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.

Advertisements

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!

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?

Meeting Phil Giles – 11/3/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

This Season And The Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longer Term Ambitions For The Club

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

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

Football Staff – Roles And Responsibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships With Other Clubs.

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

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

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

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

Players And Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are in good hands.

Benham’s Gamble – 21/2/16

Three weeks ago, as soon as the Transfer Window closed with us three first team players down and the squad weakened and diminished, I described Brentford’s likely approach for the last three months of the season as follows:

Our strategy for the remainder of the season seems to be quite simply to hunker down, retreat into our bunker, make do with what we are left with and simply count off the days and get through the season before readdressing matters in the Summer and hopefully coming again next season.

I thought very carefully before I gave such a damning judgement and even did my best to verify my words and opinion before I committed them to paper and, indeed, I was assured by a very senior club contact that my assessment was entirely correct.

At the time I fully understood the rationale behind such an apparently negative and craven policy given our financial constraints and the fact that our transfer targets in January had all eluded us and we were quite simply not prepared to pay over the odds.

I realised that the majority of the supporters would not be happy, but I made the point that as long as we remained competitive on the pitch and continued to play our customary brand of exciting attacking football and won more than we lost, then perhaps we would be able to muddle through without getting holed below the waterline.

So what has happened since? Has the gamble paid off?

We have faced (I hesitate the use the word played) three of the leading Championship teams in Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County and have emerged with our tails firmly between our legs after three heavy defeats with only one goal scored and a massive ten conceded.

It could be argued that, given our weakened and parlous state, all of these defeats should have been anticipated and we simply have to revise and lower our expectations and just accept that for the time being we are unable to match teams of that calibre.

If you take this line of thinking further then it would also be entirely fair to say that we should be patient, and delay further judgement until the fifth of March by which time we will have played against three more teams in Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are on the same amount of points as the Bees, Rotherham and Charlton whom we have all beaten already this season and in the case of the last two are engaged in a desperate fight to avoid relegation.

Five points or more from these games would perhaps confirm that we will be able to bumble along for the rest of the season and continue to hold our own and finish in a reasonable position in the Championship table.

That is all for the near future and we will certainly know far more about our short term prospects in a fortnight’s time but the prospect, however unlikely, of losing the next three games against teams who we would normally expect to beat is both worrying and frightening as our last three defeats have highlighted and confirmed that without mincing words, we are in a sorry and shambolic state at the moment.

Yesterday’s three-one defeat against Derby was a case in point. Afterwards, manager Dean Smith argued about narrow margins, and the fact that the game had turned on a couple of key incidents and that the final score could quite easily have been different.

Superficially and on a cursory glance, he is, indeed, quite correct in what he said. Had the officials penalised Tom Ince for handball when the ball crashed against him before bouncing unerringly to the unmarked Hendrick who equalised with ten minutes to go and if Bidwell’s last gasp header not been stopped by a combination of the swooping Scott Carson and Jacob Butterfield on the goal line then we would have come away with a draw and Chris Martin’s three-on-one breakaway goal with the last kick of the match would surely never have happened.

I am afraid that I will not buy or accept that explanation or reading of the match, nor, I suspect will the overwhelming majority of Brentford fans. We were absolutely battered in the first half where we played more like the away team, and a poor one at that.

We adopted a negative 4-1-4-1 formation with Yennaris sweeping up in front of the back four which featured O’Connell for the suspended Barbet. Woods moved to the right side of midfield with McEachran and Judge in the middle and the ineffable Kerschbaumer on the left and Vibe replaced Hofmann up front.

We were playing a Derby County team packed with expensive talent but also totally devoid of confidence after collecting three points in their first six games of 2016.

Surely we should have had a go at them given that we also desperately needed a win and were playing at home, but instead we set up in total damage limitation mode with no width or visible attacking intention? Yes, we certainly needed to tighten up after conceding so many soft goals recently, but surely not at all costs, as seemed the case yesterday where it appeared that a goalless draw was the summit of our ambitions.

We did threaten three times before the break, ironically all from set pieces which worked extremely well yesterday, a rare positive to take out of the game.

Yennaris was unable to get any power on a free header and then a beautifully worked and inventive corner kick routine (poached from the Bournemouth playbook, I believe) saw the ball cut back hard and low towards the edge of the box, Kerschbaumer jump over the ball and Judge had the time and space for a firm and well placed effort that forced Carson into a decent save.

Our best opportunity came when O’Connell stole in at the back post behind the straining Derby defence, and with Bradley Johnson hanging off him, could only head Judge’s clever free kick narrowly wide of the far post.

Otherwise it was a procession towards the home goal as Derby ran rings around us, quick to outmuscle us and pick up the second balls, winning the majority of the challenges and playing around and through us with a series of incisive one-twos.

Poor Lasse Vibe must have had a contagious disease, so isolated was he and we were barely able to get the ball out of our own half of the pitch.

Derby would have been out of sight and home and hosed had it not been for David Button who played Derby County on his own and made five exceptional first half saves, including keeping out Bidwell’s involuntary close range poke towards his own goal. He also thwarted Hendrick twice in close succession, Bent, and most memorably, Russell when the keeper somehow kept out a perfectly placed effort arrowing towards the far corner.

Quite frankly, we got out of jail and could and should have slunk off the field three goals down at the interval so poor and inept had been our performance.

To give Dean Smith his due, he changed our approach after the break and tried to get the team to play more in the Derby half and stretch the two lumbering central defenders who had enjoyed a totally untroubled game to date.

Our efforts were rewarded after fifty-two minutes when Alan Judge scored a goal entirely of his making when he robbed Hanson in midfield and roared down the right flank. He could not be caught and although forced wide he hit a brilliantly angled right foot shot that screamed past Carson for a goal of total and utter brilliance.

The game had turned in an instant and surely the Bees would take full advantage as confidence suddenly flowed through hesitant limbs and Derby heads went down?

Well, yes and no as we kept the visitors away from Button who was able to take a well-earned breather, but we never seemed to have the self-belief or incision to go for the jugular and seek the second goal that would surely have cemented victory.

Substitutions also played a crucial part in the outcome of the match. Derby were able to bring on players of the calibre of Martin, Ince and Blackman whereas we were restricted to the likes of the be-gloved Swift, Djuricin and Canos.

Slowly and inexorably we dropped twenty yards and retreated deeper and deeper into our shell and this seemed a self-inflicted move entirely of our own making rather than being caused by the sheer force of Derby pressure.

Where was the manager at this crucial point of the proceedings to encourage and exhort us to move up the field?

From a winning position, however unexpected and undeserved, we unforgivably conceded the initiative and invited Derby onto us and the inevitable occurred with two quick goals turning the game, once again, on its head.

Job seemingly done, Derby now made a similar error of judgement, sat back, ceded us the initiative and we dominated the last five minutes and should have scored four times.

Djuricin has lacked fitness and sharpness but he surely had to convert one of the two glaring chances that came his way, but he ballooned a snap shot high over and then criminally put his close range near post diving header over the goal with the net beckoning. Keogh almost deflected a cross into his own net and then Bidwell’s header from a Judge corner seemed to be arrowing its way in before being hacked off the line before Martin stole away to thrust the final dagger in our heart and seal the victory.

On the one hand we could have been looking at a thrashing had Button not performed his heroics but we were then unable to seize the opportunity to win the match when it unexpectedly presented itself to us.

This was not a Brentford performance as we have become accustomed to see and enjoy and we seem to have totally lost our way.

The defence is nervous and porous. The midfield where only Woods and Yennaris make any apparent effort to cover and tackle, does not protect the back four and lacks width and pace. McEachran is a luxury that we cannot afford as for all his skill on the ball he is a totally one dimensional player who contributes nothing to our defensive efforts and Kerschbaumer flitted in and out of the match to little apparent effect as well as carelessly losing his man when Christie scored the crucial second goal.

We have completely lost our pace, brio and incision. There was one isolated incident in the second half when we combined quickly down the left and almost tore the opposition wide apart before the move broke down on the edge of the penalty area but that was a rare exception to our plodding mediocrity.

Vibe improved after the break when he received some limited service and used his pace to stretch the Derby back four, but we were slow and stilted in our play, and perish the thought, more resembled a mid table Division One team than a Championship squad renowned for its invention and skill on the ball.

It surely cannot be denied that the team which won promotion in 2014 was far stronger in midfield and attack boasting as it did the likes of Forshaw, Saville, Douglas, Judge, Donaldson and Trotta, than is our current motley crew.

The Brentford that we know and love, cocking a snoot, out playing, out working and out pressing our so called betters has disappeared without trace for the time being at least and Ian Holloway, so often an admirer of our approach, has also noticed and remarked upon the difference in our recent play:

Brentford don’t look the same this season. They have lost their midfield security after selling Toumani Diagouraga. This time last year they had Jonathan Douglas and Diagouraga and now they have Josh McEachran from Chelsea and he doesn’t provide the same protection. They have started to leak goals, which is not good.

Salutary words that we would do well to take notice of and act upon.

Three statistics merely confirm our current malaise. Yesterday we only had a possession rate of forty-two per cent and, more worryingly, we only played one hundred and sixty-two passes, less than half our normal number, and our pass completion percentage was a pathetic sixty-one, which implies that we played far more hit and hope long balls than normal.

As I said – that is not the Brentford that we expect or even want to see.

Leaving aside some of the extremists on social media who have a totally unrealistic sense of expectation, there were far more worrying mutterings in my earshot coming from some of the hard core supporters both at halftime and as they left the ground feeling flat and deflated.

Most were bemused at how far and how quickly we have fallen and there was a sense of despondency and in some cases a reluctance to return to Griffin Park for the time being. This is worrying in the extreme.

Let’s face facts, we have taken a gamble, an educated guess that we already have enough points on the board and just about enough left in our tank to get us over the line, crawling if necessary, without sliding inexorably into relegation trouble, or indeed, perish the thought, the dreaded bottom three.

Everything Matthew Benham does is calculated and the fact that you can still get odds of two hundred and fifty to one against the Bees going down suggests that he has got it right yet again but this is a bet that he cannot afford to lose and even if it comes off what will have been its overall cost?

Our supporters rightly pay good money to watch a team compete and play a brand of football that stirs the soul and warms the heart. That is not happening at the moment and quite frankly seems a long way away for the remainder of the season.

I am not sure what else can be done now. We are stuck with a weak and ill balanced squad that currently appears unable to play the Brentford way. The decision has been taken not to go into either the transfer or now the loan market and even should we change our mind and attempt to bolster the squad I have serious doubts as to whether we could at this late stage obtain short term recruits who could provide the quality, steel, impact and experience that we need.

We are now hoist with our own petard and will simply have to see how matters turn out and if Dean Smith is capable of organising and motivating his limited squad and getting them to put on performances of the necessary calibre.

It is harsh and totally unfair to criticise a manager who has not been given the opportunity to build or put his own stamp on his squad but I would like to see far more from him in terms of how he selects his team and sets them up.

We need to toughen up and become less of an easy touch but also maintain a sense of invention and positivity.

Not an easy task at the moment and much will be revealed and become apparent over the next fortnight.

 

The Facts Of Life – 6/1/16

The silly season has just begun and the predators are apparently already bashing our door down and lining up to pluck our best assets away from our clutches at Griffin Park.

Yes it is that time of the year again and our collective blood pressure is sure to rise on a daily basis until relief arrives with the closing of the January Transfer Window.

In the not too distant past we did not contemplate January with dread or a sense of foreboding simply because nobody really coveted any of our players enough to pay the panic premium that seems to be charged at a time when the heart often seems to rule the head and nonsensical fees are paid by clubs looking for that final player who will help them ensure promotion or avoid the drop.

Now things are different and we boast at least three star players in Alan Judge, James Tarkowski and Jota who, according to the rumour mill, are all on the verge of leaving the club.

It is still early in the month and nobody knows for sure if any or even all of them will move on but there was identical speculation this time last year about the likes of Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo and despite all the rumours, both players saw the season out at Griffin Park.

To put it bluntly, we are simply the victims of our own success. Through a combination in recent years of enlightened ownership, inspired management, for the most part superb player analysis and recruitment and a determination and commitment to play a unique brand of positive, attacking football the Bees have totally over performed and punched way over their weight.

Despite having one of the lowest average attendance and turnover figures in the Championship, Brentford have established themselves as one of the best footballing teams in the division and built up a squad that contains many valuable assets who are coveted far and wide.

We pay more than decent wages but our budget is dwarfed by the larger and more established clubs within the division, some of whom spend reckless and unjustifiable amounts and ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play given their determination to join the Premier League gravy train and others are buttressed by a series of enormous parachute payments that give them a ridiculously unfair financial advantage.

We are not competing on an even playing field and for us to have reached the playoffs last season and to have a realistic chance of repeating that feat at the end of the current campaign is an incredible achievement which highlights just how well we are managed and run and the quality of the players we have managed to identity, attract, recruit and develop.

That last verb perfectly sums up where we are as a club at the moment. Brentford, in my opinion can best be described as a stepping stone club where young players of potential know they will be given a showcase where they will be able to hone, demonstrate and improve their skills in a positive and nurturing environment.

Being situated in London is a double edged sword with the attractions of a big capital city offset by the price of housing and cost of living but we are a more than attractive proposition for well advised young players who want to progress.

In other words Brentford puts them in the shop window and there are many clubs out there who are happy to let us do all the hard graft in terms of player recruitment and development and then swoop in to pluck them away from us and benefit from all the work we have done.

Unfortunately given the disparity in our size, income and wage bill we are still at a stage of our development when we are totally unable to prevent this asset stripping as it is pointless to keep a disaffected footballer, and all we can do is grin and bear it, ensure that we receive top dollar for our players, replace them more than adequately with more diamonds in the rough and wait for the time to come when we are in the catbird seat.

The situation will only change once we move to Lionel Road and start to benefit from the additional income streams that it will offer or actually get to the Premier League ourselves. Then we will be able to call the tune and hang onto our best players until we decide it is time to move them on.

Players are tapped up as a matter of course and have agents and other intermediaries in their ear all the time telling them of the riches on offer elsewhere and our current crop will be well aware how much the likes of Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray are currently earning. Just imagine the sort of tales than Alan Judge hears when on international duty with Eire?

There is talk that Sheffield Wednesday are currently offering to triple Alan Judge’s wages and as a family man entering the prime of his career he cannot fail to be attracted by such an offer than we cannot hope to match and nor would it be a sensible decision for us to do so given our financial constraints.

Players have to look after their own interests as the average professional playing career lasts for less than eight years and injury can strike at any moment.

I do not blame the like of Simon Moore, Harry Forrester, Adam Forshaw, Clayton Donaldson, Stuart Dallas, Odubajo and Gray deciding to move on for reasons that in several cases appear to have been more financially driven rather than a way of improving their career prospects. Moore, Forrester and Forshaw have faded into the background and their once promising careers seem to have withered on the vine.

Whilst they can all point to inflated bank balances they might also reflect upon the fact that they could conceivably have actually earned more by staying at Brentford and benefiting from the massive bonus payments that were made last season for reaching the playoffs!

I have written previously about the parallels between Brentford and Southampton and our  approach is pretty much identical.

  • We do not need to sell anyone and want to keep our best players
  • We will only sell them if they decide irrevocably that they wish to leave
  • They will only leave on our terms and not theirs – in other words the buying club will have to meet our asking price
  • All departing players will be replaced by someone who either already is, or is expected to become, an even better and more valuable player

If a player wants to go and we don’t want him to go, as appears to be the case currently with Tarkowski and Judge then the club’s response is simply to say that they are not for sale unless our valuation is met and if that is not the case then they will remain at Brentford FC.

It is rare that players have been allowed to leave on their terms or to run their contracts down. It happened with Clayton Donaldson and the same situation might be repeated with Harlee Dean but more often than not the club manages difficult situations exceptionally well.

Looking back at previous deals, I think it is more than fair to say that selling Moses and Andre was fantastic business for the club as we will earn up to thirteen million pounds for the pair of them plus a hefty sell-on percentage if and when they move on again. This is money that will be reinvested in new players.

We are, after all a business and must take advantage when such a deal is on the table, as long, of course, as we replace the players with new ones that could turn out to be even better and more valuable.

It would be hard to deny that Max Colin is as good as Moses and he is probably a better defender than his predecessor and whilst it is fair to say that there is no current individual player at the club who can be said to have replaced Andre Gray and what he brought to the team, the facts speak for themselves.

At this point last season Andre had scored nine Championship goals wheres the trio of Lasse Vibe, Marco Djuricin and Philipp Hofmann have contributed fifteen Championship goals between them.

Like all other Brentford fans, I do not want either Tarky or Judge to go, however if they decide that that is what they want to do and our valuation is reached, then I retain full confidence in the club replacing them more than adequately.

The time to worry is if players leave and nobody arrives of a suitable calibre and so far, despite some narrow squeaks in the last close season where some of the newcomers have yet to fully prove themselves for a variety of reasons, we are still well ahead of the game,

As for Jota, who knows what the situation is and whether he has become unsettled. The fact that the talk is of a swift loan move back to Spain can surely only be explained by a pressing personal or family problem that needs to be sorted, rather than footballing reasons.

I hope that this is just scuttlebutt and unfounded social media rumour as he is a footballer who is touched by genius and we have all been waiting for his return with a combination of expectation, anticipation and bated breath.

It would be cruel if the cup is dashed from our lips and he also decides for whatever reason that he needs to leave the club, however Jota, for all his undoubted quality, is also a replaceable asset even if it is hard for us to accept that fact.

Our current squad is immeasurably stronger than it was three years ago and I am certain that it will become even stronger in three years time. Players come and players go, that is the way of the world, and we just have to trust in the club to manage our affairs properly as has undoubtedly been the case up until now.

We are growing and evolving rapidly as it is. Four seasons ago we were a reasonable Third Division team, now we are looking realistically at getting to the Premier League.

That is a massive jump and we have to accept that we are competing in a different arena now and have to play by a different set of rules.

With the welcome loan extensions for Canos and Swift we have actually started the window well by ensuring that two excellent young players will remain at the club for the rest of the season.

There is a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and the end of January and there are certain to be some highs and lows for us supporters to endure and even enjoy, however I would, suggest that by the beginning of February we will have a playing squad that is as strong, if not stronger than the one we currently possess.

Time will tell.

Stats And Stuff – 30/12/15

It is quite staggering just how much statistical information about football teams and individual players is now freely available within the public domain. Statistical analysis is now an accepted and growing part of the game and given the quality and depth of the data that I was able to unearth free of charge on the internet I can only wonder at the level of information that is gathered and provided privately to the clubs themselves.

I generally go to a wonderful website, WhoScored.com which provides a treasure trove of easily accessible data that can be understood even by a mathematical dunce like me.

What I find so fascinating about using the data before I write anything about Brentford FC is that it makes me question my judgement about pretty much anything that I have seen unfurl on the pitch in front of me when I watch the team play.

Watching Brentford play can be a veritable roller coaster ride with so many highs and lows as your spirits and emotions are taken to the heights and then plummet to the depths all within the course of a ninety minute match. Judgements can be clouded by what you think that you have seen rather than what actually took place out on the pitch.

We also all have prejudices and preconceived views about every player. For example if you spoke to a Brentford supporter today and asked for an opinion on John Swift, our talented midfield player currently on loan from Chelsea, there would probably be some purring comments of appreciation about his quality on the ball, eye for a pass, ability to glide sinuously and effortlessly past opponents and also make late runs into the penalty area but these would probably be interspersed with some grudging mention of his supposed defensive weaknesses, as to the naked eye he does not always appear to track back, press and support his defenders as much as you would like or is needed.

Is John Swift a defensive liability and a luxury player? Fact or fiction? Does his offensive contribution more than make up for his supposed defensive shortcomings? In order to come to some sort of conclusion I consulted the oracle and Stats God at WhoScored.com and here are the stark, objective facts, untainted by any bias or rose tinted spectacles.

I looked first at his defensive statistics and they were telling. Swift makes 0.9 tackles per game, comfortably the least of any first team regular, apart from Lasse Vibe. Yennaris and Colin make the most (2.5) and all of his midfield colleagues attempt more tackles than Swift. He also makes less interceptions than any of his team mates and he has yet to block a shot. These stats would therefore appear to bear out the suggestion that defending is not yet a strong part of Swift’s game. Tellingly in a description and profile of his overall game WhoScored.com rates his defensive contribution as weak.

Where things begin to look much better for him however is when you look at his offensive statistics. John has scored three goals and made four assists in his fourteen appearances to date. He also takes 1.3 shots on goal every game and makes 1.4 key passes per game, more than anybody else in the team apart from Alan Judge. He also attempts more dribbles than all his team mates apart from Max Colin.

I could break his game down even more, but hopefully the message is coming through loud and clear that John Swift is making an exceptionally effective offensive contribution to the team that more than justifies his starting position, even if he needs to pay more attention to the defensive side of his game, as it is what you do without the ball that can often be just as important as being a Fancy Dan when in possession.

I thought it might be interesting to delve a bit deeper into the Brentford team analysis on WhoScored.com and see if there were any trends emerging after the first half of the season. According to the figures our style of play is typified by the following:

  • Possession football
  • Attacking down the right
  • Play with width
  • Short passes
  • Playing in their own half
  • Opponents play aggressively against them
  • Aggressive
  • Consistent first eleven

Our strengths are:

  • Counter attacks
  • Finishing scoring chances
  • Shooting from direct free kicks
  • Creating chances using through balls
  • Creating chances through individual skill
  • Coming back from losing positions

Whereas we are deemed to be weak at the following:

  • Defending against attacks down the wings
  • Aerial duels
  • Defending counter attacks
  • Defending set pieces
  • Stopping opponents from creating chances
  • Avoiding fouling in dangerous areas

These all look pretty much spot on to me and it is reassuring that the figures in this instance back up and totally substantiate the subjective opinion I had already come to after watching the overwhelming majority of our twenty-four Championship games to date.

Our top six performing players given an analysis of all aspects of their game have been Alan Judge, James Tarkowski, John Swift, Harlee Dean, Jake Bidwell and Nico Yennaris, again, no surprises there, and interestingly enough, of the regular players, Toumani Diagouraga and Konstantin Kerschbaumer rate the lowest. Judge and Tarkowski are also rated as the top and fourth best player in the entire Championship to date – a wonderful achievement by the pair of them.

According to WhoScored.com the best eleven players in the Championship over the entire first half of the season were as follows:

Martinez (Wolves)

Onuoha (QPR)

Duffy (Blackburn)

Tarkowski (Brentford)

Friend (Middlesbrough)

Gallagher (Preston)

Norwood (Reading)

Stephens (Brighton)

Judge (Brentford)

Forestieri (Sheffield Wednesday)

McCormack (Fulham)

Not too many surprises there, in my opinion.

Of our thirty-six goals to date, one of the highest totals in the league, an eye-opening nine have come from set pieces, including two penalty kicks and two have come from counterattacks. That is a massive improvement on last season.

We attempt just under five hundred passes per game with a seventy-seven per cent accuracy rate. Eighty per cent of our passes are short, but we also hit nineteen crosses every match.

In that respect I only wish we could find out the average number of attacking players we had in the opposition penalty area every time we hit a cross as I am pretty sure that is an area where improvement is still needed.

I suspect that our analysis department might have a few words to say if they saw this article and would draw my attention to all sorts of facts and figures that have escaped my attention or that I have misinterpreted, and I am sure that I have barely scratched the surface of what is a fascinating subject that will become more and more important as the years progress.

Statistics have certainly changed the way that I look at matches and I have found them an invaluable tool in terms of helping me write more sensibly, rationally and objectively about players and matches and avoid going off on an unsubstantiated and ignorant rant.

Most importantly, what they show quite clearly is just how well we are performing as a team and also on an individual basis too.