The Clock Is Ticking – 31/1/16

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!

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It Is What It Is – 23/1/16

The realities of life are being made quite apparent at the moment to all Brentford fans, and the truth, to be quite honest, is pretty chilling and unpalatable.

Recent events and the possibility of future player departures have only gone to further highlight how much we are punching above our weight in maintaining a comfortable place in the Championship and also just how vulnerable we are.

We treat our players very well, pay them as much as we can afford, offer an extremely generous and lucrative bonus scheme and have created a positive and empowering environment where players receive excellent coaching, are encouraged to express themselves and even take risks and to play an exciting brand of attacking football with nary a long ball in sight.

The truth of the matter is that we are and will remain for the foreseeable future, a stepping stone club where we identify young emerging talent from at home and abroad, mould and develop them, put them in the shop window and on the conveyor belt to riches and success and then inevitably lose them when the bigger fish come calling.

It is annoying and frustrating particularly when pretty much all the players who have left us such as Gray, Douglas, Odubajo, Dallas and now Diagouraga have joined clubs who are currently competing at the same level as the Bees. If players were leaving for the priceless and rare opportunity to play in the Premier League then our supporters would doubtless accept the fact that they are bettering themselves. It is when they join clubs who competitively are on a par with, or only slightly better than us, that we find matters far harder and more difficult to accept.

That is however a totally misleading fact as Burnley, Hull, Ipswich and Leeds are either benefiting from the iniquitous Parachute Payments, are larger, better established clubs with far greater income potential than us or perhaps are not as fiscally responsible as we are. They are all able and willing to offer our best players wages far in excess of what we are able to do and you cannot blame them for chasing the money.

I can only hope for the day when we are in a position to hang onto our best players, send all predators packing and reject any offers no matter how attractive. Unfortunately that will not happen until we finally move to Lionel Road and attract far larger attendances and have the opportunity to earn much more from off field and commercial activities.

The key will be for Brentford to remain in the Championship until we reach that point. That is by no means a given and would be a truly massive achievement given our current size and income levels.

To a degree our whole attitude and indeed, expectations and judgement, have been clouded by the incredible season we enjoyed last season which might well turn out to have been a one-off and a statistical anomaly.

It also did not help to have senior club officials state and assert that we would be looking to build upon the achievements of last season and ideally finish even higher up in the table.

Whilst every football team starts each season aiming to improve and to push for promotion, sometimes you are simply paying lip service to reality. It is no use raising expectations unrealistically and given the forced sales of so many of last season’s stars, the loss of the talismanic Pritchard, the ever increasing injury list and the need to bed in a new manager as well as a host of players with no experience of English conditions, let alone the demands of the Championship, it was surely foolhardy to talk about anything other than consolidation.

Mid table mediocrity, however meritorious, does not sell season tickets though and I feel that our prospects were overhyped and expectations were unreasonably raised. And more fool us for listening!

The club might reasonably point out that departing players have all wanted to leave rather than being pushed out of the door and have invariably been replaced by new arrivals who are cheaper and possess the potential to be even better, and a close examination of the facts does go a long way towards backing up this assertion.

In addition, we did for once refuse a massive offer for Tarkowski late in August, one that far exceeded our own valuation of him, as we perhaps felt that we had sold more than enough players already that month and one more might well be seen as a tipping point.

Perhaps in retrospect the club should have remained true to itself and in fact made a massive error in not going through with the deal as we are now in the midst of an awkward and difficult situation where the player has refused to play for us and we are currently unable to offload him at anywhere near our valuation for him.

I can only imagine that if no club makes a reasonable and acceptable bid for him in the last week of the Transfer Window then Tarkowski will have to be seen to make a suitably contrite if ambiguous apology, perhaps on Bees Player, as I cannot imagine any independent journalist being allowed anywhere near him, and he will then be welcomed back into the fold for the time being before leaving at the end of the season. This will not go down well with many fans and will only serve to divide the supporter base.

I am worried that all the talk is of players leaving and very little is of new arrivals and I am also concerned that there are fundamental flaws in our overall recruitment strategy.

Last season saw a level and quality of recruitment far beyond our wildest dreams and one that made the football world stand up, open its eyes and finally pay attention to us. It also set a standard and benchmark that quite naturally is proving impossible for us to surpass or even match.

I still do not understand how we managed to get deals for the likes of Gray, Pritchard, Odubajo and Hogan over the line as they were the cream of the crop in terms of emerging young British talent and the arrival of Jota represented the stats based foreign recruitment policy at its best.

Not only had no Brentford supporter ever heard of him, I can quite honestly say that from all my research I am totally unaware of his appearing on any other club’s radar either.

Now we are hoist by our own petard. Other clubs watch us closely and we are never again going to have a free run at any worthwhile player.

Given our progress we are also quite naturally looking to bring in better players and perhaps take fewer gambles on unknown and untested foreign players.

Players of the calibre we are seeking will all have lots of other options and that is where our problems start. A Gogia or a Kerschbaumer might bite our hand off at our offer but a George Evans won’t – and didn’t.

Evans signing for Reading was a particular disappointment and indeed, eye opener for us. He ticked all of the boxes – young, elegant, strong, talented, a box to box player who could put his foot in and score goals. He would have been a proper New Brentford signing and likely become a potentially massive upgrade on Toumani Diagouraga, and given that he had played for Dean Smith at Walsall he was surely bound for us when we made our interest known until we were pipped seemingly at the post by Reading.

Perhaps they blew us out of the water with their financial offer to the player or maybe it was the better facilities and infrastructure available and on offer to him at a club that also has recent Premier League experience?  Who knows but not signing him was a real blow and another warning sign.

We are now faced with the task of replacing Diagouraga and unless Kerschbaumer or McEachran step up to the plate, sooner or later we will need to look outside the club. Maybe it is a fanciful suggestion but how about a return to Griffin Park, even on a short term basis, for Tom Adeyemi, a powerful box to box midfielder currently on loan at Leeds from Cardiff City and surely surplus to requirements at both clubs?

Toumani gave us six years of excellent and committed service and last season he reached heights that were beyond everybody’s dreams as, touched by genius as if he had made a Mephistophelian pact with the Devil, and protected by the menacing presence of Jonathan Douglas, he totally dominated the midfield and acted as the perfect linkman for the likes of Judge, Jota, Pritchard and Gray.

This season he has returned to normal after his annus mirabilis and on the one hand it makes sense for Brentford to cash in at the top of the market given that a fee of over half a million pounds has been suggested in the Leeds-based local media (remember also that at one time, not too long ago, it looked as if he might join Coventry City potentially on a free transfer) and from Toumani’s point of view he might well feel that he has not been on as lucrative a contract as some of his team mates and is looking to secure his future with one last big payday.

He goes with our gratitude and best wishes and hopefully he will not hammer the ball into the roof of our net from twenty-five yards when the two teams meet next Tuesday – The Immutable Law of the Ex combined with Sod’s Law might well suggest that he breaks the habit of a lifetime and does so!

I have done some rough calculations on the back of the proverbial fag pack and also taken into account the figures that Paul Briers kindly posted on the Griffin Park Grapevine yesterday and if you take the fees that we have received for the likes of Forshaw, Grigg, Dallas, Gray, Odubajo and now Diagouraga over the past eighteen months then there is the potential for us to receive around seventeen million pounds, less any sell-on payments that we have to make to their former clubs.

Who knows, we might yet receive even more money should either Tarkowski or Judge be sold before the end of the Transfer Window.

Looking in turn at the eighteen players we have brought in: Judge, Gray, Tebar, Odubajo, Williams, Hogan, Jota, Macleod, O’Connell, Gogia, Kerschbaumer, Hofmann, Barbet, Bjelland, Vibe, Colin, Woods and McEachran it is fair to say that we have paid around fourteen million pounds, not taking into account signing on fees, loyalty bonuses and wages. So the lion’s share of monies received for players has in fact been reinvested on new faces. I have also not included Nick Proschwitz but I suspect that his free transfer was not so free after all when his entire remuneration package was taken into account.

How much of it has been wisely invested is a moot point and one that is sure to cause much debate amongst all Brentford fans but the truth is that the club has certainly more than kept its word.

The main problem is to be able to maintain the conveyor belt of promising young and ideally underpriced talent and as I intimated, this will get harder and harder as other clubs get smarter and we run the risk of losing our edge.

So what happens now? Do we need to buy new players this month? Yes and no. Perhaps we should keep our powder dry and wait until the Summer when prices will not be so ridiculous and more of our potential targets will be available? Romaine Sawyers is certainly one that has caught our eye, according to scuttlebutt and rumour, and will then be available on a Bosman free transfer – but after the Evans situation, will he decide to go elsewhere even if we are in for him?

Jota might well be irreplaceable in the short term but we are desperately short of width and pace and I am certain that Gogia will be given the chance to step up to the plate. We are fine for central defenders should Tarkowski leave and perhaps the Harlee Dean situation might even be re-evaluated before his departure becomes irrevocable.

I am not desperately happy with any of our three strikers but up until the turn of the year we had been scoring freely although the goals seem to have dried up lately, and I cannot see us changing things up front in the short term.

Kemar Roofe was the nearest that I have seen to an Alan Judge replacement but I suspect that that ship has sailed given his recent form and enhanced profile and hopefully we will not have to worry about that problem until the end of the season and, in the event that Judge does go this month, I really cannot see how we can replace him at all adequately in the short term.

I do not want signings just for the sake of it and spending money without proper thought and consideration does nothing except jeopardise our position regarding Financial Fair Play.

Given our lack of income we have to ensure that all monies spent are invested wisely and not wasted purely to appease the fans.

I can therefore understand if nobody arrives this month, bar perhaps a young untested loanee, however even looking back at the muddled situation last January we still managed to bring in three promising young players for the future in Josh Laurent, Lewis Macleod and Jack O’Connell.

Leaving aside how they have all fared up until now, I would feel reassured if we managed to bring in a couple of exceptional young prospects next week who would challenge for a first team place next season. This might well be pie in the sky, however.

Results have also been poor so far this year and that simply makes us all feel even more anxious and uneasy.

Hopefully we will get back into the swing of things and put some points on the board over the next four days.

Brentford are in a strange situation and one that needs careful managing if we are not to fall over a precipice either from spending too much, too unwisely or even not enough.

 

So Who’s Leaving Brentford This Transfer Window? – 9/1/16

I wanted to write some original and perceptive comments about what Brentford should be looking to achieve in the current Transfer Window but we seem to be on ever shifting sands with the situation seemingly changing every day and what I write now might well be totally out of date by the time that you read it.

All my conversations and soundings over the last week or so seemed to reinforce the view that this would be a quiet month for the Bees with a minimum of activity. In other words we would be reactive rather than proactive, not seeking to strengthen or change the squad too much, or even at all, unless our hand was forced by enemy action with players leaving the building.

Now things are completely different with rumours abounding about the likes of Alan Judge, James Tarkowski, Jota, Harlee Dean and Toumani Diagouraga and the prospect of some or all of them finding new homes before the end of the month.

As Phil Giles stated in his excellent interview with Beesotted, we would certainly struggle to cope with all of them going at the same time but he felt that it is very unlikely that all of them would be on the move.

I have already written about our philosophy and how, whilst we are not looking to sell our best players, everybody has his price and if we receive an acceptable offer and can replace the player properly then we will do so assuming that the player wishes to leave the club.

I do not intend to bore you by repeating why in my opinion we are for the time being a stepping stone club, vulnerable to approaches by our richer rivals, but the fact remains that contracts are often not worth the paper they are written on and if a footballer becomes disaffected and decides for whatever reason that the grass is greener elsewhere then it is almost invariably the best policy to allow him to leave as long as it is on our terms rather than his.

Adam Forshaw is a perfect example of this policy as he was made to kick his heels on gardening leave until Wigan finally and belatedly coughed up a high enough fee to persuade us to sell a player who had made it perfectly clear that he wanted to leave.

Footballers are well aware from the grapevine and the bush telegraph just how much other clubs are paying in terms of salaries and given the uncertain nature of their career which can end at any time and is highly unlikely to last for more than eight years, they cannot be blamed for chasing the money and seeking to maximise their earnings.

Sometimes you feel that money is the overriding priority and that ambition and career development can take a back seat.

Only Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo of our recent departures can really be said to have bettered themselves as they are both currently starring in teams challenging for promotion to the Premier League as well as earning sums that they could only have dreamed about at Brentford.

Adam Forshaw has criminally allowed a burgeoning career to at least temporarily wither on the vine as he sits gathering splinters on the Middlesbrough bench instead of playing every week and proving himself as one of the best midfielders in the Championship.

Stuart Dallas has had an in and out season for a massively unpredictable and inconsistent team in Leeds United, Clayton Donaldson plies a lonely furrow as Birmingham’s lone striker and Simon Moore has disappeared almost without trace as he waits patiently for David Marshall to leave Cardiff City. Harry Forrester has had a couple of years in the wasteland at Doncaster – what an appalling career decision he made when he decided to jump ship, and might now finally be on the road to resurrection at Glasgow Rangers.

The point I am making is that sometimes chasing the money does not bring guaranteed career progress and success, a message that some of our current squad might benefit from taking into consideration.

What happens next is to a large degree out of our own hands and we simply have to wait and see if any of the clubs rumoured to be interested in our players step up to the plate and meet our asking price.

Even should that be the case the player will need to decide if he wishes to remain within the positive and nurturing environment at Griffin Park where everybody mucks in and there are no cliques or rampant troublemakers amongst what is a young and dedicated squad.

Looking at the situation with each of the five Brentford players who are rumoured to be attracting external interest, my view is as follows:

Alan Judge has quite simply been the best player in the Championship throughout the first half of the season as his highly impressive tally of goals and assists clearly testifies. No wonder there is serious interest in him from the likes of Sheffield Wednesday who are rumoured to have offered to triple his wages. I also wonder if a Premier League team might yet come in for him.

On the one hand Alan is the man at Griffin Park, everything revolves around him and he is the catalyst and fulcrum for most of the good things that we do. He is the conductor who sets the tempo and the rest dance around him feeding off his magic and inspiration.

He is in an ideal situation to show off his talent and earn a place in the Eire squad for the European Championship tournament this Summer.

But, money talks, and at twenty-seven, he is not getting any younger and might never again recapture his current form. Maybe he should strike while the iron is hot and take the money that will surely be on offer before the end of January.

He needs to play every week and as long as he does not become a bit part player and fall out of the spotlight then I could understand him deciding to move to a bigger club, even in the Championship, despite the fact that he and his family seem settled and happy – such is the nature of football. Opportunities do not come along very often and need to be carefully considered whenever they do and not frittered away.

The situation from Brentford’s perspective is also very interesting. Ideally he will either sign an improved contract, something that I feel is highly unlikely to happen, or we will keep hold of him unless our valuation, and I hear figures of between six to eight million pounds being bandied around, is reached. As for Sheffield Wednesday, they seem to be bidding for all number of players so who knows how serious they are about signing Judge.

We are obviously a far better team with Judge than without him but I can also understand the viewpoint that he is at the absolute peak of his game and is unlikely to improve much or any more and perhaps we should take the money if it is on offer, particularly bearing in mind that promotion is far less likely a prospect this season than it was last, his contract expires at the end of next season and he will soon become a depreciating asset.

Personally I hope that he remains at least until the end of the season as it would be wonderful to see a Brentford player competing at the Euro’s but I think that we will probably have a difficult decision to make about him in the next few weeks.

James Tarkowski is a different kettle of fish as at twenty-three he is still improving and is nowhere near the finished article and given hard work, dedication, good coaching and the right attitude, he could turn out to be pretty much anything he wants to be. He really has the potential to be that good and if he progresses as I hope then I see him developing into a Premier League regular at the very least.

There was talk of interest from Fulham in the last Transfer Window and now Burnley are reputed to be making overtures for him with a fee of around four to five million pounds being mooted on social media. Tarky can be infuriatingly casual and inconsistent and make schoolboy howlers in defence, but he also has games when he resembles a reincarnation of Alan Hansen, winning the ball, selling an impudent dummy and striding imperiously into the opposition half. Of all the players in the current squad I believe that Tarky could go the furthest given his youth and relative inexperience.

I would go so far as to say that given the choice of keeping Tarkowski or Judge then I would choose to sell Alan Judge – as long as Tarky is not allowed anywhere near penalty taking duties at any time in the future.

The Jota situation is totally unexpected and has come as a bolt out of the blue. Unfortunately it appears that he has a serious personal family issue which makes it almost impossible for him to remain in this country if he is to maintain a family unit. This will almost certainly result in his being loaned back to a club in La Liga, perhaps Eibar, where he had a massively successful loan spell a couple of years ago.

This would enable us to keep Jota prominently in the shop window and give us the best chance of making a decent return on him should his situation not change and we are eventually forced to sell him. This is doubly frustrating for us given that we have waited so patiently and with such a sense of anticipation and expectation for Jota to recover from his long term injury and we were all looking forward so much to watching him play every week and entertain us with his genius and magic wand of a left foot.

We will simply have to wait and see what happens over the coming months but if we are forced to sell him to a Spanish club, given the financial constraints of all but a minority of teams, it is very unlikely that we will be able to obtain anywhere near the level of fee for him that at one time looked likely. That is just how it is and we simply have to accept a difficult situation and wish him and his family all the best.

As for Harlee Dean, I feel that there is definitely some brinksmanship being played on both sides. Will the club make him a contract renewal offer that the player deems acceptable or will Harlee allow his existing deal to expire so that he can leave on a Bosman free at the end of the season? Are the club happy to allow him to leave for nothing or will they even try and sell him in the current Transfer Window and get some sort of return for him?

It is almost impossible to answer any of these questions with any degree of certainty and Harlee’s future could also be tied in with whatever happens to James Tarkowski as I cannot see the club allowing both of them to leave this month.

Harlee presents a bit of a conundrum as he is a complete enigma. There are times when he is able to add concentration and discipline to his total commitment and he looks the real deal – a polished mid to high level Championship calibre central defender. At others he lets himself down both on and off the pitch with a combination of sloppy play and thinking and he looks out of his depth.

He is a valued member of the old guard and continuity is precious but I think there also comes a time when every player has had his day and in my heart of hearts I do not believe that Harlee is good enough to help us progress much further than where we currently find ourselves.

The same could be said for Toumani Diagouraga, a veteran of over two hundred games for the club. His play last season was truly astonishing as he raised his game several notches and dominated the midfield. This season has been different and more difficult for him and I think that he has missed the presence of the combative Jonathan Douglas alongside him as he has been forced to forage for the ball and tackling is not one of his strong points.

Toumani has been no better than average this season and has not really stamped his presence on games as was the case throughout last year, and with Ryan Woods and Josh McEachran breathing down his neck and challenging for his position in the team I would not be too surprised if Mark Warburton succeeds in prising him away from Griffin Park either this month or perhaps at the end of the season.

Toumani has been a loyal servant of the club and is quite deservedly a massive fan favourite but I believe that he has jumped the shark and at twenty-eight it is time for him to be rewarded by earning another payday elsewhere at a level where he can shine and become a greater influence on proceedings.

Bill Shankly and Arsène Wenger are both managers renowned for knowing exactly when to sell a player by identifying before any opposition scouts and managers that he is just slightly past his best and I think that Toumani might well fit into this category and that his time might have come.

Hopefully other major influences on the team such as David Button and Jake Bidwell will remain well under the radar and not be subject to any unwelcome bids.

As it is I am feeling a bit conflicted as I am both concerned and yet pretty sanguine about matters at the moment and I would urge others to do the same.

As I stated right at the beginning of this article, things change on a regular basis and I might well be setting off a false alarm, and most importantly, I have learned a couple of things from observing affairs at Brentford since the start of the Benham regime, firstly that nobody is irreplaceable and finally, whoever does leave the club will be replaced, and replaced by somebody who is just as good if not even better.

Warburton’s Words – 21/4/15

I do so enjoy reading Manager Mark Warburton’s regular article in the Bees Review match day programme. They are invariably measured, thoughtful, pithy and to the point, just like the man himself and are quite evidently self-penned and not the work of some anonymous hack or ghost in the media department. He takes the time and trouble to open the dressing room door ajar and allow supporters to sneak inside the secretive, arcane and cloistered world of professional football, and he generally provides a deep and personal insight into some fascinating aspect of the club, playing squad or, indeed, the team behind the team.

I particularly like the courteous way he welcomes the opposition manager by name and remarks how much he is looking forward to sharing a drink with him after the game. For me, at least, his words conjure up vivid images of a convivial gathering with the two of them sitting down at a table covered with a spotless white starched tablecloth, napkins around their neck, with David Weir serving a selection of carefully sliced triangular cucumber sandwiches and cutting up the Battenberg, and Kevin O’Connor pouring cups of tea all around. I am sure that the reality is somewhat different and far more akin to the Liverpool Boot Room with the two managers drinking a can of beer together and quietly reflecting on their respective fortunes in the hard fought game recently finished. Just in passing I must try and unearth my dog-eared copy of the Rotherham programme from January 10th and see if Warburton extended the same hospitality to Steve Evans as not only would he undoubtedly hog all the food on offer but also Evans in his customary full-on post-match hectoring and hyperbolic rant mode would surely turn out to be a most unwelcome, loudmouthed and unsavoury guest!

I read Mark’s article in Saturday’s programme with particular interest as he took the belated opportunity to look back three months in time and comment in great detail about his perspective on what happened, or perhaps more specifically what didn’t, in the January transfer window. Firstly let’s review the facts. We managed to bring in four players and, perhaps just as crucially, we lost nobody from our squad. We signed a promising young midfielder, Josh Laurent, from QPR, spent heavily on one of Scotland’s top prospects in Rangers starlet Lewis Macleod, bought highly rated left-sided defender Jack O’Connell from Blackburn Rovers for a reported quarter of a million pounds and signed England Under-20 international striker Chris Long on loan from Everton.

Our three permanent signings share similar characteristics in being young, inexperienced and highly talented and they all appear to have the potential to develop into exceptionally valuable long-term assets for the club. Unfortunately what is far more pertinent at the present time is that between them none of them have contributed in the slightest for us yet at first team level or have even played one minute’s football in the Championship. We did have high hopes and expectations for Macleod but he arrived as damaged goods and has been a permanent sick note ever since, managing a grand total of forty-five eminently forgettable minutes for the Development Squad a few weeks back. He has now been put back into cold storage for next season when we can but hope that he manages to get himself fully fit and earns a place in our revamped midfield.

O’Connnell was sent straight back on loan to Rochdale where he really impressed in a team challenging for the Division One playoffs and justifiably earned a recall to his parent club. Despite our continued problems and adventures in central defence he has yet to be given his opportunity, although he has looked the part sitting on the bench! Next season perhaps? Laurent has no Football League pedigree but is an educated gamble for the future. Long is also short on experience but has impressed with his enthusiasm and eye for goal when given an opportunity, however he has been plagued with injuries and illness and has only made ten appearances including a mere two starts. Four goals is a more than decent return, but the overall feeling about our January signings is one of frustration and disappointment at their overall lack of contribution. Frankly they looked more like signings for January 2016 rather than this year and have done little or nothing to either strengthen or assist us in our promotion push.

One possible inference from the lack of immediate impact of our new arrivals in January is that they really were intended for the future rather than the present and that the management were more than content with what they already had in terms of the strength, make-up and chemistry of the squad and were simply looking to tinker rather than make radical improvements.

Warburton’s explanation is totally different in that he claims that key players were targeted both at home and abroad who would have added quality and depth to the squad, but for a variety of reasons every deal fell through. He mentioned player or agent financial demands that did not represent good value for Brentford or the requirement that potential loanees had to be automatic starters. Warburton categorically denied turning down any high quality players who were within our grasp and who would also have improved us.

Certainly it was rumoured at the time that funds were available and that strenuous efforts were being made to sign players of the calibre of giant Colombian central defender Bernardo from Sporting Gijon and top Austrian striker Marco Djuricin from Sturm Graz. Despite our apparent efforts, Bernardo remained at his present club and Djuricin allegedly snubbed us in favour of a move to Red Bull Saltzburg where he gone on to win a full international cap for Austria. Whilst it is impossible to be categoric, given their quality, they or their ilk, would probably have made a massive difference to our fortunes had they arrived at Griffin Park and settled down to life in London.

“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty” as Billy Wilder so memorably stated and it is very easy to look back from our position today, outside the Playoff positions and anticipating the increasing possibility of a massive missed opportunity, and assert that we made a massive error in not strengthening in January, but if we are to take Warburton’s words at face value, which of course I do, then it wasn’t for the want of trying.

What really surprised me was the timing of his remarks and that Warburton chose to raise this subject now, months after the event, when the season is approaching its climax, rather than wait until the postmortem after the season ends next month. Conspiracy theorists have been hard at work with their convoluted explanations for why we failed to bring home the bacon in January so perhaps Warburton simply wished to rebut them, but it is difficult to reconcile oneself to the sight of Harlee Dean acting as our sole emergency striker in a “must-win” game on Saturday after the withdrawal of Andre Gray. A promotion chasing team should not have allowed itself to be reduced to such straits at this crucial stage of the season.

I have invariably found Mark Warburton to be open and honest in words and deeds alike, and this article is no exception, but the fact remains that our promotion rivals succeeded in January where we failed and the cost is likely to be high.