Here are my thoughts on the remaining members of the Brentford squad as well as the players who left us during the season :
21. Lasse Vibe. Danish international striker Lasse Vibe signed for the Bees for around one million pounds from IFK Göteborg shortly before the beginning of the season and went straight from playing in the Swedish Allsvenskan to the Championship without the benefit of any preseason break. He found a place in the team playing firstly on the right flank where he was a peripheral influence but he scored his first goal with a stunning long-range curling effort against Reading when moved into a more central role. He played alongside Marco Djuricin but won a regular place in the team as the sole striker after Djuricin’s injury against Blackburn. From then on Vibe pretty much trod a lone furrow up front until Scott Hogan’s recovery from injury late on in the season and eventually the pressure told on him and his effectiveness greatly diminished as he was slowed down by the effects of fatigue and overwork. After scoring with a fulminating volley against Huddersfield in mid-December he went over three months without scoring and clearly demonstrated that he was not best suited to the physical demands of playing as a target man. Smash the ball at or over his head and he would always come off second best against giant central defenders who totally outmuscled him and invariably won the physical battle, and with his confidence shot to pieces, he went on a ghastly run of poor performances marked by a series of missed chances and scuffed shots. He had hit the wall and the Championship was proving a tough learning curve for him. No striker scored for the Bees from the second of January until the second of April, a run of twelve matches that saw only eleven goals scored by Brentford and the abyss was beckoning until everything changed in the March international break. Vibe went away with the Danish squad and returned a new man, apparently revitalised by his international recall. Suddenly there was a spring in his step and his luck finally turned. Firstly when loanee Leandro Rodríguez suffered a hamstring injury which necessitated his withdrawal from the fray at Nottingham Forest and his replacement by Vibe and then when home defender Kevin Wilson’s gaffe gifted him a goal. Finally the floodgates opened as with confidence restored he went on a wonderful run of seven goals in seven games, and what goals they were. Close range tap-ins, flying headers, sumptuous outside of the foot finishes and long-range rockets. Everything he touched flew in and he ended up as equal top scorer with the highly creditable total of fourteen goals. More importantly, we learned to play to his strengths as his pace and vision enabled him to time his runs and get in behind defenders and he looked twice the player he had been just weeks earlier. The fans took to him from the beginning because he never let his head go down even when things were not going well for him and he was always a chaser of lost causes. He played with a smile on his face and the crowd responded to him. How far has he come in so short a time? A few weeks ago and I would not have been too upset if he had decided to leave at the end of the season, now I can’t wait to see if he can improve even more next season.
22. Jack O’Connell. Jack had a frustrating season as he was never able to establish himself in the team but at times he certainly looked the part in our central defence. He twice enjoyed runs of four and then three consecutive matches after Dean and Barbet’s red cards but he was unable to keep his place given the strong competition he faced. He scored a goal from a corner against Fulham and, unlike our other central defenders, he always looked dangerous at set pieces, and but for a brilliant save he would have repeated the dose in the home match against our old rivals at Griffin Park. At twenty-two he is still a youngster and he could yet develop into an excellent defender and a real asset. He lacks pace but reads the game well, is strong in the air and is no mug with the ball at his feet. I hope that he is patient and that we find a role for him next season.
23. Jota. Who could ever have imagined Brentford doing so well despite Jota starting only one game all season? Jonathan Douglas’s rugged challenge cost Jota damaged ankle ligaments which required surgery to repair and he had barely returned to the substitutes’ bench in December when personal issues forced his return to Spain, initially on loan to Eibar. Brentford treated him with sensitivity and compassion given the circumstances and we will simply have to wait and see whether he will be in a position to return within the next year or if we have seen the last of the Spanish maestro. I personally doubt that he will play for us again and, if so, we will need to maximise our return for him which will not be easy given that he will, I am sure, only wish to sign for a Spanish team. As for replacing him, you can’t, as how do you find another genius?
24. Akaki (Andy) Gogia. Andy Gogia was another foreign prospect signed on a free transfer from the lower leagues in Germany. A quick and tricky winger, he impressed with his pace, skill and energy in the preseason friendly against Stoke and scored with a deflected long-range effort. He started the season in the first team but it soon became clear that he needed time to get used to the pace and physicality of the Championship and also become more accustomed and attuned to living and working in a foreign country. His cause was also hindered by some niggly injuries and he never started a match after the beginning of October. He impressed in the Development Squad and looked more direct and effective when coming off the bench late on in the season. Hopefully he will be one for next season and he will surely receive another opportunity given that we will be looking for a new winger.
27. David Button. At twenty-seven years of age, and coming off his second consecutive season as an everpresent in the Brentford team, David Button is probably not yet at his peak and might improve even more, but he has firmly established himself as one of the most consistent and talented goalkeepers in the Championship. What a bargain he has proved to be since we rescued him from the depths of the Charlton Athletic reserve team for a mere one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. He certainly received sufficient practice last season as he faced more shots on goal than any other keeper in the league and he invariably met and overcame the challenge. He was directly responsible for only two goals, at home to both Middlesbrough and Charlton but otherwise he was reliable, dependable, consistent and also inspired and brilliant on occasion. His save from Garner at Preston was stupendous and one of the moments of the season and at times he seemed to be playing Derby County on his own at Griffin Park. He can still sometimes be tentative and vulnerable when dealing with crosses but he is otherwise technically extremely sound and invariably gets the basics right. His use of the ball when in possession was as calm and accurate as ever and he started so many of our attacks as well as providing a wonderful assist for Alan Judge’s goal against Sheffield Wednesday. Button now has a tough decision to make given that his contract expires at the end of next season. Should he seek pastures new or extend his contract at the club? He is guaranteed first team football in a young and improving team at Griffin Park, but could he do better professionally and financially elsewhere? The latest indications are that he might well decide to stay and every Brentford fan will fervently hope that this is the case as we are very fortunate to have him.
28. Nico Yennaris. Last season was a coming of age for Nico whose career at Brentford had appeared to be drifting into oblivion and many were surprised when his loan move to Wycombe Wanderers was not made permanent. Maxime Colin’s injury changed everything and Lee Carsley gave him the opportunity to deputise for him. Nico played like a man inspired, tough, tenacious in the challenge and eager to overlap, he ensured that Colin was barely missed and Nico was unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman recovered. His consistency was rewarded with a new three year contract, a move that initially attracted much criticism from some Brentford supporters but Dean Smith knew exactly what he was doing and the decision is now looking an extremely good one. He believed in Nico who was converted into a highly effective defensive midfielder who played a massive part in our late season success. He was all-action and all-energy, relentless in his tackling and pressing but he also showed his great ability on the ball and he passed it quickly and accurately. Nico was ideally suited for Brentford’s pass and move approach and he also scored two well-taken goals. From a player who at one time seemed to be going nowhere except out of the exit door, Nico proved to be a revelation and ended the season as the most improved player in the team and enjoying life playing for the first time for a Head Coach who believed in him. Of all the stories of the season, Nico’s was perhaps the most positive, surprising and satisfying.
29. Yoann Barbet. The best that I can say about French central defender Yoann Barbet’s progress is that the departed James Tarkowski has barely been missed. Signed from Chamois Niortais for a fee of around half a million pounds he was another unknown player from abroad who was definitely seen as one for the future. He impressed in his initial first team appearances as he vied with Jack O’Connell to be the deputy for the first choice partnership of Dean and Tarkowski, but his big opportunity came with the departure of Tarkowski and he certainly seized it. He received a temporary setback after an unfortunate red card at Sheffield Wednesday but he learned from the experience and soon scored his first goal for the club against Charlton. He proved to be a rugged defender who loves a slide tackle and he showed a good turn of pace. He also demonstrated great skill on the ball and sprayed long and accurate passes out to the right wing, memorably assisting on a wonderful goal for Alan Judge at Preston. He has adapted quickly and well to his new surroundings and is another star in the making for the Bees.
36. Josh Clarke. Josh certainly made the most of the opportunity given him to develop his skills as a fast, overlapping fullback and fought his way into the first team. Everybody loves a local boy made good, and his pace, enthusiasm and attacking brio shone through. He obtained some valuable experience on loan at Barnet, started four matches for Brentford and also impressed when coming off the bench, helping to make Scott Hogan’s late equaliser against Bristol City. He has been offered a new contract for next season and I hope that he decides to remain at the club, as at only twenty-one years of age there is still time for Josh to emerge and develop into a regular first team player.
37. Courtney Senior. Still only eighteen, Courtney Senior impressed in the preseason friendly at Boreham Wood showing pace and skill on the right wing. He made his first team debut against Oxford United and twice was an unused substitute before returning to the Development Squad for the remainder of the season. His time has yet to come, but he is a real talent.
39. Tom Field. Tom made an assured and highly competent debut as a nineteen year-old deputy for the injured Jake Bidwell in the local derby against Fulham. He showed great composure and an excellent temperament. He was never overawed by the occasion, defended well and also swung in a perfect right wing corner which was thrashed into the net by Scott Hogan. Another one for the future, and better still, he comes from a Brentford supporting family.
47. Sergi Canos. A total breath of fresh air, Sergi arrived on loan as an unknown eighteen year-old from Liverpool via Barcelona’s academy. He left the club with his head held high as a firm fan favourite having scored seven times in thirty-eight games and he totally surpassed expectations and proved to be a massive success. He so obviously loved every minute of his stay and played with enthusiasm, a smile on his face and with a real joie de vivre. Given his age and lack of experience he was inconsistent but he possessed the ability to turn a game on its head as both Preston North End and Nottingham Forest discovered to their cost and he was always full of tricks. He worked hard and learned how to track back but he had the pace, dribbling ability and sheer ability to create havoc at the other end of the pitch, netting after a mere twenty-one seconds at Huddersfield and scoring unforgettable goals at Reading and MK Dons. He made a massive impression on everybody at the club and we all took great pride and joy in his achievement when he made his Premier League debut for Liverpool on the last day of the season. Have we seen the last of him? Maybe but perhaps not, as if he is not considered good enough for Liverpool’s squad next season or does not agree a new contract, then perhaps he might yet return to Griffin Park and thrill and inspire us once more?
Andre Gray, Toumani Diagouraga, James Tarkowski, Ryan Williams, Josh Laurent, Leandro Rodríguez and Jermaine Udumaga all made appearances for the Bees this season before leaving the club. It was a forgone conclusion that Gray would go elsewhere and move up the food chain as he was a star in the making andcoveted by clubs who could pay him far more than us and we also had to sell him in order not to fall foul of Financial Fair Play restrictions. He played twice for us, firstly as a late substitute against Ipswich where he helped turn the game in our favour and scored a well-taken goal bursting down the middle at pace to put us back into a game that seemed lost. He and Philipp Hofmann also played together at Bristol City and terrified the opposition with Gray scoring with a perfect half volley at the near post as well as contributing to two other Brentford goals. He clearly demonstrated that he was a man in form and one who would take the division by storm – but unfortunately it was for Burnley and not us. Toumani Diagouraga was a wonderful servant of the club but we did well to extract a half million pound fee from Leeds for a player whose performances had declined from their impossibly high level of the previous season. He was no longer such a dominating influence on proceedings and his game suffered from the absence of Douglas alongside him, which forced Toumani to attempt tackles far more often, something that was not one of his strengths. He left with our gratitude and best wishes. The same cannot be said for James Tarkowski who acted in a totally unprofessional manner by virtue of his decision to down tools before the Burnley home game. As with Gray, we extracted a high fee for him and the progress made by Barbet means that he has hardly been missed. Tarkowski was his normal frustrating self, combining moments of brilliance both in defending and on the ball with times when he lost concentration, over-reached himself and cost us dear. Leandro Rodríguez was a loan signing from Everton who was brought in to support the flagging Lasse Vibe. He pulled a hamstring in his second match before he really had the chance to show us anything and returned to his parent club. Laurent, Williams and Udumaga all made brief appearances without convincing the club that they had what it takes to merit further opportunities.