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:
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.
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.