Brentford’s Injury Hoodoo – 14/4/16

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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.

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?

 

Good News! – 17/2/16


Good news has been scarce, sparse and rather thin on the ground lately given Brentford’s patchy start to the New Year, so let’s shout it from the rooftops – Harlee Dean and Nico Yennaris have both joined Sam Saunders in extending their contract with the club, Harlee for two years and Nico until 2019.

Given the recent departure for a variety of reasons of Jota, Toumani Diagouraga and James Tarkowski  and the accompanying uncertainty surrounding other squad members, it is encouraging to say the least to learn that two established players have decided to buy into the club’s stated determination to rebuild and strengthen the squad at the end of the season and thus remain part of the Brentford project.

We certainly needed to hear something positive this week following the avalanche of unanswered goals rippling our net recently and for differing reasons we should be absolutely delighted that both Harlee and Nico have staked their immediate future with the club.

Up until very recently I suspect that you could have obtained long odds on Dean making the decision to stay, as he and the football club appeared to have fallen out of love with each other and a parting of the ways seemed inevitable.

Harlee perhaps felt that he didn’t receive the respect that he deserved as well as maybe coveting the salaries received by several other Brentford alumni elsewhere. He had also oft bemoaned the fact that felt that he was the scapegoat and the one generally to be blamed and dropped when things went awry.

On the other side of the fence Harlee’s tendency to shoot from the hip and give vent to his feelings about all sorts of matters pertaining to the club, sometimes before apparently engaging his brain, did not apparently go down too well in some rarified circles and there appeared to be a Mexican standoff with the club not seeming to be making serious efforts to resign him and the player stating that he would be leaving at the end of the current season when his contract expired although he was hoping that something could still be worked out.

What was never in any doubt was the fact that Harlee would continue to give his all on the pitch and he has certainly done his utmost to put his finger in the dyke and try and stem the flood of goals that we have conceded.

Harlee wears his heart on his sleeve on the pitch (and off it too) and he has jumped, headed, tackled and covered to the best of his ability and has visibly improved as a footballer over the last couple of years and at twenty-four still has the potential to progress even further.

He seems to have learned from his impetuous reaction which saw him punished with a daft and totally avoidable and unacceptable red card against Nottingham Forest and has become a calming influence and a leader to those around him. He also reads the game far better which enables him to use and exemplify the old adage that the first yard is in the head and cover up his lack of pace.

He is now a proven and accomplished Championship central defender who anticipates and snuffs out much of the danger that threatens us and he has also gained confidence in the attacking system he has been asked to play in and has become an accurate long and short passer of the ball.

Thankfully he is yet to attempt Tarkowskiesque dummies and feints as he brings the ball out of defence and he is a footballer who is equally aware of his strengths and limitations.

So what happened to bring about this volte face?

On the one hand the club needed a quick triumph to reassure supporters given the setbacks of the past month or so and Harlee resigning has provided a statement of intent given that a senior, well established player who is also a firm fans’ favourite has not followed the general exodus out of Brentford FC but has seen and heard enough regarding our future plans and aspirations to decide to stay.

This decision also demonstrates that the opinions and wishes of Dean Smith are being listened to as the manager had made it clear that he wanted to have Harlee on board for next season and beyond.

The sale of Tarkowski also meant that Harlee was the only senior right sided centre half at the club and therefore a more valuable property than had been the case previously.

Despite his all round improvement Harlee might not have been seen as a player good enough to help take us to the heights of the Premier League and perhaps his continued stay at the club reflects that our ambitions have to some degree been put on hold or made more realistic until the move to Lionel Road comes to fruition.

I now wonder if we will attempt to bring in another defender to compete with him, such as Giklingham’s John Egan, whose name has been bandied about or whether Harlee will be seen as the undisputed first choice next season?

Hopefully Andreas Bjelland will be fit enough to play alongside him and Harlee will benefit from having an experienced partner, as he did when Tony Craig was there to support, encourage and prompt him.

Harlee excites and frustrates me in equal proportions, but I respect him for his passion and commitment and I am pleased that one of the few remaining members of the old guard will still be with us next season.

He really gets what Brentford is all about, he knows how much beating Fulham and QPR means to us all and he is a fighter and a warrior. We need more like him in the squad.

Lets just hope that he finally becomes more of a danger to the opposition at our set pieces.

That Wembley header seems a long time ago now but his Fulham thunderbolt will live long in the memory.

The announcement that Nico Yennaris will remain for a further three years was not greeted as effusively by many Brentford supporters but I really can’t see what they have to complain about.

Nico arrived a couple of years ago from Arsenal and given his Premier League pedigree, expectations were high but he was a damp squib, unable to displace Alan McCormack after Shay Logan’s departure and he fell into the shadows where he remained until Max Colin suffered a long term injury earlier this season.

He had also enjoyed a successful loan spell last season at Wycombe Wanderers alongside Sam Saunders and played in their losing Playoff Final against Southend United. Some were even surprised that he wasn’t unloaded permanently but he returned to Brentford patiently waiting his turn.

When it came he more than seized his opportunity and Colin was hardly missed as Nico put in a series of eye opening and dominating displays where he showed pace, strength and tenacity and he was more than unfortunate to lose his place when the Frenchman returned.

He remains in and around the team and filled in last Saturday in central midfield and came close to opening his goal account.

He has certainly demonstrated that he is quite good enough a player to cope with the demands of the ChampionshiSome fans expressed a view that signing Nico to a new contract shows a sign of lack of ambition.

To that I would respond that every successful team requires sonebody who can slot in well in a variety of positions without fuss whenever necessary and Nico fits that bill.

He is still very young at twenty-two and is visibly improving as he gains in confidence and might yet develop into a first team regular.

At present I see him as a versatile water carrier and do not expect to see him as a first choice but rather as a squad player deluxe who will do a fine job whenever and wherever he is called upon and having him breathing down their neck will help ensure that everybody else maintains their standard.

So, some good news at last for all Brentford supporters which will hopefully go some way towards allaying our slight concerns at our current situation.

All we need now is three points on Saturday as well as the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell to follow in the footsteps of Harlee and Nico – surely not too much to ask for?

Tarky’s Tale – 26/1/15

James Tarkowski finally broke radio silence yesterday when he issued a personal statement intended to explain his actions last week when he refused to play against Burnley.

Here is what he had to say:

I wanted to share a message with the fans following last week’s events. My plans were to do this sooner but I agreed with the club that it was better to do so once I’d returned to training.

I have always enjoyed giving 100 per cent playing for Brentford and am always proud to wear the shirt.

As a team, and with your support, we’ve had two years of great progress. From the promotion to the Championship through to last season where we reached the Play-Offs, I have so many special memories of this club and of the backing we’ve had from you, the fans.

I have always had a strong bond with my team mates and the fans. I also have a very close relationship with my family who, like you and my team mates, have been thereand supported me throughout my career.

Unfortunately my mum has a serious, incurable illness and her condition has been getting steadily worse. I live a good four hours away from her and during the autumn, it became clear to me that I needed to get closer to home to support both her and my dad.

I was open and up front about this with the Club, who were sympathetic and said they’d work with me and my agent to try to reach a solution which worked well for the Club whilst giving me the possibility to move to closer to my mum.

We decided to keep this matter confidential in the best interests of everyone. I decided not to put in a transfer request as we agreed it would be better to work together on this.

In the run up to the match against Burnley, I felt completely frazzled and unable to concentrate properly. I felt that to play in the match in this frame of mind may actually do more harm than good. I thought that my distraction may result in an error that would let my team mates and the fans down. After much thought and consultation with the gaffer, my family and my team mates, I felt unable to guarantee my usual standard of performance and said as much to the gaffer.

I would like to apologise to my team mates, the gaffer and the fans. I hope that you can understand the pressure I was under and that no offence or insult was intended to anyone associated with the Club. I have taken the sanction given to me by the Club with good grace.

I would also like to thank everyone who has offered me support over the last ten days, and thank the Club for continuing to understand my situation at home.

I am still under contract at Brentford and am committed to giving my best for the Club, the team and the fans, as I always do when wearing the shirt.

James Tarkowski

When I last looked earlier this morning there were already pages and pages of comments on social media endlessly and forensically examining the runes and entrails and taking every single word apart in an attempt to analyse the exact meaning and nuances of what Tarkowski had said and in many cases comparing his situation with that of Jota who was pretty much given compassionate leave recently given his own personal problems.

Please feel free to wade through them all if you have the time, energy, interest and desire to do so and the general tenet of the comments ranges from a continued and unchanged feeling of anger at his original behaviour to a sense of understanding that the seriousness of the situation relating to his Mother’s illness had led him to behave irrationally and unacceptably.

I have no intention of giving an opinion on the matter as quite frankly I don’t really think that it matters one iota or jot what I think. What is more important is where this now leaves us.

Frankly the club is betting each way and covering the bases as nothing has really changed. Tarkowski still wishes to leave the club and Brentford will still only sell him if they are offered an acceptable sum for his transfer. Everything else is pure gloss and window dressing.

It would be to everybody’s advantage if a club does come in for the player before the end of the Transfer Window and offers a sum in excess of three million pounds. Should that be the case then I would fully expect that Tarkowski will be on his way. The key question is whether clubs will now be looking to take advantage of the unedifying situation and offer us well below market rate?

Given what he had to say yesterday it will be particularly interesting to see how he copes with the dilemma should a club south of the Watford Gap attempt to sign him given his stated intention to return to the North of England.

What the statement did, given that it included an apology to all parties, is open the door to the possibility of Tarkowski playing for us again should his move not come to fruition, and that is where the problems arise.

There is absolutely no point in leaving the player in purdah for the remainder of the season, thus further eroding his transfer value and turning him into damaged and shop-soiled goods.

Tarkowski is finished at Brentford, that is quite obvious to me. A parting of the ways is inevitable and it is just a question of whether he leaves in the next week or at the end of the season.

As for his playing for us again should he still be at the club after the Transfer Window shuts, I would hope fervently that the form of Dean, Barbet and O’Connell makes his presence on the pitch unnecessary and superfluous, not because I feel any personal vitriol towards him, but simply because his presence would be turned into a sideshow which would take attention away and distract everybody from the only thing that matters – winning football matches.

The Tarkowski situation and how we should handle it has totally divided and polarised the supporter base and is just one more unsettling episode in what has been a season that in so many ways has resembled a soap opera in terms of some of the off field happenings.

I have no way of knowing what will happen between now and the end of the month however I believe it would be in the best interests of everybody if James Tarkowski, talented player that he undoubtedly is, finds a new home as soon as possible.

Lull Before The Storm As Bees Prepare To Return To Action – 19/11/15

Preparations are well underway for Saturday’s attractive home fixture against Nottingham Forest and the Brentford squad will be full of confidence and raring to return to action after their enforced fortnight’s break.

That is not to say that they have had their feet up as they were subjected to a gruelling series of training and fitness sessions before they were given a well deserved few days off which allowed the foreign contingent to return home for a brief visit.

There was no rest for some, with Alan Judge, John Swift and Daniel O’Shaughnessy all involved with their respective international squads over the last week or so with Judge now playing for a place in the Eire squad which has qualified for next year’s European Championship Finals and Swift receiving his first heady taste of England Under 21 football which has hopefully whetted his appetite for more of the same.

Judge sounded particularly bright and chirpy in his Bees Player interview yesterday and he fully recognises and acknowledges that he needs to maintain the form he has shown recently if he is to spend next Summer in France as he so desperately wishes to do, and that can only be good news for us in the meantime.

In that regard I cannot remember the last time that a current Brentford player appeared in the finals of a major tournament such as the World Cup or European Championship and I well suspect that if Judge is named in the final squad, assuming of course that he is still at the club and perish the thought that he is not, that he will be the first Brentford player ever to do so.

Former Bees Brian Turner and Bill Slater played for New Zealand and England in the finals of the World Cup in 1982 and 1958 respectively and Hermann Hreidarsson came very close to qualifying with Iceland whilst still a Bee. Two more ex-Bees in Stuart Dallas and Will Grigg are also in line to play for Northern Ireland this Summer.

The squad has been strengthened with the return to full fitness of the evergreen Sam Saunders and Josh McEachran played half a game in last week’s friendly match against AFC Bournemouth and cannot be too far away now, with Jota and Max Colin hopefully shortly behind him.

I recently read a report that attempted to put a monetary value to the cost of player injuries in terms of wages, treatment, insurance premiums and the financial implications of fielding a weakened team. It was hardly surprising that Arsenal came out near the top of the list with their massive and ongoing injury list costing them a whopping twenty million pounds last season. The formula also highlighted that the less injuries you have, generally the better you perform with Premier League Champions Chelsea suffering the least number of injuries.

I therefore think that we have not paid Brentford nearly enough credit for the way that they have performed this season despite what can only be termed a crippling and seemingly never ending list of injuries that at one time affected nearly half the squad, including several star names.

We finally seem to be over the worst now, although I do not want to tempt fate but even now for every player we get back to full fitness, another one seems to be struck down. Our current healthy league position simply emphasises the quality and depth of the squad and maybe at some point fairly early in the New Year we will really have a selection problem when the majority of players return to fitness.

Talking about injuries, the news about Lewis Macleod and Marco Djuricin is not good and I would be surprised if we see either of them back in action before the New Year at the earliest.

That leaves the Head Coach – and don’t you worry I will come back to that complex situation very shortly – with a selection dilemma for Saturday’s match.

Lasse Vibe played well as a lone striker as a late substitute at Charlton and after Djuricin’s injury at Blackburn, scoring on each occasion and Philipp Hofmann did exactly the same at Wolves. Reassuring news, indeed, but I am more concerned about how they will fare as a lone striker at home when the opposition sits deep and packs its defence unlike the situation in the away games when the opposition was chasing the game and left huge gaps in their defence for us to exploit.

I would suspect that we will keep to our successful 4-2-3-1 formation which allows us to dominate the midfield rather than allow the two strikers to play together and it will therefore be up to whoever is picked from the start, and I think it will be Vibe, to demonstrate some upper body strength, vim and vigour, make intelligent runs and hold the ball up until the midfield can get forward to support him.

They have both had several months to settle down, find full fitness and become accustomed to the demands of the Championship and it is now up to them both to seize this opportunity as the squad and supporters alike are now relying on them to produce on a regular basis.

Alan Judge has demonstrated his sharpshooting ability in front of goal, scoring six times to date, which means that he has already doubled his tally for the whole of last season but we need Swift and Ryan Woods to step up to the plate too bearing in mind that Pritchard and Jota notched double figures last season and Douglas and Dallas were not too far behind them. We really need those extra goals from midfield and ideally Jota will supply some of them once he returns to action.

As you can see, I have made no mention of the back four as I have pretty much given them up as a bad loss in terms of their goal scoring potential and prowess.

Tarkowski was deadly from six inches in the last seconds against Ipswich and Bidwell is getting a fair bit closer with some of his efforts as he still attempts to break his goalscoring duck but despite the services of our Free Kick Coach our defenders either make the wrong run or the delivery is not up to scratch. I look back at the likes of Terry Evans and Micky Droy who caused havoc in the opposition penalty areas (as well as their own from time to time) and scored far more than their fair share of goals. Where are their like when we need them so desperately now?

Pep Clotet remains the elephant in the room.

Is he our preferred choice to become our new Head Coach? If that is the case, is he likely to agree to join us and if so, when? How long is Lee Carsley prepared to remain in his current role given his oft-stated antipathy to it? Can he even now be persuaded to stay until the end of the season? If he is replaced will there still be a role for him at the club? Could the powers that be have handled things any differently and gone public about what is currently going on?

These points and many more have been debated at great length both in my articles and on social media and who knows what will transpire, and when.

I have made my views perfectly clear.

  • Lee Carsley would be the ideal choice to remain as Head Coach given how well he has performed and the players’ response to him, but he has made it quite clear that he wants out as soon as possible
  • We are conducting a recruitment process as far under the radar as possible and the media leaks have not emanated from the Brentford end
  • No statement will be made until there is any firm news
  • Hopefully there will be firm news as soon as possible which will bring the current uncertainty to an end
  • Pep Clotet is an exciting option who comes highly recommended by the likes of Steve Coppell and he would fit in well with the management philosophy currently employed at the club
  • His appointment – as would anyone else’s, would be a gamble in terms of how he deals with the players and the myriad of coaching and support staff

Who knows how long it will take before there is anything more to say rather than mere speculation, but as supporters it is our right and privilege to have an opinion and air our views – and we have certainly done so!

Maybe now is the lull before the storm. Saturday’s match against an underperforming but improving Nottingham Forest team packed with big name players looms ever nearer and nothing must distract the squad and get in the way from their immediate priority which is quite simply to win the game.

Nothing else really matters.

How Many Points Do We Need To Get? – 10/10/15

It is just wonderful when I receive unsolicited articles from my fellow Brentford supporters. Firstly it is great for everyone else to hear other voices as I am sure that you all get a bit bored with me prattling on all the time – I know that I do, and it is healthy and thought provoking to read some different perspectives, viewpoints and opinions about the club, favourable, supportive or even at the other end of the spectrum. Most importantly, and selfishly too, from my point of view it means that another day has gone by without the necessity of me having to gird my loins and struggle to write something new and hopefully interesting myself.

Dave Washer has just sent through some fascinating comments and as an advertising copywriter, he can certainly write – as is proved by this article which analyses the current state of play on the pitch at Griffin Park and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

What with the gap between the last game and the next one, my thoughts have turned (inevitably?) to the games we have ahead of us this season and, specifically, how many wins and draws we potentially will require to remain a Championship club next season – surely now the summit of our ambitions.

I’m certain that if you asked officials at the club, they would still say we are looking to push on from where we left off last season; but the reality is, with all the turmoil off the pitch so far since the departure of Warburton and Weir, many (if not all) Brentford supporters would snatch your hand off right now if they were offered a finishing position of twenty-first place. A depressing admission perhaps, but one which I think sums up the mood on the terraces (and in the seats) after a mere two wins from 10 games.

Before we realised just how incredible our team actually was last season, I was working on the “sixty points for survival” philosophy, targeting thirty points between August and December and another thirty points between January and May. Taking this as a basis for this season (and readjusting slightly to reflect the fact that I don’t think we are capable this season of reaching sixty points) I have jotted down below the games in which I believe we will find the wherewithal to take all three points, as well as where I think we will get a draw.

Naturally we all have differing opinions about who we will be able to beat between now and May, for example, I see Rotherham at Griffin Park as an “easy” win, whilst others may view it as a tense six-pointer that will inevitably end in a draw or even, God forbid, a defeat, but for me the following list gives me something to cling on to as we seek to plot our course away from the wrong end of the table.

Obviously it is not definitive but I thought others might be interested in my thoughts as a conversation-starter as we count down the days until kick-off against the Millers next Saturday.

NB. To be anywhere close to the thirty points by the end of December target, we need to take seventeen points from the next thirty-nine available. Then, to get close to a tally of sixty points (which should definitely see us stay up) we need to take thirty-four points from sixty-six between next January and next May.

Seventeen from thirty-nine actually gives us quite a lot of room for dropping points, with twenty-two points written off before a ball is kicked. That is a win ratio of less than fifty percent, surely the kind of statistic that a lower-mid table Championship side should be more than capable of achieving?

Similarly, thirty-four from sixty-six after Christmas sees a sizeable thirty-two points sacrificed by the Bees. The prediction: that we will gain just over fifty percent of the points on offer to us between January and May. Again, surely more than achievable if we are to have any pretensions of staying up?

Games we will win (in 2015)

Rotherham (H)
Nottingham Forest (H)
MK Dons (H)
Huddersfield (H)

Games we will draw (in 2015)

QPR (H)
Bolton (A)
Fulham (A)
Brighton (H)
Reading (A)

Games we will lose (in 2015)

Wolves (A)
Hull (H)
Blackburn (A)
Cardiff (A)

Games we will win (in 2016)

Leeds (H)
Wolves (H)
Rotherham (A)
Charlton (H)
Blackburn (H)
Bolton (H)
Bristol City (H)
Cardiff (H)
MK Dons (A)
Fulham (H)

Games we will draw (in 2016)

Burnley (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Derby (H)
QPR (A)

Games we will lose (in 2016)

Birmingham (A)
Middlesbrough (H)
Preston (A)
Brighton (A)
Hull (A)
Forest (A)
Ipswich (A)
Huddersfield (A)

As I say, these are only my thoughts and of course there will be many who completely disagree with my predictions! Added to which, who knows what will happen with all of the currently injured players between now and the end of the season? Once we get back the likes of Jota, Colin and McEachran, we could well exceed all expectations and actually finish nearer to the playoff places than the relegation places.

Speaking of Jota, Colin and McEachran brings me onto my next point: namely, what will the team selection be for the Rotherham game and what will our new Head Coach decide to do? Although we were apparently awful against Derby, Lee Carsley will have had two weeks to work with the players, bond with them and mould them more into “his” team.

Will he persevere with Vibe sitting behind Djuricin however? According to Greville, Vibe was pretty awful against Derby, so perhaps a change in formation is in order? Or will he think about playing Hofmann up top with Djuricin and try to batter his way through what is sure to be a resilient and defence-minded Rotherham line-up?

I was thinking about what made us so successful last season and, apart from the obvious man-management / tactical skills of Mark Warburton (ably assisted by David Weir) and a relentless brand of attacking football that simply did not allow the opposition to settle (unless they were Middlesbrough!) the one constant was an almost slavish deferral to a 4-1-4-1 system which, correct me if I’m wrong, we don’t seem to have employed this campaign.

Were we to revert to 4-1-4-1 against Rotherham, my selection would be thus:

Button (Goal)
Clarke (RB)
Bidwell (LB)
Barbet (CB)
Dean (CB)
Diagouraga (HM)
Woods (AM)
Swift (AM)
Judge (LW)
Canos (RW)
Djuricin (A)

I would bring Josh Clarke back in at right back, as I simply do not think Nico Yennaris is Championship standard (I still have nightmares about the game at The Valley last season). I would give Barbet another go at centre back as a) he looks a quality player and b) the fact that we have conceded in every single match so far this season tells me that the current de facto centre back pairing of Tarkowski and Dean is simply not working.

In front of the holding role of Diagouraga I would give youth a chance in the shape of Ryan Woods (playing the Jonathan Douglas role of bursting creative midfielder) and John Swift (filling in the attacking midfield role that has been so desperately missing since Alex Pritchard went back to White Hart Lane). I would stick with Judge on the left, as he has been outstanding all season and, for true pace, give Canos a chance on the right, until Jota is back to full fitness.

Assuming that Lewis Macleod doesn’t trip over another twig between now and the Rotherham game, I would have him on the bench, waiting in the wings to burst on and add another goal or two to the tally with 25 minutes to go. And of course, moving forward, if Macleod carries on the way he left off against QPR the other night, he will command a starting place right at the heart of our midfield before long, hopefully leading us further and further up the table.

What will Lee Carsley decide to do? Of course it is difficult to say. But, assuming everyone is match fit, and because it is a match we simply have to win, I think he will go for a 4-1-3-2 formation, lining up like this:

Button (Goal)
McCormack (RB)
Bidwell (LB)
Tarkowski (CB)
Dean (CB)
Diagouraga (HM)
Woods (AM)
Swift (AM)
Judge (AM)
Vibe (A)
Djuricin (A)

The main thing of course is that we win – whatever the formation and however we achieve it! However, it would be monumentally encouraging were we to win playing good, confident, attacking football, which could then give us a good platform on which to build as we go on to seek that additional fourteen points between then and the end of December.

The club, the team and the fans have been through a lot this season and now we have a chance to draw a line, put in a performance of intent, desire and skill and kick on towards the next batch of ten league games – from which, we hope, we will garner a) more than a paltry two victories and b) start to shut up shop at the back and actually look a bit more difficult to score against.

If we can manage that, we might all be able to predict a far happier outcome when the final league table is published next May.

Thanks again to Dave for his predictions and team selection. I would note that Peterborough went down in 2012/13 having finished with a record high Championship points total of fifty-four so he is being very cautious with his proposed target of sixty points – or so I hope!

I do share his optimism as I believe that we are a couple of short months away from being able to field a potent and attractive midfield comprising four – or even five out of:

  • Diagouraga
  • Woods
  • McEachran
  • Macleod
  • Swift (if he remains with us)
  • Jota
  • Judge
  • Canos

Now they might be lacking a bit in bite but you cannot tell me that we would not dominate possession, and more importantly, create chances given the talent that they all possess.

The key question for me is whether we revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation like last season or keep two men up top? I am concerned that Djuricin cannot play the lone striker role and run the channels like Gray did, although he might prove me wrong once he regains full match fitness. Vibe is currently proving to be a bit of a damp squib and the jury is still out on Hofmann, although he impressed in his cameo at Derby.

I would prefer us to have the extra man in midfield if at all possible, as what is the point of having two strikers if there is nobody there to load the gun for them?

The defence is serviceable but for all his dominance at Leeds, Tarkowski does not totally convince me as I believe that there is always a mistake in him. Dean has become more consistent and measured in his play and I would like to see a left footer play alongside him, and I would choose Barbet because of his better distribution and the fact that he is becoming more accustomed to the rough and tumble of the Championship.

As for right back, I have no real preference between McCormack or Clarke as they both bring different skills to the party. I simply hope that Colin recovers quickly and refrains his place as he showed real promise before his injury.

You have now read the views of both Dave Washer and myself. What does everybody else think?