Brentford adjusting to life after Smith - Interview
Thursday, 8th Nov 2018 21:24 by Clive Whittingham
Ahead of Saturday’s visit from neighbours Brentford we hear once more from Billy Grant on the departure of Dean Smith, the appointment of Thomas Frank, and the fine margins that continue to keep the play-offs just out of the Bees’ reach.
Let's start with the summer - no last minute pillaging of your squad on deadline day this time so presumably optimism pretty high for the season given how you finished last year?
Yes. Well, sort of. More relief if anything. We thought if we could get through the summer transfer window pretty much unscathed, we would be looking in great shape for this season. We bought some players in: young centre backs Ezri Konsa from Charlton and Julian Jeanvier from Reimes and winger Said Benrahma from Nice. Meanwhile, centre back Jon Egan and winger Florain Jozefzoon went to Sheffield United and Derby respectively. We were happy with that. All pretty much planned. And, in the fans eyes, moving us forward.
There was one player who we would have wanted to stay but all the indications have been for a year or so was that he would be leaving this summer. So when Swansea failed to lock down the deal for Ryan Woods on transfer deadline day, we should have been delighted. Except as the riddle goes, “when is transfer deadline day not transfer deadline day?”, answer: “When it’s an EFL transfer deadline day”.
This is the ridiculous rule that allows a team to actually nick your player three weeks after deadline day under the farcical ‘loan with a view to buy’ rule. And needless to say, Ryan Woods disappeared in a cloud of smoke off to The Potteries to join Gary Rowett and his band of not so merry men up at Stoke on the final day of the loan window – three weeks after the real transfer window shut.
We started the season playing brilliantly - smashing Rotherham 5-1 (ok I know it is ‘only’ Rotherham some fans will say … but you have to put the ball in the back of the net .. as Swansea City know from last weekend). And we played Stoke so much off the park at the Victoria Britannia Bet 365 whatever their stadium is called, it was embarrassing. Embarrassing that we only scored one goal. And also embarrassing that we gifted them a goal with one of our many defensive fluffs this season. So we thought we wouldn’t miss Woods…
That was until teams started playing anti football to try and stem our passing game and we realised we needed, at some times during the game, a different player in there to switch things up if needed. I know it’s easy saying this in retrospect, but if we managed to keep Ryan Woods, I firmly believe we would be easily lodged in the top six… possibly even the top two. Not that he would replace anyone in the midfield at present, but he would be an option that we could either bring on after 65 minutes or take off after 65 minutes if need be. He brought an energy to our midfield that we sometimes lack. When you know you can bring Ryan Woods off the bench, you know you’ve got a strong midfield.
Saying that, we may have found a replacement in Josh DaSilva. Signed from Arsenal on a free transfer, he made his debut against Millwall and looked strong and direct. We look forward to seeing more of him in the future.
As it is, we’ll see how we get on. We’re more than good enough. And we’re only a few points off the playoffs. We just need to get a few wins under our belt.
Great August and September given way to some indifferent results since, how would you assess the season so far?
We started off brilliantly. Then everyone started talking about us as being the team to watch so teams did their homework on us and actually started to take us seriously for once. Which is actually a little bit annoying.
When we played Aston Villa, they raised their game massively against us and were very good. Pretty much every game Villa played after that - before they sacked Steve Bruce - even they would admit they weren't great. Derby also played very well against us. Did their homework and stopped us playing - going 3-0 up in the first half.
Plus we have teams come down to Griffin Park and basically try and stop us playing. Nottingham Forest took it a bit far by commencing their time wasting in the 46th minute. Teams that clogg up the midfield. That press us. That kick us. Teams that stop us from playing by - As Malcolm X said - “Any Means Necessary”. Of course it doesn’t help when you gift the opposition goals. Defensive fluffs. Goalkeeper fluffs.
Daniel Bentley was actually dropped by Dean Smith just before he left because - and he would put his hand up to this - he had made so many costly fluffs this season. It cost us at least five definite points possibly more. Five extra points would see us in sixth place currently. So fine margins. At Stoke City he found himself 15 yds out of his area when a Chris Mepham clearance headed the ball over his head back towards goal to an on running Benik Afobe. Afobe doesn’t often miss open goals and he certainly didn’t that week. He gifted Forest a goal but luckily we scored two in response to get all three points. Two blunders against Reading saw us lose a 2-0 lead against a side who - if we have promotion aspirations - we should have taken 3 points off at home. There were also fluffs at Preston where we lost 4-3. Saying that, Thomas Frank has kept faith in Bentley who is a very good keeper. And for the mistakes he has made recently, you also have to remember the numerous times he has pulled Brentford out of a hole with miraculous stops. Every keeper goes through a wobbly patch. Hopefully Bentley’s is over and done with.
There is also an argument to say that indiscipline has also cost us. A higher than usual number of yellow cards. Lots of arguing. Plus Maupay’s retrospective red card for a stamp up at Villa definitely cost us as he was banned for three matches. I would argue that we would have at least got a point at Blackburn if he was playing.
There is a long long way to go. In the season when we reached the playoff semi-final in the Championship (2014/15) we went into the match against Derby on the first Saturday of November without a win under our belt in four matches. We were thirteenth that day with 19 points after 14 matches. We beat top of the table Derby to go twelfth giving ourselves 22 points after 15 matches. That result left us four points off the playoffs. We’re currently 13th with 21 points after 16 matches this time around - five points of playoffs. So history says we still have it all to play for.
How was the news of Dean Smith's departure greeted? How do you think he'll do at Villa, a very different job?
Dean Smith was really, really liked but not absolutely loved at Brentford. If that makes sense. Think of the QPR managers that you absolutely loved. It won’t be loads. Fans had a lot of respect for him. He got us playing some great football - which took us to another level after first Uwe Rosler then Mark Warburton stamped the style of play that owner Matthew Benham brought them in to develop. He also dealt with a lot of shit. Like players striking for a move (James Tarkowski to Burnley) and dressing room politics between the old Warburton players and the new Dean Smith players. He was apparently very good with the players and nurtured the youngsters - bringing them through. He also had to deal with having his best players plucked from under him from circling vultures like Aston Villa (Scott Hogan) and Birmingham City (too many and too galling to name).
But the way the club is set up is … if the head coach leaves (which he will eventually some day... either because he is too good and someone poaches him... or he is rubbish and he gets sacked), another head coach who understands the way the club plays and buys into the philosophy slots right in. Dean Smith leaving at some stage was inevitable, and in general Bees fans accepted it and moved on.
At Villa I have said that I think he will do quite well. He has a talented set of players and if he is able to make Brentford look like world beaters with a talented set of players, in principal he should be able to do the same at Villa. The only thing I am not privy to is the behind-the-scene politics and the dressing room harmony. Smith - from what I gathered - created a harmonious dressing room. And that helped in getting the team to play for each other and for him. Will it be the same at Villa? Or will the big pay packets and big egos get in the way?
Thomas Frank felt like an obvious choice from the outside, was that the case? Any other candidates? The right choice?
Thomas Frank was manager of Brondby - arguably the second-best team in Denmark at the time - and guided them through two Europa League challenges. He left the club because (quite bizarrely) the chairman went on a Brondby message board and, under a pseudonym, started slagging him off. He resigned and a year or so later took up the job as assistant to Dean Smith at Brentford.
At the time, we thought at Beesotted ‘why is the manager of the second best team in Denmark playing second fiddle to Dean Smith a little olde Brentford?’. Our conclusion was he was there to learn the league. Learn the players. Learn the customs. Just learn. And if Dean Smith were to ever leave, he would slot right in. To be fair, he was also brought in to give Smith assistance in the tactical side of the game - Frank being an astute tactician by all accounts.
We, to be fair, had learned from our mistakes. We plucked Marinus Dijkhuizen from the Dutch League to manage us in the UK. We found out very quickly that plucking him out of Holland and plonking him into an English team wasn’t going to work. His inexperience of the English Football really got us (and him) in a pickle. We’re not the type of team to get rid of personnel quickly. We normally try and see it through (the infamous striker Murray Jones lasted a whole season at Brentford despite being still 30 plus years later the worst player we have ever signed). But by all accounts, he was lucky to last eight matches.
That’s why I’m hoping they have seen enough in Thomas Frank over the last two years to know he is the right man for the job. I don’t think anyone else was even on the radar although I’m sure they must have enjoyed sifting through the CVs of yer Harry Redknapps and yer Ian Holloways of the world.
Three quick defeats, including 3-0 down at Preston in 23 minutes, isn't the best start for him, any concerns here? What's he changed?
We were a tad concerned yes. But we’re football fans so we’re bound to get concerned. Also to be fair, Dean Smith left him on a not winning run, and Smith’s losing (or not winning) runs were legendary. It’s now up to Thomas Frank to solve the issues that Dean Smith was unable to solve: getting hit quick on the break with the type of goal which got QPR’s equaliser last season; being able to combat teams who come to kill the game from the first minute. Solve those issues and we’re in good shape.
No away wins so far - what do you put that down to?
We would have beaten Stoke if it wasn’t for the goalie fluff. We should have beaten Villa - being 2-1 up in the 95th minute. And Leeds - again conceding an equaliser in the 88th minute after giving away a needless free kick from which they scored from was most annoying. And Ipswich we were 1-0 up but couldn’t close the game out.
Some of it is bad luck. Some of it is attitude. if we had beaten Stoke (first away game of the season), not allowed Villa to equalise late (second away game) and scored early in the next away game up at Blackburn when we should have, by the time we played Ipswich we would have been more confident. But having a young team, these things do weigh you down. Preston sums it up where we score three goals away from home but still lose 4-3. That won’t carry on forever. We will learn.
Once they get their first away win under their belt, I’m sure we’ll see a spring in their step. Hopefully it will be this Saturday at Loftus Road.
Stand out players and weak links in the side?
Maupay has to be the standout player: 11 goals and six assists in his second season in the English Football League. Fair play. And he was suspended for three matches as well.
Mepham and Konsa (both 21 years old) at centre back are quality. Still young and learning but a classy duo. Mepham is an old head on young legs. He’s actually a QPR fan and after being dropped by Chelsea’s academy, he tried to sign for QPR but was told: 'When we come to sign someone, we look at one thing which we might try and develop. But we can’t see anything we can work on with you.” QPR’s loss is Brentford’s gain. Fans think he’s one of the top three defenders seen at Griffin Park in 30 plus years.
Also I can’t NOT mention Said Benrahma. He was given a little stint on the bench recently to refocus him. But stats wise he is way way way way way out there when it comes to quality chance creation. Everyone raves about Oliver Norwood and John McGinn but Benrahma creates equally as good chances as the two of them but has a far better assist record (based on the last set of stats I saw from a few weeks ago). He’s only been playing in the English Football League for three months. Give him a season and he’ll be unstoppable for Brentford …. or gobbled up by a vulture.
Weak links - letting in late goals. Silly mistakes in defence.
Have you adjusted your sights for the season post Smith? How do you see it going between now and May?
Not really. I actually calmed myself down after last season’s top six prediction. I think I said we would finish eighth. I still think regardless of Smith going, eighth place is attainable. I even think a playoff place is still achievable but many things have to slot into place for that to happen. More importantly, we need to maintain a charge on the top six to ensure that we don’t lose any key players. If we look strong for a playoff place, key players will stay and we will undoubtedly strengthen the side. If we go into January lingering in fourteenth place, we could find that we have to start the whole rebuilding process once again. And that would be very frustrating
Billy Grant (@BillyTheBee99) writes, podcasts and blogs for Beesotted (@Beesotted) the Brentford Fanzine. You can catch Beesotted’s post-match podcast from around 19.00 after the match on http://PrideOfWest.London - talking to both QPR and Brentford fans in the pub after the match
The Twitter @Beesotted, @BillyTheBee99, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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