Here is the second part of my end of season report on every Brentford player:
12. Alan McCormack. The departure of Moses Odubajo saw McCormack given an immediate opportunity to replace him, and he started the season at right back where lack of any defensive cover from Andre Gray saw him given the runaround at Bristol City. The arrival of Max Colin saw him moving back into midfield where he remained an integral part of the team until he suffered niggling groin and calf injuries. Alan provided a much-needed calming influence and he cajoled and encouraged his less experienced teammates and ensured that they showed the necessary organisation and commitment. His passing also improved and became more subtle and we missed him badly during his injury absences. A goal proved elusive although he came desperately close against both Charlton and Bristol City. We keep writing him off and he stubbornly keeps proving us wrong and Alan’s performances totally warranted his contract extension until the end of next season. Despite his ten bookings, he always knew exactly just how far he could go and he has still to see red whilst playing for the Bees. In an inordinately quiet, small and well-behaved team, McCormack was one of the few to speak up on behalf of his teammates and attempt to manage referees.
13. Ryan Woods. Woods first caught my eye as a skilful and tenacious right back playing for Shrewsbury at Griffin Park in 2013 and quickly developed into one of the best midfielders in the lower divisions. I was delighted when The Ginger Pirlo signed for us for one million pounds at the end of the August Transfer Window, a fee that looks an absolute bargain now. He took a few games to settle down and force his way into the starting eleven and was caught in possession on his debut, a costly error that denied us a victory against Leeds, but he is now an automatic choice. He is still developing as a player and possesses all the qualities required to become a complete midfield player. He can spray the ball around and I can still picture that long pass over the defender dropping perfectly into the stride of Sergi Canos before he scored the Goal of the Season at Reading. Ryan also scored a wonderful long-range goal in the same game and matched it at MK Dons. He can tackle, press and dribble and never stops running. What a player he is already, and there is so much more to come from him as he gains further experience in the Championship.
16. Jack Bonham. Another year of treading water for the reserve goalkeeper who sat on the bench undisturbed for every match apart from the Capital One Cup disaster against a rampant Oxford United. Marooned behind an experimental defence, a drastically weakened team subsided to an embarrassing four-goal defeat that could and should have been more. Bonham hardly shone on the night and looked a nervous presence in goal and was beaten by Roofe’s exquisite forty yard lob. He has obviously learned a lot from training with David Button and Simon Royce and at twenty-two is still very young for a goalkeeper. As things currently stand, he is there simply to sit on the bench and replace Button in an emergency with, in all honesty, little chance of being named to start a Championship match if Button was unavailable. That might suit Brentford, who, of course, pay his wages, but the situation is of no benefit at all to Bonham if he is to develop as a footballer. Nobody knows if he has what it takes to have a successful career and nobody will really know until he sees regular action at a lower level of the game. He has two more seasons on his contract but desperately needs to go out and play some football next season and demonstrate his worth.
17. Konstantin Kerschbaumer. Nobody I knew had ever heard of the Austrian midfielder when he signed for us from Admira Wacker Mödling for a reported quarter of a million pound fee, but then again we had known absolutely nothing about Jota either! He was reputed to be a speedy and tenacious box-to-box player and he made a massive first impression when he dominated the midfield in the preseason friendly match against Stoke City. The departure of Jonathan Douglas opened the door for him but the Championship was another matter and he struggled from the off to cope with its pace and physicality and was a peripheral influence, easily knocked off the ball, regularly caught in possession and tentative with his passing. He never hid and joined in where he could but he was totally out of his depth and sometimes I got the unworthy impression that his teammates were loath to pass the ball to him in tight situations. Lee Carsley mercifully took him put of the firing line as soon as he took charge, commenting: He needs a lot of coaching. He runs as fast as he can everywhere without being effective which was a tough but accurate assessment of his initial contribution. He gradually improved in short spells coming off the bench and soon there were small shoots of recovery, an excellent shot against the top of the post against Hull, an effort cleared off the line by a desperate MK Dons defence and a decent hustling performance at Craven Cottage. He featured in every match day squad from the end of January as he slowly came to terms with what was required of him, and by the end of the season he had shown such improvement that he fully deserved his starting role. With growing confidence and time on the ball he started to reveal his true ability, in particular his energy and effortless close control and he combined brilliantly with Scott Hogan as his defence-splitting through balls led to three goals for the striker and the award of a penalty kick. Konstantin is proof of the strength and weakness of our stats and analysis based system. We certainly used our data to identify a promising young player who was not on the radar of our competition, and signed him for a relatively low sum, but he was thrown in far too soon owing to the prevailing circumstances and not given the time he needed to adapt to his new surroundings. He suffered unfairly and cruelly at the hands of the boo-boys who are only now beginning to recognise his undoubted ability, and I fully expect that his second season at the club will be far more productive for him.
18. Alan Judge. It is impossible to write about Alan Judge without feeling a combined sense of anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness at how the season ended for him, and how cruelly he was denied the opportunity to showcase his formidable talent on a global stage at Euro 2016 thanks to the unforgivable actions of an Ipswich Town player whose name I will not deign to mention here. At twenty-seven, Alan was approaching his peak and was in the form of his life all season, scoring fourteen times and assisting on eleven more goals and he was our main source of inspiration. His achievements were marked by his being shortlisted in the top three for Championship Player of the Year and also being named in the Football League Team of the Year and the Championship Team of the Year. He was also the Championship Player of the Month for October, a month in which his form touched previously unseen heights. With the loss of the likes of Gray, Pritchard and Jota, Alan almost singlehandedly took over the mantle of providing our creativity and goal threat and he was more than up to the task. He generally played in a free role as a Number Ten behind the main striker, but he also drifted wide and on one bizarre afternoon at Loftus Road, of all places, played as our lone striker. After only scoring three times in 2014/15, the goals flowed this season – and what brilliant goals they were. A curling effort from a seemingly impossible angle against Sheffield Wednesday, a looping twenty-yard volley and rare header to beat Rotherham, a stupendous shot arrogantly bent into the far top corner in front of the worshipping Brentford supporters at Charlton, instantaneously and effortlessly controlling a long pass from Barbet before slotting the ball home at Preston, a goal which even drew applause from the home fans, and an amazing solo goal when he ran half the length of the field against Derby before scoring from way out on the right flank. He was quite simply touched by genius, and even managed to convert all three of his penalty kicks after his adventures of the previous season when he missed three out of his four attempts! It was no surprise that he was coveted by other clubs, but unlike a certain former teammate of his, he simply got his head down and did not allow the constant speculation to affect his performances. He was deservedly rewarded with his first international cap for Eire and was well in the frame for inclusion in their final squad for Euro 2016 when tragedy befell him with his double leg break. What happens now is anybody’s guess. It was expected that with only one year remaining on his contract and it being highly unlikely that Alan would sign an extension, that he would be sold this Summer, and no Brentford fan would have begrudged him leaving for bigger and better things, such has been his brilliance, commitment and dedication to the Brentford cause. The club too might well have been banking on the anticipated fee in order to subsidise our own transfer budget. Now, all bets are off until we find out how long Judge will take to return to action. I would not expect that we will see him much before Christmas and it will then take him time to regain both form and sharpness. Perhaps he will be sold in the January Transfer Window, maybe he will stay for the entire season, hopefully play well for us, and then leave on a Bosman free? Could he even sign a new contract? Who knows, and all will be revealed over the coming months. In the meantime the memories are still totally clear in my mind of his brilliance, tirelessness and consistency and the sheer joy and bubbly effervescence he demonstrated in playing the game of football – the effortless dribbles past opponents, his non-stop energy and commitment, the quality of his passing, both long and short and his shoot-on-sight policy. He was the complete player for Brentford last season and we were privileged and fortunate to be able to enjoy performances of such quality, and he was by some distance the best player that I have ever seen perform in a Brentford shirt. Praise indeed, but fully merited in my opinion.
19. John Swift. You are just twenty years of age, on loan from a Premier League team with minimal experience of the Championship. You muck in, play twenty-seven games in all, score seven goals from midfield and also get picked for the England Under 21 team. Not bad, and surely the fans will be purring with delight at your contribution, chanting your name and begging you to join the club on a permanent basis next season? You would have thought that would have been the case, but unfortunately John Swift totally polarised opinions amongst Brentford supporters and was the recipient of much unwarranted, unpleasant and totally unnecessary and unjustified abuse from some quarters. He was too languid and lazy, they said, he went missing from time to time, he did not do his fair share of defensive donkey work, and tackling and pressing were an anathema to him. Maybe some of these criticisms had credence but better that they had made some allowances for his youth, immaturity and inexperience and instead given credit to him for, and taken pleasure from, his many very real attributes. He had the natural ability to glide past opponents at will and was a wonderful exponent of the lost art of dribbling. He moved the ball quickly and accurately and specialised in making late runs into the box which led to his most of his goals, and he also scored with a perfectly executed long-range curler at Bolton which was much admired by the Sky Sports commentary team. Swift also had to cope with the difficulty and upheaval of learning a new role as he was often played on the left side of midfield rather than in his more accustomed central position. There was so much to admire in his ability and in many of his performances, and yet he failed to connect with many of the supporters who treated him appallingly and cut him no slack, and I would be surprised if John will wish to return to Griffin Park next season even should the opportunity arise, which is a terrible shame as he would add immeasurably to our midfield resources.
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 league table is looking a lot more cheerful than was the case a mere four days ago as two wins, six goals and six points have taken the Bees up to the giddy heights of fourteenth place in the Championship, twelve points ahead of MK Dons who fill the final relegation position and I really cannot see them making up that gap, plus our massively superior goal difference, in the six games that remain to them.
Whilst we are now looking comfortable with forty-nine points safely stored in our locker and our supporters breathing far more easily there is still much to play for.
Dean Smith, understandably a much more cheerful figure of late rightly insists that a top ten finish remains the target and that would be a massive achievement given the topsy-turvy nature of the season as a whole.
We are currently seven points behind Preston who are in tenth place and we also have a game in hand so the target is tough but viable.
We now also trail Queens Park Rangers by three points and lead Fulham by five in the West London mini-league that is so important to our fans in terms of local bragging rights.
If you think that I am clutching at straws then perhaps you are correct as I am not used to Brentford reaching the business end of the season without having much to play for. The last four years have seen us challenging for promotion each time and it is strange to be in a situation in which we need to set our own goals in order to keep us interested and motivated, so hopefully the season will not be allowed to fizzle out and we will at least ensure that our safety margin is maintained if not even increased.
The recent International Break seems to have done the trick as the team appears to be re-energised and ever increasing in confidence.
The victory at Nottingham Forest, added to the three goals scored and clean sheet achieved had left the players with a extra spring in their step and Bolton Wanderers were on the receiving end in the first half last night.
Granted, the opposition, as good as doomed to relegation were not up to much but that is not to take anything away from a resurgent Brentford team which purred into top gear with a magnificent first half display.
The football played was crisp, neat and incisive, players wanted the ball and made positive runs and three goals was scant reward for our domination and invention.
McCormack and Yennaris hoovered up every loose ball, rendering the combative Darren Pratley totally ineffective and Nico is fast developing into a Coquelin-like thoroughbred.
He scored for the first time at home, poking home from close range after an excellent four man move and more was to follow soon afterwards.
Woods played Vibe through and Lasse fought off the challenge of his marker and crossed low and hard towards Judge and when the ball rebounded back to him off a defender he took his time, waited patiently for the keeper to commit himself and rolled the ball home for a goal redolent of confidence if not arrogance.
Soon it was three when a flowing move saw Yennaris play the ball to Judge, who had earlier hit the bar with a cross, and this time his first time centre was perfectly placed for Vibe to glance the ball home with his head.
What a transformation there has been in Vibe with his three goals in the last game and a half taking him to a creditable ten goal tally for the season with hopefully even more to come.
It wouldn’t be Brentford if we didn’t do our best to self-destruct and we gifted Bolton three massive first half opportunities through our own carelessness and lack of concentration that a better team would surely have taken full advantage off.
As it was the closest they came to scoring was when Vela hit the outside of the post and shortly afterwards the impressive Clough could not benefit from Button over elaborating on the ball – not for the first time this season.
Thst being said the back four looked mean and confident and also used the ball well. Colin is nursing a injury and appears to be playing well within himself but Barbet is improving with every game.
Bolton went for damage limitation after the break and tightened up with the introduction of the experienced Wheater and Danns.
Poor Alex Finney a tall, young defender making his full debut was removed to save him further embarrassment after a ghastly first half display haunted by nerves and as Bolton improved, the Bees went down a couple of gears and apart from a hooked volley from the impressive Sam Saunders which went narrowly over the bar and a McCormack thunderbolt from nearly forty yards out which required an exceptional save from Amos, the Ealing Road faithful had little to cheer about.
We played the ball around but lacked our earlier pace and urgency and it came as no surprise when McCormack’s clumsy and unnecessary tackle was correctly punished with the award of a penalty kick which Clough easily converted.
The game drifted to its inevitable conclusion with Canos, Hogan and Clarke given brief run outs.
Given how far we have come in the last few days it is tough to carp and criticise but the second half inertia clearly demonstrated that there is still much work that is needed to be done and that we are still nowhere near the finished article.
The match clearly resembled the one back in December when we put Huddersfield to the sword with a rampant first half display which could not be matched after the break when the visitors roused themselves and fought their way back into the game.
That being said there was much to be optimistic about, not least the commitment shown by the entire team and their determination to ensure that they would pick up the points on offer as well as give their supporters something to cheer about.
We will shortly be facing tougher opposition in the shape of Ipswich Town and we will need to be at our best and most determined to cope with the massive physical challenge that they will provide.
Bentford have been feast or famine since the New Year began and we can only hope that they maintain the impetus from the past two matches and go into the Ipswich game full of confidence, as indeed they should.
I look forward with relish to the clash between Alan McCormack and Jonathan Douglas which might well go a long way towards settling the outcome.
Good communication with your customers is paramount in any successful organisation and is something that should be a given in today’s world of social media and instant access to news and information and the near impossibility of keeping matters under wraps.
Unfortunately many football clubs have lagged far behind the times, seemingly taking the unquestioned loyalty of their fans for granted, smug and complacent in the knowledge that unlike consumers in practically any other sphere of business activity, real supporters are wedded to their team for life and would never contemplate changing their allegiance to a rival however much they are tempted to do so.
Brentford have always made a point of bucking the trend and in recent years there has been a succession of managers, chairmen, owners and chief executives willing to put their head over the parapet and engage with the supporters at a series of Fans’ Forums which have generally resulted in an exchange of views and in fans being kept in the loop.
Given the fact that the services of former Head Coach Marinus Dijkhuizen were disposed of immediately after the last such event when all had been made to appear in public to be sweetness and light between him and senior club management, there has been an urgent need to rebuild some bridges particularly given the rising concern over recent results as well as the sale of key players without the squad being replenished.
With the exception of an interview ten years ago and a quite brilliant and totally bizarre and left-field on line Q&A last season, both held on The Griffin Park Grapevine plus a few carefully crafted and placed articles within the national media, owner Matthew Benham has kept out of the spotlight and refrained from communicating with the Brentford fanbase given that to do so is not within his nature or something that he feels comfortable about doing.
That all changed the other day when he met with the crew at Beesotted and gave them a fascinating in-depth interview which I commend to you all and urge you to read if you have not already done so. He answered many key questions about the current situation and how he sees the future developing and his commitment and ambition thankfully cannot be doubted.
I therefore thought that it would, in tandem, be useful, interesting and illuminating to seek out the views of Co-Director of Football Phil Giles and he was kind enough to spare me the time to meet yesterday as well as answer many of the questions that Brentford supporters would hopefully like to ask him in order for him to clarify his role and how he operates.
Ideally his responses below should be read in conjunction with Matthew Benham’s Beesotted interview as hopefully the two complement each other and viewed together provide a thorough and contemporaneous insight into the thinking, approach and aspirations of the people who are running our club.
Here is what Phil had to say and I hope you find his answers as illuminating as I did:
Greville, many thanks for inviting me to contribute to your blog. I’ve tried to address as many of your questions as possible – and it was quite a long list of questions!
Rather than answer each individually, I’ve broken down the questions into sections and written about each one in turn. Hopefully this gives a bit more insight into what we’re doing.
This Season And The Summer
I understand the current frustrations among our fans. Many of them made their feelings known at the end of the Charlton game. There have been lots of changes at the club in the last year, and we, collectively as a club, haven’t consistently reached the same levels of performance as last season. The league table will tell you as much.
However, there are still eleven games to go this season and here is what we want to achieve between now and the end of the season:
We want to finish the season as strongly as possible. We have a young team – three of our four defenders against Charlton are twenty-two years old. Harlee is only twenty-four. The midfield that started against Charlton are twenty-three, twenty, twenty-two, nineteen and twenty-seven (Judge). Djuricin is twenty-three. The experience the players gain over the coming weeks will serve us well next season. With experience will come consistency – we were very good against Wolves, but not so good four days later at Rotherham.
We will bring in a loan player if we feel we can improve the team and our long term prospects.
We are already planning our summer recruitment. We didn’t add anyone in January because the players we wanted were overpriced. As Matthew also said this week, we intend to add good players in the Summer.
We want to finish with some good performances by playing the Brentford way, and would like everyone associated with the club to be united in a positive outlook ahead of the summer.
Longer Term Ambitions For The Club
If we ranked all Championship clubs by revenue we’d be right at the bottom of the league. The new stadium is an important step to allowing us to compete on a more level playing field.
The long term ambition is to build a financially sustainable club that plays at the highest level possible. The quickest route to sustainability is to earn promotion. That is our ultimate target, but we’re not in a position to do what other clubs have done recently by investing huge sums in the team. We’ll have to find a different way of doing it and take a few risks along the way. Some of those risks will work, and some won’t, that is the nature of taking chances. It’s important that we learn from what works and what does not along the way – and we will do.
Football Staff – Roles And Responsibilities
I’ll try to set out the specific roles that Rasmus and I play at the Club here.
Let me begin by saying that whenever one of us gives and interview or makes a statement, we do so on behalf of both of us.
I have spent one hundred percent of my time on Brentford since I started in the job. Ras spends half of his time with Brentford and half with FC Midtjylland. We aren’t always visible but we are working hard to help build a long term sustainable and successful club.
Ras and I have different strengths so we dovetail quite well I think. He tends to focus on the big picture and thinks about things in the longer term. For example, he has been reviewing our Academy and considering how it can compete with every other club that wants to basically do exactly the same as us.
I am more focused on the details and making things work in practice on a day to day basis. We have put in place several management processes to improve the way we operate – it’s the sort of stuff that shouldn’t be noticed if it’s working properly. For example, I was keen to make sure that the football department gives every support needed to the Brentford Community Sports Trust, and we’ve reviewed the process to ensure that we are fulfilling our obligations in that respect.
I manage the recruitment process and negotiate the contracts, but I tend not to get too involved in watching or evaluating players. It’s important to realise your strengths and weaknesses, and I’m certainly not a qualified coach or scout. My strengths are more on the management and organisational side – making sure we build a club with strong foundations for the future.
There’s room for all types of backgrounds in football I think. Accountants and lawyers are prevalent in football and involved in all transfers, although their work tends to be in the background. Part of my job is making sure that the relevant skills are brought into play at the right stage of the recruitment and negotiation process.
The “football man” is essential in identifying a player and creating a development plan for that player, but the “executives” are needed to make sure that any deal makes legal and financial sense for the club, and that proper processes and protocols are followed.
We set out the qualities that Dean Smith brings to the role of Head Coach when he joined us – he is experienced, has good leadership skills, wants to play in the Brentford way and has an excellent track record of developing young players. He has had to deal with both the Jota and Tarky situations, and we weren’t able to add players in January which was the first opportunity he had to influence our transfer policy. We are working very closely together both on current projects and longer term planning, including our recruitment plans for the summer.
Relationships With Other Clubs.
I’d like to think that our relationships with other clubs are very good, in particular with some of the top Premier League clubs. That is a continuation of some of the efforts put in during previous seasons which allowed us to loan Pritchard and Toral last year, and Swift and Canos this season.
We tend to spread the load of building relationships with other clubs across several of the staff, rather than relying on one or two people to be solely responsible, since if those one or two people leave then the club can’t build and grow optimally in the long term. For example, Dean has pre-existing contacts which we’ve made use of, as does Ras, Rob Rowan and others including myself.
In terms of the rest of the football world, I’d like to think most people see Brentford as a well regarded Championship club that goes about things in the right way. I think we look after our players very well. We’ve had some good meetings with other clubs about how we do things and whether there are some mutually beneficial things that we can work on together.
If there is an opportunity to sign a loan player permanently then we will consider taking that opportunity – the policy hasn’t changed from that which brought Bidwell and Forshaw to the club.
Players And Recruitment
I will try to set out the general process by which we identify and sign players.
Ras and I have regular meetings with the coaching staff. At those meetings we will go through the squad and discuss our key requirements. That information will be passed to the scouting team, along with profiles of the type of players we’re looking for. The scouting team will use every available resource to identify players – they watch games, they speak to contacts and agents, and they use data where appropriate. We will do as much research into the character and personality of each player as possible. A selection of potential targets will be fed back to the coaches, who will review the options and prioritise targets.
From there we will decide on which players to target, approach the clubs and finally speak to the players. This is predominantly my responsibility, as described above. Dean and Richard have a huge input into the type of players we want to target, and who we eventually try to sign or sell. Their input is the most important part of the whole process.
In my experience there hasn’t been a single occasion where we’ve not been able to reach a collective agreement on a transfer. Sometimes we all need to compromise a bit to get things done, but that is a normal part of the management process as far as I’m concerned.
I suspect that this process isn’t too different from other clubs, although perhaps we place greater emphasis on certain elements than others. It is essential that we do this however, since we aren’t in a position to employ a large team of scouts who can be at every game. This goes back to the idea that we need to take some risks in order to compete with clubs that have greater income. If we scout in exactly the same way as other teams, then most likely our results will be defined by our budget in the long term.
The data that we have access to isn’t too different to many other clubs, but it’s what you do with it that’s the important thing. I think that the background of some of the management team allows us to do some interesting and sometimes complicated proprietorial stuff with that data. Statistics and data analysis is my background although I don’t do so much of it these days. In reality it’s only one of the tools we have, complementing the more traditional approaches where it makes sense.
Sometimes we fail to sign players that we target. I think it’s healthy to sometimes miss out on players – if we always signed every player that we targeted then it probably means that we’re either overpaying or that no other clubs want to sign our targets. We always have an up to date list of other potential and viable targets so there is always a next player on the list.
Disclosing transfer fees and alerting other clubs to how much we can afford to pay for players, or how much income we receive from sales, doesn’t offer us any competitive advantage over those teams, which is why the terms are normally undisclosed.
Were we in a stronger position on the pitch after January 2016? As I said in an interview for the club website in February, it is impossible for me to state that the squad was stronger having sold two players and Jota having left on loan. However, we took all those decisions with the long term interests of the club at heart.
I understand that this is frustrating for fans, especially in the light of recent results. However, I am absolutely determined that we’ll be in a stronger position in the long term for having taken the difficult decisions now regarding players who, ultimately, didn’t see themselves as a long term part of Brentford’s plans.
The strategy for the summer is simple – we’ll try to sign good players who improve the squad and who ultimately win us football matches and move us up the table. We’ve signed good players in the past, and we’ll do so in the future.
Here is one example of how we’ve found the link with FC Midtjylland useful. They played Manchester United twice recently. It was a perfect opportunity for people associated with both Brentford and FC Midtjylland to meet the key Manchester United staff and continue the process of developing relationships, which as I discussed earlier is an important part of what we do.
I think we’ve been very unlucky this season with injuries but we don’t think that is anything other than bad luck. Some of the injuries have been quite freakish. Hopefully we’ll get more luck next season.
With regards to the cup competitions, we underestimated the strength of Oxford in the League Cup. In the FA Cup, we had three games in six days and the Walsall game was the first of those. We fielded a team that we believed should be able to beat Walsall, but didn’t. It was a match worth winning in hindsight and otherwise. We don’t ever field a team not intending to win the match, and we’ll continue to look to win every cup game that we play.
I enjoyed the couple of hours that I spent with Phil and found him to be pleasant, bright, thoughtful, open minded and good company. He takes his time and thinks before he speaks and his words are clipped and carefully chosen. He was certainly polite and endlessly patient given the voluminous number of questions that I had posed him in advance but he shirked no issue, he neither prevaricated nor refrained from answering anything that I asked him although some matters were only discussed on an off the record basis which I have respected given his reasonable concerns about commercial confidentiality and the disclosure of proprietary information.
That being said his answers were controlled, carefully composed and organised and I am quite certain that he revealed nothing to me other than what he had originally intended to do – and why, indeed, should he to a total stranger who he knew was intending to go public with what he had heard?
Pleasingly, he is also a true soccer aficionado and finally came alive when discussing the fortunes of his beloved Newcastle United and he exhibited an encyclopaedic knowledge of their marvellously exciting squad of the mid to late 90s and could see the clear parallel with the Brentford of last season when I described them as everybody’s favourite second team.
Phil is well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, what he has yet to learn and the need to be part of a team ethos where between them all necessary skills and expertise are provided.
He is a highly impressive young man thankfully devoid of arrogance with a bright and enquiring mind who will push boundaries, innovate and explore new options.
We are in good hands.
I am fortunate enough to live in a pretty, leafy and quiet road tucked away in a beautiful backwater in North London where the days go by calmly and tranquilly without us being assailed by the constant irritating noise of passing traffic as thankfully it is neither a main road nor a cut through or rabbit run. Neighbours nod politely to each other as they pass each other on the street whilst walking to the nearby shops and tube station and always find the time to stop for a brief moment to enquire about the health of their respective offspring and how they are doing at school or university.
The odd creaking and arthritic labrador or relative bent with age is gently walked up and down the road to get some fresh air and exercise. Nobody pries or attempts to invade each other’s privacy and the nearest we have come to united action was when there was a dispute with the local council over rubbish collections and which of two neighbouring boroughs different parts of the road were situated in.
The residents are an eclectic bunch encompassing a variety of races, ages, backgrounds, creeds and religions, they keep themselves mostly to themselves and rarely reveal anything private or personal.
Imagine my amazement then when the peace was disturbed late in the afternoon of Saturday twenty-fourth of May 2014, a date now indelibly fixed in my fading memory.
I had been watching the Championship Playoff Final between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers and was left reeling from the shock of Bobby Zamora’s last gasp goal with the only shot on target that they managed all afternoon which somehow took the R’s to the Premier League on an afternoon where the Gods most certainly favoured them as they had been totally outplayed and the result was an aberration which quite frankly beggared belief.
The Bees had already secured their place in the Championship and whilst I knew that Fulham awaited us in 2014/15 the real prize was QPR and I was devastated that our prey had escaped us and had been snatched from our grasp in so unfortunate and unfair a manner and that the fates had yet again laughed in our face.
I needed to go for a walk around the block in order to calm down, get over my disappointment and settle my shattered nerves and as I passed a house no more than fifty yards from mine I saw something that still haunts me to this day.
Occasionally some of the local residents celebrate Christmas or Chanukah with a few muted and tasteful external decorations but this was different as the entire outside of this house was covered and daubed from roof to basement with Queens Park Rangers banners, scarves, posters and blue and white bunting. Lights flashed and music blared breaking the customary sepulchral calm and quiet of the neighbourhood and the drive was filled with cars full of raucous QPR supporters celebrating their unlikely achievement.
I had no idea that our street housed a rabid QPR supporter given that we are situated so far away from their heartland and whilst I am by nature a calm and totally law abiding individual my hackles rose and it was all that I could do to restrain myself from giving vent to my frustration and tearing down the decorations which so offended me.
Worse still, they remained in place, although thankfully fading, throughout that long hot Summer and it was not until the season began and it became obvious that Queens Park Rangers were in over their head and totally overmatched in the Premier League and were certain to return shortly from whence they came that they were dismantled at which point I calmed down and finally refrained from thinking poisonous and murderous thoughts every time that I walked past that house on my way home.
I wrote at great length about the longstanding rivalry and history between Brentford and QPR and the reason for the animus between both clubs before our first meeting last October and I was so delighted and proud to be present at what was our first victory over our bitter rivals for fifty years on an evening packed full of pride, effort, energy and passion – all of which was expended by the team wearing red and white stripes.
The entire Brentford team raised its game as every player was well aware of just how much the game meant to every home supporter. Beating QPR was everything to us all and the throaty roar of triumph at the final whistle almost raised the Ealing Road roof. We outplayed and outworked our opponents who strolled through the match and gave a limp and pallid display which seemed to imply that they felt that it was rather beneath them to be forced to sully their hands and share a pitch with a team and a club that was not on their radar and that they thought so little of and that aristocrats like themselves had no need to sweat.
Much has changed for the Bees in the months since that momentous victory. We were then in the midst of a brief but highly successful spell under Lee Carsley when the team seemed well organised, confident and extremely hard to beat. Everybody seemed to understand their role and there was a sense of togetherness with every player working hard to cover his team mates.
QPR rarely looked like scoring bar for two efforts from Luongo just before the break and once Marco Djuricin became an instant Bees legend by timing his run to perfection to convert Alan Judge’s incisive near post cross, our eventual victory barely seemed in doubt as we played out the remainder of the game with total confidence and determination.
This year has seen the Bees crumble and disintegrate and a weakened squad lacking so many of its best players and bereft of confidence and the apparent ability to either score goals or keep them out, is crawling and limping towards the finish line, praying that the games run out before they can be caught up and overtaken by the bottom three.
Despite their victory at Griffin Park last Saturday, Charlton Athletic as well as Bolton Wanderers appear to be beyond salvation but a resurgent Rotherham team, responding brilliantly to the management style of the inimitable Neil Warnock has now won three on the trot and we are beginning to look anxiously in our rear view mirror.
However insipid have been the team’s recent performances, the fans also need to do their bit, particularly on Saturday when just under three thousand Bees will face a hostile home crowd at Loftus Road. It was noticeable just how loud and intimidating the atmosphere was when we played at Rotherham recently as the home supporters provided unconditional support, forgave their heroes for all their mistakes and bayed for free kicks, real and imaginary. Brentford and, of course, the referee wilted under the relentless pressure as we eventually caved in for what could well turn out to be a damaging defeat.
Griffin Park has been like a morgue recently with the crowd seemingly stupefied and reduced to silence or at best groans of anger and disappointment given the horrendous lack of quality of so many of our recent performances.
We are now facing a drama which we can help become a crisis if we continue in the same vein. Of course the team needs to do its bit and at least show some effort, organisation, energy, bite, aggression and determination on Saturday – and some quality too would also not come amiss!
We supporters also have a job to do and we need to take on board the marvellous example of those long-suffering Rotherham fans just the other week. We have to provide a nonstop cauldron and cacophony of noise and simply exhort and encourage our team totally and unconditionally and for the entire duration of the game.
That is something that is well within our gift, everything else is out of our control and we can only hope and expect that Dean Smith selects the right team and game plan and that the players remember just how important this game is and perform accordingly both with and without the ball.
To beat QPR twice in a season, do the double over them and win for the first time at Loftus Road since the ninth of October 1964 would go quite some way towards ensuring that this season is remembered for far more than our recent fall from grace and nosedive towards the nether regions of the Championship table.
Saturday is a quite massive game for a variety of reasons, not least because I want to maintain and extend the bragging rights within my road and make sure that my misguided neighbour knows exactly who is the best Championship team in West London.