Bees showing dangerous signs after slow start - Interview
Saturday, 26th Oct 2019 15:53 by Clive Whittingham
The usual big money departures from Brentford over the summer were accompanied by an unusually high spend on replacements raising expectations at Griffin Park. Beesotted's Billy Grant says the expensively assembled new-look team may just be finding its feet after initially struggling to adapt.
Big summer of transfer activity at Brentford, now the dust has settled how has the squad emerged from that?
This season because we raised the bar and were signing players for £3m - even paying £6m for Bryan Mbuemo - we presumed that these players would come to Griffin Park more ‘match ready’. Alas that does not seem to be the case. After signing ten players in the summer, we have had exactly the same problems of gelling and getting used to the Championship football - despite the higher prices paid - that we’ve always had. So our season once again has been another slow starter.
Saying that, it seems to be getting better.
With regards the players… Buying Pantus Jansson was a big statement from Brentford. Not so much because we were willing to pay money for a so called name brand player - something which is very much not the way Brentford have done things in the past - more the fact that we recognised that for years we have had a fragile defence - even as far back as when Mark Warburton was manager of Brentford back in 2014/15 and before that. We made a decision to bring in an experienced defender to try and rectify the issue as opposed to what we normally do - developing young up-and-coming defenders. Our defence has been stronger it has to be said, but ironically the other defender we bought in to shore things up - Ethan Pinnock from Barnsley - is not even getting a start at the moment.
In the midfield, the highly regarded Danish duo of Nørgaard (defensive midfielder) and Mattias Jansen (attacking midfielder) have taken a while to adjust to Championship life. Both have shown flashes of what they can do. And at Swansea on Tuesday, Nørgaard looks like he has finally twigged. As for Mbuemo. French Under 21. He is meant to be a super skilful player. But once again, the first couple of months found him ill-at-sorts for many games. So much so, he was dropped for a few matches. However, if you have seen his goal at Swansea, it’s a sign of what he’s got in his locker. He’s scored three goals for Brentford now and they’ve all been screamers.
So all in all. A lot of change. Quite a bit of expectation. A lot of talent in the side with much more to come from them on the pitch. But (and probably good for us) a touch of realism for Bees fans realising that it’s always a tough battle in this division no matter how good your players may be.
Ins: >>> Bryan Mbeumo, 19, RW, Troyes, £5.85m >>> Pontus Jansson, 28, CB, Leeds, £5.54m >>> Mathias Jensen, 23, CM, Celta Vigo, £3.4m >>> Christian Norgaard, 25, DM, Fiorentina, £3.1m >>> David Raya, 23, GK, Blackburn, £3m >>> Ethan Pinnock, 26, CB, Barnsley, £3m >>> Halil Dervisoglu, 20, CF, Rotterdam, £2.7m >>> Joel Valencia 24, AM, Piast Gliwice (Poland), £1.8m >>> Dominic Thompson, 19, LB, Arsenal, Undisclosed >>> Drew Yearwood, 19, CM, Southend, Undisclosed >>> Nikolaos Karelis, 27, CF, Genk, Free
Outs: >>> Neal Maupay, 22, CF, Brighton, £19.8m >>> Ezri Konsa, 21, CB, Villa, £12m >>> Romaine Sawyers, 27, AM, West Brom, £3m >>> Daniel Bentley, 25, GK, Bristol City, £1.98m >>> Chiedozie Ogbene, 22, LW, Rotherham, Undisclosed >>> Lewis MacLeod, 25, CM, Wigan, Free >>> Yoann Barbet, 26, CB, Free, QPR >>> Moses Odubajo, 25, RB, Sheff Wed, Free >>> Jack Bonham, 25, GK, Gillingham, Free >>> Josh McEachran, 26, CM, Birmingham, Free >>> Marcus Forss, 20, CF, Wimbledon, Loan >>> Emiliano Marcondes, 24, LW, Midtjylland (Denmark), Loan >>> Ellery Balcombe, 19, GK, Viborg (Norway), Loan
This in turn led to big expectations for this season, though it’s been a relatively slow start – I guess not helped by the late departure of Maupay. What have you made of it so far?
Yes expectations were huge, not only from our fans, but also from the media. For the first time, people en masse started to tip us for playoffs. The fact is, when you are used to spending £2m and £3m a window then you end up spending £30m, expectations will rise accordingly. It’s inevitable.
We sold £60m worth of players in order to spend £30m, so we’re £30m in the black, but the reality is people will not judge you on the balance of spend they will judge you on how much you have spent. And I would put my hand up and say that’s a hell of a lot of money. I believe we spent more in one window than we have done cumulatively in our whole existence.
That’s something quite hard to get your head around. On the one hand I’m thinking ‘we’re stepping up a level here’ but on the other, I’m thinking ‘I quite liked my olde, small-spending, punching-above-it’s-weight Brentford’. But what is happening is out of our hands and when we click, the football we play is tremendous to watch so no complaints there.
Maupay leaving so late was a blow, but it wasn’t unexpected and there has been some criticism that we didn’t get a replacement lined up. I interviewed Brentford’s co-director of football after the Millwall game on for our Beesotted podcast and he believed that losing Maupay was not so much of a problem as Ollie Watkins has stepped in and jumped to second top goalscorer in the Championship. The issue was more the players around him not quite catching up and contributing the goals.
We were in talks with a Swedish striker - Sam Ghoddos - in the summer. I believe he was going to usurp Mbuemo on the record signing front but the talks took a turn for the worse at the last minute. His team, Amiens in France, did not make things easy and in the end Brentford had no choice but to walk away from the deal. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise as a few weeks later the striker was banned for 4 months by FIFA for signing for Spanish club Huesca in 2018 then turning his back on the deal (despite physically signing) and then signing for Amiens.
We do have other options. We currently have one of our B team strikers - Marcus Forss - scoring goals for AFC Wimbledon (six so far). He may or may not be recalled in January. We sent attacking midfielder Emiliano Marcondes on loan to Danish league leaders FC Midtjylland to get some game time and he could get recalled in January. And we signed a Dutch striker due to come in January - Halil Dervisoglu - who has scored four goals for Sparta Rotterdam so far this season.
So in principal, we have a decent squad on paper. We’ll see in the next few months how they it pulls together.
Exactly a year ago when Thomas Frank took over we couldn’t buy a win, or even a draw. We had a run of around a dozen matches where we lost pretty much all of them. Earlier this season, we unluckily lost against Birmingham and Charlton - both teams scoring with their only shot of the match (Birmingham didn’t even get into the final third other than their 25 yard headed goal). And we have looked pedestrian against other teams we have played compared to previous seasons.
Frank has put it down to new players coming in, not gelling, not understanding the patterns of play and foreign players not quite acclimatising to the brutality of The Championship. There were a few people who said before the Millwall match “If he doesn’t get a win against Millwall, surely he’s going to get sacked” but Brentford don’t operate like that.
The belief is if the team is doing the right things, playing the right type of football and (generally) getting the ball into the right places then even if they fail to score they will stick with the head coach as they believe it will eventually improve. This very much comes from their stats-based approach. The ethos says to tear up the sheet and start again can be much more destructive than having a plan, believing in it and working with your players to make that plan come to fruition. Some may say that’s pig headed stubbornness which could get you in a lot of trouble, especially if you are backing the wrong horse. Brentford believe it’s more about having a vision. Having a belief that you are doing the right thing. Then seeing that vision through.
Are they right to back Frank? Personally, I’ll take that call at the end of the season. Too many teams sack managers on a whim which means that you often have to start from scratch. I have to admit, before the Millwall match I was worried, then after the Millwall win I didn’t want to count my chickens, but the Swansea match really showed what we can do when we’re on fire and what can happen when key players like Benrahma and Mbuemo and Nørgaard are on their A game which - admittedly - they haven’t been up until then.
Some good results of late though, the win at Barnsley, the Millwall comeback, and then that big win at Swansea, is the feeling now that you’re coming into form and can push on?
I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. At the start of the season I was well excited and thought playoffs was a dead cert. But then seeing the players struggle to adapt made me think that we were developing a team ready for a push next season when they have all got used to the division. And (hopefully) no-one will have plucked any players away from us in the summer.
But as you have said many times Clive, this division is funny old one. It’s as weak as it is strong. Leeds looks good at times but tend to wobble. WBA are a safe pair of hands but are beatable. You have teams like Preston and your good selves invading the playoff spots. Anything can happen.
Look at Norwich last season. Completely out of the picture in December - league winners in May. I’m not saying we will do the same but we have the players to do it. It’s more of a question of - do we have the bottle, the stomach and the battle to make a concerted push for a top six place? Or are we destined to be awesome one week then abysmal the next?
Our match against you will tell us a lot
Has Frank changed anything or is it just a new team getting settled in and now starting to play?
Interestingly, last season when we were losing serially, Thomas Frank changed to three central defenders and two wing-backs. This helped to shore-up our leaky defence and we then played some matches which saw us absolutely blow the opposition away (Hull 5-1, Blackburn 5-2). Back then we were blessed with ball-playing centre backs and that worked in our favour. Two of those centre backs, Ezri Konsa and Yoann Barbet, have now left but Frank has insisted on sticking with three in the back. The talk in the pubs was that formation was restricting us. Pontus Jansson is more of a straight back four player, as are Jeanvier and Pinnock.
With the midfielders bought in, Nørgaard and Jensen, the feeling from the terraces was they were more suited to three in the middle as opposed to two. A few weeks ago, Frank switched to 4-3-3 and the performances have looked much better. My personal feeling is that he was playing it a bit safe. Fair play to him, he has steadied up our defence, but our attack was suffering. Brentford are the type of team who are much more suited to attacking a lead than defending a lead.
I’d say we’ll go 4-3-3 against QPR on Monday. We can’t allow your midfield to dominate and he has to trust his defenders to do their job.
League results so far…
If you saw Benrahma’s goal against Swansea and the little tricks he did during the match you would realise why we were raving about him last season. He’s such a skilful player and we’ll be lucky to still have him at the end of the January window.
Pontus Jansson is a leader for sure and a good defender. Ollie Watkins was switched to a striker role that he wasn’t 100% comfortable with and has scored 8 goals so far. And I think Mbuemo is going to be a monster in this division after a slow start. He’s big, strong, fast and likes a shot.
Our main weakness is players not getting up to speed. Jensen looks skilful but he’s struggling to get to grips with Championship and it may take a few more months. Valencia - player of the year in Poland last season - also looked a bit rabbit in the headlights the few times we’ve seen him
With both winger Canos and striker Karelis out for probably the rest of the season with ACL injuries, there is the opportunity for players like DaSilva, Valencia and Zamburek to really make their mark.
What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
I’ll be happy if we continue to play good football and finish strongly so that we can go for a proper push next season. Anything better than that will be a bonus. Top ten would be marvellous once again.
Any thoughts on Mark Warburton’s time at Brentford in hindsight…
We know Mark very well at Beesotted. I would talk to him loads on the phone and down the training ground. We got an exclusive interview with him when it was announced that he was leaving the club. He came down the pub to celebrate with fans after we won promotion to the Championship.
Like many Bees fans, we were gutted when it came to light that he was going to leave Brentford. Those 18 months that he was manager were magical. The football was tremendous, there was a wonderful unity in the club - it felt like us (the underdog) against he world. Everything seemed just perfect.
Unfortunately, that all came to an end with his falling out with owner Matthew Benham. We talked about this on our pre-QPR podcast which also had QPR fan Gareth Dixon from Ranger Things down the pub with us previewing Monday’s match.
Warburton is a good coach, 100%. Yes he made mistakes tactically, but so did Dean Smith, and so has Thomas Frank. The thing is, at Brentford, if you are doing the right thing in principal, the owner will back you all the way. Even if you go on a long losing streak - Dean Smith lost ten out of 13 matches including that 3-0 humiliation at Loftus Road.
It took a year or so after Mark had left - when things started to come to light - for me to realise that when he was at Brentford, he wasn’t (unfortunately) working in the club’s interest. And that was upsetting considering how well we got on. His falling out with the owner came as a result of Mark wanting to do everything his way and unfortunately that led to him disregarding and undermining the way the owner wanted his club to run.
The fact that Benham said in an interview that our promotion season to The Championship was an all time low for him because he felt unwelcome at the training ground and people weren’t working together in harmony was sad. It should have been Benham’s happiest moment but it was already starting to go wrong. That’s not good.
Football is traditionally old school and sometimes it’s hard for some people to accept new and progressive ways of working. Mark has a pretty free hand when he was at Brentford - he had the freedom to sign all the players he wanted, the owner backed him – but with the take there needed to be a little bit of give. What did him no favours was when he constantly kept rejecting players recommended by the owner’s scouting team. That eventually came to a head.
In the end, when the owner removed Warburton’s signing veto (meaning that he couldn’t reject players any more) he made the decision to leave. Some say he had no choice but he did. Dean Smith managed to work within the framework quite happily afterwards. Since he left, it has been well proven that the owner’s methods for unearthing decent players for relatively small money have been pretty astonishing. Andre Gray, Hogan and Jota were scouted by Benham’s team whilst Mark was there. Maupay, Konsa, Benrahma, Woods, Vibe, Watkins, Sawyers, Henry and Colin were scouted after he left. And the list goes on These players could have all been working with Warburton if he sat tight and just decided to work together.
In a recent TV interview, Mark actually was very reflective and admitted some regret saying in retrospect, if he hadn’t knocked back signing a set of players presented to him in the January window of our playoff season, he would probably still be at the club now. He also very interestingly gave props to Benham’s methods in a recent Athletic interview saying that he is incorporating a few things he learned at Brentford at QPR.
“Warburton admits how much he owes to the influence of Matthew Benham, the stats-driven owner of Brentford” the article says
“Possession is an irrelevant stat. The biggest stat for me is chances created, and the quality of those chances” says Warburton
That’s straight out of the xG (expected goals) handbook. And one of the key indicators Brentford use to define the way they play. Interesting to see that he’s taken a u-turn four years on and fair play to him for admitting it. Maybe having had plenty of time to think and looking at where the next long-term manager to follow Warburton - Dean Smith - has got in his career has made Warburton realise you have to work together with the people who back you or you won’t last.
I like Dean Smith a lot. He was someone who always had the best interests of the club at heart. Do I think Smith is a better coach that Mark Warburton? Not really. But he worked with Brentford, the club backed him through his mistakes and he learned loads from it. Now he is using that knowledge to manage Aston Villa in the Premier League.
Personally speaking, I think Warburton will be a very good manager for QPR as long as they stick with him. He has ditched the ‘baggage’ (he always moved from club to club in a threesome which did him not favours. Saying that, I actually really liked David Weir) and as a result, he has shed himself of all the nonsense that came with the baggage which has tarnished his reputation over the past few years. He’s now back, on his own, doing what he does best - coaching players and getting the best out of young talent like Eze. You’ve got some great young players at QPR and he’s as good a coach as any to get the best out of them.
I do like Warburton but at the same time, I have to say, I feel disappointed by the way he behaved whilst at Brentford. He really let us (the fans) and someone who really trusted him (the owner) down No doubt he’s learned from this though and that’s in the past now. We move on
You did ask.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @BillyTheBee99, @Beesotted
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