly, many of those who were left turned upon each other and the players too who were subjected to vitriol and insults as the game dragged on to its by now inevitable conclusion.

Such is the reaction however unacceptable and unattractive when a team loses for the ninth time in its last twelve Championship matches and subsides to a comprehensive and embarrassing defeat to its local rivals who quite frankly barely had to break sweat to beat us, so eager were we to help them given that all three goals came gift wrapped with a bow on top.

Effort and passion there most undoubtedly was – at least for the first three quarters of the match, but we played exactly like the team we have become over the horror show of the past couple of months, one that is desperately lacking in quality, imagination, creativity, pace, craft, strength in midfield, defensive organisation and most importantly, confidence.

Dean Smith took the brave if highly unusual step of leaving both of his two remaining fit, if pallid strikers, Djuricin and Vibe on the bench and playing Alan Judge up front on his own in a new 4-1-4-1 formation. The main thinking behind this move was to encourage the nimble Judge to run at the man mountain Clint Hill in the home defence. Perhaps Smith also intended a coded message and that this move, which quite frankly smacked of desperation, was also a cry for help to the two Co-Directors of Football and an acknowledgement that we currently do not possess a striker worthy of the name and that none of them merit a first team spot.

Judge did his best but was a fish out of water and he was never really able to hold onto the ball in order to create things and give his defence some respite particularly when far too many passes aimed at him were fired at his head rather than directed to his feet. His influence was sorely missed elsewhere as our main creator of goal chances and it has to be said that the experiment did not work and contributed to our defeat although Vibe was typically weak, anonymous and infuriating when he was finally introduced as a second half substitute.

Alan McCormack made a welcome return in front of the back four and helped shore us up and for a time appear more solid but he must accept some of the blame for the crucial opening goal when the dangerous Hoilett picked the ball up on halfway and was allowed to drift towards our goal as we simply backed off him. McCormack belatedly thought about making a challenge but criminally pulled out and allowed Hoilett to pass unscathed and, left in splendid isolation, the winger had the ability to curl a sublime effort into the top corner of the net. If you give a good player time and space he will punish you.

The game turned on this moment as the home team was energised and reinvigorated by a moment of sheer quality and noticeably went up a gear and after that near miss from Woods our heads went down and our challenge faded.

Dean Smith now appears to be simply rearranging the deckchairs and desperately trying to find some semblance of a structure or shape from the same small, ever diminishing and underperforming squad of players. We are quickly disintegrating into a rabble and are quite frankly in free fall and his face is taking on an increasingly haunted look as he seeks some answers and solutions which continue to elude him.

Whether the manager deserves criticism for not managing his limited resources better and ensuring that we at least put in a decent shift and make the most of what little we have is open to question. Comparisons at this stage with Lee Carsley are both pointless and invidious.

There is no appetite within the ownership of the club to make another change at this juncture of the season and such a move would be totally unjust and make us a laughing stock given that Smith has not been able to introduce a single new face while losing three key members of his squad as well as seeing the injury bug begin to bite deep again.

That being said the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue given that even with Bolton and Charlton seemingly doomed there is still a third relegation place left to avoid as Rotherham’s revival continues unabated.

The thought persists, indeed it is a raging certainty, that we should not have allowed ourselves to get into this situation with an ever worsening spiral of defeats but recriminations are for later, now we simply have to concentrate on the task in hand and do whatever it takes to ensure that we start next season in the Championship. Given our plans and ambitions, relegation is utterly unthinkable but it is looming up on the blindside and could still yet overtake us if we do not take strong and immediate remedial action.

My recent meeting with Phil Giles left me excited and reassured about the mid to long term future of the club but I was also extremely concerned about the here and now as it is no use having ambitious plans about squad strengthening in the Summer if we end up having to start next season in League One. The chances of this happening are admittedly still low but increasing by the week and at present it is hard to see where the two wins we need are going to come from.

I understand why we sold players and did not strengthen the squad in January given the exorbitant prices we were quoted for some of our targets but perhaps if you sell high as we most certainly did, occasionally there is the need to buy high too in order to maintain the status quo.

I think that our current fall from grace has taken the senior management totally by surprise and caught them with their pants down and we are struggling to cope with the situation.

Fortune has certainly not favoured us but it is hard to look back at the horror show that has been the story of this year and identify many matches where we were unlucky not to take points. We should not have lost at Birmingham or been beaten by Middlesbrough or even dropped two stupid late points at home to Leeds, otherwise we have very little to complain about and the results and performances speak for themselves.

So what can we do? Is there any potential salvation from within our current resources? I do not expect to see Colin or Macleod again this season and have no expectations of Hofmann once he recovers from injury. The only potential ray of hope is Scott Hogan, which shows just how desperate we are, as untested and half fit though he undoubtedly is, I would hope that he is given a place on the bench next weekend for what is now a crucial clash against Blackburn Rovers.

Perhaps his return would give us all a boost and fillip although it would be patently unfair on him to see him as our potential saviour. He is, however, enthusiastic and hard running and would provide us with an injection of energy and he is also untainted by the cloud and gloom that surrounds the team at present.

We need fresh faces and belatedly I am now certain that stringent efforts are being made to bring in short term reinforcements in time for next Saturday. We will need to take a deep breath and temporarily at least ignore our principles and accepted modus operandi.

Think about the likes of Bidwell, Schlupp, Berahino, Forshaw, Harris, Trotta, Pritchard, Toral, Swift, Long and Canos and they all had something in common being young, promising and inexperienced. What we need now are a couple of players who have been around the block a few times, battlers who know and fully understand the demands of the Championship and can lead and inspire our faltering squad as well as provide a spark in front of goal.

It will be difficult both practically and philosophically for us to do so as well as cost us a lot of money currently earmarked for other purposes. I fully expect that some of the war chest ideally being pigeon-holed and conserved for next season will now need to be used in order to pay for players who will probably be earning far more than our current squad. Such is life and we will need to be adaptable and flexible as our salvation is paramount.

Other clubs in and around us have found such players recently and have been able and prepared to pay the necessary wages in an attempt to ensure Championship survival. Blackburn sold their prime asset in Jordan Rhodes but have brought in high quality short term replacements in Jordi Gomez, Tony Watt and Danny Graham, who we will all face next week. Charlton signed Yaya Sanogo from Arsenal, suspended now but a striker who led us a merry dance last week. There is an unsubstantiated rumour going around that we were offered him first but turned him down. MK Dons brought in Alex Revell, Nottingham Forest, Federico Macheda, Huddersfield have just signed Rajiv Van La Parra and most noticeably Bristol City have splurged out on Lee Tomlin and Peter Odemwingie.

I am sure that most of these names will understandably make our Co-Directors of Football come out in hives and not all of them quite frankly, fill me with much too enthusiasm, but much as it pains us to do so, we will need to follow suit with someone of that ilk next week if we want to do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that our precious Championship status is preserved.

I wish our two Co-Directors of Football all good fortune in their quest.

Meeting Phil Giles – 11/3/16

Good communication with your customers is paramount in any successful organisation and is something that should be a given in today’s world of social media and instant access to news and information and the near impossibility of keeping matters under wraps.

Unfortunately many football clubs have lagged far behind the times, seemingly taking the unquestioned loyalty of their fans for granted, smug and complacent in the knowledge that unlike consumers in practically any other sphere of business activity, real supporters are wedded to their team for life and would never contemplate changing their allegiance to a rival however much they are tempted to do so.

Brentford have always made a point of bucking the trend and in recent years there has been a succession of managers, chairmen, owners and chief executives willing to put their head over the parapet and engage with the supporters at a series of Fans’ Forums which have generally resulted in an exchange of views and in fans being kept in the loop.

Given the fact that the services of former Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen were disposed of immediately after the last such event when all had been made to appear in public to be sweetness and light between him and senior club management, there has been an urgent need to rebuild some bridges particularly given the rising concern over recent results as well as the sale of key players without the squad being replenished.

With the exception of an interview ten years ago and a quite brilliant and totally bizarre and left-field on line Q&A last season, both held on The Griffin Park Grapevine plus a few carefully crafted and placed articles within the national media, owner Matthew Benham has kept out of the spotlight and refrained from communicating with the Brentford fanbase given that to do so is not within his nature or something that he feels comfortable about doing.

That all changed the other day when he met with the crew at Beesotted and gave them a fascinating in-depth interview which I commend to you all and urge you to read if you have not already done so. He answered many key questions about the current situation and how he sees the future developing and his commitment and ambition thankfully cannot be doubted.

I therefore thought that it would, in tandem, be useful, interesting and illuminating to seek out the views of Co-Director of Football Phil Giles and he was kind enough to spare me the time to meet yesterday as well as answer many of the questions that Brentford supporters would hopefully like to ask him in order for him to clarify his role and how he operates.

Ideally his responses below should be read in conjunction with Matthew Benham’s Beesotted interview as hopefully the two complement each other and viewed together provide a thorough and contemporaneous insight into the thinking, approach and aspirations of the people who are running our club.

Here is what Phil had to say and I hope you find his answers as illuminating as I did:

Introduction

Greville, many thanks for inviting me to contribute to your blog. I’ve tried to address as many of your questions as possible – and it was quite a long list of questions!

Rather than answer each individually, I’ve broken down the questions into sections and written about each one in turn. Hopefully this gives a bit more insight into what we’re doing.

This Season And The Summer

I understand the current frustrations among our fans. Many of them made their feelings known at the end of the Charlton game. There have been lots of changes at the club in the last year, and we, collectively as a club, haven’t consistently reached the same levels of performance as last season. The league table will tell you as much.

However, there are still eleven games to go this season and here is what we want to achieve between now and the end of the season:

We want to finish the season as strongly as possible. We have a young team – three of our four defenders against Charlton are twenty-two years old. Harlee is only twenty-four. The midfield that started against Charlton are twenty-three, twenty, twenty-two, nineteen and twenty-seven (Judge). Djuricin is twenty-three. The experience the players gain over the coming weeks will serve us well next season. With experience will come consistency – we were very good against Wolves, but not so good four days later at Rotherham.

We will bring in a loan player if we feel we can improve the team and our long term prospects.

We are already planning our summer recruitment. We didn’t add anyone in January because the players we wanted were overpriced. As Matthew also said this week, we intend to add good players in the Summer.

We want to finish with some good performances by playing the Brentford way, and would like everyone associated with the club to be united in a positive outlook ahead of the summer.

Longer Term Ambitions For The Club

If we ranked all Championship clubs by revenue we’d be right at the bottom of the league. The new stadium is an important step to allowing us to compete on a more level playing field.

The long term ambition is to build a financially sustainable club that plays at the highest level possible. The quickest route to sustainability is to earn promotion. That is our ultimate target, but we’re not in a position to do what other clubs have done recently by investing huge sums in the team. We’ll have to find a different way of doing it and take a few risks along the way. Some of those risks will work, and some won’t, that is the nature of taking chances. It’s important that we learn from what works and what does not along the way – and we will do.

Football Staff – Roles And Responsibilities

I’ll try to set out the specific roles that Rasmus and I play at the Club here.

Let me begin by saying that whenever one of us gives and interview or makes a statement, we do so on behalf of both of us.

I have spent one hundred percent of my time on Brentford since I started in the job. Ras spends half of his time with Brentford and half with FC Midtjylland. We aren’t always visible but we are working hard to help build a long term sustainable and successful club.

Ras and I have different strengths so we dovetail quite well I think. He tends to focus on the big picture and thinks about things in the longer term. For example, he has been reviewing our Academy and considering how it can compete with every other club that wants to basically do exactly the same as us.

I am more focused on the details and making things work in practice on a day to day basis. We have put in place several management processes to improve the way we operate – it’s the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be noticed if it’s working properly. For example, I was keen to make sure that the football department gives every support needed to the Brentford Community Sports Trust, and we’ve reviewed the process to ensure that we are fulfilling our obligations in that respect.

I manage the recruitment process and negotiate the contracts, but I tend not to get too involved in watching or evaluating players. It’s important to realise your strengths and weaknesses, and I’m certainly not a qualified coach or scout. My strengths are more on the management and organisational side – making sure we build a club with strong foundations for the future.

There’s room for all types of backgrounds in football I think. Accountants and lawyers are prevalent in football and involved in all transfers, although their work tends to be in the background. Part of my job is making sure that the relevant skills are brought into play at the right stage of the recruitment and negotiation process.

The “football man” is essential in identifying a player and creating a development plan for that player, but the “executives” are needed to make sure that any deal makes legal and financial sense for the club, and that proper processes and protocols are followed.

We set out the qualities that Dean Smith brings to the role of Head Coach when he joined us – he is experienced, has good leadership skills, wants to play in the Brentford way and has an excellent track record of developing young players. He has had to deal with both the Jota and Tarky situations, and we weren’t able to add players in January which was the first opportunity he had to influence our transfer policy. We are working very closely together both on current projects and longer term planning, including our recruitment plans for the summer.

Relationships With Other Clubs.

I’d like to think that our relationships with other clubs are very good, in particular with some of the top Premier League clubs. That is a continuation of some of the efforts put in during previous seasons which allowed us to loan Pritchard and Toral last year, and Swift and Canos this season.

We tend to spread the load of building relationships with other clubs across several of the staff, rather than relying on one or two people to be solely responsible, since if those one or two people leave then the club can’t build and grow optimally in the long term. For example, Dean has pre-existing contacts which we’ve made use of, as does Ras, Rob Rowan and others including myself.

In terms of the rest of the football world, I’d like to think most people see Brentford as a well regarded Championship club that goes about things in the right way. I think we look after our players very well. We’ve had some good meetings with other clubs about how we do things and whether there are some mutually beneficial things that we can work on together.

If there is an opportunity to sign a loan player permanently then we will consider taking that opportunity – the policy hasn’t changed from that which brought Bidwell and Forshaw to the club.

Players And Recruitment

I will try to set out the general process by which we identify and sign players.

Ras and I have regular meetings with the coaching staff. At those meetings we will go through the squad and discuss our key requirements. That information will be passed to the scouting team, along with profiles of the type of players we’re looking for. The scouting team will use every available resource to identify players – they watch games, they speak to contacts and agents, and they use data where appropriate. We will do as much research into the character and personality of each player as possible. A selection of potential targets will be fed back to the coaches, who will review the options and prioritise targets.

From there we will decide on which players to target, approach the clubs and finally speak to the players. This is predominantly my responsibility, as described above. Dean and Richard have a huge input into the type of players we want to target, and who we eventually try to sign or sell. Their input is the most important part of the whole process.

In my experience there hasn’t been a single occasion where we’ve not been able to reach a collective agreement on a transfer. Sometimes we all need to compromise a bit to get things done, but that is a normal part of the management process as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect that this process isn’t too different from other clubs, although perhaps we place greater emphasis on certain elements than others. It is essential that we do this however, since we aren’t in a position to employ a large team of scouts who can be at every game. This goes back to the idea that we need to take some risks in order to compete with clubs that have greater income. If we scout in exactly the same way as other teams, then most likely our results will be defined by our budget in the long term.

The data that we have access to isn’t too different to many other clubs, but it’s what you do with it that’s the important thing. I think that the background of some of the management team allows us to do some interesting and sometimes complicated proprietorial stuff with that data. Statistics and data analysis is my background although I don’t do so much of it these days. In reality it’s only one of the tools we have, complementing the more traditional approaches where it makes sense.

Sometimes we fail to sign players that we target. I think it’s healthy to sometimes miss out on players – if we always signed every player that we targeted then it probably means that we’re either overpaying or that no other clubs want to sign our targets. We always have an up to date list of other potential and viable targets so there is always a next player on the list.

Disclosing transfer fees and alerting other clubs to how much we can afford to pay for players, or how much income we receive from sales, doesn’t offer us any competitive advantage over those teams, which is why the terms are normally undisclosed.

Were we in a stronger position on the pitch after January 2016? As I said in an interview for the club website in February, it is impossible for me to state that the squad was stronger having sold two players and Jota having left on loan. However, we took all those decisions with the long term interests of the club at heart.

I understand that this is frustrating for fans, especially in the light of recent results. However, I am absolutely determined that we’ll be in a stronger position in the long term for having taken the difficult decisions now regarding players who, ultimately, didn’t see themselves as a long term part of Brentford’s plans.

The strategy for the summer is simple – we’ll try to sign good players who improve the squad and who ultimately win us football matches and move us up the table. We’ve signed good players in the past, and we’ll do so in the future.

Miscellaneous

Here is one example of how we’ve found the link with FC Midtjylland useful. They played Manchester United twice recently. It was a perfect opportunity for people associated with both Brentford and FC Midtjylland to meet the key Manchester United staff and continue the process of developing relationships, which as I discussed earlier is an important part of what we do.

I think we’ve been very unlucky this season with injuries but we don’t think that is anything other than bad luck. Some of the injuries have been quite freakish. Hopefully we’ll get more luck next season.

With regards to the cup competitions, we underestimated the strength of Oxford in the League Cup. In the FA Cup, we had three games in six days and the Walsall game was the first of those. We fielded a team that we believed should be able to beat Walsall, but didn’t. It was a match worth winning in hindsight and otherwise. We don’t ever field a team not intending to win the match, and we’ll continue to look to win every cup game that we play.

I enjoyed the couple of hours that I spent with Phil and found him to be pleasant, bright, thoughtful, open minded and good company. He takes his time and thinks before he speaks and his words are clipped and carefully chosen. He was certainly polite and endlessly patient given the voluminous number of questions that I had posed him in advance but he shirked no issue, he neither prevaricated nor refrained from answering anything that I asked him although some matters were only discussed on an off the record basis which I have respected given his reasonable concerns about commercial confidentiality and the disclosure of proprietary information.

That being said his answers were controlled, carefully composed and organised and I am quite certain that he revealed nothing to me other than what he had originally intended to do – and why, indeed, should he to a total stranger who he knew was intending to go public with what he had heard?

Pleasingly, he is also a true soccer aficionado and finally came alive when discussing the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United and he exhibited an encyclopaedic knowledge of their marvellously exciting squad of the mid to late 90s and could see the clear parallel with the Brentford of last season when I described them as everybody’s favourite second team.

Phil is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, what he has yet to learn and the need to be part of a team ethos where between them all necessary skills and expertise are provided.

He is a highly impressive young man thankfully devoid of arrogance with a bright and enquiring mind who will push boundaries, innovate and explore new options.

We are in good hands.

Time For Some Answers! – 6/3/16

Normally the blog seems to write itself. I just sit down at the computer and the words generally flow without too much effort but today was totally different as I vacillated endlessly over the most suitable subject matter and how best to express my feelings.

My first reaction after Brentford’s inept, shambolic, disjointed and passionless performance as they stumbled to an appalling defeat against an equally poor Charlton team was to assert that since the entire Brentford team seemed to have gone on their holidays a couple of months too early then perhaps the blog should do the same and that I would make as much effort as the team had done yesterday and simply refrain from making any comment at all.

I then thought about giving vent to my feelings and forensically dissecting each player’s myriad shortcomings but that was far too depressing a prospect and quite frankly I would simply be repeating so much of what I have already written after previous unacceptable performances. After much thought I have therefore decided to give a brief summary of Saturday’s non-event and then look at highlighting some of the broader issues that now face us and attempting to find some solutions.

Facing a relegation haunted team sorely lacking in confidence we all hoped for a precious early goal that would ideally settle our nerves both on and off the pitch and that is exactly what happened and our prayers were answered as the ball hit the net less than twenty seconds after the opening whistle – unfortunately at the wrong end, as a Brentford team which still looked as though it was in its prematch huddle got into a mess at the back as a left wing cross was allowed to reach the unmarked Harriott who found space in a packed penalty area and easily slotted home.

Dean Smith said that our game plan had gone out of the window after such an appalling start, but surely we still had well over ninety minutes to put things right and address matters?

The Bees eventually clawed their way back into the match and played some reasonable football for the majority of the first half without showing much spark or invention. Swift and Canos shone spasmodically and the Chelsea youngster headed a glaring chance well wide of a gaping goal from a similar opportunity to the one he scored from at The Valley before refusing to fall down when clearly clipped and a penalty kick seemed inevitable.

Frankly it is unfair and unrealistic to put so much pressure on two such talented but inexperienced teenagers and expect them to pull a rabbit out of the hat more than occasionally.

As has happened far too often, Judge was left to forage alone and cut in from the wing to force a brilliant plunging save from Pope. Canos then slipped Djuricin clean through a square defence as the applause rang out in the twenty-fourth minute for the sadly departed Dean Langford but he showed his total lack of confidence and sharpness by allowing the keeper to block his shot when a goal seemed inevitable before Barbet marked a memorable God-given minute by heading home Judge’s corner kick when left totally unmarked and he scored his first ever goal for the club.

Surely the Bees would now take control, but we never found that extra gear nor succeeded in putting a wilting defence under any real pressure. Early in the second half Canos was sent away by McEachran’s exquisite pass but from an identical position from where he rippled the net against Wolves, he could only shoot wide of the post and quite frankly, that was that as we barely created another chance for the remainder of the match, and that miss was to come and haunt us when Charlton realised just how poor we were and finally awoke from their torpor, broke away down their left flank, and the totally unemployed Button could only paw a cross straight to Harriott who made a difficult chance look easy. A ghastly error from a goalkeeper playing against his former team.

The game drifted away from us as we gently subsided to defeat without making much apparent effort to recover as we lacked any shape, invention or frankly, passion. As has happened far too often lately our three substitutions seemed only to weaken us even more. Saunders replaced Canos who seemed to be our main threat although perhaps the fact that he had been booked and subsequently warned for a dive helped make Dean Smith’s mind up for him. Sam barely touched the ball and never played a dangerous pass or cross into the penalty area.

Djuricin gave perhaps the worst and most pathetic performance I have seen from a Brentford striker since the days when the likes of Joe Omigie and Neil Shipperley provided a non-existent goal threat and his replacement, Vibe, who at least gave the impression of breaking sweat, was easily smothered by the Charlton defence. Hofmann came on near the end for McEachran and lumbered around without noticeable effect and it was quite impossible to detect our formation as we degenerated into a hapless and shapeless rabble and we were fortunate not to concede a third as we were cut open repeatedly on the break.

Not for the first time this season the patience of the Brentford supporters was sorely tested and they made their displeasure known at the final whistle.

Charlton came expecting to be defeated but they were let off the hook as they out battled and outfought a Brentford team that was in reality anything but and fully deserved their ultimate victory.

Quite frankly we played with one hand tied behind our back given the lack of incision from our midfield where Woods and McEachran duplicated each other and never gelled as a partnership and Judge provided our only consistent threat but cannot always be expected to do everything on his own.

As has been the case for several months now we do not possess a forward worthy of the name and the Charlton penalty area resembled a cordon sanitaire so seldom did we get players into it.

This sad and sorry state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, nor can the remainder of the season be allowed to drift away. Not only is this situation patently unfair and unacceptable to supporters who pay good money and quite reasonably expect some level of entertainment and effort in return, and are now justifiably feeling shortchanged, we are also beginning look at the clubs below us with apprehensive looks.

When we lost last month to the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, the exhortation was for patience until we played Wolves, Rotherham and Charlton and then the points and performances would follow. Well those games have now come and gone and bar one bright spark when we hammered a Wolves team which played as if it was tranquillised, we have now lost comfortably and deservedly to two of the relegation favourites without putting up much of a fight. This is not how we expect a Brentford team to perform.

What happens now and where do we go from here? We all deserve some answers. Not because we are spoiled and have massive expectations but quite simply because the squad is patently far too weak and thin and with injuries again biting is now struggling to hold its head above water.

We all know and mostly accept the reasons why the squad has been diminished and denuded without any replacements, but we expected the remaining players at least to be competitive and to provide a reasonable and realistic level of competence, entertainment, effort and results for the remainder of the season before the necessary squad strengthening can take place, not too much to ask for, surely, but the wheels have now come off and Dean Smith is, perhaps unfairly, coming under growing pressure from supporters who are now losing patience and looking for a scapegoat.

That being said he appeared to be be a man in despair in his post match interview and one who was struggling to find the answers to the multitude of problems that currently face him.

Rather than play the blame game I would rather be constructive and look for answers, explanations and firm promises for the immediate and mid-term future as I am extremely concerned at the moment.

I have therefore contacted the Brentford Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, who responded quickly and courteously and has agreed to meet me next week when I hope to get the answers to some of the questions that we would all like to ask him.

In that regard I have already sent him a comprehensive and voluminous list of question, not that I expect the answers to all of them given the limitations of time and the dictates of commercial confidentiality, but I shall report back on what I am told at our meeting and Phil has also agreed to provide some written answers which will be published as an article as soon as I receive it.

Here are the questions that I have posed and please let me know if there is anything else that you would like me to put to him when we meet:

  • How did a Maths & Stats graduate and a PhD from the University of Newcastle end up as Co-Director of Football at Brentford FC?
  • How much of your time is spent working with the club as opposed to Smartodds?
  • What is the division of roles between yourself & Rasmus Ankersen?
  • Roughly what proportion of his time is spent working for Brentford FC?
  • The role of the new breed of executive versus the traditional “football man” – discuss
  • Dealing with agents and rapacious clubs – are Brentford considered a soft touch or worthy adversaries?
  • How much contact do you have with your peers at other clubs?
  • How is the club now regarded by the rest of the football world?
  • “We look to be stronger after every Transfer Window” – please discuss with reference to the January 2016 Transfer Window?
  • How do you manage expectations amongst supporters who were told that any finish below fifth would be a comedown from last season?
  • What would be realistic expectations for the club until we move to Lionel Road
  • In retrospect was 2015 an annus mirabilis or a massive missed opportunity?
  • How can we possibly hold onto our prime assets when they are offered more money elsewhere or persuade the likes of Button and Bidwell to buy into us and resign?
  • Try before you buy a la Bidwell & Forshaw. Why have we stopped using this successful policy re loanees?
  • What is our relationship like with the top Premier League clubs?
  • What is your strategy for recruitment for the summer (within reason!)?
  • How much say will Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly have in player recruitment both in terms of identifying targets and wanting to sign them?
  • Who has the final say?
  • FFP and its effect on us
  • How can a team with our financial constraints find and afford flair players who can make and/or score goals?
  • Please discuss our three strikers and how they fit into the current style of play?
  • Jota – discuss
  • How much of a gamble is it signing players from lower divisions at home and abroad e.g. Woods & Gogia
  • How attractive a proposition is Brentford FC for
  1. Young players from lower divisions
  2. Experienced Championship players
  3. Players from the EEC & beyond
  • What are the minimum expectations and KPIs for you and the club for the remainder of the season?
  1. Win as many matches as you lose
  2. Remain competitive
  3. Stay out of the relegation dog fight
  4. Continue to play the Brentford Way
  5. Bed in the new signings from abroad
  6. Persuade Button and Bidwell to resign
  7. Complete a recruitment list for next season
  • How would you respond to supporters who are feeling let down, confused & disappointed at the moment & will soon be asked to buy season tickets for next season?
  • Getting transfers over the line – discuss
  • Undisclosed fees. I understand why you favour them but they are the bane of our lives – discuss
  • What will it take to bring about a change in policy and for you to bring in loanees this month?
  • Where can you find loan players now who can add value to the team?
  • I appreciate that there is a review being conducted, but why has the Academy so far failed to produce a home-grown first team squad player?
  • Has the loss of some well-regarded Academy coaches had a detrimental effect?
  • Why do non-playing first team squad players rarely play in Development Squad fixtures?
  • Can you talk us through the process from acknowledging a need to signing a player i.e. how did we go from knowing we would lose Odubajo to signing Colin?
  • How advanced and complex is the proprietorial analytical data we use to identify and recruit players compared to the likes of Wyscout & Opta etc?
  • In reality how much does our approach really differ from most other clubs nowadays?
  • Can you explain the process by which we combine analytical and physical scouting?
  • Matthew Benham has stated that a player should be watched 100 times. How often do we watch potential players as opposed to watching DVDs and film clips?
  • What sort of physical scouting network do we possess or plug into?
  • How many analysts support yourself and Rasmus?
  • How do you evaluate players in terms of their character and likelihood to settle in the UK?
  • Do we have a constantly updated list of potential and VIABLE prospects from around the world?
  • How far down the pyramid do we analyse players and teams?
  • How happy are you with the 2015 batch of signings in terms of their current performance levels and were some thrown in prematurely?
  • Is it getting more difficult every year to recruit well?
  • What signing and sale have given you the most satisfaction?
  • What lessons were learned from the Marinus recruitment process when it came to appoint Dean Smith?
  • What qualities does Dean Smith possess that makes him the ideal manager for Brentford FC?
  • What are the benefits to Brentford of the association with FC Midtjylland?
  • We have sent them Moore and O’Shaugnessy, when will we receive one of their players on loan or a permanent basis?
  • Why so many injuries this season – coincidence or happenstance?
  • Scott Hogan – what can or should we expect or hope for?
  • When will we take the Cup competitions more seriously?
  • Is a box-to-box player with footballing and tackling ability on the agenda for next season?

 

It Is What It Is – 23/1/16

The realities of life are being made quite apparent at the moment to all Brentford fans, and the truth, to be quite honest, is pretty chilling and unpalatable.

Recent events and the possibility of future player departures have only gone to further highlight how much we are punching above our weight in maintaining a comfortable place in the Championship and also just how vulnerable we are.

We treat our players very well, pay them as much as we can afford, offer an extremely generous and lucrative bonus scheme and have created a positive and empowering environment where players receive excellent coaching, are encouraged to express themselves and even take risks and to play an exciting brand of attacking football with nary a long ball in sight.

The truth of the matter is that we are and will remain for the foreseeable future, a stepping stone club where we identify young emerging talent from at home and abroad, mould and develop them, put them in the shop window and on the conveyor belt to riches and success and then inevitably lose them when the bigger fish come calling.

It is annoying and frustrating particularly when pretty much all the players who have left us such as Gray, Douglas, Odubajo, Dallas and now Diagouraga have joined clubs who are currently competing at the same level as the Bees. If players were leaving for the priceless and rare opportunity to play in the Premier League then our supporters would doubtless accept the fact that they are bettering themselves. It is when they join clubs who competitively are on a par with, or only slightly better than us, that we find matters far harder and more difficult to accept.

That is however a totally misleading fact as Burnley, Hull, Ipswich and Leeds are either benefiting from the iniquitous Parachute Payments, are larger, better established clubs with far greater income potential than us or perhaps are not as fiscally responsible as we are. They are all able and willing to offer our best players wages far in excess of what we are able to do and you cannot blame them for chasing the money.

I can only hope for the day when we are in a position to hang onto our best players, send all predators packing and reject any offers no matter how attractive. Unfortunately that will not happen until we finally move to Lionel Road and attract far larger attendances and have the opportunity to earn much more from off field and commercial activities.

The key will be for Brentford to remain in the Championship until we reach that point. That is by no means a given and would be a truly massive achievement given our current size and income levels.

To a degree our whole attitude and indeed, expectations and judgement, have been clouded by the incredible season we enjoyed last season which might well turn out to have been a one-off and a statistical anomaly.

It also did not help to have senior club officials state and assert that we would be looking to build upon the achievements of last season and ideally finish even higher up in the table.

Whilst every football team starts each season aiming to improve and to push for promotion, sometimes you are simply paying lip service to reality. It is no use raising expectations unrealistically and given the forced sales of so many of last season’s stars, the loss of the talismanic Pritchard, the ever increasing injury list and the need to bed in a new manager as well as a host of players with no experience of English conditions, let alone the demands of the Championship, it was surely foolhardy to talk about anything other than consolidation.

Mid table mediocrity, however meritorious, does not sell season tickets though and I feel that our prospects were overhyped and expectations were unreasonably raised. And more fool us for listening!

The club might reasonably point out that departing players have all wanted to leave rather than being pushed out of the door and have invariably been replaced by new arrivals who are cheaper and possess the potential to be even better, and a close examination of the facts does go a long way towards backing up this assertion.

In addition, we did for once refuse a massive offer for Tarkowski late in August, one that far exceeded our own valuation of him, as we perhaps felt that we had sold more than enough players already that month and one more might well be seen as a tipping point.

Perhaps in retrospect the club should have remained true to itself and in fact made a massive error in not going through with the deal as we are now in the midst of an awkward and difficult situation where the player has refused to play for us and we are currently unable to offload him at anywhere near our valuation for him.

I can only imagine that if no club makes a reasonable and acceptable bid for him in the last week of the Transfer Window then Tarkowski will have to be seen to make a suitably contrite if ambiguous apology, perhaps on Bees Player, as I cannot imagine any independent journalist being allowed anywhere near him, and he will then be welcomed back into the fold for the time being before leaving at the end of the season. This will not go down well with many fans and will only serve to divide the supporter base.

I am worried that all the talk is of players leaving and very little is of new arrivals and I am also concerned that there are fundamental flaws in our overall recruitment strategy.

Last season saw a level and quality of recruitment far beyond our wildest dreams and one that made the football world stand up, open its eyes and finally pay attention to us. It also set a standard and benchmark that quite naturally is proving impossible for us to surpass or even match.

I still do not understand how we managed to get deals for the likes of Gray, Pritchard, Odubajo and Hogan over the line as they were the cream of the crop in terms of emerging young British talent and the arrival of Jota represented the stats based foreign recruitment policy at its best.

Not only had no Brentford supporter ever heard of him, I can quite honestly say that from all my research I am totally unaware of his appearing on any other club’s radar either.

Now we are hoist by our own petard. Other clubs watch us closely and we are never again going to have a free run at any worthwhile player.

Given our progress we are also quite naturally looking to bring in better players and perhaps take fewer gambles on unknown and untested foreign players.

Players of the calibre we are seeking will all have lots of other options and that is where our problems start. A Gogia or a Kerschbaumer might bite our hand off at our offer but a George Evans won’t – and didn’t.

Evans signing for Reading was a particular disappointment and indeed, eye opener for us. He ticked all of the boxes – young, elegant, strong, talented, a box to box player who could put his foot in and score goals. He would have been a proper New Brentford signing and likely become a potentially massive upgrade on Toumani Diagouraga, and given that he had played for Dean Smith at Walsall he was surely bound for us when we made our interest known until we were pipped seemingly at the post by Reading.

Perhaps they blew us out of the water with their financial offer to the player or maybe it was the better facilities and infrastructure available and on offer to him at a club that also has recent Premier League experience?  Who knows but not signing him was a real blow and another warning sign.

We are now faced with the task of replacing Diagouraga and unless Kerschbaumer or McEachran step up to the plate, sooner or later we will need to look outside the club. Maybe it is a fanciful suggestion but how about a return to Griffin Park, even on a short term basis, for Tom Adeyemi, a powerful box to box midfielder currently on loan at Leeds from Cardiff City and surely surplus to requirements at both clubs?

Toumani gave us six years of excellent and committed service and last season he reached heights that were beyond everybody’s dreams as, touched by genius as if he had made a Mephistophelian pact with the Devil, and protected by the menacing presence of Jonathan Douglas, he totally dominated the midfield and acted as the perfect linkman for the likes of Judge, Jota, Pritchard and Gray.

This season he has returned to normal after his annus mirabilis and on the one hand it makes sense for Brentford to cash in at the top of the market given that a fee of over half a million pounds has been suggested in the Leeds-based local media (remember also that at one time, not too long ago, it looked as if he might join Coventry City potentially on a free transfer) and from Toumani’s point of view he might well feel that he has not been on as lucrative a contract as some of his team mates and is looking to secure his future with one last big payday.

He goes with our gratitude and best wishes and hopefully he will not hammer the ball into the roof of our net from twenty-five yards when the two teams meet next Tuesday – The Immutable Law of the Ex combined with Sod’s Law might well suggest that he breaks the habit of a lifetime and does so!

I have done some rough calculations on the back of the proverbial fag pack and also taken into account the figures that Paul Briers kindly posted on the Griffin Park Grapevine yesterday and if you take the fees that we have received for the likes of Forshaw, Grigg, Dallas, Gray, Odubajo and now Diagouraga over the past eighteen months then there is the potential for us to receive around seventeen million pounds, less any sell-on payments that we have to make to their former clubs.

Who knows, we might yet receive even more money should either Tarkowski or Judge be sold before the end of the Transfer Window.

Looking in turn at the eighteen players we have brought in: Judge, Gray, Tebar, Odubajo, Williams, Hogan, Jota, Macleod, O’Connell, Gogia, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann, Barbet, Bjelland, Vibe, Colin, Woods and McEachran it is fair to say that we have paid around fourteen million pounds, not taking into account signing on fees, loyalty bonuses and wages. So the lion’s share of monies received for players has in fact been reinvested on new faces. I have also not included Nick Proschwitz but I suspect that his free transfer was not so free after all when his entire remuneration package was taken into account.

How much of it has been wisely invested is a moot point and one that is sure to cause much debate amongst all Brentford fans but the truth is that the club has certainly more than kept its word.

The main problem is to be able to maintain the conveyor belt of promising young and ideally underpriced talent and as I intimated, this will get harder and harder as other clubs get smarter and we run the risk of losing our edge.

So what happens now? Do we need to buy new players this month? Yes and no. Perhaps we should keep our powder dry and wait until the Summer when prices will not be so ridiculous and more of our potential targets will be available? Romaine Sawyers is certainly one that has caught our eye, according to scuttlebutt and rumour, and will then be available on a Bosman free transfer – but after the Evans situation, will he decide to go elsewhere even if we are in for him?

Jota might well be irreplaceable in the short term but we are desperately short of width and pace and I am certain that Gogia will be given the chance to step up to the plate. We are fine for central defenders should Tarkowski leave and perhaps the Harlee Dean situation might even be re-evaluated before his departure becomes irrevocable.

I am not desperately happy with any of our three strikers but up until the turn of the year we had been scoring freely although the goals seem to have dried up lately, and I cannot see us changing things up front in the short term.

Kemar Roofe was the nearest that I have seen to an Alan Judge replacement but I suspect that that ship has sailed given his recent form and enhanced profile and hopefully we will not have to worry about that problem until the end of the season and, in the event that Judge does go this month, I really cannot see how we can replace him at all adequately in the short term.

I do not want signings just for the sake of it and spending money without proper thought and consideration does nothing except jeopardise our position regarding Financial Fair Play.

Given our lack of income we have to ensure that all monies spent are invested wisely and not wasted purely to appease the fans.

I can therefore understand if nobody arrives this month, bar perhaps a young untested loanee, however even looking back at the muddled situation last January we still managed to bring in three promising young players for the future in Josh Laurent, Lewis Macleod and Jack O’Connell.

Leaving aside how they have all fared up until now, I would feel reassured if we managed to bring in a couple of exceptional young prospects next week who would challenge for a first team place next season. This might well be pie in the sky, however.

Results have also been poor so far this year and that simply makes us all feel even more anxious and uneasy.

Hopefully we will get back into the swing of things and put some points on the board over the next four days.

Brentford are in a strange situation and one that needs careful managing if we are not to fall over a precipice either from spending too much, too unwisely or even not enough.

 

Second Time Lucky? – 30/11/15

So The Chosen One is now the Walsall manager Dean Smith as Brentford supporters await agog for confirmation that he will hopefully become the new Head Coach at the club.

Whilst Pep Clotet was apparently the first choice for the job, that deal could not be consummated for a variety of reasons perhaps not unconnected with the current uncertainty at Swansea as well as the total cost of the package required to bring him to Griffin Park.

It is important to say up front that second choice does not mean second best as I understand that the club would be more than delighted if either candidate decided to take up the challenge.

So whilst we wait for the situation to be resolved and I am sure that the cameras tonight at Bolton will be panning the stands in the Macron Stadium in the hope of seeing Smith lurking in the background or skulking in the shadows, I thought that it might be helpful if we examined his career in greater detail and looked at his background and achievements.

Smith is still relatively young in managerial terms at forty-four years of age and had a long and distinguished playing career as a no-nonsense centre half who played well over five hundred Football League games for the likes of Walsall, Hereford, Leyton Orient and Sheffield Wednesday.

He will fit in perfectly with Brentford as he played in four unsuccessful playoff campaigns for Walsall, Hereford and Leyton Orient and fully understands and has experienced the heartache of falling short at the final hurdle!

His best friend would not have described him a cultured defender but he read the game well, was tough and effective and he almost broke the heart of every Brentford fan back in 2004 when he equalised for Sheffield Wednesday in Martin Allen’s Great Escape season seemingly long after James Alexander Gordon had begun to recite the final scores after the referee, George Cain, had lost all sense of time and played on until the home team scored.

After retirement, Smith became Youth Team Coach and Assistant Manager at Leyton Orient and remained there until 2009 when he was named as Head of Youth at Walsall before taking over as manager in January 2011, making him the fourth longest serving manager in the game, behind only Arsène Wenger, Paul Tisdale and our old friend Karl Robinson with an incredible tenure, given the vulnerability of any manager’s position, of four years and three hundred and twenty-nine days.

I am sure that all Brentford fans, desperate for a speedy resolution to the current situation, sincerely hope that he does not make it much beyond that impressive figure!

He is a well qualified and respected coach who possesses his UEFA Pro License and he encourages his teams to play positive, passing and attacking football and to play the ball to feet, as we have learned to our cost in previous meetings between the two clubs.

His time at Walsall has been highly successful given their relative lack of resources, and he took them to Wembley for the first time in their history last season in the final of the Football League Trophy and he has established them in the top half of the table with the promise of a promotion challenge this season as they hover around the top six in League One.

He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the lower divisions and youth football at all levels and has brought through or purchased many young players of exceptional ability such as Will Grigg, Florent Cuvelier, Sam Manton, Romaine Sawyers, Tom Bradshaw and Rico Henry.

Brentford have never found Walsall a pushover in recent years and I well remember a hard-fought draw at The Bescot Stadium in January 2014 when The Saddlers ended our run of eight consecutive victories and could easily have won the game late on.

Mark Warburton’s verdict on the home team that day: It was a tough game and Walsall worked hard and moved the ball well, perfectly sums up the approach of a typical Dean Smith team.

From what I can tell Dean Smith fits the bill as far as Brentford is concerned. He has nearly five years’ worth of managerial experience and has gained a deserved reputation as a excellent coach who more than makes the most of what he is given. He develops and encourages young talent and allows them to flourish within a positive environment and I am told that he is good at man-management.

Smith is a great friend of Martin Ling, so cruelly afflicted by depression in recent years and he has now amended his approach to the job now given the potential risks to his health:

What Martin went through made me realise how important it is to appreciate that there is an outside world, away from football. The support network of your family, friends and staff is integral.

I have always seen myself as a positive person and you come to realise that you are dealing with the natural sensitivities of human beings. That’s why I don’t go into the dressing room after games. It is too emotional a time. I would rather wait, and speak to the players rationally on Monday morning.

Thanks to Mike Calvin and Living On The Volcano for that quote which emphasises just how thoughtful and well-rounded a character is Dean Smith.

It is quite obvious that his team respects and plays for him and he has also done a good job of managing upwards to a tough Chairman in Jeff Bonser who does not attend home matches because of his unpopularity with the Walsall supporters.

Bonser admires Smith and his achievements at the club:

His philosophy is to play good football and, regardless of the results, I think that’s how we play. We’ve stuck to the philosophy and we’re going to continue to stick to it, because it’s bringing us some success.

I can totally see why Brentford want Smith and let us just hope that the feeling is reciprocated. Bonser will probably be a hard nut to crack in terms of compensation and he refused his manager permission to talk to Rotherham when they came calling a few months ago.

Hopefully Smith will want to take up the challenge at Griffin Park and make it obvious to his Chairman that this time he wishes to leave.

Smith was fairly disparaging towards Brentford at the time when we signed his star striker Will Grigg, whom he felt should have joined a bigger club, rather than another League One outfit, however I will take that as a simple case of sour grapes as all is fair in love and war – and football too!

I am sure that nothing is finalised at the present time and that this, just like the Clotet deal, could still go either way. There are no guarantees as there are so many intangibles and potential obstacles that can arise as well as a plethora of different parties involved in any deal including agents and family members.

We also have to keep within our budget and ensure that the entire recruitment package is realistic and affordable.

There will also be the need to decide if he brings any of his staff with him. Bonser might have something to say about that as might Matthew Benham given the continued presence of Paul Williams who would surely expect and fully deserve a coaching role in any new set up. Lee Carsley’s role will also need to be clarified if it is not already decided.

As you can see, there is much to ponder on and a lot that needs to be settled before we can breathe easily. Walsall have a crucial match against local rivals Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night and I am certain that all parties would like to know where they stand before then so I expect a speedy decision one way or the other within the next twenty-four hours.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed!

Damned If You Do… – 28/11/15

The airwaves and social media channels alike have been red hot with activity and comment, most of it negative, exasperated, mocking and even vituperative in tone, in response to Brentford Co-Director of Football Phil Giles’s statement last night updating the supporters on the current state of play regarding the head coaching position at the club.

This is what he had to say:

In Lee’s last post-match press conference, he discussed the possibility that the Nottingham Forest game would be his last in charge. This was the expectation of both Rasmus Ankersen and myself. Lee’s comments were made in good faith based on the conversations we held last week.

Circumstances this week have meant that we haven’t been able to make the change as originally anticipated. We will continue with our process to find the right long term Head Coach for Brentford, rather than make a hasty appointment.

Lee has done a superb job since taking charge in September and we look forward to our game with Bolton on Monday evening.

This has been enough to rouse much of the fanbase to fury.

Now before everyone starts with the accusation that I am merely a mouthpiece, shill, or an apologist for the club I will make the point that the purpose of these articles is simply for me to spout off and give my opinion about anything and everything that is happening in and around Brentford FC both on and off the pitch.

I try to avoid unnecessary knee-jerk reactions and, unlike Keith Stroud and Brendan Malone, allow myself time to think before making a final decision. I try as hard as I can to avoid factual errors by taking soundings from friends and contacts in and around – and sometimes well outside – the club and I always endeavour to check my sources before rushing into print. I also take the laws of libel very seriously indeed.

Of course I am probably proved wrong as often – or even more so, than I am correct in my musings, but that is just the luck of the draw. I welcome, publish and respond to any and all feedback and comments to what I write and I am quite used and inured to readers telling me that I am deluded in what I have to say.

I have also not held back in heavily criticising the club over its actions whenever I feel that it is justified. Just to give a couple of examples: I felt that certain individuals were naive in the extreme not to anticipate that ongoing behind closed doors negotiations with potential replacements for Mark Warburton would not leak out into the media and cause the horrendous destabilisation that threatened to jeopardise our promotion push last February. I also felt strongly that the club’s initial crisis management was inept and poorly executed in the extreme.

The appointment of Marinus Dijkhuizen was also totally bungled and we do not know yet how much its impact will eventually influence the outcome of this season given that we have been forced onto the back foot ever since.

I have given a great deal of thought to the current managerial or head coaching hiatus and as far as I am concerned the club cannot and should not be criticised in any way, shape or form for how it has managed and continues to deal with a difficult and complex situation.

Here is my reading of affairs and how they have developed since the end of September and the sacking of Marinus. I fully expect however that much of what I set down is not totally accurate but it is as close to the truth that I can get:

  1. An interim Head Coach is needed at short notice and Lee Carsley is the obvious immediate candidate given his previous, albeit limited, managerial experience and the respect he has gained from the entire squad since his arrival last season
  2. Lee is persuaded to sign on for the rest of the season despite his misgivings, possible concerns about the necessary commitment owing to his family situation and preference to remain as a development coach but he is assuaged by the knowledge that the club will be looking for a permanent replacement from the outset
  3. After two initial defeats, Lee Carsley, aided by the invaluable Paul Williams and Flemming Pedersen is able to put his stamp on affairs and the seemingly terminal decline is arrested and reversed. Not only that, the dramatic improvement in results leads to Lee winning a fully deserved Manager of the Month Award for October
  4. Lee remains entirely consistent and honest in all his public statements reiterating his preference for youth coaching and that he feels that he is not ready for a job of this magnitude which requires a far more experienced pair of hands
  5. Efforts are being made behind the scenes to identify and verify potential candidates for the permanent role but Carsley’s success means that he has bought us sufficient time to ensure that a panic or rushed appointment does not have to be made and that the optimum candidate can be sourced and ideally hired
  6. Given his success I would expect that efforts were made to persuade Lee to change his mind and take on the role on a permanent basis. Maybe he even prevaricated and considered the option too, but the end result remains the same. He does not want to continue in his post any longer than is strictly necessary
  7. A short list is being considered and soundings taken and three names appear in the media: Pep Clotet, Dean Smith and Justin Edinburgh
  8. There is no smoke without fire and it soon becomes evident that Clotet is the preferred candidate. He has limited managerial experience but is an acclaimed coach with an excellent track record, particularly for a man of his relative youth, and Swansea, where he is currently employed, would appear to be a benchmark and exemplar for how Matthew Benham wants his club to set up and play in terms of the quality and style of its football
  9. The situation at Swansea, however is complex, confused and ever changing. Will the manager stay, will he be sacked? Is he being pressurised to make changes in his coaching staff? Will the status quo finally prevail? Is the Chairman willing to allow Clotet to leave or does he want him to stay? Is he looking to extract compensation for him? To a large degree these questions remain unanswered and I am certain that there have been shifting sands over the past couple of weeks
  10. Assuming that Clotet is the man and that he has passed our due diligence (it is of course entirely possible that we have changed our mind too), then it must be a difficult, longwinded and frustrating challenge to firstly persuade him to leave the Premier League and take up the job at Griffin Park and then extract him from his current situation
  11. It would appear that last weekend Brentford believed that this interminable process was near to completion and that we were on the verge of announcing an appointment
  12. Lee Carsley was obviously kept fully updated on the progress of all negotiations and therefore quite reasonably made it clear in his post match interview that he fully expected that the Nottingham Forest match would be his last match in charge
  13. Unfortunately the goalposts changed and what we thought was almost a done deal is no longer the case. Has the change of heart come from Clotet? Has his club decided to hang onto him? Are agents muddying the water? Does his family prefer to stay put rather than move to London? Can we keep compensation and salary costs down to a manageable level and remain within our budgetary constraints? I cannot provide any firm answers to these or any other relevant questions
  14. The bottom line is that what we thought and honestly believed would happen has not yet taken place. Maybe the Clotet deal is dead. Perhaps there will, even now, be a change of heart from whoever is holding things up and he will still be appointed. Highly doubtful, in my opinion
  15. More likely we are on to our next preferred candidate who apparently is the Walsall manager, Dean Smith, and hopefully we will have better luck with him
  16. Second choice does not mean second best. I fully expect that we have identified at least two excellent and ideal candidates for the job either of whom the club would be happy to appoint. For my part I would have liked Clotet for the reasons previously expressed and feel that Smith also has the experience at the coalface to do well and has a football philosophy in line with our own
  17. The only consideration is to get things right this time. We cannot afford another poor appointment if the club is to continue to progress as we fully intend. Thankfully we do not have to make an appointment simply for the sake of doing so and can within reason, take whatever time is necessary
  18. As long, of course, as Lee Carsley continues to play ball and is prepared to hold the fort until the new man is in place. I have no idea if he has set a deadline or if he is willing to remain in charge for an indefinite period as necessary. My gut feeling regarding Lee’s state of mind is that the sooner we are in a position to appoint a new Head Coach the better
  19. I would also add that we are only one of three attractive managerial/head coaching vacancies in West London and it does not appear that either Fulham or Queens Park Rangers are having any more success in getting a deal over the line than we are

I feel that the club has acted entirely responsibly in this entire process and does not deserve the flack that it is receiving from all quarters. Hiring a new manager or head coach is an extremely complex and crucial undertaking. There are so many variables that can change or go wrong. You are dealing with a plethora of individuals, from the candidates themselves, to their agents and representatives. You then have to negotiate with the club and cope with family interests as well. In other words there is a lot of juggling that needs to be done and so much is totally out of your own hands.

I am happy and content that Lee Carsley will remain in charge on Monday and know that he will be fully focused on the task ahead. I also know that the massive amount of work being conducted by the club behind the scenes and under the radar will continue until we are ready to announce the identity of our new Head Coach and I am fully confident that this time it will be the right choice.

Pep Talk – 15/11/15

JS53729436Talk is cheap and whilst all the rumours are still unsubstantiated, the fact remains that there is growing speculation that Brentford are closing in on their preferred choice to replace Lee Carsley as Head Coach. Much of the chatter is on social media but the mainstream press has finally joined in the fun too with The Daily Telegraph yesterday naming a new candidate, and one who had not previously been openly mentioned in connection with the club.

According to journalist John Percy, the Swansea City Assistant Manager, Pep Clotet, is in serious contention to take over at Griffin Park. It would appear that any leak has come from the Swansea rather than Brentford end given that Percy is the Midlands football reporter for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and predominantly deals with the Premier League. Indeed only a few days ago, on the ninth of November, he wrote a detailed story about the current state of affairs at Swansea and revealed that their manager, Garry Monk, has effectively been told by the club’s chairman, Huw Jenkins, to agree to changes to the overall management structure of the club or risk losing his job given Swansea’s recent dire run of only one win in their past nine games. It is alleged that Jenkins has suggested that Monk must agree to bring in an experienced coach to assist him and in that regard the name of Colin Pascoe, a Swansea legend and Brendan Rogers’s former assistant at Liverpool, has been mentioned.

Now it emerges that Clotet, whose role at his current club might now be under real threat given the chairman’s apparent ultimatum, could be a serious target for the Bees and has apparently been interviewed by Matthew Benham over the past few days.

Is Percy jumping to conclusions or could there be some – or even a lot, of truth in his suggestion regarding Clotet which has now been picked up by other media outlets in Wales? Perhaps it would help if we examined Clotet’s background and credentials in more detail in order to see if he might fit the criteria required for Brentford’s new Head Coach.

He was born in Barcelona and is still in the first blossom of youth at only thirty-eight years of age. He had a totally undistinguished playing career before earning his coveted Pro License when only twenty-six years of age and took his first coaching role whilst still in this twenties at UE Cornellà before moving to RCD Espanyol’s where he worked with their youth teams. He then joined another local team in UE Figueres but was fired after only nine games as they were relegated from Segunda División B. He subsequently returned to his previous club, still in charge of the youths.

Not the most impressive of starts but all the time he was gaining crucial coaching experience which he then began to use to good effect at Espanyol before he was was spotted by Roland Nilsson at Malmö FF, who won the 2010 the Allsvenskan championship with Pep acting as his assistant. His first major Head Coach appointment then came at Halmstads BK but it ended in disappointment when they finished bottom of the table.

Still he kept moving on and learning and coached at Viking FK before catching the eye at Málaga CF where he began to make his name under Manuel Pellegrini by developing several  young players who would shortly make an impact in the first team.

Swansea City were impressed by what they had seen and in November 2013 Clotet was appointed academy consultant at the club before being promoted to assistant manager in May last year where he has remained ever since as manager Garry Monk’s main confidant and support.

Those are the bare facts which confirm that Pep has packed in a massive amount of coaching experience despite his tender years but we also need to put some flesh on the bones and for that I am going to Mike Calvin who profiled Garry Monk in his excellent recent book on football managers, Living On The Volcano.

Monk spoke extremely positively about Clotet when interviewed by Calvin. Apparently Pep was influenced greatly by the coaches at Barcelona and Johan Cruyff in particular before attending one hundred and sixty training sessions when Louis Van Gaal was in charge of the club in order to analyse the way he set up his teams to maintain possession of the ball. Closet is also renowned for breaking down matches into five minute segments so that he can assess thoroughly what is happening on the pitch and pass on information in real time to Monk. He is quite obviously open minded, thorough, relentless and committed to his role and would fit in perfectly with Brentford’s stats and analysis led approach.

There is talk that he came onto the Brentford radar last year when he was recommended to the club and was apparently considered for the managerial vacancy at FC Midtjylland over the Summer and given the situation at Swansea, it would appear likely that he might well be available and would perhaps not require us to pay compensation in order to acquire his services.

Like the majority of Brentford fans, I would prefer that Lee Carsley remained in post until the end of the season given the way that the squad has responded to him and the renewed sense of togetherness and organisation which has culminated in a series of much improved performances and results, however that does not seem to be an option given that it seems he is determined to leave his position as Head Coach as soon as possible given his total aversion to many elements of the job.

If that is in fact the case then we can only thank him for all his efforts on our behalf and for buying us enough time to make the right appointment to replace him. I would hope that there will still be a role for Lee at the club given his obvious ability but somehow I doubt if that will suit him and his ambitions. Hopefully if and when the new man arrives there will be a hand over period and given his popularity with the players I would anticipate that Paul Williams will be retained as a coach which will help maintain some element of continuity.

I am sure that this coming week will reveal whether or not Pep Clotet is the man for us. He appears to tick many of the boxes for us in terms of his background, reliance on stats and the fact that he has gained a massive amount of coaching experience around Europe given his relative youth. Most importantly, he has worked in England in the Premier League, fully understands the physical demands of the English game and is working at a club that is renowned for its excellent passing and possession based football. How players respond to him is something I am not qualified to answer.

I might be wrong – I normally am – but it would not surprise me if Pep is the man for us and that as long as he can get the players on board and convince them to buy into his methods then we might well have identified a massively impressive candidate who will become exactly the type of Head Coach that we have been seeking .