End Of Term Report – Part 1 – 14/5/16

Now that the season is finally over the time has come for me to give my brief verdict on every player and how they each performed last season. Here is the first part with, of course, more to follow:

2. Maxime Colin. We were all concerned about how well we would be able to replace the talented Moses Odubajo and the biggest compliment that I can give Max Colin is to state that Moses’s name has barely been mentioned for many months now, so well has the newcomer done. Signed in mid-August from Anderlecht for nine hundred thousand pounds, he impressed on his debut as a substitute at Burnley and just got better with every game. Strong in the tackle and good in the air, his defensive positioning improved with experience and he was only given the runaround by Brighton’s Jamie Murphy and Josh Murphy at MK Dons. He had the pace and ability to rampage forward and dribble past opponents at will and his cross led to a classic headed goal by Lasse Vibe at Ipswich. Knee ligament and groin injuries cost him nearly half the season and led to the threat of an operation. Hopefully he will return for the new season fit and ready to go as he is an exceptional player who has already proved to be a bargain signing.

3. Jake Bidwell. At only twenty-three years of age Jake has already made over two hundred appearances for the club and proved to be a popular team captain. He is so unobtrusive it is easy to take him for granted and fail to recognise just how good he is. Unfortunately he suffered a hamstring strain at Hull and lost his ever-present status, missing the local derby win over Fulham. He also finally broke his scoring duck in his one hundred and eighty-sixth game for the Bees and obviously enjoyed the feeling so much that he scored twice more before the end of the season. He was cool, calm and collected and very tough to beat and when he did make a mistake against Leeds which cost a late equaliser it stood out all the more because of its rarity. He was always eager to overlap and his accurate crosses led to four assists and his left footed curling corners and free kicks also improved throughout the season. The only problem with Jake is persuading him to sign a new contract as his current agreement expires at the end of next season.

4. Lewis Macleod. Another injury-wrecked season for Lewis and we still remain totally in the dark about his capabilities. His deep-rooted hamstring injury finally cleared up in late 2015 and allowed him to show his ability in the Development Squad and score eye-catching goals against QPR and Bristol City which clearly demonstrated his quality and whetted our appetite for more. He finally made his long awaited and much-delayed debut for the Bees with an eight minute runout at Brighton before succumbing to the injury hoodoo yet again, suffering a medial ligament injury in training. Next season perhaps? Surely he deserves some luck and the chance to show us what he can do?

5. Andreas Bjelland. There was palpable excitement and perhaps some disbelief amongst the Brentford supporters when the club smashed their transfer record by paying two million three hundred thousand pounds to sign Danish international central defender Andreas Bjelland from FC Twente. His preseason was hampered by a groin injury and he was given a runout on a terrible Griffin Park pitch in the Capital One Cup tie against Oxford United and must have wished he hadn’t as he suffered a serious knee ligament injury and missed the entire season. A terrible blow for the club and player alike. He is now back in training and hopefully will be fit for selection at the beginning of next season. But where will he play given the recent success of the Dean/Barbet partnership? What a wonderful problem for Dean Smith to have.

6. Harlee Dean. What a turnaround for the defender who ends the season with two hundred appearances for Brentford under his belt and a new two-year contract safely signed. How things have changed for the central defender who at one time looked certain to walk away on a Bosman free transfer at the end of the season. He came of age throughout the season and allowed his feet to do the talking rather than behave like a loose cannon, ever-ready to shoot off at the mouth if something upset him. He visibly matured, got a lot fitter, benefited from the long-term injury to Andreas Bjelland and the transfer of James Tarkowski, to become an automatic selection, a team leader and a tower of strength. He would not have been Harlee if there had not been one faux pas, in his case, the ridiculous red card he brought upon himself against Nottingham Forest. He read the game well and the blend of a tough traditional defender like Dean alongside a ballplayer like Tarkowski and subsequently Barbet, worked a treat. He won most of his challenges both in the air and on the ground, rarely dived in, showed far more mobility and also demonstrated an unexpected ability to play the ball accurately out of defence. His main weakness was in the opposition penalty area where he showed an infallible tendency to misfire or head the ball wide of the goal. At twenty-four his best is yet to come and he is finally playing for a Head Coach who believes in him and that has made a real difference to him.

7. Sam Saunders. After two injury-wrecked seasons it seemed that Sam might well be on his way out of the club and indeed it appeared likely at one time that he would move to America and play for Tampa Bay. Fortunately Sam chose to remain at Brentford and he more than justified his contract extension with a series of exceptional performances which ensured that he is about to enter his eighth season at Griffin Park. Dean Smith rightly valued his experience and leadership plus his ability to help his less experienced teammates and Sam rose to the challenge as well as scoring three beautifully taken goals against Leeds, Ipswich and, most memorably, his lob against Fulham, which highlighted his talent and growing confidence. He reads the game so well and finds time and space in the crowded midfield area and his bubbly enthusiasm, knowledge of the game and ability to keep possession is of massive value to the team.

8. Marco Djuricin. But for an ill-timed injury at Blackburn a mere eight days after his goal won the long-awaited West London derby against QPR and gave us our first win over the old enemy for fifty years, Marco Djuricin might have ended up as one of the stars of the team, but fate was against him and his season, and almost certainly his Brentford career fizzled out in frustration and disappointment. The Austrian international striker signed on loan from Red Bull Salzburg in late August although his arrival had been rumoured in January 2015. He made an excellent initial impression, scoring a cooly taken goal within twenty-nine minutes of his debut against Leeds United and made it two goals in three games when he scored the winner against Preston a week later. Another goal arrived soon afterwards at Wolves and when he scored the winner against QPR, running adroitly to the near post to convert a Judge cross, it appeared that we had a new hero in our midst. He played on the shoulder of the last defender, was sharp in front of goal and was eager to shoot rather than pass and was beginning to adapt to an unfamiliar role as a lone striker. A serious ankle ligament injury was the beginning the end for him as he was forced to miss two months of action and never regained his fitness or sharpness on his return and drifted out of contention. A real shame, as Marco possesses a striker’s instinct, something instinctive that cannot be taught, and will certainly come again, but surely not at Griffin Park, although his status as a Brentford legend is assured.

9. Scott Hogan. Sometimes people do get what they deserve and receive due reward for all their effort, dedication and determination not to give in when everything appears to be against them. Finally the Gods are smiling down upon Scott Hogan after he suffered and then overcame two career-threatening cruciate injuries and missed the best part of two season’s worth of football. Much was expected of Hogan when he was brought in to play ahead of Andre Gray at the beginning of the 2014/15 season and now he finally has the opportunity to show us why we signed him. He has certainly been a man on a mission since he was introduced as a late substitute on the nineteenth of March against Blackburn Rovers. Further short run-outs followed against Bolton and Ipswich before he finally made his mark by winning and then missing a penalty kick against Bristol City, before netting his first goal for the Bees with a last-gasp predator’s header which earned us a point. Two more clinical finishes against Cardiff made us realise that this was a really special player who was single-mindedly determined to make up for lost time. He was being carefully managed by the medical team and his time on the pitch was strictly rationed, but Lasse Vibe’s injury meant that Scott was named in the starting eleven against both Fulham and Huddersfield and he rewarded Dean Smith’s faith in him with four more goals. He ended up playing less than two full matches, one hundred and seventy-two minutes in all, and yet he scored an incredible total of seven goals and clearly demonstrated that he is a cool, calm and deadly finisher who has the rare ability to ghost in behind defenders and find time and space within crowded penalty areas. He has been compared in style and approach to Jamie Vardy and has already attracted the attention of the Eire selectors. Brentford have certainly been rewarded for their faith in Scott and for extending his contract for another year before he made his comeback and next season cannot come soon enough for him. What a prospect he is and if he can stay fit we will have a magnificent striker on our hands.

10. Josh McEachran. There was much excitement when we signed Josh McEachran from Chelsea for seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He seems to have been around for ever but is still only twenty-three years old. But scratch beneath the surface and his CV was slightly concerning as he had had five loan spells at clubs like Middlesbrough and Watford without establishing himself and he desperately needed a home and a role as his career appeared to be drifting. Unfortunately nothing has gone right for him since he joined Brentford. The first half of his season was ruined by a training ground collision with Toumani Diagouraga which resulted in a fractured foot, and, incredibly, he suffered a similar injury in March which ended his season. In between he managed fifteen appearances without really making too much of an impact. He describes himself as a holder and a passer, dictating play and his approach should have suited our play given the manner in which we always try to play through the midfield, but despite showing glimmers of his ability with a dummy here and a perceptive pass there, it never really happened for him and his passing generally lacked incision or penetration and was too often sideways or backwards and he generally hung out a foot rather than tackle properly. Perhaps it is simply a case that he was simply lacking in match fitness and confidence? We can only hope that he recovers in time for the start of next season and that he can then show us what he is capable of.

11. Philipp Hofmann. The enigma that is Hofmann. So much ability but so little end result to date. Expectations were high when we signed the massive German Under 21 international striker and it was hoped that he could provide us with a different type of option upfront given his size and strength. His progress was hindered by a series of niggling injuries and he seemed to find the Championship a massive learning curve and did not appear ideally suited to the lone striker system employed by the club. He did not have the pace or mobility to run the channels and, despite his height, he was not strong in the air. What he did have, though, was an unsuspected ability, strength and trickery on the ball and a real subtlety of pass. He only started six games all season but still managed to score four goals, including a wonderful finish at Bristol City, a calm dribble around a stranded goalkeeper at Wolves and the triple-ricochet winner at home to Nottingham Forest. He also missed a simple headed chance to win the home game against Brighton. I hope that next season he proves that he has a real future with us and that he relishes the challenge of adapting to the Championship. The jury is out.

Please Do Your Homework Mr. Samuel! – 11/5/16

I had not planned to write anything today as I had work to do and a book to finish but that all changed when I opened a copy of The Daily Mail at my breakfast table and my blood immediately started boiling to the extent that I wished the cover of the newspaper had contained a health warning.

Martin Samuel is an extremely well-regarded and deservedly much-lauded journalist who writes a column every Monday and Wednesday giving his take on the latest major happenings within the world of sport. I have to make a confession and say that I generally look forward to and enjoy his work as he certainly has a way with words, can turn an elegant and pithy phrase and enjoys exposing cant and hypocrisy wherever he finds it, as well as puncturing inflated egos and unjustified feelings of self-regard.

Given his exalted and rarified position and consequent concentration on the bigger fish, Brentford rarely come within his purview as we are far too insignificant and down the food chain to catch his regular attention. Today though was different as he let fly with a broadside that was as ill-conceived as it was ignorant and as lacking in logic as it was inaccurate. He really let us have it with both barrels and here is what he had to say:

As everything at Brentford is put through the analytics wringer, one presumes statistics do not just govern recruitment, but player sales. So it must have been some set of numbers that persuaded them to sell Andre Gray to Burnley – even for a club record six million pounds. Gray has scored twenty-three goals in forty-one league games as Burnley returned to the Premier League.

Brentford, meanwhile, have fallen from fifth to ninth, collecting thirteen points fewer than last season. With promotion worth in excess of one hundred million pounds, Brentford’s computer might need a reset.

Brentford first caught the eye of the national media late in 2014 as a team of plucky underdogs who were over performing to challenge at the top of the Championship, and had came from nowhere to compete with fellow blue-eyed boys, AFC Bournemouth, for a most unlikely promotion to the Premier League.

Timesgate and the botched announcement of the parting of the ways with Mark Warburton last February put us on the back foot and changed matters totally as the media unsurprisingly turned on us and then tried to devour us whole given our stated strategy of relying on statistical analysis and mathematical modelling.

Nobody bothered to take the time to discover what that really meant and we were convicted out of hand and perhaps out of our own mouth as faceless robots and automatons who would make every major recruitment decision on the basis of Computer Says, and were no longer relying in any way, shape or form upon the human element.

As we all know there is nothing that makes people feel more uneasy than new thinking and ideas and doing things differently to the norm, and the natural and default reaction is to mock, jeer, find fun and criticise rather than examine and analyse what is being mooted in a deep, thorough and analytical manner. That would be boring and require some effort, something nobody has the time to do, and journalists would far prefer the cheap headline and easy dig. And boy did we suffer, and continue to do so, as everyone from Martin Samuel, Daniel Taylor, Adrian Durham, Tony Cottee and pretty much the entire team of Sky Sports analysts has lined up to take cheap potshots at us and our approach.

What is so galling is that we are really doing nothing very different to the overwhelming majority of Premier League and Championship teams who rely to a great extent upon the use of statistics and data.

Where we differ is that in the normal Brentford manner, we are putting our own unique spin on things rather than just subscribing to the plethora of scouting databases that are readily available. We have also developed our own proprietary systems for how we both analyse and use the raw data, developed by Matthew Benham’s Smartodds company.

Analytics are used to identify and shortlist potential transfer targets but this is combined with physical scouting which also plays a crucial role in the recruitment process as former manager Andy Scott oversees a number of scouts who watch prospects in the flesh before any decision is made, and the recruitment process for a new Head Scout is also currently underway.

Given the tone and tenet of Mr. Samuel’s article it is both interesting and relevant to consider the words of Stats Guru Ted Knutson, until recently employed by Brentford, who wrote about his experience on his acclaimed StatsBomb website, and I hope he doesn’t mind my reproducing his words:

With a small recruitment team of two stats and six part-time scouts, we evaluated over one thousand players in a year for the first teams of Brentford and Midtjylland.

Yes, but were you successful? This is the most important factor, and obviously it depends on how you look at it.

After a disastrous start in the first nine games due to a poor manager choice, Brentford earned points at nearly a playoff pace, despite awful injuries in the first half of the season. The team also lead the league in goals scored and avoided an FFP-related transfer embargo.

And most importantly, they did it with one of the lowest wage budgets in the league and my estimate of a ten to eleven million pound transfer fee surplus in the year we were involved in recruitment.

I’m going to notch that up as success, while admitting that at the start of the season, I was hoping for promotion just like the owner and every other Brentford fan out there.

I wonder what Martin Samuel would make of that response as I feel strongly that he has been totally simplistic and superficial in his mocking words about the club?

Without wanting to repeat my normal mantra I would state that it was not Brentford’s desire or wish to sell Andre Gray to Burnley or indeed anybody else. We had no option but to sell him as well as other leading players such as Moses Odubajo, Stuart Dallas and James Tarkowski because they all wanted to leave the club.

Their heads had been turned by bigger and richer clubs generally swollen and inflated with massive Parachute Payments who were able to offer our best players mind-blowing salaries in a totally different stratosphere to what we could possibly afford. Odubajo also had a contractual release clause which was met by Hull City.

There is absolutely no point in keeping an unhappy, unsettled and dissatisfied player and Brentford have simply had to accept that for the foreseeable future that they are a stepping stone club which has to sell its best players whenever the predators come bashing at the door.

The club’s turnover and attendances are in the bottom three of the Championship and they are therefore competing with one hand tied behind their back. The dictates of Financial Fair Play has also necessitated the sale of players such as Gray who has now earned us the best part of nine millions pounds rather than the six erroneously mentioned by Mr. Samuel in his column.

To finish fifth and then ninth in such a competitive division which is otherwise awash with money is surely an incredible achievement given the restrictions and handicaps that we currently face?

Brantford were well aware of Andre Gray’s potential but had to sell him and could only ensure that they received their full valuation for him, which they did. Burnley have also just had to stump up a further promotion bonus payment with additional monies due should they survive next season in the Premier League, as well as a handsome sell-on percentage.

That has to be the Brentford way of doing business given a stadium that barely holds twelve thousand spectators. We buy low and sell high whilst punching way above our weight and playing attractive pass and move attacking football. There are already several other players in the squad from both at home and abroad identified through our combination of stats and physical scouting with as much potential or more than Gray.

As expected, Gray scored freely for his new club and his goals led them to promotion, but we replaced him with Lasse Vibe for a mere fraction of the cost and he scored fourteen times as we finished with seventy-two goals, equal top scorers in the division, ironically enough alongside Burnley.

All in all our four strikers scored twenty-nine times between them (more than Gray managed) with the amazing Scott Hogan returning from two serious cruciate injuries to score seven goals in less than two full matches.

Of course a player of Gray’s calibre was missed but we did a pretty good job of replacing him whilst still living within our means and finishing in a highly creditable position in the table with which every Brentford fan is delighted considering from whence we came.

Please Mr.Samuel do your homework next time and give some credit where it is due rather than take cheap shots which are totally unmerited. You are far better than that.

Brickbats and Bouquets – 17/1/16

Just as my article yesterday castigated James Tarkowski for his utter stupidity and selfishness, it is only right and proper that I give praise too whenever and wherever it is justified.

So will the Brentford Media Department please stand up and take a bow – yes that is you Chris Wickham and you too, Mark Chapman whom I am referring to.

The club’s statement regarding Tarkowski was a perfect example of less is more as it provided a clear but brief and unemotional description of his behaviour and its natural consequence without labouring the fact, elaborating on matters or going into unnecessary detail.

Yesterday they surpassed themselves when the club announced the sad departure of Jota on loan to Eibar on loan until the Summer of 2017 after agreeing an option to extend his Brentford contract for a further season and gave a full and frank explanation for his having no option but to leave the club while he works through some personal issues that require him to be in Spain rather than West London.

There is a crumb of hope and comfort for us as we are told that we have the option to recall the Spanish maestro during the next two Transfer Windows – this Summer and in January 2017 although quite frankly, I am not holding my breath.

In PR circles there are two schools of thought regarding the announcement and dissemination of bad news: You either bury it in and amongst other less contentious announcements and hope that you get away with it without the public noticing or cottoning on, something that is particularly prevalent in government circles, or, as Brentford have done, you provide full disclosure as well as a detailed and compelling explanation of the facts.

In my view, honesty is always the best policy and now every Brentford supporter is totally aware of what has been going on and should understand why, given the circumstances, the club had absolutely no option but to act in the way that they did and allow him to return home in order to sort out his personal life.

The club should be congratulated for acting in such an honourable and farsighted manner.

Jota too earned full marks by releasing a statement to the Brentford fans which made it abundantly clear just how difficult the last few months have been for him and how happy and content he has been at the club and if it had not been for his difficult personal circumstances he would not have been going anywhere.

The letter is heartfelt, open, honest and emotional and he memorably and evocatively states that my children will grow up listening to Jota in the last minute which I have saved forever in my heart as well as constantly in my head.

He ends by simply stating, I won’t say goodbye, just see you soon, so we will all just have to wish him well and wait and see how things turn out for him and his family.

In the meantime we will just have to make do with our abundant memories of the little genius and keep ourselves warm on cold nights by thinking about his twinkling toes and mesmerising dribbling and the incredible goals he scored against the likes of Leeds, Cardiff and Blackburn.

In truth it has been an horrendous week for the Bees and a real eye opener and possibly reality check for all of us supporters. I cannot recall the last time we ever lost three home games in a six day period and maybe Mark Croxford or Paul Briers or somebody else better informed than I can tell us if this sad state of affairs has ever happened before?

Losing to Middlesbrough and Burnley was bad enough if not totally unexpected, and whilst I realise that we had to husband our limited resources and rest players, in retrospect the FA Cup defeat to Walsall was just as damaging. Given where we are in the league a cup run would have ensured that we remain in the public eye and provided a real boost and fillip to our supporters in a season that now looks unlikely to end in a charge for the playoffs.

The Tarkowski and Jota situations just piled further upset and frustration on everybody and we now have to reassess where we are and what happens for the remainder of the season.

It is important to keep a sense of perspective and recognise that a position in the upper mid table of the Championship given everything that has happened to date this season both on and off the field is no mean achievement.

We were spoiled by last season’s top five finish and some senior representatives of the club were perhaps misguided in allowing us to think or expect that further progress and improvement was anticipated.

Frankly you are only as good as the players you are able to put out onto the pitch and we have been hamstrung by our massive and long lasting injury list as well as the loss of so many talented players mainly for reasons well out of our control.

The damage might not yet be over as we face losing more players before the end of the Transfer Window. Tarkowski moving on is surely a given and Toumani might well follow him out of the door, this time with our heartfelt thanks and best wishes. The Alan Judge situation remains totally open and up in the air and we just have to hope that no other club meets our valuation of the player.

There is also wide speculation that Sam Saunders will have his contract cancelled and leave for Tampa Bay Rowdies in the MSL. Should that be the case we cannot begrudge him his opportunity given his loyal service to the club and we can only wish him well. He has returned to the first team reckoning recently given the quality of his displays in training , but also because of our lack of resources and other options.

The loss of Jota is particularly damaging as he would have given Judge additional support and taken some of the pressure off him and revitalised our midfield.

Sergi Canos and John Swift have also shown that they have the potential to more than contribute at Championship level, however I have felt in recent games that they have both hit the wall and need to be taken out of the firing line for a while given their youth and relative inexperience. Swift too is learning how to play a new position and adjust to a role out wide on the left hand side of midfield.

This means that reinforcements are urgently needed and there was talk yesterday that George Evans was on the verge of joining us but that he had decided to join Reading instead. This is potentially disappointing news, given that he is a very talented young player, well known to Dean Smith from his recent loan spell at Walsall who would have been an ideal replacement for Toumani as a box to box midfielder. Evans also has an eye for goal, something that is lacking with Toums and it appears that we will now have to look elsewhere.

It is hard to argue with the view that so far many of our summer recruits have failed to step up to the plate and contribute to the level anticipated and even expected. Gogia has suffered from niggling injuries and not established himself and Kerschbaumer has not been able to cope yet with the pace and physicality of the Championship. Williams has disappeared without trace but he was simply a project anyway. Bjelland, a man of whom we had such high hopes has barely kicked a ball due to long term injury and Barbet has shown great promise but is probably seen as a player for next year rather than this.

As for the three strikers, if you could combine all of their best assets you would have a fantastic player indeed but none of them has totally convinced or demonstrated that they are the real answer to our problem. Andre Gray was certainly a hard act to follow and it is probably unfair to expect a foreign player to step in and find his feet at once but neither Vibe, Hofmann or Djuricin look like they enjoy or are best suited to playing as a lone striker and perhaps they should simply be congratulated for having done as well as they have given that they have scored fifteen goals between them, far more than Gray had managed at this stage of last season.

I cannot see this situation changing at the moment and we will simply have to get on with things as best we can until the close season when we can reassess matters.

McEachran is still regaining form and fitness and of the newcomers only Colin and Woods can be said to have been total successes at the present time although hopefully that situation will change .

I would be more than happy if we remain where we are in the league and start building for the future. What is certain is that we will remain easy on the eye and play exciting and vibrant attacking football whilst retaining a slightly soft underbelly.

I hope that we are able to bring in some new permanent rather than loan players either from abroad or the lower divisions who will be part of our future rather than just short term solutions brought in to plug up some immediate holes.

We now have a week to recover and take stock and hopefully we will not overreact to the setbacks of the last week, after all, Reading lost six games out of seven recently but have recovered as will we.

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.

Patience Is A Virtue – 27/12/15

One should always strive for continuous improvement whatever your endeavour, hobby or line of work and I greatly admire people who set themselves challenges and push themselves as much as they possibly can.

Sometimes however a dose of realism is called for and I think that now is the time to look back calmly, objectively and rationally on Brentford’s nil-nil draw with Brighton yesterday.

Our visitors came into the match boasting a quite amazing record of only suffering one defeat in their opening twenty-two matches and whilst last season was an aberration for them as they were down amongst the dead men clustered around the bottom of the Championship table, there were good reasons for their temporary fall from grace and the current campaign sees them in their customary position of challenging for promotion, either automatically or through the playoffs.

Led by the astute and understated Chris Hughton, Brighton fielded a team jam packed with a Championship experience with the likes of Stockdale, Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Stephens and Calderon as well as the massive emerging talent of Manchester United’s Jamie Wilson.

Owned by another betting magnate in Tony Bloom, there are definitely similarities between the two clubs but, buttressed by their magnificent new stadium and near capacity attendances, as well as this being their fifth season in the Championship, it should be recognised and accepted that Brighton are well ahead of us at this point in time on their potential journey to the top.

Brentford, on the other hand are still learning and inexperienced at this level. Last season our wonderful brand of passing football, movement and high pressing took everybody by surprise and we came so close to making the seemingly impossible dream come true.

I might be alone in my opinion, but quite frankly I consider our current achievement this season of reaching the halfway stage of the season established in the top ten and within touching distance of the top six to be far more meritorious.

Consider the circumstances: for a variety of reasons we lost some of the backbone of our squad when the likes of Odubajo, Douglas, Dallas, Pritchard and Gray left the club and our recruitment in terms of both management and players left a lot to be desired with far too many foreign players untested in the Championship, and understandably struggling initially to come to terms with its relentlessness and its physical and mental challenges.

The appointment of Marinus Dijkhuizen as Head Coach also proved to be a failure

We suffered a quite ridiculous number of injuries and not just the normal run of the mill knocks and bruises but serious problems that affected players such as Bjelland, Colin, McEachran, Macleod, Jota and Djuricin who were expected to become mainstays of the team. Only now are we getting close to putting the majority of these players back to full fitness.

There have been massive changes behind the scenes with two new Co-Directors of Football settling into a new job and the players have had to listen to a variety of different voices and approaches in terms of their training and coaching give that we are now onto our third management team of the season.

There was also the fiasco of the Griffin Park pitch which caused more early season problems, hiatus and embarrassment.

No wonder we got off to a slow start as we were basically competing with one hand tied behind our back. Thanks to Lee Carsley and Paul Williams who reverted to basics and what had worked so well last season, benched many of the newcomers and established a settled team and pattern of play, we arrested what was looking like it might become an irreversible slide and fall from grace and turned the season around.

Carsley turned down the opportunity of taking the Head Coach position on a permanent basis which caused more uncertainty and upheaval, but his success bought us the time to make a measured appointment and the new duo of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly has settled down quickly and made an immediate impact.

I am sure that we have made an exceptional appointment in Smith and I was even more reassured when I read these comments from one of his former players at Walsall, Romaine Sawyers:

He created a great environment to work in. Everybody seemed to learn. Everybody has the right to an opinion. He’d speak to every single player, before and after training.

I’d say his greatest feature was his honesty. He’d never tell you something you wanted to hear or say something just to provoke a response. He was straight down the line and I’m sure that the Brentford players will love him.

I hope that makes you all feel as good as it did me when I read it.

We are continuing to improve and progress and have established a fully deserved reputation for being one of the best and most attractive footballing teams in the division.

Given the level of backing we receive from Matthew Benham and our justified reputation for off field innovation and excellence, it is a good bet, if not a sure fire certainty that within a short period of time, maybe even before we move into Lionel Road in 2018, that we will be knocking at the door of the Premier League.

Our last two home performances against MK Dons and Huddersfield were both excellent and we blew both teams away, scored six times and could quite easily have doubled that total.

The mood was therefore optimistic with real hope and maybe even a sense of expectation that we could also defeat Brighton.

In the end we didn’t but we should have done so, as but for three exceptional saves from Stockdale from Judge twice and then a phenomenal full length dive to push away a header from Tarkowski that looked a certain goal , a poor late miss from Hofmann and a lack of penetration in the final third where the final pass too often went astray, we would have scored the goal that would have settled the game which ended up as an exciting nil-nil draw.

As I left the ground and when I read the comments on social media from other Bees supporters I felt that far too many fans were feeling not just slightly disappointed at what they saw as the Bees dropping two points but also even a bit let down.

Remember, this is Brighton we are talking about, not Championship lightweights like MK Dons or Huddersfield. We have no divine right to beat teams of that calibre and in my opinion given all the problems that we have had to overcome this season we are still punching way above our weight.

That is not to say that I do not feel that we can make a challenge for the final playoff position should we maintain our form, not lose key players in January and maybe even strengthen the squad particularly up front where we are not yet firing on all cylinders.

We cannot yet compete on an even playing field with the big boys in this league although given time, a new stadium and more experience at this level there is no reason why this situation cannot change but at present we should simply take pride and pleasure from the quality of our displays and the effervescent football that we play realising that we still cannot match many other teams in terms of resources and size and experience of squad.

That being said we possess so many real footballers who are so comfortable on the ball and provide us with so much pleasure and excitement.

We dominated proceedings yesterday, with fifty-nine per cent possession, twenty shots at goal and ten corners and out-passed our visitors, who pride themselves on maintaining possession for long spells by a vast margin – five hundred and fifty seven to three hundred and ninety.

Perhaps the most telling comment about our quality and the journey that we have come on came from Brighton manager Chris Hughton – a former Bee, after his team had clung on for a barely deserved point:

There are lots of exciting games at Brentford at the moment. They play a brand of football which revolves around a lot of sharp players good on the ball, and they will test any opposition.

As a team we had to dig deep because Brentford are a good team. 

There is so much to take pride and pleasure in at Griffin Park, and as I keep saying, we are so nearly a really excellent team – and there is still plenty of room for a massive improvement far beyond the levels that we have reached now, which are way above what I ever really believed I would be watching from a Brentford team.

I am just tickled pink and more than content with the fact that we will end 2015 as the best placed West London team in the Championship in our private battle with Fulham and Queens Park Rangers! I know that there is far more to come but that will do me nicely for now.

I would simply urge a little bit more patience and and understanding about the situation we currently find ourselves in. We are well on the road to success, it might just take slightly longer than some supporters expect.

Brentford FC & Boxing Day – 24/12/15

The prospect of playing promotion challengers Brighton & Hove Albion on Boxing Day is an exciting and enticing one as the Bees will have the opportunity to test their mettle and their own playoff credentials against one of the Championship’s best teams, and one that has only just lost its undefeated record at the twenty-second time of asking. A quite remarkable achievement and we will need to be at our absolute best in order to come out of the match with any reward.

As we await Saturday’s match with a mixture of relish and impatience I thought I would attempt to take our mind off the match by looking back at some of the more memorable Boxing Day tussles we have enjoyed – or not as the case might be – over the past few decades.

Our first Boxing Day clash of the 70s was away at Scunthorpe, hardly a local derby or crowd pleaser over the festive season! A more than healthy crowd of just under five thousand saw a late Roger Cross goal give us an undeserved equaliser.

The following season a bumper crowd of over eighteen thousand crammed into Griffin Park in the anticipation of seeing top of the table Brentford pulverise perennial strugglers Crewe Alexandra but the plucky visitors hadn’t read the script and the Bees squeaked home with a trademark header from John O’Mara.

Our 1972 Boxing Day defeat at Bournemouth was remarkable for us scoring twice away from home for the the first time in that horrible relegation season – our hosts, of course, scored three times, but also for Jackie Graham actually scoring with our well-rehearsed pantomime season free kick where two players pretended to argue with each other before a third took a shot at goal.

The 1973 match against Newport County was the one thousandth consecutive match covered by the Middlesex Chronicle’s George Sands and also the last game played for us by Stewart Houston before he departed gratefully to Manchester United.

I wonder just how many loyal and bleary eyed Brentford supporters caught the coach at eight o’clock on Boxing Day 1975 and were eventually forced to endure a goalless draw away at Exeter City? At least they must have been able to catch up with their sleep, before, after and probably during the game!

Boxing Day 1977 was appropriately named as it will always be remembered for the fisticuffs between Andy McCulloch and Aldershot’s behemoth of a defender Joe Jopling which resulted in the Brentford striker seeing red in more ways than one. Not a happy day all round as our promotion push was dented by a narrow defeat after an error by Len Bond and I sulked all the way home.

The following year saw Barry Silkman give a sumptuous display for Plymouth Argyle but two late Dean Smith goals saw the Bees come out on top.

1983 saw Brentford host Wimbledon on Christmas Eve, the last time a Football League match has been staged on that day, and the visitors won a seven goal thriller. 1984 saw a real Boxing Day dampener when a totally lethargic Brentford team never turned up and were hammered by three clear goals by a Bristol Rovers team who strolled to an easy victory.

Arsenal loanee Graham Rix lit up our easy three-nil win over a hapless Aldershot in 1987 and gave a performance that simply oozed class.

A goalkeeping error by Tony Parks led to a narrow defeat at Reading in 1989 and made me question the sanity of my decision to drive from Devon that morning to attend the game.

Our brief stay in Division One saw a memorable Boxing Day win over big spenders Derby County. Goals from Joe Allon and a perfectly placed own goal from Richard Goolouze ensured a much needed victory for the Bees.

Next season we won a ridiculous and farcical  match at Dean Court which saw Bournemouth keeper Vince Bartram slice a simple back pass comically into his own net and then scream abuse at his blameless defender – pure slapstick – and Steve Cotterill then missed two penalty kicks for the home team as we strolled to a three goal victory.

Orient were equally appalling the following season and after conceding three first half goals to a rampant Brentford, their entire team was sent back onto the pitch well before the end of the halftime break with a flea in their ear by their furious manager, John Sitton.

Brighton last came to Griffin Park on Boxing Day in 1995 for a match that surely should never have started given the frozen pitch and icy conditions. They certainly didn’t suit Dean Martin who was cruelly lambasted for his tentative performance by the Brentford faithful and appropriatelay enough the game was settled by a mishit cross by Dean Wilkins which floated into the far corner over the head of Kevin Dearden.

In 1996 we were forced to make the ridiculous journey to Plymouth but came back with a four-one win marked by a rare goal from Joe Omigie.

Brighton again came out on top the following season, this time at the Priestfield Stadium, and we beat Bristol City in 1999 in a match which saw Peter Beadle knock the ball out of Andy Woodman’s hands but the goal was allowed to stand.

Leon Constantine, who never scored a single goal for us, made a triumphant return in 2004 with a well taken second half hat trick which gave his new team, Torquay United a surprise win at Griffin Park.

The following year Brentford leapfrogged Swansea City and went to the top of the table after beating our rivals in a thrilling contest in which the unlikely duo of Eddie Hutchinson and Junior Lewis dominated the midfield and reduced Lee Trundle to a mere spectator.

Adam Griffiths gave Millwall a Boxing Day gift after twenty-three seconds in 2006 when he misjudged a backpass to Clark Masters and the game went further downhill from there as we were hammered by our near neighbours.

Not too many of our recent Boxing Day encounters have been very memorable, bar an excellent victory at Colchester in 2012 and the exciting three-two win over Swindon in 2013 marked by Sam Saunders falling flat on his face when about to take a free kick and after dusting himself off, he recovered and put his next attempt into the roof of the net totally silencing the jeering Swindon fans in front of whom he celebrated with a theatrical dive.

The least said about last season’s catastrophic Boxing Day collapse to Ipswich Town the better and I am sure that it is still fresh in the memory of most Brentford supporters.

Thankfully we seem to have a pretty decent record in matches played on Boxing Day and it is also good to note that more and more of these games are played against reasonably local opposition and we are no longer forced to endure endless trecks to the other end of the country.

As for the likely result of this year’s clash with Brighton, who knows, and hopefully it will be as exciting a match as last season’s five goal thriller. We come into the match in excellent form and Dean Smith will have some difficult decisions to make before finalising his squad.

I can’t wait!

Jekyll And Hyde – 20/12/15

Brentford’s performance against Huddersfield yesterday touched the heights but also, at times, plummeted the depths. For forty-five minutes the Bees were totally unstoppable and tore the visitors apart. Everything Brentford attempted came off and their combination of accurate passing, interchanging of positions, vision, dribbling and, just as importantly, hard work and relentless pressing, ensured that we fully merited our three goal lead at the interval – and it could easily have been a lot more.

After a minute’s silence impeccably observed in memory of the late, great Jimmy Hill, a wonderful visionary, Huddersfield chased shadows as Alan Judge pulled all the strings in midfield. Sergio Canos was almost unstoppable on the right wing and Lasse Vibe’s movement was far too much for the lumbering Hudson and Lynch at the centre of the Huddersfield defence.

Dean Smith took note of the potential effects of having played on such an energy sapping pitch at Cardiff on Tuesday evening and rotated his squad. There were recalls for Max Colin, Harlee Dean and Canos in place of Yennaris, O’Connell and Kerschbaumer and Alan McCormack returned to the bench. The fact that there was no space for Yennaris and Kerschbaumer in the eighteen simply highlights just how strong our squad is becoming.

Any nerves or self doubt as a result of our late and cruel defeat at Cardiff evaporated when we scored early on when Vibe found Swift who played a one-two off a hapless defender before slipping Canos through and the youngster turned Holmes, who was far too tight on him, and placed his shot precisely into the far corner for a goal which emphasised his class and massive potential.

Huddersfield’s confidence was shot to pieces and they funnelled back and allowed us all the space we needed to rip them to shreds. Diagouraga and Woods were given the room, time and freedom required to drive us up the field and it came as no surprise when Tarkowski strode forward imperiously, picked out Vibe’s run and chipped the ball into space and Vibe was set free behind a faltering defence and he took the ball on unchallenged before thundering a shot high into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

Whenever our hapless visitors did manage to string together a few passes – mainly backwards or sideways, the Bees swarmed around them, never gave them a moment’s peace and regained possession with ease. This was a footballing masterclass and whilst a Huddersfield team, lacking it must be said most of its first choice midfield through injury, were totally inept, it is impossible to overstate just how well we played. We were awesome and it was a performance as good as, if not better, than anything we have seen on this ground in living memory.

Our third goal came when Hudson was reduced to a tactical handball as the only way to stop Vibe bursting past him and Judge’s free kick from way out on the left wing was driven in towards goal and evaded everybody, friend and foe alike, before nestling perfectly in the far corner of the net.

The score could really have been almost anything at halftime given Brentford’s total dominance and the brilliance of their play and whilst the applause rang out from three sides of the ground, our visitors left the field to a cavalcade of boos from their supporters.

Unfortunately football matches last ninety minutes rather than forty-five, and what had appeared to be a stroll in the park became a far more even and competitive match. David Wagner could have substituted any of his players at the break but he hit the jackpot when he brought on Nahki Wells and Kyle Dempsey who revitalised his faltering team.

They went up a couple of gears and caught us cold with a well-worked goal within a minute of the restart when Wells found Lolley who scored emphatically from close range.

Suddenly the game changed as our visitors, who had absolutely nothing to lose and with lost pride to regain, went for the jugular with Dempsey, playing behind the front two, causing us problems as he ran at our suddenly exposed back four.

Dean and Tarkowski, totally unemployed defensively in the first half when they had the lumbering Miller in their pocket, now found themselves under pressure and found it hard to deal with small tricky opponents who ran at them unchallenged from midfield.

We creaked ominously and a second goal might well have turned the game on its head, but the Bees are never more dangerous than when breaking away at pace, and Judge gained possession on the halfway line from a Huddersfield corner and his run was ended by a bodycheck from Chilwell. A penalty it was and Alan converted emphatically to reach double figures in goals – a quite remarkable achievement for a midfielder at this point of the season.

Wells, Lolley and Dempsey continued to cause us problems and several efforts whistled narrowly wide of our goal as the game flowed from end to end.

Colin made an impressive return to the team, strong in defence and quick to support the attack and he won a ball that he should not have been allowed to do, before shooting narrowly over the bar. A raking move ended with Vibe missing the ball when unmarked right in front of a gaping goal and substitute Jota was far too casual and languid when sent clear on goal and his lame effort was easily saved before Vibe, challenging for the rebound, was taken out for what appeared to be a far clearer penalty kick than the one that had previously been awarded, but this time Mr. Gibbs kept his whistle to his lips without pointing to the spot.

There was a further bit of nonsense when Diagouraga tripped and fell on the ball deep into injury time and Paterson was able to streak away and his shot was parried by Button into the path of Dempsey who scored a goal that was totally deserved given the quality of his, and his team’s second half performance.

It is strange to come away from a two goal victory feeling slightly frustrated and flat but the difference between Brentford’s display in the first and second half was immense. As Huddersfield went up several gears, we changed down, thought that the job had been done, and were punished accordingly.

It just goes to show that you cannot take anything for granted in the Championship.

Without carping too much given how good were were before the break, what changed in the second half is quite simply that we were for once outworked by the opposition and we stopped pressing and challenging, allowing skilful opponents to have the space to run at pace at our suddenly exposed defence.

That is a lesson that we must learn, and learn quickly. There is no substitute for hard work and we fell short in the second half yesterday.

Brentford are now the second highest scorers in the league behind Fulham and, on average, there are three goals scored in every Brentford game.

Thrills, spills, skill and excitement are all guaranteed when you come to Griffin Park!

The recipe for success is to continue doing what we did in the first half yesterday, ideally eliminating the casual and unforced errors and remembering that a match lasts for ninety minutes or more.

Do that and we could become unstoppable.