I was fully prepared to get up at the crack of dawn yesterday and schlepp up the M1 to Huddersfield. Twelve-thirty is an ungodly hour to start a football match, particularly if it first necessitates a three hour crawl up a packed motorway riddled with a frustrating series of speed restrictions.
Dead rubber it might well have been, but it would also be the last opportunity for me to get my football fix for a couple of months or so as well as to pay my own personal homage to a team that had put so many seemingly insurmountable problems behind them and whose dedication, perseverance, commitment and no little skill, now looked likely to be rewarded with a top ten finish.
Everything changed on Thursday with my wife’s out-of-the-blue suggestion that we take advantage of the favourable weather forecast and go away for the weekend.
Football and Brentford’s irresistible siren song invariably take precedence over all other matters throughout the long and interminable Winter months and home games are sacrosanct, but given the circumstances, would it hurt so much, would it be such a bad thing to, just this once, put the wishes and considerations of my family first and make the supreme and ultimate sacrifice?
My answer to that interesting philosophical question can be ascertained by the fact that Saturday lunchtime found Miriam and I ensconced on the beach at Poole Harbour and my knowledge of events at Huddersfield was confined to listening to the silver tongue of Mark Burridge on Bees Player.
So what happens? We only go and score five times away from home for the first time since, I believe, Plymouth in 1994, earn our largest ever away victory in the second tier of English football, and the Bees put on a massively composed and vibrant performance that simply emphasised the confidence coursing through their veins, and the final five-one score line by no means flattered them. Indeed one of my spies at the match commented to me that we should have scored eight.
That’s just how it is and my missing this mauling is surely punishment enough for my obvious lack of dedication to the cause, although it must be said that our weekend has been as pleasant and relaxing as we expected, and one has simply to weigh up the benefits and advantages of both options!
So the season finally ended in triumph and many of us perhaps wish that it could go on for a few weeks yet given the incredible happenings of the past month, but legs and minds alike are weary and badly need a rest if they are to come back recharged and re-energised for the start of next season.
Let’s just take a moment to reflect on the immensity of our achievements:
- Brentford have finished in ninth position in the Championship, our second best finish ever at this level after last year, and one previously matched only in 1950 and 1951
- 2015/16 is therefore our equal third most successful season since the end of the Second World War
- By ending the season as the form team in the league with an unparalleled run of seven wins and a draw in our last nine games we have risen nine places in the table and scored twenty-four times in that period
- We ended up a mere ten points away from the playoffs, so keep thinking about Fulham away and Middlesbrough, Charlton and Blackburn at home and what might have been
- With a highly creditable seventy-two goals we were equal top scorers in the Championship
- We were top scorers away from home with thirty-nine goals, including fifteen in our last five matches
- Brentford were the Kings of West London, finishing comfortably ahead of rivals Fulham and Queens Park Rangers for the first time since 1948/49
- Scott Hogan is perhaps the most prolific Brentford marksman in living memory as he played a total of one hundred and seventy-one minutes of football all season and scored seven times, an average of less than twenty-five minutes per goal
As for yesterday’s game, the Bees always had far too much in their locker for a poor and dispirited home team who gifted Brentford a goal after twenty-one seconds when Cranie underhit his backpass and Sergi Canos was onto the error in a flash and finished perfectly past Steer, who then saved brilliantly from Barbet’s header before being forced off by injury as the Bees threatened to run riot.
For the second time in three away matches we were faced by a callow, young replacement keeper, this time in Lloyd Allinson, who was to make a torrid debut.
He started well by foiling Hogan who actually missed a presentable opportunity before shooting narrowly wide of the near post as Brentford went into the interval only one goal up having hardly been bothered at the back.
That was all to change when Huddersfield equalised straight after the break when a quickly taken short free kick caught our back line dozing and Jamie Paterson, reputedly a Brentford transfer target, danced through a static defence, left Harlee Dean, otherwise imperious on his two-hundredth appearance for the club, on his backside and scored calmly and efficiently.
Rather than demoralising the Bees, this unexpected and totally undeserved goal roused them to new heights and Brentford simply stepped up the pace and blew Huddersfield away, scoring five times for the first time this season.
Hogan scored twice, each time finishing simply and without any flourishes or fuss after Kerschbaumer put him clean through with astute through balls.
Hogan lasted sixty-four minutes before being replaced by Vibe and the watching Roy Keane left soon afterwards. Surely Scott’s fairytale month couldn’t end with an international call up, or could it? Stranger things have happened and in-form strikers are always in great demand.
Good management again by Dean Smith who has ensured that Hogan is being nursed back into action and also kept hungry for next season.
Vibe emphasised our amazing recent transformation in terms of our newfound confidence and capability upfront by scoring within three minutes of his arrival with a venemous shot perfectly drilled inside the hapless Allinson’s near post after an incisive pass from Canos, who departed soon after to a hero’s reception.
Lasse’s seventh goal in as many games ensured that he joined Alan Judge on fourteen goals and he finished an excellent first season in English football as our joint top scorer once we had finally learned how best to utilise his ability to run in behind opposition defences.
Vibe then became the provider when he set up late substitute John Swift for a comfortable close range finish which was his seventh goal of an eventful season. A more than creditable tally from a highly promising young player.
Swift barely celebrated his goal, which was scored right in front of the Brentford hordes and I wonder if his mind is already on his next move rather than contemplating a potential return to Griffin Park?
Five goals almost became six as Vibe went close right at the death, and the season ended on a massive high for everyone concerned with the club.
There has been a definite change of style lately as Dean Smith has made us far less gung-ho and we now sit back more often and attempt to pick teams off on the break.
I well remember the new Head Coach’s first two away games late last year at Fulham and Cardiff when we scored four times and yet only came away with one point owing to our own kamikaze approach and defensive shortcomings. It finally looks like we have learned our lesson.
Now we are far more solid and organised defensively with Colin, Dean, Barbet and Bidwell forming an impressive and cohesive back four which is well protected by the speedy, mobile and combative Woods and Yennaris.
Suddenly there is pace coursing throughout the team with the likes of Colin, Yennaris, Canos and Hogan, and we are a real force to be reckoned with.
Konstantin Kerschbaumer too has finally proved his worth with assists for three of Hogan’s last four goals and he showed an unsuspected strength and determination to shake off an opponent before setting up Scott’s opener yesterday.
What a rollercoaster and topsy-turvy season this has been for the Bees and their supporters and we can now all relax and take a break before the serious business starts again.
There will be much hard work taking place behind the scenes throughout the close season but the foundations are firmly in place for a successful campaign next season.
As for the squad, I am led to believe that their ninth place finish ensures that they qualify for a bonus payment and few would begrudge them their reward.
i would like to start today’s article by expressing my heartfelt congratulations to Burnley who sealed their fully deserved promotion to the giddy heights of the Premier League by narrowly defeating Queens Park Rangers in a tense encounter at Turf Moor yesterday afternoon.
Burnley possess the perfect blueprint for what is required to achieve success in the Championship, a mean defence which has conceded only thirty-five goals, experience throughout the squad exemplified by the enigmatic Joey Barton, who has proved to be an absolute inspiration, a hard working midfield which never allows opponents any time to settle on the ball, the inventiveness and trickery of George Boyd and of course the unselfishness of the battering ram Sam Vokes and the predatory instincts of Ande Gray upfront. All in all a winning combination which has now received its just reward.
Brentford have made a massive contribution to their success through providing them with Andre Gray scorer of twenty-two goals for his new club in forty matches, and James Tarkowski who only appeared four times but provided additional strength in depth.
At first sight it would appear that Burnley obviously got the better end of both deals given their promotion and the undisputed fact that they now possess two appreciating assets who could both flourish next season in the Premier League.
Close examination of the facts from a Brentford perspective, however, tells a different story.
Neither player wanted to remain at Griffin Park once their head had been turned by the siren song emanating from the lips of their potential new employers and Tarkowski, in particular made it totally impossible for the Bees to keep him after his toxic and inexcusable behaviour resulting in his downing tools and refusing to play against Burnley in a televised Championship encounter in January, something that I have never seen before and hope very much never to experience again as it left an extremely sour taste in the mouth.
Our hands were tied and we had no option but to sell particularly given the need to remain Financial Fair Play compliant and it was therefore simply a matter of extracting as much money as possible for the pair of them and in my opinion we certainly did so.
At the time of his leaving Burnley fans were stunned and bemused and openly carped at the size of the fee that their team was reported to have paid for Gray which will now increase to around nine million pounds given their ultimate success. I suspect that they are feeling somewhat different now.
Given that Tarkowski was definitely damaged goods, only wished to return to his native North West which narrowed his options, and that there did not appear to be a queue of teams competing for his signature, to receive an initial fee of around three million pounds from Burnley represented exceptional business on the part of the Bees.
As if that was not enough we will now be receiving another three and a half million pounds in additional bonus payments given Burnley’s promotion. And it does not end there as there will be even more money owing should Burnley avoid immediate relegation back to the Championship as well as generous sell-on fees if either player is sold at a profit as Gray assuredly will be at some point in the future should he maintain his massive progress.
Both Gray and Tarkowski perfectly exemplify the Brentford strategy and approach – in other words, identify young talent ahead of our rivals, buy low, give them an opportunity as well as the platform, support, coaching and encouragement to improve and then, when the time comes, sell them on at the top of the market given that for the time being at least we are unable to hold onto them given our lack of financial clout.
The missing part of the equation is how well we replace our departing stars as for our business model to succeed and for us to maintain our place at the top end of the Championship we need to keep replenishing our talent pool, and again, I believe that we have not missed either Gray or Tarkowski nearly as much as I am sure most supporters would have either feared or expected.
A few weeks ago I would have conceded that we did not possess any player with the potential to replace Gray but now with the emergence of Scott Hogan who has made a totally stunning and barely believable return from his two career threatening injuries with five goals in barely a full game’s worth of action but has also demonstrated a clinical ability to take chances in the six yard box the situation has certainly changed.
Hogan is a year younger than Gray, possesses similar strength, energy and running ability and is perhaps a more composed finisher in front of goal. Assuming that he completes his recovery as anticipated, and much praise is due to the Brentford medical team for their dedication, we will see a talented and hungry young player who will be determined to make his mark next season.
Brentford are to be congratulated for extending his contract by a further year before he made his comeback and their loyalty appears certain to receive its reward. Now might not be a bad time to try and persuade Scott to sign on for yet another year before his value rockets sky-high.
As previously mentioned, Gray has scored twenty-two times for Burnley but our strikers have more than matched his total with Lasse Vibe finally proving his international ability by scoring six goals in April and surely being a serious candidate for Player of the Month. Throughout the season Lasse has notched thirteen goals, a more than reasonable total for somebody new to the English game, and Philipp Hofmann and Marco Djuricin, four each. Scott Hogan’s five, all in April too, makes a total of twenty-six goals scored by our current strikers, not including the two that Andre managed at the start of the season for us before he left.
James Tarkowski was the epitome of Longfellow’s Little Girl With The Curl: She was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid. At times his play was sublime as he showed the genius of a thoroughbred, winning the ball in the air or on the ground and then he would effortlessly stride away from his opponents and set the Bees on the attack.
Unfortunately there were times when he overreached himself and took unnecessary risks and the cost would be immense with the ball invariably ending up in our net. But this was how he was encouraged to play and you cannot praise him when things work out and excoriate him when they don’t, you have to take the rough with the smooth.
It will be fascinating to see how he adapts to the Premier League, if he indeed manages to win a place in the starting eleven and I suspect that his seemingly casual style of play will probably prove to be a success at the highest level.
His lack of respect towards his head coach, teammates and supporters makes it impossible for me to mourn his departure and the emergence of Yoann Barbet has also meant that we have replaced him with a young player who possesses the potential to become even better than his predecessor.
Since receiving his opportunity Barbet has rapidly gained in confidence, has pace and aggression, reads the game well, loves a slide tackle and possesses a wand of a left foot which can ping the ball fifty yards directly to the feet of a waiting teammate.
He cost around half a million pounds from the lower divisions in France and has already proved to be a marvellous signing. He, Jota and Maxime Colin are three players who perfectly personify our use of proprietary stats and analytics as we plucked all three of them from abroad without a whisper of interest from any other English club. Brentford at its best!
So thank you and well done to Burnley and also many, many congratulations to Brentford who last night sealed their position as the Kings of West London given that QPR are now five points behind us with one game to go and Fulham are trailing eleven places beneath us and have obtained fourteen points less than us.
Another amazing achievement by the Bees who are dwarfed by both of their rivals in terms of income and turnover but we totally outclass them both on and off the pitch and our success is a confirmation of just how far you can go on hard work, creativity, original thinking, teamwork and planning plus a course the ability shown by a talented and committed group of young players.
I did some research this morning and this is only the sixth season ever when all three West London teams have been competing against each other in the same division, and it is the first time since 1948/49. This is now the third time in those six seasons that the Bees have come out on top, a feat that they also achieved in 1930 and 1931 and the Bees went on to win promotion to the top division a mere four years later. Hopefully a precedent for us to follow.
What a great time it is to be a Brentford supporter!
Just imagine how Brentford supporters would have felt way back in August last year if they had been able to look into a crystal ball and read the three names nominated last week on the shortlist for the 2016 Championship Player of the Year award.
Judge, Gray and McCormack were the three names announced and whilst few of us would have been surprised to see the first two on the list, McCormack’s would have been an entirely different matter and surely nobody would have anticipated Alan having a career year that enabled him to scale such heights of achievement!
Doubtless, we would also have felt that retaining the services of Andre Gray and his mounting goal threat, watching live wire and spark plug Alan Judge taking the league by storm and seeing Alan McCormack play his role to perfection as the minder and protector of the more skilful and less physical members of the team, meant that Brentford would have succeeded in building upon the success of last season when they reached the playoffs and perhaps come even closer to achieving their seemingly impossible dream of reaching the Premier League.
Taking that thought just a step further, I wonder just how far last season’s team could have progressed in the highly unlikely circumstances that we had been able to ignore the dictates of Financial Fair Play, the hungry predators waiting to pounce and the economic realities of our situation and managed to keep them all together for another year?
Who knows what the answer would be but that side contained so much burgeoning talent and it is a fair bet that with a couple of additions the team would have threatened to take the division by storm.
Let us now take a brief look at how the players who have left us have fared and examine whether they have furthered their career by leaving Griffin Park for pastures anew, and also how we have coped with their loss.
Moses Odubajo’s departure left a slightly bad taste in the mouth as we had no option but to comply with his release clause which totally undervalued him given the massive progress he had made since moving to fullback after Alan McCormack’s injury at Bolton. It is easy to complain though with the benefit of hindsight!
Moses impressed when playing for England Under 20s last Summer and there is every chance that he will have an International future ahead of him.
He has established himself in a Hull City team that looks as if it is playoff bound and has had a consistent season if not quite matching the heights of last year.
You always miss players of his calibre but Max Colin has proved to be an exceptional replacement who can defend and attack with equal dexterity and Nico Yennaris has also taken his opportunity well at fullback. We are more than covered for his loss.
James Tarkowski left under a cloud in January and is currently waiting patiently for his chance in a Burnley team that is on the verge of returning to the Premier League.
Any judgement on him is still clouded by the unpleasant and unprofessional way that he helped engineer his transfer through his controversial refusal to play against Burnley and the problems that it caused us in its wake.
He remains a genius in embryo, a frustrating combination of superlatives and pratfalls where he is just as likely to glide past three opponents as he is to overreach himself through overconfidence and lack of concentration and set up a soft goal for the opposition.
Yoann Barbet has settled down well as his replacement and is rapidly learning on the job. He has the ability to hit accurate long passes as Preston and Bristol City found out to their cost but shares his predecessor’s penchant for overplaying at times. Tarky is currently a far better bet given his extra experience but Barbet is fast improving, is a potential star, and we have certainly looked more balanced playing a left footer on his natural side.
There is not much more to write about Jonathan Douglas than has already been remarked about at great length here and elsewhere. He had a massively impressive first half of last season but his performances gradually tailed off as he was grossly overplayed by Mark Warburton. Even so he was highly influential and provided a shield for the back four as well as making effective late runs in to the area and scoring a career high eight goals.
He has done enough at Ipswich this season to earn a contract extension but his overall influence is waning and I believe that we are missing a similar type of player rather than the man himself and I have no regrets at his having left. Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Josh McEachran have both attempted to take over the mantle of being the all action box-to-box midfielder we crave but neither has really fitted the bill and there is a yawning chasm still waiting to be filled, perhaps by Yennaris. The biggest influence Douglas has had on our season was in injuring the majestic Jota, an action which cost us his services for the first four months of the season.
Toumani Diagouraga is another whose departure has hurt us more in the short term given his obvious ability and more unexpectedly his newfound goal scoring prowess that has emerged since he joined Leeds! Nico Yennaris has emerged as an unexpected hidden talent now that he has been given his belated opportunity to cement his place in midfield but I expect at least one new face to arrive in the Summer who will challenge for a place as a covering midfielder. As for Toumani, it was the right decision to allow an unhappy player to leave the club for a more than realistic transfer fee.
Stuart Dallas might possibly have jumped ship a bit early as he would surely have been a near automatic choice for us this season had he remained. He might well retort that he is now earning more money playing for a bigger club than Brentford, but with a mere four goals and five assists he has not really pulled up any trees at Elland Road and I am not convinced that their style of play really suits him. We have lacked a goalscoring winger all season and his directness and readiness to shoot on sight have been sorely missed. He has been a real loss.
Alex Pritchard’s brilliance in the second half of last season made it a total certainty that he would not be returning to Brentford and indeed, he was expected to be challenging for a place in the Spurs team of all stars however a serious ankle injury sustained when playing for the England Under 21 team has ensured that a season that promised so much has instead become a total write off as he has barely featured for either Spurs or West Brom.
Alan Judge took over his mantle as playmaker at Brentford and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with a massive return of fourteen goals and eleven assists but we have come nowhere near replacing the skill, effervescence and goal threat of last season’s midfield. How could we?
John Swift has enjoyed a tough baptism of fire but has shown signs of developing into a real talent and his tally of six goals is highly impressive for one so inexperienced. He, Judge, McCormack, Saunders, McEachran, Kerschbaumer, Yennaris and the highly promising Ryan Woods and Sergi Canos have all ensured that our midfield remains the strongest part of the current squad but in Jota, Pritchard, Judge, Douglas, Diagouraga, backed up by Dallas and Toral we possessed perhaps the finest midfield at the club in living memory.
At first sight, Andre Gray has been perhaps our biggest loss given the twenty-two goals he has added to the two he scored for the Bees right at the start of the season. He has developed into the most dangerous striker in the division and there are no limits to the heights that he can achieve given his improvement this season since he joined Burnley.
Of course we have missed his eager running and predatory instincts in front of goal but between them Vibe, Hofmann, Djuricin and Hogan have almost matched him as they have scored twenty-one times between the four of them – a really impressive total, and proof that we have managed pretty well without Gray even if none of our current strikers can compare with him in terms of individual quality.
That is a trend that in my view has been repeated throughout the squad. We have without doubt lost the services of a large number of exceptionally talented players who blended together so well to form last season’s wonderful team, but when you look more closely you can quite clearly see that whilst some have been missed more than others, most of their replacements have stepped up to the mark and have been hits rather than misses and they are all still improving as they gradually acclimatise to a new situation.
The overall success of last season has not, of course, been equalled and perhaps never could be given our current resources but the reality of our performances this season on both a team and individual basis is far more impressive than the myth.
Finally my apologies for my really poor and obvious Alan McCormack joke at the beginning of this article and many congratulations to Andre Gray, the Championship Player of the Year as well as to the runners up, Alan Judge and of course ROSS McCormack of Fulham!
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 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?
Tick, tick, tick.
Time marches inexorably on, but yet ever so slowly and interminably as all Brentford supporters count off the days, hours, minutes and even seconds until eleven o’clock on Monday evening when the Transfer Window slams shut and then, and only then, we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
The wait is both agonising and tortuous as the longer time passes by with no bad news the more the sense of fear and foreboding that something disastrous and horrible is bound to come to bite us up the backside perhaps even at the last possible moment.
Hopefully that is just my natural sense of pessimism talking rather than a real and justifiable concern of the worst happening.
What makes the situation even less tolerable is that we have no real sense or idea of what may be happening behind the scenes and whether behind closed doors the Brentford high command is currently engaged in actively fending off predators determined to prise away our most valuable assets, negotiating the arrival of some fresh blood or even doing very little except simply hoping that the phone doesn’t ring, the fax doesn’t chatter into life and that the broadband goes down.
So now it is time for me to consult my crystal ball and predict what I think is likely to happen between now and Monday evening, and I fully understand that I am sticking my neck out and laying myself open to ridicule should, as is extremely likely, I get things totally and completely wrong.
Let’s first review where we are at the time of writing: we have lost three players and gained two, with Toumani Diagouraga, Jota and Daniel O’Shaughnessy leaving and young defenders Nathan Fox and Emmanuel Onariase both arriving at Griffin Park from Cray Wanderers and West Ham United respectively. Sergi Canos and John Swift have also extended their loans until the end of the season.
Toumani’s departure after six years of solid and committed service came as little surprise, and given that a fee of around half a million pounds was mooted, we have certainly sold at the top of the market and at a time when his transfer value was more than likely to decline over the coming months and years.
The magic and sparkle had left his game and his most recent appearances showed quite clearly that he had lost his touch and even his enthusiasm and that he no longer really merited a place in the team.
He needed a change of scene and a fresh stimulus and challenge and fully deserved the lucrative and extended contract that he was offered by his new club.
Whether or not he will flourish at Leeds and respond to the unique management style of the inimitable Steve Evans is an intriguing question but Brentford should be congratulated at sucking the last ounce of value out of a player whose best days have perhaps gone and then extracting top dollar for him.
Toumani marked his first full appearance for his new club by quite amazingly scoring his first goal for nearly three years in the FA Cup tie at Bolton Wanderers yesterday so perhaps he will yet have the last laugh.
And no, nobody invaded the pitch to help celebrate his goal.
I watched Jota come on as a second half substitute for Eibar last Sunday with a sense of resignation coupled with sadness that circumstances have forced us to allow him to return to his homeland, at least for the time being.
Who knows if we will ever see the Spanish wizard in a Brentford shirt again, perhaps his family situation will eventually allow him to return to us, but, if not, he leaves us with a plethora of wonderful memories as one of the most gifted players in our recent history and given that he has extended his contract we should eventually at least receive a reasonable fee for him, if not as much as might have been expected if he had moved onto a Premier League team, as had at one time seemed likely.
Daniel O’Shaughnessy simply needs the chance to play first team football in order that we can find out whether he is good enough to play in the Football League, and I am sure that he will receive his opportunity during his loan spell at our sister club FC Midtjylland whom he has joined for the remainder of the season.
He has recently made his full international debut for Finland so he must possess ability even if he has never yet threatened to break into the Brentford first team since his arrival on a two year contract in 2014.
His move does beg the question about the relative standard of the Championship compared to the Danish Superliga and how someone not considered good enough to play for us can hope to feature for the current Danish champions.
Hopefully we will all get the chance to see how he gets on should he be selected to play against Manchester United in the Europa League next month.
It is possible that there will not be any additional departures from the club before the end of the Transfer Window but I will not feel certain about that until eleven pm tomorrow given that there are still two players who might well be in play.
James Tarkowski in my opinion totally burned his boats by his behaviour when he refused to play against Burnley the other week and despite attempts to rectify the situation and put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound his continued presence at the club still casts a pall over affairs at Griffin Park and polarises opinions amongst supporters.
His recent statement, however carefully crafted, reeked of tergiversation and in my opinion begged more questions than it provided answers and I firmly believe that it would be better for all parties should he leave the club as soon as possible.
Whether that happens now totally depends if anyone comes in with an acceptable offer, which rumours suggest would need to be in excess of three million pounds plus add ons.
Any interested parties are sure to smell weakness and try and take advantage of the situation over the next couple of days however in Matthew Benham they will find an opponent who will simply refuse to blink first or accept anything under the price that he has set.
Michael Keane has not left Burnley so it remains to be seen if they remain in the frame or whether a new club will come to the negotiating table. My money would be on Burnley coming back for another attempt to sign him.
If a move does not come about then we will simply have to get on with things as we cannot allow such a valuable asset to wither away and Tarkowski, having made an apology and provided an explanation of sorts, will doubtless be available for selection should the need arises.
Dean Smith has already made it clear that he will be welcomed back into the fold and the manager was totally correct in doing so, however Tarky has now fallen behind Harlee Dean and Yoann Barbet in the pecking order, has lost match fitness and will simply have to wait for his opportunity to arrive should injury or loss of form strike the current first choices.
Alan Judge, with twelve goals and seven assists has quite simply been the best and most exciting and effective player in the Championship this season and he is a man on a mission and is determined to force his way into the Eire squad for the European Championships in the Summer.
There has quite naturally been serious interest in him, and all Brentford fans, fearing the worst, would have been reassured by press comments yesterday, attributed to the player, confirming that he will remain at the club for the rest of the season.
Judge is a talismanic figure to us all and is our leader, conductor and inspiration on the pitch as most of our positive play and goal threat emanates from him. It is hard to see how we can replace him, particularly in the short term given the additional loss of Jota, and hopefully we will not have to deal with that situation until the end of the season.
And yet… and yet, it would not surprise me in the slightest if one of the myriad clubs seeking promotion to the promised land of the Premier League, or even indeed a club at the lower end of the Premier League does not come in at the last minute and attempt to prise him out our grasp. It seems a real no-brainer as Judge would improve any team whose presence he graces and the fee would be chump change for most of them.
Will we stand fast and resist any potential suitors? Who knows? It all depends upon the sum that we are offered and any figure in excess of five million pounds would merit serious consideration.
As for Judge, despite his acknowledged happiness at the club both on and off the pitch, more money would obviously be welcome as well as the chance to play in a team likely to challenge for honours, but he also has to consider that at Brentford he is guaranteed to start every match and within reason is afforded a free role which entirely suits his game and keeps him in the spotlight, and he might not be so prominent elsewhere.
There is a lot for him to ponder upon and we will simply have to wait and see what happens over the next day or so.
Sam Saunders will also have a decision to make and perhaps the prospect of Tampa Bay is slightly less alluring now that he seems to be back in favour and in and around the starting eleven. Alan McCormack might also have been considering his position but for the niggling injuries that have hindered him recently.
There might also be moves, temporary or permanent or maybe even contracts being cancelled, for the likes of Montell Moore, Josh Clarke, Ryan Williams and Josh Laurent who all appear to be surplus to requirements at Griffin Park.
There are no rumours of interest in any other of our players although I am sure that the likes of David Button and Jake Bidwell have their suitors and admirers.
What is more important is that we succeed in persuading them to sign contract extensions as they are the backbone of the team and I am sure that every effort will be made to do so and that ideally neither player will be allowed to enter the last year of their contract next season.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Tarkowski and the fact that Dean Smith appears to be a fan, perhaps there will also be a change of heart regarding Harlee Dean and a way might be found to keep him at the club for next season and beyond?
That is a move which would again polarise the supporters but Harlee appears to have matured both on and off the pitch (the Nottingham Forest nonsense excepted) and could well develop into the right sided centre half that we need.
What is far more intriguing and exciting for all supporters is the prospect of new players arriving, and here I think I need to dampen expectations as I do not anticipate any permanent incomings or transfer fees to be paid unless we lose additional players from the squad.
In those circumstances I would suspect that there are contingency plans in place should either Tarkowski or Judge leave the club before tomorrow evening.
Apart from what I stated above, why do I not expect any other permanent signings given that we have already lost the likes of Toumani and Jota?
Quite simply because the players we want are either not available or will cost prohibitive sums in January, a time when fees are generally inflated and might well be available on Bosman free transfers at the end of the season.
I would hazard a guess that there is also a view in and around the club that whilst the playoffs remain a possibility it would perhaps make better sense to keep our powder dry for the time being and make whatever changes are necessary in the close season.
There is also the omnipresent spectre of Financial Fair Play looming over us. We are now allowed to lose a maximum of thirteen million pounds per season and we remain hamstrung given our lack of income and resources.
Our expenditure needs to be carefully managed and controlled and perhaps it is felt that now is not the best time to go into the transfer market given the likelihood that we will finish in a comfortable position in the league and further consolidate within the Championship with our existing squad.
There could well be some major changes in the Summer as we look carefully at who has adjusted to the demands of the Championship and who has not settled down or has been found wanting.
In addition, given that we will lose Sergi Canos and John Swift, leaving alone what happens to Alan Judge, it is pretty obvious that we will need to bring in some creative midfielders for next season and maybe we will be looking seriously at the likes of Romaine Sawyers as has already been suggested on social media.
There are rumours that high quality targets are already being lined up for the Summer which is encouraging news and that would also give us time and breathing space to replace Alan Judge should he decide to leave the club either now, or as anticipated, in the Summer.
Jamie Paterson, currently at loan at Huddersfield from Nottingham Forest, and a player well known to Dean Smith from his Walsall days has been mooted as a potential arrival and perhaps that might happen either in the close season or even as a loanee next month.
I would expect that a winger will be brought in on loan next month given our lack of options in that area and maybe a defensive midfielder as well, although Josh McEachran will be given every opportunity to settle into the team and we also have the enticing prospect of the long overdue appearance of Lewis Macleod.
Will Scott Hogan also regain sufficient fitness to be given an opportunity to boost our flagging strike force before the end of the season? That would certainly be an exciting prospect although we should not hold out too much hope of it coming to pass or harbour any sense of expectation.
The arrival of the two young central defenders initially for the Development Squad is also very interesting and is evidence that we are looking to strengthen our resources in that area of the pitch and that perhaps we will be looking to sign more youngsters who have not quite made it at a higher level elsewhere in order to boost our talent pool given that we are still waiting for some payback from the expenditure lavished on the Academy, where I am led to believe that the majority of our crown jewels are still a few years away from consideration for the first team squad.
I have not tried to paint a gloomy picture, but have simply attempted to take an objective look at the situation that the club is facing as we go into the last crucial days, hours, minutes and seconds of the Transfer Window and provide my own viewpoint of what might possibly transpire.
I am fully prepared to eat humble pie on Monday evening should I be proved wildly inaccurate in my predictions.
What does everybody else think will happen?
Please let me know!