Let’s Cheer on Brand Brentford – 20/7/16

One of the most illuminating statistics of the 2014/15 season was the fact that no less than thirteen of the eighteen players in the Brentford squad on the opening day of the season on the ninth of August were still involved when the season finally drew to a close on the fifteenth of May at Middlesbrough. Mark Warburton was a massive fan of stability and avoided change whenever possible. His trust and loyalty in the squad was fully repaid by the players who came within a whisker of reaching the promised land of the Premier League.

Let’s just remind us of our lineup in Mark Warburton’s last match in charge:

Button
Odubajo
Dean
Tarkowski
Bidwell
Diagouraga
Douglas
Jota
Pritchard
Judge
Gray
Substitutes
Craig
McCormack
Dallas
Bonham
Toral
Smith
Long

Of those eighteen players only five still remain at the club as the last year has seen a huge turnover in players both in and out of the club. Pritchard, Long and Toral were loanees who returned to their parent club and Smith and Craig were gently pensioned off when it became apparent that they were no longer capable of competing at the Championship level. Brentford also made it perfectly obvious to Jonathan Douglas that his time had come and gone and he departed to Ipswich where he was a waning influence last season, if still not properly replaced by the Bees.

Harlee Dean, Jota, Alan Judge, Alan McCormack and Jack Bonham are still Brentford players although given his difficult personal circumstances it is doubtful whether Jota will ever be seen in a Brentford shirt again. Alan Judge would also surely have left by now, probably for a huge transfer fee, had it not been for his appalling injury at Ipswich late last season. That is also a tricky situation that will have to be sorted out as the season and his fitness progresses. That leaves loyal retainer Alan McCormack who fully earned his new contract and will be an important influence in the dressing room next season if not so much on the pitch. Jack Bonham remains as a largely untested, untried and indeed, untrusted reserve goalkeeper and of the eleven starters at Middlesbrough only Harlee Dean is in line to retain his first team place at Griffin Park when the new season comes around in a couple of weeks’ time and his position is also under serious threat from newcomer John Egan.

It is when you come to examine what has happened to the remaining players, David Button, Moses Odubajo, Jake Bidwell, James Tarkowski, Toumani Diagouraga, Andre Gray and Stuart Dallas that it becomes apparent how Brentford have had to adapt to changing circumstances in order to survive and even thrive in the Championship. The sale of these seven players (plus more recent signing Jack O’Connell) has brought in a sum of around £22 million, a quite staggering figure and one totally unparalleled in the club’s history.

Before anyone accuses the club of asset stripping I would immediately retort with the fact that perhaps £10 million of that sum has since been re-invested and spent on acquiring the likes of Barbet, Bjelland, Colin, Kerschbaumer, Woods, McEachran, Vibe, Hofmann, Egan and Bentley. That figure also does not take into account that we earlier spent around £3.5-4 million on Gray, Odubajo, Hogan and Jota in 2014.

The point in common for each one of the departing seven is that they were all new to the Championship and proved that they belonged at that level and once other teams made it clear that they coveted them, they all wanted to move on to better themselves both on and off the pitch and they saw Brentford as a stepping stone to help them meet their ambitions. Odubajo, Tarkowski and Gray would certainly say that they accomplished their mission given that they are all now playing for Premier League clubs with a salary massively enhanced from what they were in receipt of at Brentford and commensurate with their new enhanced place in the football food chain.

Diagouraga and Dallas exchanged the stability of Brentford for the veritable madhouse that is Leeds but might feel that their larger wage packets are sufficient compensation. As for Bidwell and Button, it is of course far too soon to say of they will benefit from their move professionally as well as financially.

There are of course previous precedents. Simon Moore and Harry Forrester both disappeared into a black hole and their career has yet to recover, Adam Forshaw will also find himself in the Premier League this season although it is doubtful if he will be a regular starter, and Clayton Donaldson will be commencing his third season at Birmingham and has done well since leaving us.

Until our revenue streams increase and we move to Lionel Road, a prospect that still remains a chimera with the opening date remaining unconfirmed, we are totally and utterly unable to compete with our larger, rich and better established brethren, replete as they are with war chests buttressed and bloated by Premier League television rights fees and then Parachute Payments to reward their eventual failure.

Of course every self-respecting footballer wants to get on the gravy train and I do not blame any of our former stars for one moment for deciding to move on. We simply cannot match the salaries offered by our competitors and I am delighted that a policy of fiscal responsibility reigns at the club and we are not trying to equal or better the unsustainable fees and salaries paid by our less wary rivals.

Of course we would have loved to have signed Sergi Canos or Kemar Roofe, or others like them, but we are unable to get anywhere close to meeting the exorbitant transfer fees and salaries that they have been offered elsewhere.

That is why we have tried to use our analytics and data to prospect cleverly and below the radar and outsmart the competition as we cannot outspend them. Romaine Sawyers, John Egan and Daniel Bentley are all exceptional young talents who will probably grace our team for a couple of years or so and then, should they progress and improve as we hope and expect, they will become targets for the predators who are happy for us to do the hard work in terms of player development and growth and then take them off our hands when the time is right.

That is the way of life and as long as we extract top dollar for all of them, as indeed we most certainly have, and continue to replace them with younger, cheaper versions with even more potential, then we shall continue to do just fine.

David Button is a case in point. We have received over ten times what we paid for him and replaced him with an exceptional young talent who will probably cost less than half the money we received for Button. Of course we would rather he had re-signed for us but he chose not to so we had to move on and do the best possible deal for the club and this is a really excellent one.

We thank him for his services because he was exceptional for us, we cheer on and encourage his replacement and we hopefully use some of the money to strengthen what is already an excellent squad. As for Bentley, he is a totally different character as he is loud, brash, positive and confident and once he settles down will provide us with a new and improved dimension in goal.

Last season was a learning curve as we tried to introduce too many new players too quickly, many of them from abroad with no experience of English conditions and we suffered the early consequences for our actions. However by May it was job done yet again as we were proudly looking at the likes of Colin, Barbet, Woods, Vibe and Hogan as real prospects with massive scope for improvement and a rapidly growing transfer value.

Even the much maligned and derided Konstantin Kerschbaumer, a misfit and so out of place early on, had finally developed into a confident and skilful performer and is likely to provide massive value for us given the paltry fee we paid for him. Lewis Macleod is also going to become the player we all hoped for as he recovers in fitness and confidence and has already demonstrated his ability this preseason.

So we have so much to look forward to as long as we keep our sense of perspective and do not get too disappointed when our best players and favourites leave us for pastures anew. Of course I am not too happy when the likes of Bidwell and Button join our local rivals, but that is the way of life, and footballers cannot be expected to be Brentford supporters and they will go where they feel the best opportunity and the highest salary lie. As long as we get the going rate – or even higher, we cannot complain, particularly as we know that the lion’s share of all transfer revenues will be reinvested in new talent. And so the process continues.

We just need to believe in the Brentford brand and simply cheer on the shirts, even if the wearers of them change, as they will, with great regularity. Players come and go, Brentford FC continues unabashed and will go from strength to strength.

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End Of Term Report – Part 3 – 17/5/16

Here are my thoughts on the remaining members of the Brentford squad as well as the players who left us during the season :

21. Lasse Vibe. Danish international striker Lasse Vibe signed for the Bees for around one million pounds from IFK Göteborg shortly before the beginning of the season and went straight from playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan to the Championship without the benefit of any preseason break. He found a place in the team playing firstly on the right flank  where he was a peripheral influence but he scored his first goal with a stunning long-range curling effort against Reading when moved into a more central role. He played alongside Marco Djuricin but won a regular place in the team as the sole striker after Djuricin’s injury against Blackburn. From then on Vibe pretty much trod a lone furrow up front until Scott Hogan’s recovery from injury late on in the season and eventually the pressure told on him and his effectiveness greatly diminished as he was slowed down by the effects of fatigue and overwork. After scoring with a fulminating volley against Huddersfield in mid-December he went over three months without scoring and clearly demonstrated that he was not best suited to the physical demands of playing as a target man. Smash the ball at or over his head and he would always come off second best against giant central defenders who totally outmuscled him and invariably won the physical battle, and with his confidence shot to pieces, he went on a ghastly run of poor performances marked by a series of missed chances and scuffed shots. He had hit the wall and the Championship was proving a tough learning curve for him. No striker scored for the Bees from the second of January until the second of April, a run of twelve matches that saw only eleven goals scored by Brentford and the abyss was beckoning until everything changed in the March international break. Vibe went away with the Danish squad and returned a new man, apparently revitalised by his international recall. Suddenly there was a spring in his step and his luck finally turned. Firstly when loanee Leandro Rodríguez suffered a hamstring injury which necessitated his withdrawal from the fray at Nottingham Forest and his replacement by Vibe and then when home defender Kevin Wilson’s gaffe gifted him a goal. Finally the floodgates opened as with confidence restored he went on a wonderful run of seven goals in seven games, and what goals they were. Close range tap-ins, flying headers, sumptuous outside of the foot finishes and long-range rockets. Everything he touched flew in and he ended up as equal top scorer with the highly creditable total of fourteen goals. More importantly, we learned to play to his strengths as his pace and vision enabled him to time his runs and get in behind defenders and he looked twice the player he had been just weeks earlier. The fans took to him from the beginning because he never let his head go down even when things were not going well for him and he was always a chaser of lost causes. He played with a smile on his face and the crowd responded to him. How far has he come in so short a time? A few weeks ago and I would not have been too upset if he had decided to leave at the end of the season, now I can’t wait to see if he can improve even more next season.

22. Jack O’Connell. Jack had a frustrating season as he was never able to establish himself in the team but at times he certainly looked the part in our central defence. He twice enjoyed runs of four and then three consecutive matches after Dean and Barbet’s red cards but he was unable to keep his place given the strong competition he faced. He scored a goal from a corner against Fulham and, unlike our other central defenders, he always looked dangerous at set pieces, and but for a brilliant save he would have repeated the dose in the home match against our old rivals at Griffin Park. At twenty-two he is still a youngster and he could yet develop into an excellent defender and a real asset. He lacks pace but reads the game well, is strong in the air and is no mug with the ball at his feet. I hope that he is patient and that we find a role for him next season.

23. Jota. Who could ever have imagined Brentford doing so well despite Jota starting only one game all season? Jonathan Douglas’s rugged challenge cost Jota damaged ankle ligaments which required surgery to repair and he had barely returned to the substitutes’ bench in December when personal issues forced his return to Spain, initially on loan to Eibar. Brentford treated him with sensitivity and compassion given the circumstances and we will simply have to wait and see whether he will be in a position to return within the next year or if we have seen the last of the Spanish maestro. I personally doubt that he will play for us again and, if so, we will need to maximise our return for him which will not be easy given that he will, I am sure, only wish to sign for a Spanish team. As for replacing him, you can’t, as how do you find another genius?

24. Akaki (Andy) Gogia. Andy Gogia was another foreign prospect signed on a free transfer from the lower leagues in Germany. A quick and tricky winger, he impressed with his pace, skill and energy in the preseason friendly against Stoke and scored with a deflected long-range effort. He started the season in the first team but it soon became clear that he needed time to get used to the pace and physicality of the Championship and also become more accustomed and attuned to living and working in a foreign country. His cause was also hindered by some niggly injuries and he never started a match after the beginning of October. He impressed in the Development Squad and looked more direct and effective when coming off the bench late on in the season. Hopefully he will be one for next season and he will surely receive another opportunity given that we will be looking for a new winger.

27. David Button. At twenty-seven years of age, and coming off his second consecutive season as an everpresent in the Brentford team, David Button is probably not yet at his peak and might improve even more, but he has firmly established himself as one of the most consistent and talented goalkeepers in the Championship. What a bargain he has proved to be since we rescued him from the depths of the Charlton Athletic reserve team for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He certainly received sufficient practice last season as he faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league and he invariably met and overcame the challenge. He was directly responsible for only two goals, at home to both Middlesbrough and Charlton but otherwise he was reliable, dependable, consistent and also inspired and brilliant on occasion. His save from Garner at Preston was stupendous and one of the moments of the season and at times he seemed to be playing Derby County on his own at Griffin Park. He can still sometimes be tentative and vulnerable when dealing with crosses but he is otherwise technically extremely sound and invariably gets the basics right. His use of the ball when in possession was as calm and accurate as ever and he started so many of our attacks as well as providing a wonderful assist for Alan Judge’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Button now has a tough decision to make given that his contract expires at the end of next season. Should he seek pastures new or extend his contract at the club? He is guaranteed first team football in a young and improving team at Griffin Park, but could he do better professionally and financially elsewhere? The latest indications are that he might well decide to stay and every Brentford fan will fervently hope that this is the case as we are very fortunate to have him.

28. Nico Yennaris. Last season was a coming of age for Nico whose career at Brentford had appeared to be drifting into oblivion and many were surprised when his loan move to Wycombe Wanderers was not made permanent. Maxime Colin’s injury changed everything and Lee Carsley gave him the opportunity to deputise for him. Nico played like a man inspired, tough, tenacious in the challenge and eager to overlap, he ensured that Colin was barely missed and Nico was unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman recovered. His consistency was rewarded with a new three year contract, a move that initially attracted much criticism from some Brentford supporters but Dean Smith knew exactly what he was doing and the decision is now looking an extremely good one. He believed in Nico who was converted into a highly effective defensive midfielder who played a massive part in our late season success. He was all-action and all-energy, relentless in his tackling and pressing but he also showed his great ability on the ball and he passed it quickly and accurately. Nico was ideally suited for Brentford’s pass and move approach and he also scored two well-taken goals. From a player who at one time seemed to be going nowhere except out of the exit door, Nico proved to be a revelation and ended the season as the most improved player in the team and enjoying life playing for the first time for a Head Coach who believed in him. Of all the stories of the season, Nico’s was perhaps the most positive, surprising and satisfying.

29. Yoann Barbet. The best that I can say about French central defender Yoann Barbet’s progress is that the departed James Tarkowski has barely been missed. Signed from Chamois Niortais for a fee of around half a million pounds he was another unknown player from abroad who was definitely seen as one for the future. He impressed in his initial first team appearances as he vied with Jack O’Connell to be the deputy for the first choice partnership of Dean and Tarkowski, but his big opportunity came with the departure of Tarkowski and he certainly seized it. He received a temporary setback after an unfortunate red card at Sheffield Wednesday but he learned from the experience and soon scored his first goal for the club against Charlton. He proved to be a rugged defender who loves a slide tackle and he showed a good turn of pace. He also demonstrated great skill on the ball and sprayed long and accurate passes out to the right wing, memorably assisting on a wonderful goal for Alan Judge at Preston. He has adapted quickly and well to his new surroundings and is another star in the making for the Bees.

36. Josh Clarke. Josh certainly made the most of the opportunity given him to develop his skills as a fast, overlapping fullback and fought his way into the first team. Everybody loves a local boy made good, and his pace, enthusiasm and attacking brio shone through. He obtained some valuable experience on loan at Barnet, started four matches for Brentford and also impressed when coming off the bench, helping to make Scott Hogan’s late equaliser against Bristol City. He has been offered a new contract for next season and I hope that he decides to remain at the club, as at only twenty-one years of age there is still time for Josh to emerge and develop into a regular first team player.

37. Courtney Senior. Still only eighteen, Courtney Senior impressed in the preseason friendly at Boreham Wood showing pace and skill on the right wing. He made his first team debut against Oxford United and twice was an unused substitute before returning to the Development Squad for the remainder of the season. His time has yet to come, but he is a real talent.

39. Tom Field. Tom made an assured and highly competent debut as a nineteen year-old deputy for the injured Jake Bidwell in the local derby against Fulham. He showed great composure and an excellent temperament. He was never overawed by the occasion, defended well and also swung in a perfect right wing corner which was thrashed into the net by Scott Hogan. Another one for the future, and better still, he comes from a Brentford supporting family.

47. Sergi Canos. A total breath of fresh air, Sergi arrived on loan as an unknown eighteen year-old from Liverpool via Barcelona’s academy. He left the club with his head held high as a firm fan favourite having scored seven times in thirty-eight games and he totally surpassed expectations and proved to be a massive success. He so obviously loved every minute of his stay and played with enthusiasm, a smile on his face and with a real joie de vivre. Given his age and lack of experience he was inconsistent but he possessed the ability to turn a game on its head as both Preston North End and Nottingham Forest discovered to their cost and he was always full of tricks. He worked hard and learned how to track back but he had the pace, dribbling ability and sheer ability to create havoc at the other end of the pitch, netting after a mere twenty-one seconds at Huddersfield and scoring unforgettable goals at Reading and MK Dons. He made a massive impression on everybody at the club and we all took great pride and joy in his achievement when he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool on the last day of the season. Have we seen the last of him? Maybe but perhaps not, as if he is not considered good enough for Liverpool’s squad next season or does not agree a new contract, then perhaps he might yet return to Griffin Park and thrill and inspire us once more?

Andre Gray, Toumani Diagouraga, James Tarkowski, Ryan Williams, Josh Laurent, Leandro Rodríguez and Jermaine Udumaga all made appearances for the Bees this season before leaving the club. It was a forgone conclusion that Gray would go elsewhere and move up the food chain as he was a star in the making andcoveted by clubs who could pay him far more than us and we also had to sell him in order not to fall foul of Financial Fair Play restrictions. He played twice for us, firstly as a late substitute against Ipswich where he helped turn the game in our favour and scored a well-taken goal bursting down the middle at pace to put us back into a game that seemed lost. He and Philipp Hofmann also played together at Bristol City and terrified the opposition with Gray scoring with a perfect half volley at the near post as well as contributing to two other Brentford goals. He clearly demonstrated that he was a man in form and one who would take the division by storm – but unfortunately it was for Burnley and not us. Toumani Diagouraga was a wonderful servant of the club but we did well to extract a half million pound fee from Leeds for a player whose performances had declined from their impossibly high level of the previous season. He was no longer such a dominating influence on proceedings and his game suffered from the absence of Douglas alongside him, which forced Toumani to attempt tackles far more often, something that was not one of his strengths. He left with our gratitude and best wishes. The same cannot be said for James Tarkowski who acted in a totally unprofessional manner by virtue of his decision to down tools before the Burnley home game. As with Gray, we extracted a high fee for him and the progress made by Barbet means that he has hardly been missed. Tarkowski was his normal frustrating self, combining moments of brilliance both in defending and on the ball with times when he lost concentration, over-reached himself and cost us dear. Leandro Rodríguez was a loan signing from Everton who was brought in to support the flagging Lasse Vibe. He pulled a hamstring in his second match before he really had the chance to show us anything and returned to his parent club. Laurent, Williams and Udumaga all made brief appearances without convincing the club that they had what it takes to merit further opportunities.

What Might Have Been – 19/4/15

Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.

Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!

Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.

Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?

Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.

Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.

Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!

Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.

He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.

You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.

James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.

Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.

He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.

Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.

There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.

He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.

Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.

Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.

Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.

Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?

John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.

At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.

Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.

That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits  rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.

The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.

Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!

Pitbulls Or Chihuahas? The Midfield Dilemma – 23/2/16

I could barely take my eyes off Bradley Johnson on Saturday as he rampaged unchallenged across the Griffin Park turf, and woe betide anyone, friend or foe, who got in his way. A massively built man, he totally dominated the entire midfield area with an unstoppable combination of brain and brawn.

If he could not beat you with his subtlety and skill, and undoubtedly, he is a massively talented footballer with a howitzer of a shot who can really play the game, he would simply run through you and leave you dazed, beaten, bruised and helpless.

He is a veritable behemoth of a man who reminds me of the description of the Norman leader Bohemond:

The sight of him inspired admiration, the mention of his name terror.

His stature was such that he towered almost a full cubit over the tallest men.

There was a hard, savage quality in his whole aspect, even his laugh sounded like a threat to others.

That’s what you get for a mere six million pounds – a colossus who bestrides the entire midfield and stops the opposition from playing as well as scoring and making goals for his own team.

He it was who almost singlehandedly rallied his Derby team mates when their heads went down after we scored and by sheer force of personality raised them off the floor and inspired them to their late victory.

Watching him, I was green with envy as he exemplified exactly what it is we are missing from our squad – a leader who by force of personal example will make things happen and grab his team mates literally and figuratively by the scruff of their neck and inspire, cajole, or even terrify them and make them play to the very best of their ability – and even beyond.

Our team of lightweights and midgets tried their hardest and did their best but simply bounced off him and the likes of Josh McEachran and Konstantin Kerschbaumer wisely gave him a wide berth and kept their distance as they were all totally outmatched, outclassed and outmuscled – it looked more like men against boys than a competitive and even midfield battle.

With Alan McCormack currently sidelined with a lingering and frustrating calf injury we have nobody capable of fighting fire with fire and for all his vim, growl, tough tackling, energy and ability to manage the referee, Alan is not in the same class as Johnson, and nor should he be expected to be, but he is easily the best that we have and his example is sadly missed as we currently find ourselves on a run of demoralising defeats and badly lack the type of leadership and inspiration on the pitch that Alan can provide.

Jonathan Douglas performed a similar role exceptionally well for four years.

He is unfairly described on Wikipedia as a tenacious midfielder, whose strengths are focused on energy and aggression rather than technical skill, as in my opinion he greatly improved as a footballer last season developing a subtle and imaginative touch with his passing as well as the ability to ghost late and unseen into the penalty area, and he scored a career high of eight goals in a season.

Douglas it was who fought and won the majority of the midfield battles and his menacing presence enabled the likes of Pritchard, Jota and Judge to weave their magic safe in the knowledge that there was somebody around to protect them and exact retribution should an opponent take it upon himself to attempt to stop them playing by fair means or foul.

Even more importantly, Douglas, along with Toumani Diagouraga, acted as a shield and protector to the back four and helped keep opponents at a safe distance from our goal.

In order to describe how much we currently miss his influence I will simply provide the following shocking statistic – no Championship side has faced more shots on target this season than Brentford (one hundred and sixty-eight).

Proof indeed that as a team, we are not doing nearly a good enough job of defending from the front, pressing properly, winning the ball back and, of course, preventing the opposition from getting within shooting range.

Jonathan Douglas was an exceptional on-pitch leader who led by example and only slowed up and became tired and less influential when he was overplayed by Mark Warburton and only once rested last season when he was fit or available for selection. Not the most sensible policy for a player in his early thirties who would have benefited from the odd day off.

For reasons probably linked to his influence within the dressing room, Douglas outstayed his welcome at Brentford, his face didn’t fit and he became toxic and persona non grata and was released in the preseason, and it has come as little surprise that he has since flourished at Ipswich Town where he has played an important part in their efforts to reach the playoffs again at the end of the season.

It would seem that our current manager and Co-Directors of Football have not recognised the urgent, and to us fans, patently obvious, need to replace him with a similar type of player and we have certainly seen the results of that totally misguided policy in terms of the sheer number of goals and shots conceded at one end allied to the lack of creativity at the other.

To be fair to them, it might well be that they recognise that such a player able to compete at Championship level and combine skill with strength would cost far more than we are able to afford and there is no point in buying a second rate bruiser who will only give the ball away once he has won it.

George Evans might have done the job had we managed to get his transfer over the line but we seem to hold the naive belief that pure football will always win the day and appear to disregard the indisputable fact that sometimes you have first to battle in order to win the right to play.

Ryan Woods is certainly an excellent box to box footballer but is not a ball winner and he is currently paired with Josh McEachran who, for all his skill on the ball, vision and passing ability, is a non-tackler and does not pay anywhere near sufficient attention to the defensive side of his game.

A total recipe for disaster.

This season we have lacked a focal point, an on-field leader and inspiration, and someone with the ability to drive us forward and pick us up when things are going badly.

The time was, not so long ago, when we scored late goals as if by rote and never knew when we were beaten. Now the boot is on the other foot and it is rare that we recover from going a goal down and we have now conceded late goals in each of our last four matches.

Tony Cascarino hit the nail on the head the other day when he discussed the Championship and what you need to come out on top in that division and remarked:

It’s dog-eat-dog in that league and you need a few pitbulls. 

Players like Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton at Middlesbrough who ride roughshod over us whenever we come up against them, Darren Pratley, Hope Akpan, Dale Stephens, Joey Barton, Jacob Butterfield, George Thorne, Henri Lansbury and Kevin McDonald all combine the qualities that we so sadly lack and so desperately need.

Unfortunately all we have at the moment, apart of course from Macca, are chihuahuas.

Good News! – 17/2/16


Good news has been scarce, sparse and rather thin on the ground lately given Brentford’s patchy start to the New Year, so let’s shout it from the rooftops – Harlee Dean and Nico Yennaris have both joined Sam Saunders in extending their contract with the club, Harlee for two years and Nico until 2019.

Given the recent departure for a variety of reasons of Jota, Toumani Diagouraga and James Tarkowski  and the accompanying uncertainty surrounding other squad members, it is encouraging to say the least to learn that two established players have decided to buy into the club’s stated determination to rebuild and strengthen the squad at the end of the season and thus remain part of the Brentford project.

We certainly needed to hear something positive this week following the avalanche of unanswered goals rippling our net recently and for differing reasons we should be absolutely delighted that both Harlee and Nico have staked their immediate future with the club.

Up until very recently I suspect that you could have obtained long odds on Dean making the decision to stay, as he and the football club appeared to have fallen out of love with each other and a parting of the ways seemed inevitable.

Harlee perhaps felt that he didn’t receive the respect that he deserved as well as maybe coveting the salaries received by several other Brentford alumni elsewhere. He had also oft bemoaned the fact that felt that he was the scapegoat and the one generally to be blamed and dropped when things went awry.

On the other side of the fence Harlee’s tendency to shoot from the hip and give vent to his feelings about all sorts of matters pertaining to the club, sometimes before apparently engaging his brain, did not apparently go down too well in some rarified circles and there appeared to be a Mexican standoff with the club not seeming to be making serious efforts to resign him and the player stating that he would be leaving at the end of the current season when his contract expired although he was hoping that something could still be worked out.

What was never in any doubt was the fact that Harlee would continue to give his all on the pitch and he has certainly done his utmost to put his finger in the dyke and try and stem the flood of goals that we have conceded.

Harlee wears his heart on his sleeve on the pitch (and off it too) and he has jumped, headed, tackled and covered to the best of his ability and has visibly improved as a footballer over the last couple of years and at twenty-four still has the potential to progress even further.

He seems to have learned from his impetuous reaction which saw him punished with a daft and totally avoidable and unacceptable red card against Nottingham Forest and has become a calming influence and a leader to those around him. He also reads the game far better which enables him to use and exemplify the old adage that the first yard is in the head and cover up his lack of pace.

He is now a proven and accomplished Championship central defender who anticipates and snuffs out much of the danger that threatens us and he has also gained confidence in the attacking system he has been asked to play in and has become an accurate long and short passer of the ball.

Thankfully he is yet to attempt Tarkowskiesque dummies and feints as he brings the ball out of defence and he is a footballer who is equally aware of his strengths and limitations.

So what happened to bring about this volte face?

On the one hand the club needed a quick triumph to reassure supporters given the setbacks of the past month or so and Harlee resigning has provided a statement of intent given that a senior, well established player who is also a firm fans’ favourite has not followed the general exodus out of Brentford FC but has seen and heard enough regarding our future plans and aspirations to decide to stay.

This decision also demonstrates that the opinions and wishes of Dean Smith are being listened to as the manager had made it clear that he wanted to have Harlee on board for next season and beyond.

The sale of Tarkowski also meant that Harlee was the only senior right sided centre half at the club and therefore a more valuable property than had been the case previously.

Despite his all round improvement Harlee might not have been seen as a player good enough to help take us to the heights of the Premier League and perhaps his continued stay at the club reflects that our ambitions have to some degree been put on hold or made more realistic until the move to Lionel Road comes to fruition.

I now wonder if we will attempt to bring in another defender to compete with him, such as Giklingham’s John Egan, whose name has been bandied about or whether Harlee will be seen as the undisputed first choice next season?

Hopefully Andreas Bjelland will be fit enough to play alongside him and Harlee will benefit from having an experienced partner, as he did when Tony Craig was there to support, encourage and prompt him.

Harlee excites and frustrates me in equal proportions, but I respect him for his passion and commitment and I am pleased that one of the few remaining members of the old guard will still be with us next season.

He really gets what Brentford is all about, he knows how much beating Fulham and QPR means to us all and he is a fighter and a warrior. We need more like him in the squad.

Lets just hope that he finally becomes more of a danger to the opposition at our set pieces.

That Wembley header seems a long time ago now but his Fulham thunderbolt will live long in the memory.

The announcement that Nico Yennaris will remain for a further three years was not greeted as effusively by many Brentford supporters but I really can’t see what they have to complain about.

Nico arrived a couple of years ago from Arsenal and given his Premier League pedigree, expectations were high but he was a damp squib, unable to displace Alan McCormack after Shay Logan’s departure and he fell into the shadows where he remained until Max Colin suffered a long term injury earlier this season.

He had also enjoyed a successful loan spell last season at Wycombe Wanderers alongside Sam Saunders and played in their losing Playoff Final against Southend United. Some were even surprised that he wasn’t unloaded permanently but he returned to Brentford patiently waiting his turn.

When it came he more than seized his opportunity and Colin was hardly missed as Nico put in a series of eye opening and dominating displays where he showed pace, strength and tenacity and he was more than unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman returned.

He remains in and around the team and filled in last Saturday in central midfield and came close to opening his goal account.

He has certainly demonstrated that he is quite good enough a player to cope with the demands of the ChampionshiSome fans expressed a view that signing Nico to a new contract shows a sign of lack of ambition.

To that I would respond that every successful team requires sonebody who can slot in well in a variety of positions without fuss whenever necessary and Nico fits that bill.

He is still very young at twenty-two and is visibly improving as he gains in confidence and might yet develop into a first team regular.

At present I see him as a versatile water carrier and do not expect to see him as a first choice but rather as a squad player deluxe who will do a fine job whenever and wherever he is called upon and having him breathing down their neck will help ensure that everybody else maintains their standard.

So, some good news at last for all Brentford supporters which will hopefully go some way towards allaying our slight concerns at our current situation.

All we need now is three points on Saturday as well as the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell to follow in the footsteps of Harlee and Nico – surely not too much to ask for?

Blazing Meteors – Part Two – 24/11/15

A couple of  months ago I began to tell the story of some of the Brentford players who began their career at the club so well but merely flattered to deceive and who all fizzled out for a variety of reasons without fulfilling their seemingly once abundant promise.

I ended the last article in the early 90s and will pick up the narrative with Lee Luscombe. He joined the club from Southampton and in fact cost us a fee of up to fifteen thousand pounds predicated totally on appearances. He was clumsy and ungainly but when he occasionally managed to get every part of his body working in unison he could be devastating and he scored some incredible goals including a soaring header in a vital promotion clash against Stoke City and a wonderful angled volley against Charlton. He was plagued by inconsistency and was released after our relegation in 1993 and soon faded out of the game. A waste of an excellent talent.

Mickey Bennett was a makeweight in the Dean Holdsworth deal but for a short while it looking like we had signed a gem as he initially showed directness on the right wing and an eye for goal, but his impact was to be short-lived and he was slowed down by a chronic injury. He missed a crucial penalty at Bristol Rovers when his weak shot was saved easily by a goalkeeper in Brian Parkin who should never have been on the pitch after rugby tackling Bennett in front of a gaping goal and escaping with a yellow card when a red seemed inevitable. David Webb played him as a striker but with little effect and his Brentford career ended in ignominy after Joe Allen was left with a broken jaw after a notorious training ground incident.

Grant Chalmers should have been a star and I still do not understand why he did not have a long and successful career in the Football League. He made an immediate impact as a ball playing midfielder on his arrival from Guernsey and made a massively impressive debut at Peterborough where he ran the entire game before being one of the best players on the pitch against Spurs in the Coca-Cola Cup. He scored a well taken goal in the five-one romp against Bristol City but soon faded out of contention.

Famously he was dragged out of the club bar just before the kick off against Derby County on Boxing Day when Chris Hughton was injured in the warm-up but he was himself substituted after apparently suffering from the effects of a now unwanted pre-match pie! Phil Holder, ironically a skilful midfielder himself, never seemed to trust Chalmers and he lost confidence, drifted away and out of the game before returning to Guernsey.

Craig Ravenscroft was another home grown player who started well with a goal at Huddersfield but he could never quite overcome the handicap of his lack of height and strength and dropped into Non League.

Scott Canham looked a world beater throughout his loan spell from West Ham in 1996 and he was massively influential in leading us to safety when a relegation battle looked far more likely. He was small and compact but played with his head up, put his foot in and showed vision in his passing.

He returned to Upton Park but unexpectedly signed for the Bees at the beginning of the following season for twenty-five thousand pounds. I had tried to get my client Ericsson, the club sponsor to help underwrite the move but their assistance wasn’t necessary. He looked a totally different player on his return and failed to secure a regular place in the first team before joining Orient where he also struggled to establish himself.

Allan Glover, Lee Frost and Pim Balkestein are three other players who similarly enjoyed wonderful loan spells at the club but singularly failed to impress when signed on a permanent basis. I am sure that we will never be able to fathom out the reason why!

Kevin Rapley was asked to shoulder too much responsibility too soon and I believe that this hindered his future development. He scored eleven goals in his first full season when he was our main striker and one of the few successes in an awful season that ended up in relegation. Who can ever forget his brilliant last minute winner against Burnley from a dramatic scissors kick and the wild celebration that followed with his manic run half the length of the pitch triumphantly waving his shirt above his head?

The following season he fell out of favour with Ron Noades and was loaned to Southend before leaving for Notts County for whom he scored on his return to Griffin Park in the game made infamous by the exploits of Gary Owers. For a striker of his quality and potential to score a mere thirty-three goals in his entire career was a major surprise and disappointment given how well he had started.

Tony Folan should now be enjoying his retirement after a glittering career and at least one hundred Republic of Ireland caps under his belt, such was his outrageous ability. As it was his career was beset by a constant stream of niggling injuries and he was never able to make the impact that he promised after his series of outstanding displays when he joined the Bees from Crystal Palace in 1998.

I can still picture that mesmerising dribble and goal against Peterborough and the Folan From The Halfway Line effort against Cambridge United. He had so much time on the ball and he possessed elegance and grace and opponents just could not get close enough to tackle him. Unfortunately he was unable to overcome the injury jinx and off field problems and his career simply petered out far too soon and well short of what he could and should have achieved had he been granted a modicum of good fortune.

Mark Williams was another local boy who almost made good and for a time it looked as if he might establish himself as a speedy winger but he became typecast as a Super Sub and set a new club record for substitute appearances with seventy-one in total.

Striker Mark Peters arrived at the club with a great fanfare and a glowing reputation from Southampton. He soon proved his ability in front of goal and he scored twenty-one times in thirty-two reserve team matches. He even scored for the first team against QPR, a sure fire way to gain instant hero status but it never happened for him with stories of off field and attitude problems.

Martin Allen soon cancelled his contract and he then played for a plethora of local teams without ever making the impact he should have done in the Football League. Football is not just about ability but also about hard work and dedication.

A nodding mention here to Alex Rhodes, of whom I have already written elsewhere at great length. It was a real tragedy that his career was blighted by injury and misfortune as he was such a promising talent and will always be remembered for scoring the solo goal against AFC Bournemouth that secured The Great Escape from relegation in 1994.

Karleigh Osborne has made a decent career for himself and is still playing well for AFC Wimbledon but somehow you feel that it might have gone even better for him given his ability. Perhaps he was promoted to the first team a bit too quickly and I remember Andy Booth giving him a fearful bashing but he persevered and established himself in the team as a powerful and pacy central defender who surprisingly failed to flourish at either Millwall and Bristol City.

Remarkably, Charlie Ide is still only twenty-seven years of age and is playing at a level of the game far below his true ability. He started off so well for the Bees and shone in that dreadful relegation season of 2006/07 as well as scoring some valuable goals. He never appeared to show the dedication necessary to make the grade and his career disappeared as rapidly as it had flourished.

Sam Tillen established himself in the first team as an exciting attacking left back and scored a great equalising goal at Leyton Orient with a perfect angled volley. He was even selected for a Football League Under-21 match against Italy but he went backwards rather than developing and he was released by Andy Scott and is still playing in Iceland.

Ross Montague had his embryonic career wrecked by a stress fracture in his back and a torn cruciate knee ligament otherwise he might still be our current first team centre forward, so talented did he appear to be when he broke into the team as an eighteen year old.

Gary Smith looked like he was the answer to our midfield problems after he joined in 2007 and he blossomed under Andy Scott but the injury jinx hit and he was never the same player again.

I am not sure if Nathan Elder deserves to be mentioned in this context given the tragic nature of his injury at Rotherham but until that terrible collision with Pablo Mills which I can still clearly recall with horror and which left him with a double fracture of the cheekbone, fractured jaw, triple fracture of the nose and impaired vision, he was a bustling centre forward and a clear crowd favourite.

He had been sent off twice that season at Gillingham when he defended Marvin Williams and far more contentiously by Stuart Attwell against Notts County and he was totally devoid of luck and good fortune. He never played for the Bees again and his career never recovered. A tragic loss.

Thinking about some of these players and how fate conspired against them has deeply saddened me, others have nobody else to blame but themselves for not making the most of their ability. Let’s just hope that there are not many names to add to this list in the near future and that our players all fully realise their potential.

Peter Lumley’s Best Ever Brentford Players – 12/11/15

Last month I was both delighted and honoured to be able to publish some fascinating and evocative memories of watching the Bees from Peter Lumley, who has been supporting Brentford FC for more years than he cares to remember.

Peter was delighted with the many appreciative responses he received from the readers of his article and I am pleased to say that he has just sent me some follow-up information which I am sure that you will all enjoy:

In my recent guest contribution to Greville’s blog I ducked an invitation to name the best team drawn from all the Brentford players I have watched during my seventy-three years as a  fan at Griffin Park.

On reflection I have decided to take on Greville’s challenge but with one proviso – that I can name more than one team.

Team A will be made up of players blessed with great technical ability.

Team B will feature those more aptly described as robust or physical.

I will then take on the almost impossible task of naming a best eleven made up from both categories as Team C.

Finally I have also selected a team of eleven players – Team D who, in my opinion, were exceptionally loyal to the club over a number of years and also demonstrated great enthusiasm and commitment whilst on the pitch.

I am sure that everyone will appreciate that the selected players span seven decades and that, inevitably, there will be those who rightly point out some glaring omissions.

Also, assessing the ability of players is, by definition, highly subjective. One man’s hero can be another man’s Nick Proschwitz or Murray Jones!

So here we go!

TEAM A

Joe Crozier

Alan Hawley

Ken Coote

Jim McNichol

Mel Scott

Jonathan Douglas

Stan Bowles

Johnny Brooks

Dean Holdsworth

Jimmy Bloomfield

Leslie Smith

Subs: Chic Brodie, Moses Odubajo, Stewart Houston, Peter Broadbent, Neil Smillie, Roger Cross, Alex Pritchard

TEAM B

Alf Jefferies

Billy Gorman

Martin Grainger

Tom Higginson

Terry Evans

Jamie Bates

Terry Hurlock

Gary Blissett

George Francis

Jim Towers

Gary Roberts

Subs: Len Bond, George Poyser, Jack Chisholm, Ron Harris, Dai Hopkins, Andre Gray

TEAM C

Joe Crozier

Billy Gorman

Ken Coote

Jim McNichol

Mel Scott

Terry Hurlock

Stan Bowles

Jimmy Bloomfield

Dean Holdsworth

Jim Towers

Leslie Smith

Subs: Chic Brodie, George Poyser, Stewart Houston, Billy McAdams, Roger Cross, John Dick, George Francis

TEAM D

Gerry Cakebread

Kevin O’Connor

Ken Coote

Tom Higginson

Terry Evans

Keith Millen

Billy Dare

Francis Joseph

Dave McCulloch

Bobby Ross

Jackie Graham

Subs: Alan Nelmes, Alan Hawley, Joe James, Sam Saunders, Jamie Bates, Alan Judge, Robert Taylor

I am quite certain that you will all take great pleasure in pointing out lots of glaring omissions, so I will list just a few more players who, if numbers permitted, would have graced one or more of my selected teams:

Dave McKellar

Andy Sinton

Billy Scott

Ernie Muttitt

George Wilkins

Len Townsend

Clayton Donaldson

Steve Phillips

Ken Horne

Nicky Forster

Jimmy Hill

Ron Greenwood

Tony Harper

Barry Silkman

Alan Cockram

Barry Asby

Leon Legge

Harlee Dean

Jota

Jake Bidwell

Stuart Dallas

Roger Joseph

Ben Hamer

Stuart Nelson

Richard Lee

Dai Ward

Keith Jones

Danis Salman

Wally Bragg

Barry Tucker

Gordon Phillips

Kevin Dearden

Graham Benstead

Steve Sherwood

Toumani Diagouraga

Adam Forshaw

james Tarkowski

D J Campbell

Danis Salman

Roger Joseph

I have also listed Brentford managers in a somewhat haphazard order of preference apart from the top two who in my opinion stand head and shoulders above the rest:

Harry Curtis

Mark Warburton

Steve Coppell

Martin Allen

Phil Holder

Steve Perryman

Frank Blunstone

Jimmy Sirrell

Bill Dodgin Junior

Jackie Gibbons

John Docherty

Uwe Rosler

Frank McLintock

Fred Callaghan

Malcolm MacDonald

Wally Downes

Micky Adams

Ron Noades

David Webb

Nicky Forster

I very much look forward to reading all the comments that we are certain to receive once everybody has read Peter’s interesting and thought provoking list.

I will start the debate off by mentioning a name that despite my reading through Peter’s note to me three times I was still unable to find – Peter Gelson. An accidental or deliberate omission on his part?

What do you think?