The Highlights Of The Season – 10/5/16

What a season that was and here are my highlights which I will replay in my mind throughout the close season. Please feel free to add your own as there are so many I am sure that some have fallen through the cracks and escaped my attention:

  • Appointing a new Head Coach in Marinus Dijkhuizen who seemed to tick all the boxes
  • Paying a new record transfer fee for Andreas Bjelland
  • The excitement at signing a potential star in Chelsea’s Josh McEachran
  • Bringing in exciting young foreign prospects in Konstantin Kerschbaumer, Yoann Barbet and Andy Gogia
  • Hoping that Ryan Williams might turn into our set piece secret weapon
  • Buying two international strikers, Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hofmann
  • Andre Gray’s brilliant goal scoring form in preseason
  • Jermaine Udumaga scoring his first goal for the club in preseason against Sporting Clube Farense
  • Courtney Senior and Aaron Greene impressing against Boreham Wood
  • Giving Stoke City a football lesson with Gogia running them ragged
  • Thinking for a few weeks that we might manage to hang onto all our stars
  • The injury time comeback against Ipswich culminating in James Tarkowski’s ninety-sixth minute equaliser
  • Youngsters Josh Clarke, Josh Laurent, Jermaine Udumaga and Courtney Senior all making the starting eleven in the Capital One Cup against Oxford United
  • Scoring four times at Bristol City with Gray and Hofmann combining menacingly up front and Philipp Hofmann scoring a goal of true international class
  • Konstantin Kerschbaumer’s back heel at Bristol City which helped set up Alan Judge’s first goal
  • Sticking four goals past our former loanee Ben Hamer
  • Max Colin’s eye-catching debut as a substitute at Burnley
  • Lasse Vibe’s twenty-five yard curler against Reading
  • Sam Saunders making his comeback from injury against Reading
  • Signing Sergi Canos and Marco Djuricin on loan
  • Djuricin’s coolly-taken debut goal at Leeds
  • Uwe Rösler reacting to the attention of the Brentford fans at Leeds
  • Goalkeeper Mark Smith making the bench at Middlesbrough
  • Sergi Canos turning the game as a substitute against Preston
  • Marco Djuricin’s turning his marker and scoring the winner against Preston
  • The first win of the season at Griffin Park
  • David Button’s perfect assist for Alan Judge’s brilliantly taken equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday
  • Alan Judge hitting the bar against Sheffield Wednesday
  • The perfectly timed October international break which allowed Lee Carsley to put the squad through a mini boot camp
  • Beating Rotherham through two wonderful Alan Judge goals
  • Switching my mobile phone back on to learn about our unexpected win at Wolves
  • Our first clean sheet of the season at Wolves
  • Nico Yennaris seizing his opportunity at right back after Max Colin’s injury
  • Playing Charlton off the pitch after an uncomfortable first twenty minutes
  • Alan Judge’s goal and assist at Charlton
  • Alan McCormack hitting the underside of the bar at his old club, Charlton
  • The first win over QPR for fifty years with Marco Djuricin becoming an instant Brentford legend
  • Substitutes Kerschbaumer, Vibe and Hofmann all playing their part in the QPR triumph
  • Lee Carsley reviving our fortunes, leading us to four consecutive wins and winning the October Manager of the Month Award
  • Alan Judge winning the October Sky Bet Player of the Month Award after a series of inspirational displays
  • Brentford’s exceptional first half display against Hull
  • Kerschbaumer’s bending shot against the  post versus Hull
  • Sergi Canos’s first goal for the club against Nottingham Forest
  • Philipp Hofmann’s triple ricochet ninety-sixth minute winner against Nottingham Forest
  • John Swift’s Premier League class goal at Bolton
  • Dean Smith’s appointment as Brentford Head Coach
  • Playing MK Dons off the pitch at Griffin Park in Dean Smith’s first game
  • Outplaying Fulham at Craven Cottage
  • Sitting in the Hammersmith End with the Fulham fans and trying not to cheer us on
  • The deafening noise made by nearly five thousand Brentford fans at Fulham
  • The glorious moment when we thought that Jota had scored a deserved winner
  • Josh McEachran making his Brentford debut at Cardiff and instantly looking at home in our midfield
  • Jake Bidwell’s first goal for the club in his one hundred and eighty-sixth game
  • Forty-five minutes of perfection against Huddersfield
  • Lasse Vibe’s thunderous volley against Huddersfield after Tarkowski’s perfect chip forward
  • Totally outplaying Brighton but the ball refused to go in
  • Our amazing support from three thousand fans at Reading rewarded by Ryan Woods’s first goal for the club from twenty-five yards and the Goal of the Season by Sergi Canos
  • Michael Hector’s second yellow card for a embarrassing dive
  • Nemesis Keith Stroud sending off two opposition players this season
  • Thinking that we had sneaked a point at Birmingham when Hofmann equalised late on
  • Totally outplaying Middlesbrough at Griffin Park
  • The second half display against Burnley – forget about the first half
  • Yoann Barbet’s pass and Alan Judge’s cool finish at Preston
  • THAT save by David Button at Preston which ensured our victory
  • Josh McEachran selling the Leeds attack a dummy and clearing the danger in our penalty area
  • Sam Saunders running at the Leeds defence before scoring
  • The first five minutes at Sheffield Wednesday
  • A wonder goal by Alan Judge against Derby
  • Putting Wolves to the sword again
  • John Swift’s two-goal performance against Wolves
  • Josh McEachran’s slide rule pass to Jake Bidwell before our second goal against Wolves
  • Yoann Barbet’s first goal for the club against Charlton
  • The anticipation and excitement leading up to the visit to Loftus Road
  • Leaving the match early to escape the humiliation on the pitch and our supporters’ behaviour off it
  • Another international break, another opportunity to regroup
  • International caps for Daniel O’Shaughnessy, Alan Judge and Lasse Vibe
  • The relief at winning again after losing four in a row and at Vibe’s opening goal at Nottingham Forest
  • Confidence returning to the squad with a wonderful first half performance against Bolton
  • Nico Yennaris dominating the midfield and demonstrating his quality
  • Lasse Vibe – Goal Machine, after we finally learned how to play to his strengths
  • Alan McCormack and Ryan Woods ensuring that Luke Hyam finally got his just deserts at Ipswich
  • Two brilliantly taken goals by Lasse Vibe at Ipswich
  • Scott Hogan’s return and first goal for the club against Bristol City – another last minute equaliser
  • Hogan winning us the Cardiff match with two more late goals
  • Sergi Canos’s wonderful curling effort at MK Dons
  • Watching Jake Bidwell’s late free kick dribble through the MK Dons defence and bounce perfectly into corner of the net
  • Losing at Hull City – and not really caring as it was simply a match too far
  • The first seven minutes against Fulham
  • Sam Saunders’s lung-bursting run to score the first goal
  • Konstantin Kerschbaumer growing into his role and his perfect through balls for three of Scott Hogan’s goals
  • Totally embarrassing Fulham and comprehensively beating them
  • Tom Field’s remarkably composed debut and assist against Fulham
  • A twenty-one second opening goal at Huddersfield
  • Putting Huddersfield to the sword – yet again
  • Scott Hogan’s clinical finishing with seven goals in under two full games
  • Roy Keane leaving the stadium as soon as Scott was substituted at Huddersfield
  • The massive improvement in our set pieces
  • The renaissance of Josh Clarke
  • Youngsters James Ferry and Reece Cole making the substitutes’ bench
  • Josh Bohui playing for the England Under 17 team
  • Our last nine matches which netted us twenty-two points and twenty-four goals
  • Becoming a real team again on and off the field with club and supporters reunited
  • The influence of Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly taking effect on the squad
  • Playing beautiful pass-and-move football the Brentford way again
  • Two top nine finishes in our first two years back in the Championship
  • Never being in the bottom three of the league table
  • Looking forward eagerly to next season and what it has to bring
  • Our foreign signings developing into excellent players once they had finally adapted to the league
  • Harlee Dean proving to be a real leader and reaching the two-hundred game mark for the club
  • Maxime Colin and Yoann Barbet settling in so well and promising so much
  • Jake Bidwell’s consistency and composure and also reaching the two-hundred game milestone
  • David Button – ever-present and a massive influence
  • Lewis Macleod finally getting onto the pitch, albeit briefly
  • Andreas Bjelland getting close to a full recovery
  • Sam Saunders and Alan McCormack earning new contracts and being a massive positive influence on their less experienced teammates
  • Thinking about the goals Scott Hogan will hopefully score next season
  • Everything about Alan Judge, a career year and such a wonderful player and rightly named as one of the top three players in the Championship and in the team of the season
  • Ryan Woods quietly going about his business and impressing everyone
  • John Swift scoring seven goals in his first real look at the Championship
  • Sergi Canos – an inspiration and perfect example of how a loan player should conduct himself
  • Getting the CPO verdict that helps bring the new stadium at Lionel Road even closer
  • Finishing as Kings of West London and the leading London club outside the Premier League
  • Mark Burridge and his Bees Player team
  • Poetic justice as James Tarkowski did not receive a medal at Burnley’s trophy presentation
  • Matthew Benham, Cliff Crown, Mark Devlin, Phil Giles, Rasmus Ankersen and their teams working so hard, effectively and creatively to ensure that we maintain our edge
  • On a personal level, having Richard Lee and Cliff Crown do book signings and the fantastic response to and reviews of my book Continue reading
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Pointing The Finger! – 22/3/16

Immediately after the disappointment of the Blackburn Rovers defeat on Saturday I gave my suggestions concerning what we should do next and how the team and management should use the International Break productively in order to both rest up and also prepare for the next crucial batch of eight matches in April which will decide our immediate fate.

I also suggested that a change of formation as well as approach would probably serve us well as if the way we are playing at the moment continually fails to provide results, as has been the case, then you need to change it or risk more failure.

Rightly or wrongly it has always been my stated policy to provide Brentford supporters of all persuasions with the platform within this column to express their own opinions. Sometimes I agree with them to a greater or lesser extent, more often I do not, but despite our differences we all share a passion for the Bees and are in awe of what Matthew Benham has done to revitalise our club, and it also provides a catalyst for other supporters to respond and have their say.

Lately emotions and tempers have been rising and patience and tolerance are in short supply, hardly surprising given the events since the turn of the year and I can well understand why people feel the way that they do.

By sharing conflicting opinions on the club I am not trying to rebel rouse, neither am I aiming to cause mischief or gain attention for myself and I have urged us supporters many times to unite and get behind our team at such a crucial time when perhaps our ambitious plans for the immediate future are at risk should we return to the lower divisions. Inquests and recriminations can wait until later.

I fully intend to continue as I have done and today welcome back Jim Levack who has been a regular contributor to this column and he now shares his view about what is happening at the club, how we have allowed ourselves to get into this mess and what can be done to improve matters and I concur with some but not all of what he has to say:

In almost half a century of watching Brentford I can’t recall a time when the club has been more riven by division than now. Fans fighting fans, terrace arguments, acrimonious and frequently personal internet battles, the current situation is sad beyond belief.

Not even during the dark days of Webb and Noades were the fans so divided over the right way to take the club forward. I have my own personal view of where the blame lies for this rift but it’s an opinion far too unpopular and incendiary to ever share.

Irrespective of what I think, one message board has almost four thousand posts on the subject of Dean Smith and a relatively low thirteen hundred on the subject of the Co-Directors of Football.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem.

Because Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen are Matthew Benham’s right hand men, they have inexplicably escaped much of the criticism for the current slide towards the trapdoor.

Why? Their job is, as the club widely and foolishly proclaimed last season, to identify undiscovered talent with potential to avoid paying the ludicrous transfer fees and wages that make other clubs financially unstable.

I say foolishly because the second we did so and effectively got rid of Mark Warburton – no, he wasn’t sacked but we made his position untenable – the whole football world turned against us to the extent that if we now move for a player it sets alarm bells ringing.

No problem with the concept though. The strategy makes perfect sense for a club with limited revenue streams like Brentford. But why did we feel the need to shout about it?

Strip the whole thing down and the players we’ve brought in – Woods and Colin being notable exceptions – are patently not ready to play in a thriving Championship side, let alone one fighting for survival.

Last season’s side had a great balance, strong competition for places and a ruthless edge.

If Pritchard got knocked about, Douglas was there to drag him to his feet and snarl at the bloke who did it.

Diagouraga, if the ball did get past the midfield, mopped up the bits and pieces and gave it away simply and accurately, a fulcrum if you like.

Tarkowski and Dean were a peerless combination, Gray was powerful, quick and usually clinical, the likes of McCormack couldn’t get a start.

When Pritchard wasn’t doing it we had Jota, Dallas, Toral, or even Odubajo bombing on as well as Judge, all capable of producing a moment of magic.

We effectively had a four-pronged attack as well as creative, vibrant, skilful, quick options on the bench who could change a game that was drifting away from us.

Saunders and Yennaris were plying their trade in League Two. Now they are pivotal to our survival.

Don’t think for a second I’m denigrating the current squad in any way. They are, mostly, technically strong with huge potential, but are being asked to do the job of seasoned professionals with several years knowledge of the Championship. That’s not fair or sensible.

Josh McEachran is a case in point. We were told that he was the Douglas replacement. Don’t make me laugh!

Skilful yes, intelligent occasionally, but a ball winner? I’m sorry. The sooner he casts off the Chelsea starlet tag and starts bossing games as his talent suggests he surely can, the better. He was given the opportunity when Blackburn went down to ten men and singularly failed to take it.

Now we have a midfield lacking steel and stature that is overrun on a weekly basis.

McEachran and Woods are so similar it’s painful to watch, Judge has drifted into an I’ll play where I want thanks mentality to the side’s detriment, and Canos and Swift are young lads with huge potential who would benefit from a protector alongside them.

The best football teams are combinations of different characters, personalities, types of players, but if I had to pick one word to describe the current Brentford side, it would be lightweight.

Dean Smith must go posts and worse have littered social media whilst Rasmus and Phil have got off relatively lightly.

Grossly unfair in my view as they have effectively assembled this squad for Smith whose use of the word “finally” on bringing in Leandro last week was perhaps the first public hint of his frustration.

It’s far too easy to go to the other extreme and actually blame the Co-Directors of Football for everything too, as I’m sure they are moving heaven and earth to bring in loanees. Their reputations are, after all, on the line here.

I know that several quality players have been lined up for the Summer, but I’m guessing they won’t want to play in League One so we need to sort out this mess soon or I fear for our immediate future.

As Greville confirmed in his interview recently, Phil Giles comes across as a likeable, thoughtful and decent bloke doing his best and I’m sure he’s crunching the numbers to get it right, but sometimes football is – as I said at the time of Warburton’s exit – about far more than numbers.

As far Rasmus, I’m not entirely sure what his role is or the extent of his involvement at Brentford so it’s probably unfair to comment. Suffice to say that I’m sure he’s feeling the pain the same as Giles.

What I will say though is that the signings of Gogia – remember him? – and Kerschbaumer epitomise the malaise surrounding our new system.

I’ve watched Kerschbaumer closely when he’s played and although he may well become a decent player in the future, his positional awareness is poor. The best players have an unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time and if I’m honest it’s an innate ability and not one easily learned.

The ball never breaks to him because he’s constantly out of position. When it does, he’s brushed off it far too easily at the moment.

Now, after all the carefully placed pro-pieces in the media surrounding our strategy, whenever we approach a club or agent they think one of three things:

  • This lad must be better than we think if Brentford are in for him.
  • We can get more money for him if Brentford think he’s good.
  • If Brentford want him and see something in him, then bigger clubs will too so I can get him more money in wages.

Last season I read somewhere that Matthew Benham’s theory meant that a side near the bottom wasn’t necessarily bad because over the course of a campaign things even themselves out as luck plays its part. Right now though I’m reminded of the saying “you make your own luck in this game.”

The bottom line is that most Brentford fans with a brain have seen for many months that we lack steel, guile, bottle, balls, size, strength or whatever you want to call it. So why couldn’t Giles and Ankersen when the window was open?

If it’s because we don’t want to play that way and won’t abandon our principles then that’s arrant nonsense and, I hate to say it, arrogant in the extreme.

We also lack quality where it matters, but I accept that only comes at a price and, if rumours of a sudden cash squeeze are to be believed, it’s one we’re not prepared to pay whatever the outcome.

However, and here’s the stark truth, we are now staring trips to Northampton and Oxford in the face unless the squad is strengthened fast or the approach or pattern of play changes.

My fear is that a refusal to stray from the principles of finding young fringe Premier League players – unless they are exceptional talents – will not help our cause at a time when we currently need people with knowledge of this league.

To bleat on about Smith not being able to motivate the same side Lee Carsley had at his disposal is a red herring.

Carsley had Tarkowski and Diagouraga, two key players who both, in differing ways, played their part in ensuring the back four didn’t look vulnerable.

Importantly he was also given a short-term brief by Matthew Benham to steady the ship, stop the rot and stabilise by whatever means possible after the Dijkhuizen departure.

By contrast Smith has been told to work towards a longer term project with far less quality to call on. I might be wrong but I’d put a few bob on the fact that in confidential company, he isn’t happy at having his reputation put on the line by the club’s lack of activity in January, however valid the reasons for doing so.

That same lack of activity and dare I say it Big New Ambitions will, I hope, be reflected in season ticket prices for next season when people will adopt a once bitten, twice shy approach.

So what is the solution? To stick or twist? It’s a dilemma that Matthew Benham, as a gambling man, may well be relishing but I for one am not.

It’s fairly obvious to me – bring in a quick, pacy young winger on the fringes of a Premier League start and a mid-twenties defensive midfielder with a bit of bite and Championship know-how because a youngster in that role simply won’t do given our current predicament.

Maybe easier said than done at this stage of the campaign given our cash constraints, but the financial ramifications of relegation will be far more damaging than a few extra quid shelled out now.

I’ll leave the final word to this probably over long ramble to Jeff Stelling, whose stunning on screen analysis of Aston Villa’s season and predicament made me sit up with a start.

Without detriment to our new signings – some of whom may well go on to be real assets to the club IN TIME – or our scapegoat manager, there are clear parallels to be drawn.

If you haven’t seen it take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL_zCdeIyQ8

Good Hunting! – 13/3/16

Over three thousand Brentford supporters went to Loftus Road yesterday afternoon, perhaps more in hope than in expectation and for half an hour or so the team, and we will come back to its composition shortly, was well in the game with Canos twice and Judge going close before conceding a brilliantly taken but eminently avoidable opening goal which was totally demoralising after we had given as good as we had got.

Even after such a sickening blow we showed some fight and resilience and came so close to an immediate equaliser when Ryan Woods took a short free kick in his stride and drilled a long ranger against the post. The second half was a different story as after Judge curled narrowly but wastefully over we created next to nothing and the ball became a hot potato as we conceded possession with monotonous regularity and our final ball was invariably overhit or poorly directed.

We conceded two quite appalling goals after schoolboy errors firstly when Woods was dispossessed and then after Swift played a careless and suicidal pass across the midfield, each time leaving us with a yawning chasm down the middle. QPR took full advantage of both gifts, that horrible celebratory Pigbag tune blared out and assailed our senses and eardrums and yet another game had slipped away without any reward.

We collapsed like a pricked balloon as the fight and confidence drained out of us and the last twenty minutes was more notable for a mass exit as Brentford supporters left in droves, shocked, horrified, confused, infuriated and let down by what they had seen and, sadly, many of those who were left turned upon each other and the players too who were subjected to vitriol and insults as the game dragged on to its by now inevitable conclusion.

Such is the reaction however unacceptable and unattractive when a team loses for the ninth time in its last twelve Championship matches and subsides to a comprehensive and embarrassing defeat to its local rivals who quite frankly barely had to break sweat to beat us, so eager were we to help them given that all three goals came gift wrapped with a bow on top.

Effort and passion there most undoubtedly was – at least for the first three quarters of the match, but we played exactly like the team we have become over the horror show of the past couple of months, one that is desperately lacking in quality, imagination, creativity, pace, craft, strength in midfield, defensive organisation and most importantly, confidence.

Dean Smith took the brave if highly unusual step of leaving both of his two remaining fit, if pallid strikers, Djuricin and Vibe on the bench and playing Alan Judge up front on his own in a new 4-1-4-1 formation. The main thinking behind this move was to encourage the nimble Judge to run at the man mountain Clint Hill in the home defence. Perhaps Smith also intended a coded message and that this move, which quite frankly smacked of desperation, was also a cry for help to the two Co-Directors of Football and an acknowledgement that we currently do not possess a striker worthy of the name and that none of them merit a first team spot.

Judge did his best but was a fish out of water and he was never really able to hold onto the ball in order to create things and give his defence some respite particularly when far too many passes aimed at him were fired at his head rather than directed to his feet. His influence was sorely missed elsewhere as our main creator of goal chances and it has to be said that the experiment did not work and contributed to our defeat although Vibe was typically weak, anonymous and infuriating when he was finally introduced as a second half substitute.

Alan McCormack made a welcome return in front of the back four and helped shore us up and for a time appear more solid but he must accept some of the blame for the crucial opening goal when the dangerous Hoilett picked the ball up on halfway and was allowed to drift towards our goal as we simply backed off him. McCormack belatedly thought about making a challenge but criminally pulled out and allowed Hoilett to pass unscathed and, left in splendid isolation, the winger had the ability to curl a sublime effort into the top corner of the net. If you give a good player time and space he will punish you.

The game turned on this moment as the home team was energised and reinvigorated by a moment of sheer quality and noticeably went up a gear and after that near miss from Woods our heads went down and our challenge faded.

Dean Smith now appears to be simply rearranging the deckchairs and desperately trying to find some semblance of a structure or shape from the same small, ever diminishing and underperforming squad of players. We are quickly disintegrating into a rabble and are quite frankly in free fall and his face is taking on an increasingly haunted look as he seeks some answers and solutions which continue to elude him.

Whether the manager deserves criticism for not managing his limited resources better and ensuring that we at least put in a decent shift and make the most of what little we have is open to question. Comparisons at this stage with Lee Carsley are both pointless and invidious.

There is no appetite within the ownership of the club to make another change at this juncture of the season and such a move would be totally unjust and make us a laughing stock given that Smith has not been able to introduce a single new face while losing three key members of his squad as well as seeing the injury bug begin to bite deep again.

That being said the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue given that even with Bolton and Charlton seemingly doomed there is still a third relegation place left to avoid as Rotherham’s revival continues unabated.

The thought persists, indeed it is a raging certainty, that we should not have allowed ourselves to get into this situation with an ever worsening spiral of defeats but recriminations are for later, now we simply have to concentrate on the task in hand and do whatever it takes to ensure that we start next season in the Championship. Given our plans and ambitions, relegation is utterly unthinkable but it is looming up on the blindside and could still yet overtake us if we do not take strong and immediate remedial action.

My recent meeting with Phil Giles left me excited and reassured about the mid to long term future of the club but I was also extremely concerned about the here and now as it is no use having ambitious plans about squad strengthening in the Summer if we end up having to start next season in League One. The chances of this happening are admittedly still low but increasing by the week and at present it is hard to see where the two wins we need are going to come from.

I understand why we sold players and did not strengthen the squad in January given the exorbitant prices we were quoted for some of our targets but perhaps if you sell high as we most certainly did, occasionally there is the need to buy high too in order to maintain the status quo.

I think that our current fall from grace has taken the senior management totally by surprise and caught them with their pants down and we are struggling to cope with the situation.

Fortune has certainly not favoured us but it is hard to look back at the horror show that has been the story of this year and identify many matches where we were unlucky not to take points. We should not have lost at Birmingham or been beaten by Middlesbrough or even dropped two stupid late points at home to Leeds, otherwise we have very little to complain about and the results and performances speak for themselves.

So what can we do? Is there any potential salvation from within our current resources? I do not expect to see Colin or Macleod again this season and have no expectations of Hofmann once he recovers from injury. The only potential ray of hope is Scott Hogan, which shows just how desperate we are, as untested and half fit though he undoubtedly is, I would hope that he is given a place on the bench next weekend for what is now a crucial clash against Blackburn Rovers.

Perhaps his return would give us all a boost and fillip although it would be patently unfair on him to see him as our potential saviour. He is, however, enthusiastic and hard running and would provide us with an injection of energy and he is also untainted by the cloud and gloom that surrounds the team at present.

We need fresh faces and belatedly I am now certain that stringent efforts are being made to bring in short term reinforcements in time for next Saturday. We will need to take a deep breath and temporarily at least ignore our principles and accepted modus operandi.

Think about the likes of Bidwell, Schlupp, Berahino, Forshaw, Harris, Trotta, Pritchard, Toral, Swift, Long and Canos and they all had something in common being young, promising and inexperienced. What we need now are a couple of players who have been around the block a few times, battlers who know and fully understand the demands of the Championship and can lead and inspire our faltering squad as well as provide a spark in front of goal.

It will be difficult both practically and philosophically for us to do so as well as cost us a lot of money currently earmarked for other purposes. I fully expect that some of the war chest ideally being pigeon-holed and conserved for next season will now need to be used in order to pay for players who will probably be earning far more than our current squad. Such is life and we will need to be adaptable and flexible as our salvation is paramount.

Other clubs in and around us have found such players recently and have been able and prepared to pay the necessary wages in an attempt to ensure Championship survival. Blackburn sold their prime asset in Jordan Rhodes but have brought in high quality short term replacements in Jordi Gomez, Tony Watt and Danny Graham, who we will all face next week. Charlton signed Yaya Sanogo from Arsenal, suspended now but a striker who led us a merry dance last week. There is an unsubstantiated rumour going around that we were offered him first but turned him down. MK Dons brought in Alex Revell, Nottingham Forest, Federico Macheda, Huddersfield have just signed Rajiv Van La Parra and most noticeably Bristol City have splurged out on Lee Tomlin and Peter Odemwingie.

I am sure that most of these names will understandably make our Co-Directors of Football come out in hives and not all of them quite frankly, fill me with much too enthusiasm, but much as it pains us to do so, we will need to follow suit with someone of that ilk next week if we want to do absolutely everything within our power to ensure that our precious Championship status is preserved.

I wish our two Co-Directors of Football all good fortune in their quest.

Meeting Phil Giles – 11/3/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

This Season And The Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Longer Term Ambitions For The Club

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

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

Football Staff – Roles And Responsibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relationships With Other Clubs.

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

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

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

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

Players And Recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellaneous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are in good hands.

More Questions And Concerns – 8/3/16

The airwaves have been buzzing with activity since I wrote an article the other day suggesting that it was now Time For Some Answers from senior staff at Brentford FC given the current run of poor results and performances and the resulting uncertainty and concern at how matters have been deteriorating on the pitch since the turn of the year and a Transfer Window which saw the club further weaken its squad without bringing in any reinforcements .

I fully understand and buy into the financial and practical reasons why the club has taken some of the decisions that it has but did not expect that they would result in quite such a massive and immediate deterioration both in results and, just as crucially, the quality of our performances. Losing at home to the bottom team in the Championship on Saturday certainly did not help improve matters and some supporters are also beginning to lose patience regarding what is going on and, as our slump continues, are now openly questioning our strategy as well as the impact that manager Dean Smith is having on the team.

I will continue to support the club in all its actions and for its current business model as I quite frankly can see no alternative way forward for us given our financial constraints and our need to compete on an even playing field with teams whose resources totally dwarf our own, and buttressed by income levels we can only dream about and massive parachute payments, can spend millions of pounds on strengthening their squad and seemingly with a mere snap of their fingers can also entice our best players to leave us, even though they have to pay us handsomely for the privilege.

Last season massively raised expectations and I still feel that a huge opportunity was lost when we did not strengthen a squad in January that looked as if it might continue on its triumphant and seemingly unstoppable path to the Premier League. Had things turned out differently in January, who knows, maybe even the divorce between Matthew Benham and Mark Warburton might have been avoided although I suspect that I am clutching at straws as it would appear that there might well have already been a breakdown in trust as well as fundamental differences between them that would inevitably lead to a parting of the ways.

It is pointless now to look backwards although last season plainly showed what is possible, even against all the odds, for the club in terms of results, performances, style of play, quality of recruitment and overall sense of togetherness and we can only aspire to what was achieved and do our utmost to replicate and even surpass it in the future.

This season has seen us facing an ongoing and relentless series of obstacles, barriers, setbacks and problems, some of them of our own making, others largely unforeseen and unfortunate and should we finish the season somewhere around halfway up the Championship then I for one would see this as a successful season given all the circumstances and such a final placing would be something that I could barely have dreamed about only a couple of years ago.

The problem is managing supporter expectations that quite frankly have been raised unrealistically by some ill-judged comments from within the club as well as a natural sense of optimism and anticipation, if not entitlement amongst supporters, created by the triumphs of last season.

I also revealed that I am meeting Phil Giles later this week when he has agreed to answer some of the supporters’ current concerns and I am hoping for reassurances regarding the way forward and how we expect to plan for next season and beyond.

A busy close season culminating in the club retrenching and recruiting cleverly, creatively and effectively from both home and abroad would certainly help to turn things around and bring about a renewed sense of optimism.

In the meantime I have been overwhelmed by the response to my article which included a list of the questions that I have sent to Mr. Giles, and I have heard from many Bees supporters who share my love and support for the club as well as varying degrees of concern about the current situation.

Former player Richard Poole is worried that our slide could continue until we go into freefall:

Great questions Greville, I just hope they provide the answers as the fans have a right to know. I was not there on Saturday but the players should at least try in respect of the shirt and the fans too as relegation could creep up on us more quickly than we think

Red Rose Bee also helped to put matters into context in terms of fan satisfaction:

I am a season ticket holder living in Lancashire. Every home match is a five hundred mile round journey and costs me around ninety pounds. I first went in September 1961 and have been through all the many bad times as well as the few good. I was at Birmingham, Rotherham and SheffieldWednesday recently. I made the decision not to go on Saturday because watching this team is so depressing at the moment. If the players cannot be bothered, why should I? I predicted that we would lose to Charlton. Like many others who watch us play I am not a football expert but every week we see the same players make the same mistakes as well as the lack of urgency and pride.

I don’t blame Dean Smith for this as he has been handed a very difficult situation, it is the Co-Directors of Football who must answer the questions. I cannot imagine that Matthew Benham is happy with what is happening now.Without him we have no future though.

I just hope that Saturday will focus minds and will represent the lowest point of a forgettable season, if not, and if we carry on like this, we are definitely in a relegation scrap.

Rob is concerned about the current makeup of the squad:

Another great incisive article, Greville – and I look forward to some of the questions you have asked getting answered honestly and fully. Yes, last season was a brilliant one for us, and I fully accept after fifty-two years of supporting the Bees that we cannot have it like that every year. However, there is still the expectation that life will not always be going from high peaks to low troughs. A few weeks ago I thought that we had enough points to stay safe for this year but after Saturday’s performance, I’m not quite so confident. 

It is not just the persistence in playing the lone striker that concerns me, there is the lack of an effective midfield. Whilst I was never the biggest fan of Douglas, and obviously he is approaching the twilight of his career, he has not been replaced.

Equally, Toumani’s departure has left a gap in the defensive midfield and it was interesting to hear comments in the stand about how much we miss him coming from people who were often vociferous critics of him in the past – you don’t know how good someone is until they go. I fully appreciate that players will come and players will go, but I feel that far too many have gone without adequate replacement – and that is one of my biggest concerns.

Rebel Bee gave his analysis of the current situation:

Something is very wrong at Brentford, and without taking any pleasure in it, some of us have felt this for a long while now. An air of complacency set in at the turn of the year, leaving the squad short in strength, character, quality in this unforgiving division – which is relentless right up to the last game. We could yet pay a very heavy price for this complacency – our predicament is that serious.

You’d have to write a book to pick over that performance on Saturday – it was that bad – Smith’s pre match “start on the front foot” quote in tatters after twenty seconds. Even our superb keeper has got the yips, gifting their winner with a soft punch – we are unable to dig in and take a few scruffy draws and that is what alarms me most in this bad run. A glaring problem for us is the lack of pace in the squad – it’s a big part of why we lost yesterday.

My questions to Phil Giles would be all about the balance of the squad and the rationale behind the signings made this season. Why sign three forwards who are unable to play in our lone striker role? Why have we lost and not replaced our powerful, pacy players? We have no width or an outlet, even hapless Charlton had this. I’d also ask how the summer recruitment process will be handled, assuming we stay up, is Dean Smith being given more input and say on this than Marinus was?

Saturday was the day that even some of the most positive people I know are starting to accept that we’ve made a real mess of things, and wonder where our next point will come from. It’s backs against the wall time – all we can do is to get to QPR and try to do our bit, all of the staff need to respond this week and man up a bit.

I fear something has seriously gone awry at Brentford, complete supposition on my part but all is not well and it goes far deeper than the on pitch issues. Clearly the frustrating delays to the Lionel Road project are part of this, maybe a bigger part than I imagined.

Within reason the senior figures at the club need to come out and communicate – tell the truth and try to pull everyone together – otherwise our golden moment getting to and competing in the championship will be a fleeting memory.

Iain is also looking forward to hearing some answers:

Thanks for another good blog Greville. Quite a list of questions! If these will be properly dealt with, then you’ll have a fairly lengthy meeting.

Clearly Saturday was as bad as it can get right now. You can do no worse in a league game than lose at home to the team occupying bottom place. However, whether we’re on a downward spiral will tell how much worse it can get.

Not a specific question but one troubling observation which you might be able to build into your discussion. Did you look at the players before kick off yesterday? My friend remarked that their body language was all wrong and that they didn’t look like they were up for the challenge.

You know, he was right, it was definitely visible. The contrast with the Charlton players was there to see. 

Surely the players should at least come out looking like they can’t wait for the game to start? You can have the worst group of players, with a bad owner but still come onto the field highly energised.

So the events of the first minute only seemed to verify all was absolutely not well in how the players were prepared. I am still very reluctant to become too critical of our Head Coach – but when this is coupled with the obviously ineffective substitutions and too many long balls, which we invariably lose, there are more serious concerns now.

None of us wants to see much more of this. We have no divine right to win but we expect the team to come out, champing at the bit to go and players to know how the team is expected to play and how they are meant to be a part of that.

Maybe what we need to get things going again is a local derby against a team which fires everyone up? Perhaps we have one of those soon.

John Hirdle would prefer a public forum:

Good luck in trying to get some answers from Giles. It is long overdue for him and Ankersen to break their wall of silence and front up with some explanations on the current state we find the club in and their proposed actions to improve things both short term and long term. I can’t help feeling though that instead of a private meeting with yourself they should be addressing these concerns to all of us publicly at a Fans’ Forum. I have little confidence in either of them to be honest.

dwp26 added a few extra questions:

Excellent post. I always come here to get a more balanced view, and I often find that it helps me realise things are not as bad as the post match trauma would suggest.

Some questions to pass on:

Is the overall target of Premier League football in five years still feasible?

Why should I and many others renew season tickets for next season, given that the football we play currently resembles nothing like last season’s quality?

Will we see that exciting brand of high intensity attacking football again at Brentford, or are we now condemned to sideways passing and long balls to players who have a poor first touch and can’t head it?

Chris White wants better and more frequent communication from the club:

Regular communication from the powers to be acknowledging the good and what needs to be improved and what the club intends to do about it would be a good start. I think this would be good for the standing of the club as there are many within the game who because of what happened last February, really want us to fail. We need to acknowledge this and re-emphasise that we have to do things differently if we want to be successful with our resources. But the silence has become deafening.

Lastly, we’re all in despair because we were actually given that most precious thing – hope. We hoped that we could be successful and last year we saw that it could be done, which has given us belief. There’s no way we can allow that to disappear now – it’s already rooted and mediocrity is only making matters worse. The fact that the mediocrity is now within a Championship setting show how far we have come but also what our current expectations now are.

Good luck with the meeting, Greville, and I cant wait for the feedback.

Let’s end with the thoughts of Jim Levack who, as normal, succinctly summed things up:

Greville… your article and questions are absolutely on the button. It has spawned some intelligent and reasoned responses too.

Just one thought though – Should it not be Matthew Benham answering those questions as he hired both Giles and Ankersen? It is not really fair on Giles to take the flak alone, just as it’s unfair for people to judge Dean Smith on a side that he has had no say in developing.

To those who say Carsley got more out of the same players, that is selective thinking. Carsley had a quality centre back in Tarkowski and an effective, gangly pain in the backside play-breaker in Diagouraga.

I’m not going to rant on but to my mind failing to sign any replacements in January has created a destructive mindset at the club. If you tell your office profits don’t matter until the next financial year, the team will cruise.

Interesting thoughts from all of them and many others too. It is good to offload as well as express your concerns. Let’s just wait for some of the answers and hope that I am not fobbed off with platitudes and that they allay concerns and reunite us all.

 

Time For Some Answers! – 6/3/16

Normally the blog seems to write itself. I just sit down at the computer and the words generally flow without too much effort but today was totally different as I vacillated endlessly over the most suitable subject matter and how best to express my feelings.

My first reaction after Brentford’s inept, shambolic, disjointed and passionless performance as they stumbled to an appalling defeat against an equally poor Charlton team was to assert that since the entire Brentford team seemed to have gone on their holidays a couple of months too early then perhaps the blog should do the same and that I would make as much effort as the team had done yesterday and simply refrain from making any comment at all.

I then thought about giving vent to my feelings and forensically dissecting each player’s myriad shortcomings but that was far too depressing a prospect and quite frankly I would simply be repeating so much of what I have already written after previous unacceptable performances. After much thought I have therefore decided to give a brief summary of Saturday’s non-event and then look at highlighting some of the broader issues that now face us and attempting to find some solutions.

Facing a relegation haunted team sorely lacking in confidence we all hoped for a precious early goal that would ideally settle our nerves both on and off the pitch and that is exactly what happened and our prayers were answered as the ball hit the net less than twenty seconds after the opening whistle – unfortunately at the wrong end, as a Brentford team which still looked as though it was in its prematch huddle got into a mess at the back as a left wing cross was allowed to reach the unmarked Harriott who found space in a packed penalty area and easily slotted home.

Dean Smith said that our game plan had gone out of the window after such an appalling start, but surely we still had well over ninety minutes to put things right and address matters?

The Bees eventually clawed their way back into the match and played some reasonable football for the majority of the first half without showing much spark or invention. Swift and Canos shone spasmodically and the Chelsea youngster headed a glaring chance well wide of a gaping goal from a similar opportunity to the one he scored from at The Valley before refusing to fall down when clearly clipped and a penalty kick seemed inevitable.

Frankly it is unfair and unrealistic to put so much pressure on two such talented but inexperienced teenagers and expect them to pull a rabbit out of the hat more than occasionally.

As has happened far too often, Judge was left to forage alone and cut in from the wing to force a brilliant plunging save from Pope. Canos then slipped Djuricin clean through a square defence as the applause rang out in the twenty-fourth minute for the sadly departed Dean Langford but he showed his total lack of confidence and sharpness by allowing the keeper to block his shot when a goal seemed inevitable before Barbet marked a memorable God-given minute by heading home Judge’s corner kick when left totally unmarked and he scored his first ever goal for the club.

Surely the Bees would now take control, but we never found that extra gear nor succeeded in putting a wilting defence under any real pressure. Early in the second half Canos was sent away by McEachran’s exquisite pass but from an identical position from where he rippled the net against Wolves, he could only shoot wide of the post and quite frankly, that was that as we barely created another chance for the remainder of the match, and that miss was to come and haunt us when Charlton realised just how poor we were and finally awoke from their torpor, broke away down their left flank, and the totally unemployed Button could only paw a cross straight to Harriott who made a difficult chance look easy. A ghastly error from a goalkeeper playing against his former team.

The game drifted away from us as we gently subsided to defeat without making much apparent effort to recover as we lacked any shape, invention or frankly, passion. As has happened far too often lately our three substitutions seemed only to weaken us even more. Saunders replaced Canos who seemed to be our main threat although perhaps the fact that he had been booked and subsequently warned for a dive helped make Dean Smith’s mind up for him. Sam barely touched the ball and never played a dangerous pass or cross into the penalty area.

Djuricin gave perhaps the worst and most pathetic performance I have seen from a Brentford striker since the days when the likes of Joe Omigie and Neil Shipperley provided a non-existent goal threat and his replacement, Vibe, who at least gave the impression of breaking sweat, was easily smothered by the Charlton defence. Hofmann came on near the end for McEachran and lumbered around without noticeable effect and it was quite impossible to detect our formation as we degenerated into a hapless and shapeless rabble and we were fortunate not to concede a third as we were cut open repeatedly on the break.

Not for the first time this season the patience of the Brentford supporters was sorely tested and they made their displeasure known at the final whistle.

Charlton came expecting to be defeated but they were let off the hook as they out battled and outfought a Brentford team that was in reality anything but and fully deserved their ultimate victory.

Quite frankly we played with one hand tied behind our back given the lack of incision from our midfield where Woods and McEachran duplicated each other and never gelled as a partnership and Judge provided our only consistent threat but cannot always be expected to do everything on his own.

As has been the case for several months now we do not possess a forward worthy of the name and the Charlton penalty area resembled a cordon sanitaire so seldom did we get players into it.

This sad and sorry state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue, nor can the remainder of the season be allowed to drift away. Not only is this situation patently unfair and unacceptable to supporters who pay good money and quite reasonably expect some level of entertainment and effort in return, and are now justifiably feeling shortchanged, we are also beginning look at the clubs below us with apprehensive looks.

When we lost last month to the likes of Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby, the exhortation was for patience until we played Wolves, Rotherham and Charlton and then the points and performances would follow. Well those games have now come and gone and bar one bright spark when we hammered a Wolves team which played as if it was tranquillised, we have now lost comfortably and deservedly to two of the relegation favourites without putting up much of a fight. This is not how we expect a Brentford team to perform.

What happens now and where do we go from here? We all deserve some answers. Not because we are spoiled and have massive expectations but quite simply because the squad is patently far too weak and thin and with injuries again biting is now struggling to hold its head above water.

We all know and mostly accept the reasons why the squad has been diminished and denuded without any replacements, but we expected the remaining players at least to be competitive and to provide a reasonable and realistic level of competence, entertainment, effort and results for the remainder of the season before the necessary squad strengthening can take place, not too much to ask for, surely, but the wheels have now come off and Dean Smith is, perhaps unfairly, coming under growing pressure from supporters who are now losing patience and looking for a scapegoat.

That being said he appeared to be be a man in despair in his post match interview and one who was struggling to find the answers to the multitude of problems that currently face him.

Rather than play the blame game I would rather be constructive and look for answers, explanations and firm promises for the immediate and mid-term future as I am extremely concerned at the moment.

I have therefore contacted the Brentford Co-Director of Football, Phil Giles, who responded quickly and courteously and has agreed to meet me next week when I hope to get the answers to some of the questions that we would all like to ask him.

In that regard I have already sent him a comprehensive and voluminous list of question, not that I expect the answers to all of them given the limitations of time and the dictates of commercial confidentiality, but I shall report back on what I am told at our meeting and Phil has also agreed to provide some written answers which will be published as an article as soon as I receive it.

Here are the questions that I have posed and please let me know if there is anything else that you would like me to put to him when we meet:

  • How did a Maths & Stats graduate and a PhD from the University of Newcastle end up as Co-Director of Football at Brentford FC?
  • How much of your time is spent working with the club as opposed to Smartodds?
  • What is the division of roles between yourself & Rasmus Ankersen?
  • Roughly what proportion of his time is spent working for Brentford FC?
  • The role of the new breed of executive versus the traditional “football man” – discuss
  • Dealing with agents and rapacious clubs – are Brentford considered a soft touch or worthy adversaries?
  • How much contact do you have with your peers at other clubs?
  • How is the club now regarded by the rest of the football world?
  • “We look to be stronger after every Transfer Window” – please discuss with reference to the January 2016 Transfer Window?
  • How do you manage expectations amongst supporters who were told that any finish below fifth would be a comedown from last season?
  • What would be realistic expectations for the club until we move to Lionel Road
  • In retrospect was 2015 an annus mirabilis or a massive missed opportunity?
  • How can we possibly hold onto our prime assets when they are offered more money elsewhere or persuade the likes of Button and Bidwell to buy into us and resign?
  • Try before you buy a la Bidwell & Forshaw. Why have we stopped using this successful policy re loanees?
  • What is our relationship like with the top Premier League clubs?
  • What is your strategy for recruitment for the summer (within reason!)?
  • How much say will Dean Smith and Richard O’Kelly have in player recruitment both in terms of identifying targets and wanting to sign them?
  • Who has the final say?
  • FFP and its effect on us
  • How can a team with our financial constraints find and afford flair players who can make and/or score goals?
  • Please discuss our three strikers and how they fit into the current style of play?
  • Jota – discuss
  • How much of a gamble is it signing players from lower divisions at home and abroad e.g. Woods & Gogia
  • How attractive a proposition is Brentford FC for
  1. Young players from lower divisions
  2. Experienced Championship players
  3. Players from the EEC & beyond
  • What are the minimum expectations and KPIs for you and the club for the remainder of the season?
  1. Win as many matches as you lose
  2. Remain competitive
  3. Stay out of the relegation dog fight
  4. Continue to play the Brentford Way
  5. Bed in the new signings from abroad
  6. Persuade Button and Bidwell to resign
  7. Complete a recruitment list for next season
  • How would you respond to supporters who are feeling let down, confused & disappointed at the moment & will soon be asked to buy season tickets for next season?
  • Getting transfers over the line – discuss
  • Undisclosed fees. I understand why you favour them but they are the bane of our lives – discuss
  • What will it take to bring about a change in policy and for you to bring in loanees this month?
  • Where can you find loan players now who can add value to the team?
  • I appreciate that there is a review being conducted, but why has the Academy so far failed to produce a home-grown first team squad player?
  • Has the loss of some well-regarded Academy coaches had a detrimental effect?
  • Why do non-playing first team squad players rarely play in Development Squad fixtures?
  • Can you talk us through the process from acknowledging a need to signing a player i.e. how did we go from knowing we would lose Odubajo to signing Colin?
  • How advanced and complex is the proprietorial analytical data we use to identify and recruit players compared to the likes of Wyscout & Opta etc?
  • In reality how much does our approach really differ from most other clubs nowadays?
  • Can you explain the process by which we combine analytical and physical scouting?
  • Matthew Benham has stated that a player should be watched 100 times. How often do we watch potential players as opposed to watching DVDs and film clips?
  • What sort of physical scouting network do we possess or plug into?
  • How many analysts support yourself and Rasmus?
  • How do you evaluate players in terms of their character and likelihood to settle in the UK?
  • Do we have a constantly updated list of potential and VIABLE prospects from around the world?
  • How far down the pyramid do we analyse players and teams?
  • How happy are you with the 2015 batch of signings in terms of their current performance levels and were some thrown in prematurely?
  • Is it getting more difficult every year to recruit well?
  • What signing and sale have given you the most satisfaction?
  • What lessons were learned from the Marinus recruitment process when it came to appoint Dean Smith?
  • What qualities does Dean Smith possess that makes him the ideal manager for Brentford FC?
  • What are the benefits to Brentford of the association with FC Midtjylland?
  • We have sent them Moore and O’Shaugnessy, when will we receive one of their players on loan or a permanent basis?
  • Why so many injuries this season – coincidence or happenstance?
  • Scott Hogan – what can or should we expect or hope for?
  • When will we take the Cup competitions more seriously?
  • Is a box-to-box player with footballing and tackling ability on the agenda for next season?

 

A Good Day! – 2/9/15

There were quite a few comments from my fellow Bees supporters about my last article which set out all the myriad of questions that I still feel need answering after Brentford’s rickety start to the season. I urged patience and for everybody to allow the squad time to gel on the pitch given the large number of additions and subtractions to the squad and also for the massive and fundamental root and branch changes made off the pitch to ideally start to take beneficial effect.

Dave Washer agreed with this approach but still bemoaned the upheaval that has taken place in recent months:

Another excellent article, as always. When the view of other Brentford fans is either one of complete and utter apathy or a kind of ‘support the team at all costs otherwise you’re not a real fan’ attitude, your insightful writing serves as a refreshing (and honest) alternative.

I too was at the Reading game and I, like many, thought we were abysmal. Uncomfortable on the ball, lacking ideas, very little going forward and, most worrying of all, absolutely clueless at the back. When Reading scored their third right at the death, I somewhat rakishly said, at the top of my voice, ‘statistically speaking, we’re losing 3-1’. A fellow Bees fan close to me in the Ealing Road stand took exception to this and things became a bit heated. But are we not allowed to express discontentment when we play as badly as that? According to some people, no. Which is frustrating. Because on Saturday we were bad. Very bad indeed.

The worst thing is the comparison with last season: assured, measured, confident, totally comfortable in possession. Brilliant going forwards, solid (more often than not) in defence. I still wake up in a cold sweat when I think about Benham’s (misguided) decision to let Warburton go. In hindsight, could he not have put his Moneyball plans on hold, signed Warbs up for two or three more years and gone again this season with the existing (and very successful) management structure in place?

But that’s all hypothetical. We are where we are and we have to deal with it. All the main points have been made, so I don’t have to go over them again. Suffice to say, the club were massively naïve when it came to players wanting to depart. Warburton was a leader, and a great one at that. Once the club decided he was out, it was inevitable that many of his team would want out too. And so we are left with a load of new players, none of whom have Championship experience, all of whom need time to adjust to the rigorous demands of one of the most competitive leagues in European football. Trouble is, it’s time we don’t have.

Bringing in Djuricin and Canos looks like a great (and desperately needed) move; but to me it seems like papering over some pretty enormous cracks. The defence is terrible, central midfield is awful, and we need at least one new explosive winger.

The big question for me is centred on Dijkhuizen. Yes, he’s been dealt a terrible hand, but disregarding that, is he up to the task? Of course he needs time to prove himself, but I have an awful feeling he simply isn’t the right man for the job. Yes, he’s lost Odubajo, Dallas, Pritchard, Jota, Bjelland, McEachran and Gray, but is he able to galvanize the players and get them scrapping? From what I’ve seen, the answer is no.

Of course, we have to give him another 10 or 15 games to work with the players and prove he’s up to it. Then and only then can we judge him. But injuries and departures aside, I fear he lacks the necessary qualities (leadership, passion, knowledge of English football and the capability to rouse the squad into fighting for every single ball and every single point) to keep us up… let alone get us pushing for the playoffs.

The Championship is a formidable league and last season we had a manager who was beyond exceptional. This season we have a guy with limited experience and a squad that literally doesn’t know if it’s coming or going. If it were up to me, I’d give Dijkhuizen twenty games. If we stabilize, great. If we are fighting a relegation battle (or worse, are by that point ‘doing a Blackpool’ – i.e. cut adrift by ten points or more), I would seriously consider putting Lee Carsley in charge, with support from Kevin O’Connor. Two passionate English pros who might just be able to get the players to fight as hard as they’ll need to to survive this season.

Final thought: last season, brilliant as he was, many of us said that Warburton didn’t have a Plan B. This season, Dijkhuizen hasn’t even got a Plan A.

I agree with much of what he said however I think that Dave is being extremely harsh about Marinus Dijkhuizen who, whilst still an unknown quantity, has certainly been thrown in at the deep end and already suffered several serious and unexpected body blows. It is far, far too early, in my opinion, to make any judgement at all about his qualities and capabilities and whether he is able to cobble together and create a cohesive and effective team out of the squad that he has been given.

For me the next couple of weeks are crucial as he finally has some uninterrupted time on the training ground to work with his new squad, with the exception of Vibe who is on international duty, and can hopefully integrate the new additions, of whom more shortly, and have the breathing space to decide how he wants to play, what formation best suits the players now available to him and who is in his first choice eleven given all the departures and injuries. He desperately needs our support during this tough settling in time, not brickbats.

Mike Rice had also given a lot of thought to the current situation and the problems we face:

Mark Warburton’s departure was a massive loss to the Club not least in that he had ideas and skills derived from outside of football. Len Shackleton may have been right – and right about the current Brentford board as well – but it’s not the board that have caused this mess. It’s down to the owner and his clear-sighted view of what needed to be done to secure the club’s long-term sustainability. I use the word long-term deliberately because in the long-term he’s right. But it’s in the short-term that we have the problem, and possibly the medium-term as well if the whole project goes pear-shaped, which on Saturday seemed highly likely.

As things stand, I think too many steps have been taken too quickly. Maybe some were out of our hands, like the long-term injuries. But others have been taken by the owner. We have gone from one director of football to two, an unusual step in itself. One of them has no direct experience of football and the other leads another club, in another country, as chairman, with all that involves. That strikes me as taking novelty to ridiculous lengths. An accumulated risk, to use an appropriate metaphor, when a win-double may have been more appropriate (I know nothing about gambling).

Why not twin the statistician with somebody steeped in the English leagues and football academies, or at least a grassroots football person with good club contacts? As if intoxicated by the novelty, we’ve then taken it further by appointing a foreign coach with no experience of the Championship, and apparently little influence on how the other two are thinking and operating. That may not be the case, but as somebody said above, having taken such radical steps isn’t it incumbent on the Club’s well-staffed PR machine to discuss and explain to fans the reasons behind such radical thinking and how it is intended to work?

The answers to all of the questions will become much clearer in time. It’s far too early to say whether all or some of the gambles will pay off. I agree with the long-term strategy, but I have a horrible feeling that the execution in the short-term may damage the club’s medium-term plans and perhaps cause the strategy to be abandoned altogether.

I said in an earlier comment that we are ill-equipped for a relegation battle and I think Saturday showed why. I desperately want the strategy to work, but I don’t think that at moment it’s being given a fair chance. I really want to be able to eat my words come Christmas.

Mike has eloquently expressed all the fears that many of us are experiencing at the moment and the next few weeks will be crucial and illuminating and go a long way towards determining how the season will eventually pan out.

The Transfer Window shut last night and high praise must be given where it is due, as it would seem that our recruitment and analysis department came up trumps as three new top quality players arrived who, all being well, will massively strengthen the squad and fill gaps that were previously of concern to us all.

Austrian international striker Marco Djuricin arrived on loan from Red Bull Salzburg. Yes, we have signed a young, current international striker, what is there not to like about that? He is initially here on a season-long loan deal and I suspect that we will have a chance of making the deal permanent at the end of the season if things turn out well. Marco was close to joining the Bees in January after scoring for fun at SK Sturm Graz but instead signed for Red Bull. So what can we expect from him? Ideally goals, and plenty of them, but it would seem that he is quick, an excellent predatory finisher, plays on the shoulder of the last defender and is not afraid of hard work.

Most importantly, we now have some options in attack with three strikers who all bring different and ideally complementary skills to the team. Philipp Hoffmann is tall and strong and holds the ball up and Lasse Vibe can play wide or just behind the front man. Will we play with one striker or two? That is an interesting conundrum for Marinus to ponder over before our next match.

Brentford also demonstrated that the current regime retains the crucial ability to prise priceless nuggets and jewels from the grasp of the Premier League when eighteen year old Spanish youth international attacker Sergi Canos arrived on a half-season loan from Liverpool. A highly sought after product of Barcelona’s youth academy, he can play either wide or through the middle and given his age, size and lack of experience, I would expect that he will play, initially at least, on the wing and hopefully inject us with some much-needed pace and guile.

We need to manage our expectations about him as he will need careful nursing, and we should not expect any miracles. Hopefully he will be given far more opportunity to bed in and impress than our last loanee from Liverpool, Joao Carlos Teixeira, who despite his obvious talent, was ignored and left to wither on the vine by Uwe Rosler. Maybe in time he might be able to fill the playmaker role that we so desperately lack, but that is a massive ask of such a young player.

Brentford also beat the deadline with the rare and welcome signing of a homegrown player in Shrewsbury Town’s much vaunted midfield player Ryan Woods for an undisclosed fee. The twenty-one year old has impressed over the last couple of seasons, particularly since he moved into midfield from his initial right back berth. He looked calm, composed and comfortable on the ball when we beat Shrewsbury a couple of years ago but it has to be admitted that he was partially culpable for the winning goal when he was left for dead by Kadeem Harris’s step-over and instant acceleration and Marcello Trotta scored from the resulting cross. Ryan enjoyed a wonderful season in 2014/15 when he inspired his team to promotion, was named as one of the best ten young players in the Football League by FourFourTwo magazine, earned a place in the League Two PFA Team of the Season and finished second in the voting for the League Two Player of the Season.

He has been compared in both looks and style to the late, great Alan Ball, uses the ball well, tackles and presses like a demon, and he is expected to slot into the role of holding midfield player which we have struggled to fill so far this season. Ideally this will then allow Toumani Diagouraga the freedom to roam forward as he did so successfully last season, secure in the knowledge that his back has been covered as he ventures upfield.

There was more good news last night when the club announced that the unfortunate and luckless Scott Hogan has been offered and signed a new contract, extending his stay at Griffin Park for a further year until the end of the 2017/18 season. Ideally this will allow him sufficient time to recover fully from his second knee operation and return to contention for the first team. This decision was both generous and honourable and has certainly shown the club in an excellent light. Similar action was taken in previous decades when both Brian Statham and Danny Boxall, both recovering from long term injuries, received the same treatment from the club.

So a good day for the club and one which will ideally help us on the long road to recovery, revitalise us and restore our fortunes and buy us some breathing space as everybody associated with Brentford tries to get things back on an even keel so that we can all face the challenges of the season, stronger, better prepared and in a much calmer state of mind.