Mind Games – 29/3/16

It’s been a really strange and frustrating Easter weekend as, like I am sure so many others, I have been feeling lost and bereft without my customary football fix. I am sure that I will soon be corrected but I cannot for the life of me remember any other Easter in recent years which has coincided with yet another International Break and resulted in my having to find other ways to amuse myself.

I can still vividly remember Good Friday and Easter Monday last year which saw the nonstop excitement and adrenalin rush of those two unforgettable clashes against Fulham and Nottingham Forest. Hammering Fulham on their own turf will naturally go down as one of my best ever Brentford matches and I can still easily summon up all four of our goals on my personal memory bank and mental tape loop of great Brentford moments, but our late recovery from a seemingly insurmountable two goal deficit against Forest was perhaps just as massive an achievement as it simply exemplified everything good about us at that time and highlighted our relentlessness, never-say-die attitude and total refusal to give any game up for lost as Andre Gray’s clever turn and instant shot put us right back in the game and then deep into injury time Tommy Smith stood his cross up just above the straining hands of Karl Darlow where it was met by the bouffant hairstyle of Jota for a wildly celebrated equaliser.

Where has that spirit gone now, as we appear to have had the stuffing knocked out of us by a seemingly never ending series of body blows, some coming from out of the blue, others quite frankly self-inflicted, that have punctuated a season which promised so much but has ended up being such a cruel reality check to all of us, management, players and supporters alike. This season has been death by a thousand cuts and is still delicately poised and can go one of two ways as we now face a crucial nine match mini-season which will have so many repercussions for the club depending upon where we finish up after our final game at Huddersfield in less than six weeks’ time.

In that respect perhaps we all desperately needed and will greatly benefit from a two week break which ideally will enable us all to catch our breath, gird our loins and get ourselves ready for the struggle and potential torments or even triumphs that lie ahead as the Bees prepare to fight for their very Championship life.

We should all take some degree of comfort by recalling that we went into the last International Break in early October in total disarray on the back of three consecutive defeats, the loss of a Head Coach, the shocking and demoralising foot-in-mouth announcement by Lee Carsley that he had no desire to become the permanent replacement as well as sinking like a stone into a sorry twentieth place in the league table.

We only looked like going in one direction but Carsley apparently put his squad through a mini preseason bootcamp which addressed our lack of fitness and sharpness and we came out of the traps recharged and re-energised, a totally different team in every way, shape and form which won its next four games and went on to take twenty-eight points from fourteen games and ended the year in eighth place just outside the playoff positions. Promotion form indeed and an amazing turnaround which unfortunately has not been maintained since the new year began.

So we know that we can do it and let’s face it, depending on the results of the other strugglers, our minimum requirement for safety is probably a mere seven points from nine matches. Surely not too much to ask for? Given the run that we have been on since early January even that paltry target might seem a tough ask but hopefully Dean Smith will have used the time afforded him by the International Break productively and his ministrations and perhaps tweaking of his resources will hopefully produce the same effect as Carsley had in October.

There must be much for him to ponder on. Does he keep things as they were and hope that our luck will turn and we recover some form or will he freshen things up by changing the way that we play? He will also have to cope with an injury list that now has the names of Josh McEachran and John Swift added to it and we are all waiting anxiously for news about their potential availability for the run in. Given a likely shortage of midfielders will he decide to gamble by naming two forwards, not a formation that he has utilised previously either at Brentford or Walsall? Hopefully we’ll be able to glean some information as the week develops but we might have to wait until just before kickoff next Saturday before his intentions are finally revealed.

Our squad has looked mentally and physically exhausted and slowed down by a total loss of confidence which is hardly surprising as defeats beget more defeats and with every loss the pressure increases and self-belief withers on the vine. Players stop acting instinctively and instead start thinking about what once came naturally and they become afraid of taking chances and running the risk of making mistakes and having the crowd get on their back. As was clearly seen against Blackburn this results in a pallid and listless performance with the safe option taken at every opportunity and the ball being passed endlessly sideways and backwards with nobody prepared to put his head over the parapet and use his undoubted ability to try and make something happen for fear of failure.

There is one positive to consider in that Alan Judge and Lasse Vibe will both hopefully return to the club on a high and full of beans from their full international appearances for Eire and Denmark respectively over the past few days and that they might help raise the spirits of their team mates.

Reading the above which I believe succinctly sums up our current situation, perhaps the most important person at the club throughout this International Break is not Dean Smith but instead, Tom Bates. Who is he I hear some of you ask, did we manage to make a last minute loan signing before the loan window shut last week that has somehow remained unremarked upon? Unfortunately that is not the case, but that is another story given the injuries suffered in the last few days by Josh McEachran and John Swift which might yet rob us of their valuable services and reduce our selection options even further.

No, Tom Bates is a Performance Psychologist at the club who over the past ten years has worked with youth and senior domestic international athletes, coaches, managers and teams helping them to perform under pressure and be at their best when it matters the most. In his own words, Tom specialises in enhancing athletes’ mental and emotional performance states through creating, sustaining and improving supreme optimistic spirit and self belief.

That might all sound like gobbledygook, jargon and management speak but he has an excellent track record and if he can help revive the spirits of a dispirited squad that doesn’t seem to know where its next win is coming from then we will all owe him a massive debt.

Most Premier League footballers use sports psychology as a matter of course as it can help players to maintain or rebuild confidence, deal with anxiety or anger and keep their focus. Players are encouraged to try positive self-talk and convert their negative thoughts and fears into more positive ones. There is a sound scientific basis behind this as ideally thinking positively releases dopamine into the bloodstream which is linked to feelings of certainty and confidence and helps reduce cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress and physiological reactions related to potentially harmful feelings and sensations of fight and flight.

Visualisation is another technique commonly used whereby players are encouraged to imagine and picture themselves succeeding in their specific tasks such as scoring from free kicks or saving penalty kicks and focusing on positive memories and recollections of doing the same on previous occasions.

Players might also be encouraged to repeat key words or phrases to themselves in an attempt to help regain focus when things go wrong or if the red mist comes down during a game.

I am barely scratching the surface as this is now a sophisticated science that has progressed way past early attempts in this field which included the notorious Romark, or Ronald Markham, to give him his real name, a hypnotist who was used by Malcolm Allison to assist Third Division Crystal Palace on their unlikely run to the 1975/76 FA Cup semifinal. Unfortunately it all ended in tears when he claimed that he had not been paid for his services and promptly put a curse on the club which apparently remains in force to this day.

Hopefully Tom Bates will be more successful in his efforts on our behalf. In the meantime I just have one question for him, can he please suggest something that will help keep all us fans calm, measured, united, supportive, positive, patient and stress free?

A Good Day – And Almost A Perfect One – 1/12/15

A day jam packed with action and activity has left every Brentford supporter exhausted and exhilarated and extremely excited about the future prospects for the club.

As expected Walsall manager Dean Smith was named as Head Coach after a compensation deal was agreed with his former club, whom he served with distinction for almost five years.

He will be joined by his assistant, Richard O’Kelly, which as far as I am concerned is almost as good news as the appointment of Smith as they work hand in glove and O’Kelly has gained an exceptional reputation as a gifted and innovative coach.

Lee Carsley will remain until the end of the year to help in the transition process however it is expected that he will then leave the club with our thanks and gratitude ringing in his ears for a difficult job wonderfully well done.

Just to recap, when he took over as interim Head Coach the Bees were languishing in nineteenth place and were on the road to nowhere. Impeccably assisted by the popular Paul Williams, they worked in tandem to turn the situation around and his back to basics approach worked a treat and restored belief to what was a faltering squad and his achievements were deservedly recognised with the award of the Manager of the Month Trophy for October.

He was in charge for ten games which produced a total of five wins and seventeen points and he relinquishes control with Brentford a mere three points shy of the playoffs and looking firmly upwards rather than down.

Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly were amongst the crowd at Bolton last night but they will take charge today and they both must be delighted with the quality of the material they have been left to work with and further develop.

Paul Williams is away on England duty at the present time and ideally his future will also be decided shortly and we all hope that there will be a role for him at the club within the new management structure given his popularity with the players and the beneficial affect he has had on them.

Brentford came away from the Macron Stadium with one point when three really beckoned had good chances not been squandered by Lasse Vibe on two occasions and John Swift. Jake Bidwell too came within inches of scoring that long awaited and elusive first goal when his header drifted just wide after he was found quite brilliantly by Alan Judge, as usual the best and most inventive player on the pitch.

In truth this was a frustrating game for the Bees who interspersed some breathtaking one touch football which had the commentators on Sky Sports purring with appreciation, with a lot of careless passing and squandering of possession which allowed a limited but forceful and committed Bolton team back into a match which the Bees should have put firmly beyond them. We really let them off the hook and have only ourselves to blame.

As is customary, some of the defending was casual in the extreme with Tarkowski doing his best to gift Bolton another goal from a short back pass with barely a minute on the clock. He and O’Connell defended manfully but this was a match for the suspended Harlee Dean, and the home team outmuscled us at set pieces and always looked dangerous when the ball was in the air and won far too many second balls with Woods, in particular being regularly muscled off the ball. The equaliser was soft with a cross half cleared by Woods and returned with interest by Danns with a bouncing volley through a crowd of players from just outside the penalty area which squeezed in off the post.

John Swift scored with a Premier League quality curling effort from long range after he and Judge had combined beautifully and he was booked for diving on the stroke of halftime when a penalty kick could just as easily have been given – another major turning point.

Pretty much every fifty:fifty decision went the way of Bolton but they also had more possession than us, a measure of how careless we were with the ball, with possession conceded with monotonous regularity.

And yet from time to time we got it right and tore holes in a porous home defence as we broke with pace and menace. Vibe worked hard but missed his two chances. He had too much time when sent clear before the break by Bidwell and Amos stretched out a long leg to save, and then, near the end, after some scintillating one touch play had torn the defence wide open, Vibe could not beat the keeper who saved well at full stretch.

Button too made a crucial point blank save from the lurking Ameobi when a loose ball fell his way and a game that we could have won comfortably had we scored that elusive second goal ended all square.

We are so close to being an exceptionally good team as our vision and skill on the ball is often of Premier League class. Judge and Swift were always on the same wavelength and worked well together and Diagouraga won every loose ball and also survived a horror challenge from Mark Davies that surely merited a red card from a benign referee who totally shirked his duty.

Yes of course we have weaknesses and shortcomings. We are susceptible to high balls and set pieces and teams that try and overpower us, but try and play football with us and we are likely to come out on top.

We are also profligate in front of goal and miss far too many chances and let teams off the hook. We are lacking in quality up front until Djuricin returns and rely far too much on our midfield to score goals.

That being said McEachran, Colin and Jota are close to returning to fitness and might be followed soon after by Djuricin and even Lewis Macleod so we are going to get even stronger as the months progress.

A mere two months ago we were looking down the barrel of a gun with the bottom three beckoning and the locals muttering and beginning to fear the worst. Changes were needed and they were made and the team now is fitter, far more solid and confident, moves the ball from back to front far quicker and is much better equipped for the demands of the Championship.

Maybe another playoff campaign is going to be a step too far this season, but who knows? Dean Smith will be sure to want to make his mark and put his own stamp on things, but I suspect that he will not make too many fundamental changes as the way that we set up and play totally suits the players that we currently possess, as is evidenced by the quality of our football, the results that we are achieving and the fact that this is patently a happy camp at the present time.

Three points tonight would have made this a perfect day but despite the two dropped points, things are going remarkably well at the moment and I fully believe that they will be getting even better quite soon once Messrs Smith and O’Kelly get to work.

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.

Hofmann – The Pinball Wizard! – 22/11/15

Football is traditionally referred to as a game of two halves but the Brentford versus Nottingham Forest match yesterday afternoon broke new ground as it is best described as a game of three thirds – a first forty-five minutes where absolutely nothing happened, a pulsating fifty-two minute long second half packed with incident and action and then the post match press conference where much was revealed.

The Bees had not seemed to have benefited from the international break and were flat and torpid in the first half. There was lots of passing – mostly sideways but absolutely no pace, movement, energy, vigour or penetration.

In another words this was not a typical Brentford performance and it felt almost like a practice match or shadow boxing as the ball was moved slowly and carefully from player to player with nobody able or prepared to attempt the killer pass. Our sole tactic seemed to be to give the ball to the ever willing Alan Judge and hope that he could create something out of the blue.

Forest set up in two banks of four and stifled us and their goalkeeper Dorus De Vries must have been the coldest man at a frigid Griffin Park given his total lack of action. The visitors kept Ward and Mendes wide and they created several chances for Nelson Oliveira but thankfully David Button was sharp and alert and kept the Bees in the game with a series of saves – none out of the ordinary it has to be said, but the first half was total one way traffic and the Bees were distinctly fortunate to go into the break on level terms.

Lee Carsley apparently got into his team at half time but nothing much changed early on and Brentford were indebted to Button for a wonderful clawing save from Oliveira’s header and Lansbury was allowed to run through a static midfield who waved him past before shooting a presentable opportunity over the bar.

John Swift had endured a tough day with nothing going right for the youngster but he finally put in Brentford’s first on-target effort when his twenty-five yarder finally forced the frozen De Vries into action.

Carsley had already demonstrated his frustration at what he, along with the rest of us, was being forced to endure – although he at least was being paid to freeze – by belting the ball miles in the air when it fell out of play by the dugout. Finally, his patience exhausted, he made two significant changes on the hour in an effort to breathe some life into his sluggish team. Swift and the totally anonymous Vibe were replaced by Canos and Hoffman although there were several others could could also have been hooked without too much complaint.

Suddenly the tempo changed as the Bees were inspired by the effervescent and gifted young Spaniard, and just as was the case against Preston, Canos had an instant impact, scoring his first ever league goal with a close range effort in a packed six yard box when Dean headed down a Judge cross after a McCormack corner had been half cleared.

The Bees were inspired by the substitution as Canos roared around the field pressing, passing and dribbling and Hofmann too finally provided an outlet with the size and strength to hold the ball up. He is also a gifted footballer and used his sleight of foot to bamboozle his tall markers and bring others into play.

Suddenly the Bees took control. Judge shot over and a pulsating move ended with McCormack stretching but just failing to reach a deadly low cross in front of an empty net.

Then the Bees self-destructed when Dean mis-controlled, overran the ball and tried to make up for his mistake with a lunging tackle which was harshly penalised by the referee. Dean heatedly disagreed, picked the ball up to remonstrate and demonstrate the legitimacy of his challenge and when Williams went to grab the ball, Dean’s swinging arm apparently caught the Forest substitute who went down as if shot.

Referee Malone produced the red card with Stroud-like speed and in an instant the match was turned on its head. Villain or Silly Sausage as Dean was unforgettably described by Billy Reeves after the match? Williams certainly made the most of his opportunity but Harlee was impetuous and gave the referee a decision to make, not forgetting that the whole incident was caused by his own error whilst in possession of the ball.

Whatever actually happened, and the incident was over in a flash, I cannot see an appeal succeeding and we will lose Dean for three crucial matches at a time when he and Tarkowski were playing so well together.

Jack O’Connell replaced Judge and slotted in well but the damage had been done and a Forest team which had squandered its opportunities was offered an undeserved way back into the game and they took immediate advantage when a Mills cross was criminally mis-controlled by Diagouraga on the edge of the penalty area and the predatory Lansbury took full advantage of the gift and slotted the ball low into the corner.

Brentford now had twenty long minutes to hang on, as Forest would surely go for the jugular, but the anticipated bombardment on our goal never happened. Bidwell and Yennaris were immense and the two centre halves won everything. Woods, McCormack and Diagouraga covered, chased and held the ball whenever possible and Hofmann and Canos worked hard and never allowed their defence to settle.

In short we looked like a Brentford team again and we finally began to believe that we could hold onto our hard won point. Even better Carsley kept waving us forward as he realised that attack was the best form of defence. Canos turned brilliantly in the box and his effort forced a wonderful save from De Vries. McCormack had impressed with his set piece delivery and a perfectly placed long free kick was met by Tarkowski but his header clanged clear off the post.

Forest had shot their bolt and we waited for the six long minutes of injury time to expire but the Bees had different ideas. Diagouraga slid a perfect through ball to Woods who roared through the defence, fought off his marker and hammered an angled shot which was parried by De Vries straight to Hofmann, and his instant effort from the edge of the area caught not one, not two but three defections off Vaughan, De Vries and then Lichaj on the line and ended up in the corner of the net. Hofmann – The Pinball Wizard as his effort had won the game for us

Cue tumultuous celebrations and yet another in a catalogue of late winners by a team that never knows when it is beaten.

The rollercoaster ride of a second half had ended with three glorious and unexpected points when at one time one or even none had appeared more likely. What can ever beat the excitement of a ninety-sixth minute winner?

Let’s just hope that it was simply a case of blowing the cobwebs out of our system after what was a lacklustre first half non-performance. Canos and Hofmann provided the catalyst for our recovery and we were much improved in the last half hour.

If that was not enough there was far more to come when Lee Carsley was interviewed by Billy Reeves after the match and made it perfectly clear that this had probably been his last match in charge with a new man expected to be appointed early next week. Lee then stated that he would be remaining at the club to support the new Head Coach and would also return to his Development role. Paul Williams would also remain in post. Good news indeed!

There is a lot there to assimilate and I think I will let the dust settle before I attempt to do so. I assume that Pep Clotet will be the new man in charge with Carsley staying around to assist in the handover and Williams remaining as a first team coach. Whether Lee then returns to his former position as Development Squad Manager and, if so, what that might mean for Kevin O’Connor are questions that remain unanswered at the present time.

At this point I am sure that all Brentford fans would like to join me in giving thanks to Lee Carsley who has won five out of his nine matches in charge and been responsible, along with Paul Williams, for a total sea change in our approach and performances.

Brentford break the mould and do things differently it would appear and I am sure that never in the history of the game has an interim Head Coach had such a run of success, won the Manager of the Month Award and then voluntarily given up his post despite the entreaties of the club, because it is not what he wants to do at this juncture of his career. Only at Brentford….

Thanks Lee for everything you have done and I am delighted that his talent and influence will not be lost to us.

What a day and I am sure that there will be more exciting news unfolding within the next forty-eight hours.

What I can say without a shadow of doubt is that it is never dull being a Brentford fan!

 

Pep – Yes Or No? – 17/11/15

The rumours about Brentford’s potential interest in bringing in current Swansea Assistant Manager Pep Clotet as our new Head Coach received a fairly mixed response from many of the readers of my initial article.

Bill Benn spoke for many of us when he commented:

I hope we keep Paul Williams who has played a big part in the recent upturn of results.

Some, like Jim Rourke felt that his lack of managerial experience counted against him:

My comment would be is that when Pep gets the top job things have not gone well. I would suggest also his appointment as Monk’s assistant coincides with the downturn at Swansea. Sorry to be so negative!

Mark Croxford took issue with this viewpoint and I feel that his rebuttal contains much sense:

How can that be true? Last year Swansea had their best ever season – and that coincided with Clotet’s appointment.

Swansea are probably the nearest model to the way that Brentford operate so it seems to make a fair bit of sense to be interested in someone from there.

Whether he would be the right appointment remains to be seen, of course, and it’s a big jump from being the adviser to the decision maker but with a team of coaches to share the burden, maybe it would be a good move for him?

beesyellow22 expressed his thoughts very emphatically:

The situation at Griffin Park has become like a soap opera this season – it’s hard to keep on top of what’s happening anymore!

Like you Greville, I would love for Carsley to stay in place until the final ball is kicked next May, but apparently the owner does not share this point of view. I understand and appreciate the desire to get the new man in place ASAP but who’s to say it won’t be another Marinus situation – particularly given Clotet’s poor managerial record? We could then find ourselves onto our fourth head coach before we’ve barely gotten into 2016!

If Clotet is indeed to be the new head coach at Griffin Park, then good luck to him. But the big fear for me is that the players have already been through so much already this season, that to get a new man in now could have a real adverse effect and undo all the fantastic work that has been done since Marinus and Roy were given the bullet.

Let’s see what happens, but Clotet’s (admittedly youth-based) managerial record does not fill me with excitement or optimism. In fact, if the plan is to bring in a guy with predominantly youth management experience, why the hell not give the job to Mr. Brentford himself – Kevin O’Connor? He’s doing a great job with the development squad, he knows the club inside out and he is Brentford through and through. Unlike Pep Clotet.

Bill Benn seized upon the hole in this argument – the fact that any managerial change is coming at the request of Lee Carsley and not necessarily Matthew Benham and his Directors of Football:

This is nothing to do with Matthew Benham. Lee Carsley simply doesn’t want to be a manager and wants to go to other pastures as soon as the new coach is in place.

I suggest you check out Lee Carsley’s background in football management too as he hadn’t been too impressive in the short periods he’s been caretaker boss. King Kev as manager at the current time…God give me strength

beesyellow22 was quick to come back in his defence:

It is all very well talking about Carsley not being impressive but facts are facts. We won four on the bounce. The players now know what they are doing. The players are happy once again. The training methods are now working. The players are fitter and stronger. The players (seem to) enjoy playing for Lee Carsley. Pretty much the same players who were failing under Marinus.

“Nothing to do with Matthew Benham”  – this is also extremely wide of the mark! Of course it is everything to do with Benham. Benham is the driving force and the beating heart behind everything that happens behind the scenes. He is a successful and driven businessman and someone who plays to win. Hence the (apparent) decision to now dispense with the services of the man who has a) dragged us kicking and screaming out of a relegation dogfight and b) won the Skybet Championship Manager of the Month award for October! This has EVERYTHING to do with Matthew Benham, presumably hastened by Carsley’s consistent reiteration that he does not want the job.

And why the derision re Kevin O’Connor? How is he any less of a suggestion than Clotet? At least he is passionate about Brentford FC and his early results as Development Squad Manager would appear to be extremely encouraging (I’m interested to hear what your reaction was when Warburton was given the manager’s job…)

Rebel Bee then gave his opinion on the current situation:

In the main I’m with beesyellow22 on this, let’s just rewind to the statements that came out of Griffin Park when Lee Carsley was put in charge until the end of the season. So that went well then didn’t it, as it seems he can’t get away fast enough – so why did he take it and why didn’t Brentford FC just say it was going to be a very short term move?

If Clotet does join I can’t see Carsley or Williams being part of the team going forward. And what has Clotet actually achieved in the game to justify our pursuit of his services?

There seems to be a fascination with overseas coaches, ironically I’d now convinced myself that Edinburgh and Smith could be decent appointments.

Here we go again.

Bill Benn stuck firmly to his guns:

bees yellow22, you said that Lee Carsley is leaving due to Matthew Benham which is complete rubbish and a slur against our owner. How many more times does Lee Carsley have to say that he  doesn’t want the job? In actual fact he hates it and wants to move on.

Lee Carsley has done a good job and I also would have liked him to have continued but he just doesn’t want to. He wants to coach young players as he does with the England Under 19s and it gives him the flexibility for him to work on other things outside of football. I was not dissing Lee Carsley by saying look at his CV but it’s just an example of if he was on our list today as a target check out his history before joining us and you could find many negatives.

We have had an horrendous injury list this season and unfortunately picked the wrong coach in Marinus Dijkhuizen, but this can happen to the best (Manchester United for example.) You might think this season is a soap opera but I among many other fans have enjoyed some great times this season with number one beating that lot down the road as well as our performances against Charlton, Leeds, Wolves, Bristol City and Blackburn to name a few.

When the new manager comes in I expect Lee Carsley to help the transition for a week or so and Paul Williams to stay. I know the majority of our fans will get behind the new man and also expect the usual uninformed clap trap to continue on message boards.

Rebel Bee still hadn’t given up and had an excellent point to make:

Bill we know you’re not dissing Lee Carsley, but if he doesn’t want the job and hates it so much then something has happened right? As a reminder here are the relevant quotes from our Chairman’s statement when he was appointed:

“The Club has moved swiftly and decisively in order to maintain its long-term vision and philosophy. That’s why Lee Carsley has been appointed as Head Coach for the remainder of the season. Lee has shown with the Under 21s that he is an outstanding leader. His work at the training ground has been hugely impressive whilst coaching the development squad and has demonstrated he understands the Club’s philosophy and the ambitions of Brentford FC. We believe these qualities will help Lee settle into his new role effectively and quickly”.

As to his reasons for not wanting to continue, we can only guess and speculate – I don’t blame Matthew Benham for this at all, however the management team shouldn’t get a pass for the Duikhuizen disaster.

I do wonder why once again why we have managed to make a mess of this, even if it is just in the way it was communicated. As for “uninformed clap trap” – really is that your answer to anyone who sees it slightly differently? I think you can do better than that.

Bill Benn was more conciliatory in his response:

“Clap trap” wasn’t aimed at you but the more extreme stuff that has been aimed at Matthew Benham on other forums and social media sites whenever there are decisions being made. I would agree our PR has been dreadful at time over the last twelve months. Lee Carsley has never ever stated that he wanted to be manager until the end of the season although others have been quoted suggesting that for reasons I don’t know, maybe wishful thinking. It’s no secret that he gives a lot of time to charity work and being in youth football gives him the time to do that. I wish him all the best and look forward to the new Head Coach taking over hopefully this week.

As was Rebel Bee and it is hard to argue with what he had to say:

Fair do’s Bill, but there are some wide of the mark views on both sides of this. Like you I have enjoyed some great days already this season – with Charlton and QPR the stand outs. I don’t expect Brentford FC to be top six or chasing promotion either.

I love the league and I’d just be happy to stay in the division with a bit to spare. I’d just like to see us settle down with the coach and players pulling together and playing some decent stuff. And I’d like the club to communicate and do its PR a bit better, so that we don’t need to speculate so much.

I will end with Peter Lumley who had a more radical and resigned viewpoint:

Whoever is appointed it will be just another Matthew Benham gamble with little regard for the views of the Griffin Park faithful.

For my money the “dream ticket”would be Kevin O”Connor and Paul Williams.

Thanks to everybody who participated in the discussion and I think that there will be far more to say as the situation develops over the week. For what it is worth here is where I stand:

Lee Carsley was the obvious immediate short term appointment when the decision made not to continue with Marinus. Who knows how hard he had to be persuaded in order to convince him to take the job and agree to take the reins until the end of the season?

If there was any doubt at the time about his willingness to remain in post until May then it was a mistake to make the statement confirming that he would do so. What I suspect is that Lee did agree to do so, however reluctantly, but soon realised that he had made a mistake and has been actively trying to relinquish his position ever since. This is terribly disappointing given how well he has adapted to the role and the positive response that he has obtained from the squad as is reflected in our improved results and style of play.

We therefore need to make another appointment and whoever we choose will be a gamble to some extent. Clotet is an interesting prospect for all the reasons I outlined in my previous article in terms of his obvious coaching ability and the lovely football that Swansea attempt to play. How will he do when elevated to the Head Coach role and will the players buy into his approach? These are imponderables that cannot be answered.

I suspect that a firm decision has yet to be made and that the situation will not be resolved quickly.

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 .