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

Not Many Additions Needed – 11/7/16

Now that the Brentford squad is safely ensconced at its training camp in Germany it seems like a reasonable time to look at its current make-up and strength, comment on the new arrivals and outline where strengthening might still be necessary.

There are currently three new faces in Romaine Sawyers, John Egan and Dan Bentley and all three conform to the Brentford blueprint and stereotype in terms of being young, talented, untested in the Championship and with massive development potential.

All three were out of contract with their former teams, Walsall, Gillingham and Southend respectively and had starred in Division One. Sawyers will come on a Bosman free and fees have yet to be agreed for the other two with a Transfer Tribunal likely to be required.

Sawyers has been coveted by many teams for a couple of seasons and he is a real footballer, tall, strong and talented on the ball, seemingly languid but quicker than he looks and he possesses the ability to play the defence splitting pass. Ignoring the easily forgotten loanee Leandro Rodríguez, Sawyers is Dean Smith’s first signing for the club, always an important milestone, and the two worked extremely well together at Walsall with many expressions of mutual respect and I am really excited at what he is likely to bring us.

He could play on the right hand side of midfield or as a Number Ten, directly behind Scott Hogan.

John Egan is quite simply a player who loves to defend. Strong in the air, powerful in the tackle he is a formidable barrier for strikers to overcome. He also uses the ball well and will fit into our system of passing the ball out from the back. He scored six times for Gillingham last season and demonstrated at Boreham Wood that he will provide a massive threat at set pieces, something than none of our defenders have really managed since the days of Leon Legge. He and Harlee Dean will have a real battle to secure the first team spot and I have no idea who will come out on top.

Dan Bentley is a big, brash, loud and dominating goalkeeper who has starred for Southend and now looks more than ready for the challenge of the Championship.

He, like the other two new arrivals, fully realises just how good Brentford can be in terms of improving him and helping to develop him into the finished article.

Brentford is clearly recognised and acknowledged by promising players and their agents as a stepping stone club where they can hone their talents and hopefully eventually move onto bigger and better placed clubs when the time is right.

Galling though this is for all Brentford supporters given our current financial constraints and stadium size there is very little that we can do to change this situation until we move to Lionel Road.

At least it means that we are still able to sign a conveyor belt’s worth of exceptional young talent and I can only look forward to and hope for the time when we can hang onto them all for much longer a period and that they will be able to achieve all their ambitions without leaving the club.

So, three potentially good and exciting new signings are already in the bag. What else do we need in order to ensure that we have a squad that contains options in every position and has the quality and strength in depth in order to compete at the top end of the table and perhaps even challenge for the playoffs?

Bentley and Egan together are certain to cost us well in excess of a million pounds and given the lack of the expected transfer funds for Alan Judge after his serious injury it is likely that money will be tight and perhaps we will only spend what we bring in.

In that regard Jake Bidwell’s initial fee of £1.3 million will be split with Everton and when our share is added to the undisclosed six-figure fee received for Jack O’Connell it is clear that there will not be too much extra cash floating around for investment in players at this stage unless some of the additional £3.5 million in fees received from Burnley is added to the kitty rather than put into the bottom line.

That is probably the explanation why we were not really in a position to compete for the signing of enticing prospects such as Kemar Roofe and Sergi Canos and that Rico Henry might well also be well out of our price bracket, assuming that Walsall are prepared to sell him during this Transfer Window.

Thankfully the squad appears to be much more settled than this time last year when for a variety of reasons we lost the likes of Douglas, Dallas, Gray and Odubajo shortly before the season began, a situation that caused chaos and was largely responsible for our appalling start.

You can never say never but I would be very surprised if we lose any of our emerging stars such as Colin, Barbet, Woods or Hogan for the time being and the squad is already looking strong and almost complete.

The only additional transfer out that I am expecting is one that will cause me some sadness given how well he has performed, but David Button decided not to sign a new contract when he clearly had the option to do so and as soon as it became clear that he was unlikely to do so the club acted quickly to bring in a replacement in the shape of Bentley.

Given the change in the loan regulations next season and in particular those pertaining to goalkeepers, in that emergency loans will only be allowed if there is no available goalkeeper who has played five competitive game for the club, there is likely to be a move by the better heeled clubs to ensure that they have two experienced goalkeepers on hand. This would explain the recent move of Rob Green to Leeds where he will act as an emergency backup.

I suspect that Button has been offered a couple of similar roles for himself but given his age and quality he is correctly waiting for a first team spot to open up for him as I expect that it will do over the next few weeks.

What is certain is that he has made his bed and must lie in it. Even if he were having second thoughts about leaving the club we cannot afford to carry two first team calibre goalkeepers, Bentley will only have joined us on the clear understanding that he will be the starting keeper at the beginning of the season and, most importantly, we cannot afford to lose the transfer fee of perhaps £1.5 million that Button would likely command. That sum would help enhance our transfer war chest and subsidise any additional incomings.

Given that Jack Bonham has played five times for us, and with the greatest respect to him I doubt if there is anyone who would like to see him start a Championship match for us, I would expect that he will be loaned out, a situation that will benefit his development and also allow us to bring in a loanee should Bentley miss a match and assuming Button has left the club.

The key vacancy is at left back where Jake Bidwell has filled the position impeccably for the past few years. Of course I would have preferred that he’d gone almost anywhere other than QPR but that’s life!

Rico Henry is acknowledged as one of the best young players in the division but I would be amazed if we are able to afford him or prise him away from the clutches of Walsall who have lost enough talent to us recently.

I would not be surprised if we bring in a young Premier League loanee to fill the gap. This might also be the case on the wing where currently we can only boast the talent of Andy Gogia. Sullay Kaikai has sparkled on loan at Shrewsbury showing trickery, pace and a keen eye in front of goal and the Crystal Palace winger would be an excellent addition as a loanee.

Philipp Hofmann has slimmed down and looks sleek and fit and we need him to perform. If not we will need another striking option.

I really feel that the squad is in pretty good shape and barring unforeseen departures or injuries we really only need to fill a few spots.

I am hopefully being pragmatic rather than complacent but let’s see how the situation has changed in a week or so and perhaps I can then think again.

Shopping List – 23/5/16

Continue reading

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!

The Clock Is Ticking – 31/1/16

Tick, tick, tick.

Time marches inexorably on, but yet ever so slowly and interminably as all Brentford supporters count off the days, hours, minutes and even seconds until eleven o’clock on Monday evening when the Transfer Window slams shut and then, and only then, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

The wait is both agonising and tortuous as the longer time passes by with no bad news the more the sense of fear and foreboding that something disastrous and horrible is bound to come to bite us up the backside perhaps even at the last possible moment.

Hopefully that is just my natural sense of pessimism talking rather than a real and justifiable concern of the worst happening.

What makes the situation even less tolerable is that we have no real sense or idea of what may be happening behind the scenes and whether behind closed doors the Brentford high command is currently engaged in actively fending off predators determined to prise away our most valuable assets, negotiating the arrival of some fresh blood or even doing very little except simply hoping that the phone doesn’t ring, the fax doesn’t chatter into life and that the broadband goes down.

So now it is time for me to consult my crystal ball and predict what I think is likely to happen between now and Monday evening, and I fully understand that I am sticking my neck out and laying myself open to ridicule should, as is extremely likely, I get things totally and completely wrong.

Let’s first review where we are at the time of writing: we have lost three players and gained two, with Toumani Diagouraga, Jota and Daniel O’Shaughnessy leaving and young defenders Nathan Fox and Emmanuel Onariase both arriving at Griffin Park from Cray Wanderers and West Ham United respectively. Sergi Canos and John Swift have also extended their loans until the end of the season.

Toumani’s departure after six years of solid and committed service came as little surprise, and given that a fee of around half a million pounds was mooted, we have certainly sold at the top of the market and at a time when his transfer value was more than likely to decline over the coming months and years.

The magic and sparkle had left his game and his most recent appearances showed quite clearly that he had lost his touch and even his enthusiasm and that he no longer really merited a place in the team.

He needed a change of scene and a fresh stimulus and challenge and fully deserved the lucrative and extended contract that he was offered by his new club.

Whether or not he will flourish at Leeds and respond to the unique management style of the inimitable Steve Evans is an intriguing question but Brentford should be congratulated at sucking the last ounce of value out of a player whose best days have perhaps gone and then extracting top dollar for him.

Toumani marked his first full appearance for his new club by quite amazingly scoring his first goal for nearly three years in the FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers yesterday so perhaps he will yet have the last laugh.

And no, nobody invaded the pitch to help celebrate his goal.

I watched Jota come on as a second half substitute for Eibar last Sunday with a sense of resignation coupled with sadness that circumstances have forced us to allow him to return to his homeland, at least for the time being.

Who knows if we will ever see the Spanish wizard in a Brentford shirt again, perhaps his family situation will eventually allow him to return to us, but, if not, he leaves us with a plethora of wonderful memories as one of the most gifted players in our recent history and given that he has extended his contract we should eventually at least receive a reasonable fee for him, if not as much as might have been expected if he had moved onto a Premier League team, as had at one time seemed likely.

Daniel O’Shaughnessy simply needs the chance  to play first team football in order that we can find out whether he is good enough to play in the Football League, and I am sure that he will receive his opportunity during his loan spell at our sister club FC Midtjylland whom he has joined for the remainder of the season.

He has recently made his full international debut for Finland so he must possess ability even if he has never yet threatened to break into the Brentford first team since his arrival on a two year contract in 2014.

His move does beg the question about the relative standard of the Championship compared to the Danish Superliga and how someone not considered good enough to play for us can hope to feature for the current Danish champions.

Hopefully we will all get the chance to see how he gets on should he be selected to play against Manchester United in the Europa League next month.

It is possible that there will not be any additional departures from the club before the end of the Transfer Window but I will not feel certain about that until eleven pm tomorrow given that there are still two players who might well be in play.

James Tarkowski in my opinion totally burned his boats by his behaviour when he refused to play against Burnley the other week and despite attempts to rectify the situation and put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound his continued presence at the club still casts a pall over affairs at Griffin Park and polarises opinions amongst supporters.

His recent statement, however carefully crafted, reeked of tergiversation and in my opinion begged more questions than it provided answers and I firmly believe that it would be better for all parties should he leave the club as soon as possible.

Whether that happens now totally depends if anyone comes in with an acceptable offer, which rumours suggest would need to be in excess of three million pounds plus add ons.

Any interested parties are sure to smell weakness and try and take advantage of the situation over the next couple of days however in Matthew Benham they will find an opponent who will simply refuse to blink first or accept anything under the price that he has set.

Michael Keane has not left Burnley so it remains to be seen if they remain in the frame or whether a new club will come to the negotiating table. My money would be on Burnley coming back for another attempt to sign him.

If a move does not come about then we will simply have to get on with things as we cannot allow such a valuable asset to wither away and Tarkowski, having made an apology and provided an explanation of sorts, will doubtless be available for selection should the need arises.

Dean Smith has already made it clear that he will be welcomed back into the fold and the manager was totally correct in doing so, however Tarky has now fallen behind Harlee Dean and Yoann Barbet in the pecking order, has lost match fitness and will simply have to wait for his opportunity to arrive should injury or loss of form strike the current first choices.

Alan Judge, with twelve goals and seven assists has quite simply been the best and most exciting and effective player in the Championship this season and he is a man on a mission and is determined to force his way into the Eire squad for the European Championships in the Summer.

There has quite naturally been serious interest in him, and all Brentford fans, fearing the worst, would have been reassured by press comments yesterday, attributed to the player, confirming that he will remain at the club for the rest of the season.

Judge is a talismanic figure to us all and is our leader, conductor and inspiration on the pitch as most of our positive play and goal threat emanates from him. It is hard to see how we can replace him, particularly in the short term given the additional loss of Jota, and hopefully we will not have to deal with that situation until the end of the season.

And yet… and yet, it would not surprise me in the slightest if one of the myriad clubs seeking promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, or even indeed a club at the lower end of the Premier League does not come in at the last minute and attempt to prise him out our grasp. It seems a real no-brainer as Judge would improve any team whose presence he graces and the fee would be chump change for most of them.

Will we stand fast and resist any potential suitors? Who knows? It all depends upon the sum that we are offered and any figure in excess of five million pounds would merit serious consideration.

As for Judge, despite his acknowledged happiness at the club both on and off the pitch, more money would obviously be welcome as well as the chance to play in a team likely to challenge for honours, but he also has to consider that at Brentford he is guaranteed to start every match and within reason is afforded a free role which entirely suits his game and keeps him in the spotlight, and he might not be so prominent elsewhere.

There is a lot for him to ponder upon and we will simply have to wait and see what happens over the next day or so.

Sam Saunders will also have a decision to make and perhaps the prospect of Tampa Bay is slightly less alluring now that he seems to be back in favour and in and around the starting eleven. Alan McCormack might also have been considering his position but for the niggling injuries that have hindered him recently.

There might also be moves, temporary or permanent or maybe even contracts being cancelled, for the likes of Montell Moore, Josh Clarke, Ryan Williams and Josh Laurent who all appear to be surplus to requirements at Griffin Park.

There are no rumours of interest in any other of our players although I am sure that the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell have their suitors and admirers.

What is more important is that we succeed in persuading them to sign contract extensions as they are the backbone of the team and I am sure that every effort will be made to do so and that ideally neither player will be allowed to enter the last year of their contract next season.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Tarkowski and the fact that Dean Smith appears to be a fan, perhaps there will also be a change of heart regarding Harlee Dean and a way might be found to keep him at the club for next season and beyond?

That is a move which would again polarise the supporters but Harlee appears to have matured both on and off the pitch (the Nottingham Forest nonsense excepted) and could well develop into the right sided centre half that we need.

What is far more intriguing and exciting for all supporters is the prospect of new players arriving, and here I think I need to dampen expectations as I do not anticipate any permanent incomings or transfer fees to be paid unless we lose additional players from the squad.

In those circumstances I would suspect that there are contingency plans in place should either Tarkowski or Judge leave the club before tomorrow evening.

Apart from what I stated above, why do I not expect any other permanent signings given that we have already lost the likes of Toumani and Jota?

Quite simply because the players we want are either not available or will cost prohibitive sums in January, a time when fees are generally inflated and might well be available on Bosman free transfers at the end of the season.

I would hazard a guess that there is also a view in and around the club that whilst the playoffs remain a possibility it would perhaps make better sense to keep our powder dry for the time being and make whatever changes are necessary in the close season.

There is also the omnipresent spectre of Financial Fair Play looming over us. We are now allowed to lose a maximum of thirteen million pounds per season and we remain hamstrung given our lack of income and resources.

Our expenditure needs to be carefully managed and controlled and perhaps it is felt that now is not the best time to go into the transfer market given the likelihood that we will finish in a comfortable position in the league and further consolidate within the Championship with our existing squad.

There could well be some major changes in the Summer as we look carefully at who has adjusted to the demands of the Championship and who has not settled down or has been found wanting.

In addition, given that we will lose Sergi Canos and John Swift, leaving alone what happens to Alan Judge, it is pretty obvious that we will need to bring in some creative midfielders for next season and maybe we will be looking seriously at the likes of Romaine Sawyers as has already been suggested on social media.

There are rumours that high quality targets are already being lined up for the Summer which is encouraging news and that would also give us time and breathing space to replace Alan Judge should he decide to leave the club either now, or as anticipated, in the Summer.

Jamie Paterson, currently at loan at Huddersfield from Nottingham Forest, and a player well known to Dean Smith from his Walsall days has been mooted as a potential arrival and perhaps that might happen either in the close season or even as a loanee next month.

I would expect that a winger will be brought in on loan next month given our lack of options in that area and maybe a defensive midfielder as well, although Josh McEachran will be given every opportunity to settle into the team and we also have the enticing prospect of the long overdue appearance of Lewis Macleod.

Will Scott Hogan also regain sufficient fitness to be given an opportunity to boost our flagging strike force before the end of the season? That would certainly be an exciting prospect although we should not hold out too much hope of it coming to pass or harbour any sense of expectation.

The arrival of the two young central defenders initially for the Development Squad is also very interesting and is evidence that we are looking to strengthen our resources in that area of the pitch and that perhaps we will be looking to sign more youngsters who have not quite made it at a higher level elsewhere in order to boost our talent pool given that we are still waiting for some payback from the expenditure lavished on the Academy, where I am led to believe that the majority of our crown jewels are still a few years away from consideration for the first team squad.

I have not tried to paint a gloomy picture, but have simply attempted to take an objective look at the situation that the club is facing as we go into the last crucial days, hours, minutes and seconds of the Transfer Window and provide my own viewpoint of what might possibly transpire.

I am fully prepared to eat humble pie on Monday evening should I be proved wildly inaccurate in my predictions.

What does everybody else think will happen?

Please let me know!

It Is What It Is – 23/1/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Player Power – 16/1/16

I was doing some research in the early hours of this morning and chanced upon the wording of a standard footballer’s contract which I found particularly fascinating reading given the remarkable happenings at Griffin Park over the last twenty-four hours.

I have highlighted a couple of relevant clauses:

Duties and Obligations of the Player

The Player agrees:

 when directed by an authorised official of the Club

1. to attend matches in which the Club is engaged in

2. to participate in any matches in which he is selected to play for the Club

3. to play to the best of his skill and ability at all times

4. to undertake such other duties and to participate in such other activities as are consistent with the performance of his duties and as are reasonably required of the Player

Well it would appear that Brentford defender James Tarkowski must be suffering from dyslexia or a reading disorder given his recent behaviour when he informed his manager, Dean Smith that he did not wish to play against Burnley in last night’s Sky Bet Championship match and declared himself unavailable for the fixture despite being selected in the starting line-up.

The net result of his action was to bring about unspecified disciplinary action from the club but also to wreak havoc on team morale and organisation which surely played a major part in explaining Brentford’s spineless first half surrender to a rampant Burnley team which took full advantage of the home team’s ineptitude and total lack of fight, spirit, organisation or apparent ability to win any challenges for first and second balls.

It is all very well partially excusing the player for his actions by claiming that he was poorly advised and was perhaps misguidedly following his agent’s instructions but for me that does not wash. He is not a child but a twenty-three year old man who has shown a total lack of judgement and should surely know better and be able to know his own mind and make more reasoned and sensible decisions. As it is he has painted himself into a corner and made himself a total pariah in the eyes of all Brentford supporters who were previously great admirers of his on-field ability.

Apart from breaking the terms of his contract, Tarkowski’s strategy is incredibly dumb and ill thought through and will have totally the opposite effect to the one desired by him as all it will do is harden attitudes towards him from club officials and make them even more determined that he will not succeed in his effort to leave on his terms.

He has made it patently clear that he wishes to leave the club and ideally return nearer to his roots in the North West of England with last night’s opponents, Burnley, rumoured to be his preferred destination. He would also surely have noted the seriously enhanced wages that his former team mates are now earning higher up the food chain.

Well every player has his price, a statement that is particularly apposite and appropriate at Griffin Park where it has always been made quite clear that we cannot compete with the budgets and deeper pockets of our better heeled competitors and will sell our players should they wish to leave and if, and only if, our valuations are met by the potential buying club.

An offer of around four million pounds plus lucrative add ons from Fulham was apparently turned down for the player right at the end of the August Transfer Window, more I suspect because the club did not want to be seen to be selling yet another major asset at a time when the likes of Moses Odubajo and Andre Gray had already left the club rather than because the sum offered was unacceptable.

That has set the benchmark for him and it is understood that Burnley’s recent offer for Tarkowski is for far less than half that sum and is therefore nowhere near the figure that is being sought by the club.

By refusing to play he is now trying to force Brentford’s hand and stampede them into accepting a low ball offer for his services rather than wait for full market value to be offered by either Burnley or another of several clubs also rumoured to be sniffing around him.

His approach is totally doomed to failure as it is patently obvious that he has neither really thought matters through nor has he properly considered who he is dealing with. In a game of poker I would not expect Matthew Benham or his Co-Directors of Football to be the first to blink.

I fully expect that Tarkowski has bitten off far more than he can chew and that he is certain to follow the fate of Adam Forshaw who also made it clear at the beginning of last season that he wanted to leave the club and was promptly put on gardening leave and not selected again, and crucially was not allowed to leave the club until Wigan finally came up with the goods and offered us near what we were looking for in terms of his value.

A similar fate is surely certain to befall Tarkowski as he has totally burned his bridges and it is now quite impossible for him to play for the club again as the fans would not countenance his doing so and to allow him to win and force a bargain basement transfer would be scandalous and demonstrate that the players rule the roost and that by behaving badly and unconscionably they can force the issue.

Brentford are far stronger and more resolute than that and Tarkowski will now be left to kick his heels, ideally train on his own and, at best, play in the Development Squad until Brentford receive an offer that reflects his full value – however long it takes.

His agent would now be far better employed in drumming up further interest for his client, ideally at a fee level that will be acceptable to Brentford FC.

The current situation, which has been brought about totally by the player’s actions (or perhaps inaction might be a better description) is frankly of no benefit or use to anyone and the sooner it can be resolved the better it will be for all parties, but there is only one way out of this impasse which is for the club to be offered an acceptable amount for him and hopefully that is what will happen within the next fortnight.

Tarkowski’s character is now stained and blemished indelibly and he follows the likes of Gary Alexander into our personal Rogues Gallery and Hall of Shame for his pathetic and unacceptable behaviour.

What he should have done is quite simply follow the example of Alan Judge. He too is rumoured to be the target for several clubs in the Transfer Window, so what did he do and how did he respond?

Well rather than behave in the same puerile, selfish and blinkered manner as Tarkowski, he simply played his heart out and used the televised match against Burnley as a national showcase for his talent and total commitment to the cause. He was Brentford’s best player by a mile, scored a good goal and spearheaded a second half revival that at least regained a semblance of pride for a team that had been totally overrun before the interval and could easily have been trailing by five or six goals rather than just three.

Any managers and scouts watching the match cannot fail to have been impressed by his performance and attitude and we can only hope that he remains at the club until at least the end of the season.

That is how to do it and Alan Judge went up in the estimation of every Brentford supporter for the way he handled the situation last night.

As for the match itself, well there really is not too much to say as Brentford came up against an excellent team that smelled blood, went for our jugular from the first whistle and we were never allowed to settle down into our normal rhythm. Brentford chased shadows and made football seem like a non contact sport given the time and space they granted their visitors who were allowed to show off their ability and run rings around us in the first half.

The second half was a different affair and had the excellent Sam Saunders scored with an unlikely header or Maxime Colin’s shot have brushed the net on the inside rather than the outside of the post then who knows what might have happened as the comeback would really have been on but Burnley were streets ahead of us and fully deserved their comfortable victory.

We have now lost four games in a row and three home matches in less than a week. There is much work to be done as we have performed for only around half of each of our last three games and scored only once.

How we should go about that is for another day. For now I just hope that James Tarkowski is already reflecting upon his behaviour and has already realised that he has totally let his team mates, the Brentford staff and supporters and of course, himself, down by his selfish and inappropriate behaviour – and more importantly, that it will not succeed or get him the result that he desires.