WHY HALF A LOAF OF FAN RIGHTS IS WORTH STARTING WITH.

WHY HALF A LOAF OF FAN RIGHTS IS WORTH STARTING WITH.

Things are moving very fast a fortnight after the European Super League scare led to the Government to speed up the launch of its much awaited ‘fan-led review’ of football. The relevant government department, DCMS, have published the terms of reference for the review by Tracey Crouch MP while fan groups and clubs have started coming up with ideas for reform. It can’t be a coincidence that first out of the blocks are some of the English clubs that signed up for the Super League then repented.

At Liverpool the ‘Spirit of Shankly’ supporters group have formally met with club officials and among their demands was ‘effective, elected and accountable fan representation’ on the LFC Board ‘in relation to issues that impact fans and the Anfield community as a whole’.   The club ‘will respond formally‘ with a further meeting expected in the coming days and it is said that both parties agreed ‘there is a need for a new structure leading to a meaningful and lasting supporter engagement’. 

At Chelsea where withdrawal from the Super League arguably started the collapse of the ESL house of cards they’ve announced  that as from July 1st ‘there will be supporter presence at the Club’s Board Meetings’ .The fans who were on the streets outside Stamford Bridge are now to be invited into the boardroom. ‘Three supporter advisors, picked through an election and selection process, will attend board meetings to ensure general supporter sentiment is considered as part of the Club’s decision-making process’. The Chelsea Supporters Trust (CST) immediately welcomed the news  pointing out that theirs was the first ‘Big 6’ club to appoint supporter advisors and ‘we hope this will prevent any catastrophic decisions  from being made’. The term ‘supporter advisor’ is a new one in English football and it is worth clarifying what it is not. It is not ‘ a fan elected director’ which is what the Football Supporters Association advocates. We don’t yet know exactly how the advisors will be chosen. Each of ‘the Chelsea three’ will be selected  by a process to be agreed by the club with its own Fans Forum but the independent CST also want a right of consultation ‘to ensure that the best representatives are elected’. Fan groups who receive these kinds of offers also need to be able to ensure that the board meetings they attend really are the ones that run the club. In parts of Europe, and France is a good example, where staff reps on company boards are required by law, there is a whole business culture around holding ‘real’ meetings without those reps and then going through the motions in front of them. These ‘advisors’ will not be directors of Chelsea FC but will still have to sign a confidentiality agreement ‘similar in scope’ to those the club directors sign. The advisors won’t have any voting rights and ‘will not participate in any meetings relating to players, staff, the Academy and related matters’. This is a long way off the rights which the Bees United member of Brentford FC’s board holds and which I recently suggested could be a model for other clubs..But I agree with the CST that ’the decision is a big step in the right direction’.

So why aren’t Chelsea’s initiative and Liverpool’s encouraging noises just some knee jerk reactions to try to head off Government action to achieve what the CST call ‘meaningful change’? Does the Chelsea one undercut the Liverpool one where fans are demanding more? Why is so much being kept off the agenda when fans can attend?

In the world of international diplomacy they talk about ‘confidence building measures’. Two sides who have traditionally had little or nothing nice to say to each other need to build some trust before they commit themselves to something more permanent. Supporter advisors can help develop that trust as long as they know there will be more on offer further down the road. Whatever Tracey Crouch recommends and the Government tries to implement there are probably going to have to be transitional stages and possibly pilot schemes. It is no coincidence that the only supporter groups in the Premier League and Championship this season which have full representation on the board of their club are Bees United and the Wycombe Wanderers Trust. Both once owned their clubs and in the deals to sell to new owners they had the negotiating clout to secure rights in the new structure. To spread the model to clubs where fans currently have no shares and/or no say in their clubs there are going to have to be steps along the way. And at last somebody has made a start.

 

Stewart Purvis writes in a personal capacity and his views do not necessarily reflect those of all Bees United members or Brentford Fc.

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‘JUST MAYBE THE GODS WILL SMILE DOWN UPON US’

‘JUST MAYBE THE GODS WILL SMILE DOWN UPON US’

My friend Andy is an exiled Rotherham fan marooned in North London and as he does not have Sky TV he inveigled his way into my front room on Tuesday night and suffered and squirmed as his beloved Millers demonstrated effort and energy in abundance but a sad lack of the necessary quality as the Bees deservedly earned a narrow 1-0 win and Rotherham teetered on the relegation precipice with their fate still to be decided as the season comes towards a dramatic conclusion.

Watching poor Andy’s agony throughout what must have been 94 minutes of torture for him and the hangdog expression on his face as he sadly wended his way home resigned to visiting the likes of Gillingham and Fleetwood next season provided me with a salutary reminder not to take things for granted, as well as just how lucky we are to be watching a Brentford team who in reality are no bigger a club than the Millers and yet there is a yawning chasm between the two teams in terms of quality as we are currently massively punching above our weight.

It has been a bizarre couple of months for the Bees. If you had told me that we would have gone on a run of ten matches without defeat after narrowly losing at Carrow Road at the beginning of March I would have confidently have expected that we would now be on the verge of clinching our automatic promotion to the Premier League. What I would not have anticipated is that six of those ten games would have ended in frustrating draws and it is our failure to get over the line and finish teams off that has condemned us to the misery of the Play-Offs – yet again.

I have just used a pretty pejorative term to describe the end of season lottery that is the Play-Offs and yet in reality, we should embrace them as we will shortly be embarking on a mini-tournament with a 25% chance of winning the Golden Ticket to the promised land.

I am old enough to remember all nine of our previous fumbling efforts to triumph in the Play-Offs since 1991 and, to be quite frank, in none of the four Play-Off Finals that we reached in 1997, 2002, 2013 and 2020 did we really turn up at either Wembley or the Millennium Stadium and beyond a totally unexpected Semi Final First leg victory at Bristol City in 1997 and the wonderful exhibition of pure attacking football that we exhibited against Swansea in the last ever match at Griffin Park it is hard to remember a Play-Off match where we have ever performed anywhere near our true potential.

As far as this season goes, we should be entering the Play-Off lottery in a positive, confident and phlegmatic frame of mind. Yes, it is terribly disappointing that we have been unable to gain automatic promotion but we all know the reasons for not doing so. The lack of rest and preparation time and an initial slight hangover after the disappointment of last season’s Wembley defeat, selling our two best players in Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, the distraction caused by the amazing run to the Semi-final of the Carabao Cup, the lack of fans at all but a couple of matches and the catastrophic and seemingly never-ending series of injuries to key and irreplaceable players which have meant that the likes of Pontus Jansson, Rico Henry, Henrik Dalsgaard, Josh Dasilva and Christian Norgaard have missed vast swathes of the season.

To have achieved the same points tally as last season with still two matches to play and to have lost a mere seven matches in total is an incredible achievement, particularly given the nine frustrating games we lost 1-0 last season. It is galling that we are currently the Championship’s top scorers with 74 goals and a slightly more even distribution of them would surely have turned some of our 15 draws into the victories needed to have won promotion automatically. We must also celebrate our beating no less than four Premier League teams in the Carabao Cup.

Yes, there is naturally some disappointment that we could not have gone one step further in the Championship but given the obstacles and problems that we have faced it has been a magnificent season.

I do not intend to single out many players as it is a team game however it would be invidious not to mention Ivan Toney who has been the best player in the league this season and is currently on the verge – and the width of a goalpost away from reaching the 30-goal milestone he so thoroughly deserves.

It remains to be seen if we can overcome our Play-Off hoodoo and strike gold at the tenth time of asking. But why shouldn’t we? We are an exceptionally talented and well-organised team that is full of confidence and hard to beat and one that is entering the Play-Offs on a high given our current undefeated run.

I am no mathematician or expert on probability and I know that there are many statisticians and analysts employed by the club who can prove through theory and logic that our previous failures can have no bearing on how we will perform in the Play-Offs next month. We start again with a clean slate.

We, the fans, need to keep as cool and calm heads as the players and team management and maybe, just maybe, the Gods will smile down upon us.

It has already been a season to remember and perhaps the best is yet to come?

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PETER GELSON 1941-2021

PETER GELSON 1941-2021

  • PETER GELSON RIP

Like every Brentford supporter of a certain vintage, I was deeply saddened and indeed, devastated, to learn today of the death of one of my earliest heroes, Peter Gelson.

I thought long and hard about how to commemorate him and decided that rather than just write an anodyne account of his career and reflect that the 516 games he played for the Bees puts him behind only Ken Coote and Jamie Bates in the all-time Brentford appearance list, mention his ability to outjump the tallest centre forward – with the notable exception of Aldershot’s Jack Howarth – I decided that I would simply include this wonderful photograph of the Brentford team that won promotion from the Fourth Division in 1972.

Why?

Because even now nearly 50 years later it gives me goosebumps and makes me feel nostalgic for a lost age and Peter Gelsonwas an integral part of a squad that embodied and exemplified everything that is right about football and community.

Oh, and just look at those haircuts and sideburns too!

It was also the first time since I started supporting them six years earlier that a Brentford team actually won anything.

Under the managership of the wily Frank Blunstone, Brentford became a team to reckon with.

Hard, tough and mean at the back where Gelson and Alan Nelmes, who played a mere 316 games for the club, formed an almost impassable central defensive partnership. Nonstop running and harrying in midfield and real quality and vision up front plus the aerial threat and battering ram that was John O’Mara.

What a team, and but for the club’s decisions to cash in on Roger Cross and a year later, John O’Mara, who knows how high we could have climbed rather than crashing and burning and returning immediately to the bottom division.

Amazingly given today’s move towards squad rotation Brentford only used eighteen players throughout the entire season of whom four made a mere twenty-four appearances between them.

In fact, eleven of the squad played over thirty times so there was a consistency of selection and a determination to grit your teeth and play though injuries.

Brentford supporters of a certain age will relish recalling the names of those who played in that momentous season

Peter Gelson

Alan Nelmes

Gordon Phillips

John O’Mara

Alan Hawley

John Docherty

Bobby Ross

Jackie Graham

Paul Bence

Stewart Houston

Roger Cross

Mike Allen

All names to conjure with, and OK, I will admit it, they are still heroes to me.

No wonder that team was successful given the grit, character, determination and of course, skill that it possessed.

But they also possessed another quality, something intangible, something that no amount of money could buy – loyalty allied with their love of the club

Between them the twelve players mentioned above played a total of 3,338 games for the club and stayed at Griffin Park for 94 years.

These are truly staggering figures and by way of comparison only four current Bees players, Rico Henry, Josh Dasilva, SergiCanos, and Henrik Dalsgaard have played over one hundred times for the club andonly the last two named have played over 150 games for the Bees.

Another surprising statistic is that no current Brentford player has been with the club for more than four years.

Of course the game has changed beyond recognition from what it was fifty years ago, and in many cases for the better.

The modern-day player is far more likely to move on quickly given freedom of contract and the desire to better himself both professionally and financially, whereas in those days there was generally no financial incentive to do so. Peter Gelson might well have had opportunities throughout his long and successful career to move on, but given the circumstances, why should he have left a club, situated close to home, who valued his services and whose fans adored him and supported him with two testimonials?

When I helped compile The Big Brentford Book Of TheSeventies several years ago, Dave Lane, Mark Croxford and I invited some of our heroes to a launch event at the club.

Knowing how awkward and difficult some present day players are reputed to be, we were all very concerned about whether anybody would show up.

We really shouldn’t have worried as the bush telegraph started working and it proved remarkably easy to get Alan Hawley, Jackie Graham, Peter Gelson, Paul Bence, Terry Scales, Pat Kruse, Andy McCulloch and Alan Nelmes to attend.

Even the reclusive John O’Mara, who generally keeps himself to himself was there and had a great time. In fact we had players asking us if they could come!

What struck me was how grounded, modest and pleasant all of them were – and how much Brentford meant to them.

They were, without exception, totally delighted to be remembered and were happy to talk with supporters and remember past times.

Alan Hawley even came up at the end of the evening and thanked us for inviting him. He really didn’t realise that the honour was all ours and that we were privileged to be in the same room with him.

What a gentleman!

It was a night that made me proud to be a Brentford supporter and reminded me, yet again, of what a great club we have.

Togetherness off the pitch and a strong team spirit generally translate to success on it and they’re both traits that we stillhave in abundance today.

Peter Gelson and the rest of these immortal names from the past will always be a hero to me, he was a perfect embodiment of what Brentford representsand I feel as confident about the future of this club as I am proud of its past.

As for Peter Gelson, his memory and example and what he represented will live forever.

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MEET THE MEXICAN IN THE BEES DUGOUT

MEET THE MEXICAN IN THE BEES DUGOUT

If body language is anything to go by Bernardo Cueva is becoming an increasingly important part of Brentford FC. Signed last September in the newly-created role of ‘Tactical Statistician’ the Mexican is clearly not just some backroom boffin but a front liner in the dugout, often confidently shouting instructions to players from the technical area. And when it comes to celebrating with the players after victories like the wins against Bournemouth and the away win at Reading Bernardo is equally up front and the players respond accordingly.

 

 

 

Bernardo started at Chivas as an Academy player. He left to work in other areas but returned in September 2017 in a role which the Mexican press described as the ‘sports intelligence co-ordinator’. One article explained to Mexican readers that Brentford is ‘a team from the Second Division of England that has one of the most advanced projects in Europe regarding sports management’. In an interesting parallel with Brentford’s own B team structure a Mexican football website says Chivas ‘recruits the most talented young under-20s, all of them unpolished but with interesting data’.

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‘THEY HATE THAT LITTLE BRENTFORD HAS OVERTAKEN THEM AND KEEP WINNING’

‘THEY HATE THAT LITTLE BRENTFORD HAS OVERTAKEN THEM AND KEEP WINNING’

Host: Rasmus Monnerup – Host, editor, and expert at Mediano and former manager at Roskilde FC

Guest: Brian Riemer – Assistant Head Coach at Brentford

Translator: Tobias Neigaard

Editor: Greville Waterman 

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Monnerup: How are things going in the Championship at the moment?

Riemer: All is well and good. The schedule is extremely compact this year due to Covid and it’s been relentless with almost no respite, but we now have a much-needed international break which will allow us to breathe for a bit.

Monnerup: How long has it been since you were last in Denmark? 

Riemer: I try not to think too much about it. The last time I was back home was for ten days last summer. When this season ends, we will have worked for two years with only ten days off. It’s been tough, but it’s the same for everyone in the Championship. I haven’t seen my family in a long time, but fortunately, I have been so busy here, so I haven’t really had the time to think too much about it. But it’s easy to start feeling a bit sad about not seeing friends and family for so long.

Monnerup: Will you get some time off to relax during the international break?

Riemer: We played last Saturday against Nottingham Forest and had a day off on Sunday, but that’s about it. We have thirteen players away on international duty so we only have about ten players available at training this week. We will play a friendly game against Charlton, where those who haven’t played much will start and those who have played a lot lately will be rested and some of them will even get a few extra days off. In England there is no winter break and the summer break is a lot shorter if you have to go through the promotion playoff. We try to give the players a few days off here and there when we can, which we also did during this international break.

Monnerup: How do you feel about your current position with nine games remaining? You’re seven points behind Watford in second place and nine points ahead of Bournemouth in seventh place. 

Riemer: Well, because of the tightly packed schedule this season, you can move from being six points clear to having the same amount of points in a matter of just four days. That’s been the reality from the start of the season, so I’ve learned not to think too much about being this many points ahead or behind because things can and will change in a heartbeat. I think Barnsley is a prime example of this. For a long time, they were fighting to avoid relegation, but now, just a few weeks later, they’re fighting for promotion. Almost the same thing happened last season with us and West Brom. After the first lockdown last season, we had nine games left and were far behind West Brom, but we ended up just behind them. So, there is no sense of security. Nothing is decided yet, but of course, we’re in a good position. Would we’ve preferred to be where Norwich are? Of course, but I definitely think we’re in a good place, and we can decide our own fate. We have every chance of catching up with Watford. The important thing here is how we approach our final games.

Monnerup: Where does your attacking mindset come from? Do you have data to back it up?

Riemer: Well, as most people know, Brentford is now “built” upon Matthew Benham’s SmartOdds who analyse thousands of games worldwide every year from every possible aspect. Using their data we tried to find various tweaks and adjustments that would give us an advantage in the games, and our attacking mentality was a key part of that. Relinquishing possession generally results in being pushed further back towards your own goal which increases the chance of committing a stupid foul on the edge of the box or giving away corners or a throw-in in a dangerous position which will eventually result in conceding a goal. So keeping possession and attacking will generally enable us to score the next goal and seal the games. Our attacking approach will also keep us further up the pitch and away from our goal with more of our own players behind the ball. Should we lose the ball there will be a long distance between where they win it and our goal, and they will have more players to beat. When you make defensive substitutions or you hand over the possession to the opponent you often become passive, allowing the opposition to find space and create dangerous opportunities. We are also best suited to control games and play forward-thinking football. If we suddenly decide to defend a 1-0 lead and tell our players to do less of what we’re actually good at and more of what we’re not so good at we give the opponent the upper hand. We have to play to our strengths and believe that our approach gives us the best chances of winning games.

Monnerup: How do you work with Thomas Frank and did you have to adapt your approach to coaching?

Riemer: Thomas Frank has been and still is a massive inspiration to me. The first couple of weeks here I had to bite my tongue when Thomas said we should do certain things. Here we train on all cylinders for several hours two days after a game which is not what I was used to. Things are different here in England, but we have also tried to change some of the standard practices over here, and they have really been eye-openers to me. What really stood out to me was that there is no such thing as right or wrong. So, no matter what, I’ve really learned to open my eyes and adapt.

Monnerup: Do you agree that Brentford are so clear about your game plan and strategy and never make any compromises?

Riemer: We have an overall strategy backed up by data. After each game, actually also during the game, we get a brief analysis of who should’ve won the game or who should be ahead. At halftime, I am told about the difference in xG and whether is small, medium, or large. It doesn’t take tactics, luck and all that into account, but in raw data, we get a picture of how we’re doing in the game. All these things are put into a table where all the teams are ranked, so whoever we play we know where they are placed not just in the actual Championship table, but our table of data. So, the brief analysis I get at halftime and after the game will be adjusted based on the table. It’s more complex than that, but in short, that’s how it works. If we play Manchester City, the numbers will be calculated a little differently compared to if we play a team from the bottom of the Championship. Applying these tools allows us to have more space to operate in and we don’t have to listen to all the external pressure, because we have our own data that shows us how things are going. As long as (Matthew) Benham, (Rasmus) Ankersen and (Phil) Giles can see that things are going well based on our data and that we have probably just been unlucky in some games, then there’s no stress. Obviously, if the analyses keep showing that we should be losing the games, then we have to start questioning our approach and tactics. We all know that luck plays a crucial part in football. Against Forest Mathias Jensen was obviously fouled, but the referee decided not to give the free kick, and 15 seconds later they scored. It’s a coincidence that the referee makes a mistake and doesn’t give the free kick, and I think that’s exactly where Brentford is so different from any other club. We don’t work with coincidences here; we only work with facts. That applies to the style of play, our approach, and even the results. We have an overall strategy backed up with data, and there is a fact-driven way to evaluate the games and the performances. It’s fantastic to work with as a coach.

Monnerup: Do you think this will be more common throughout the world of football in 10-15 years from now? I sense that people respect your achievements with your budget and wonder how you’re able to do it season after season.

Riemer: People respect and praise us for it, but many also find it really annoying. Some of the clubs in the Championship are historically massive who spend much more money than we do, and have huge stadiums and top-quality training grounds. They hate that little Brentford has overtaken them and keep winning. I actually hope that many people will be inspired by us. You need a patient board and management who trust in the process. I’m a firm believer in the old adage “sometimes the best thing you can do is do nothing at all”. It’s ridiculously hard as a coach or director to not do anything when things aren’t going the way you would like them to go. Such patience and trust is a rare commodity in modern football. There are so many owners nowadays who fire their managers after just a few bad games. It’s crazy to me, because in what other business do you see people in high positions getting laid off at the same rate as you see in football. It’s just not a sustainable way to run any business. The other important part of our approach is that it’s highly resource-demanding. We’re fortunate to have the benefit of SmartOdds and it’s really difficult for other clubs to simply take our approach and apply it to their club. But the need for patience and trust is something most clubs could and should learn from.

Monnerup:  Do the Brentford players appreciate the club’s approach?

Riemer: They know we won’t be fired just because of a few bad games and also that Thomas has won pretty much every award he possibly can and been nominated for the Danish coach of the year award. We’re also near the top of the table again this season despite selling some of our best players so I don’t think we are currently in danger of getting fired. When I first came to Brentford we were really poor in my first 10 games and I honestly think we would’ve been fired at any other club because it would’ve been the easiest thing to do. The players know that the board have faith in Thomas and me. They know how Brentford works and that we’re in this project together. The coaches respect the players and vice versa. It creates a very healthy environment in terms of building a long-term plan, which is what has brought so much success to Brentford in recent years.

Monnerup: If you had to pick three things which characterise you when you’re in possession, what would that be?

Riemer: We want to dominate each and every game. I was about to add “no matter what”, of course when we played Tottenham in the Carabao cup semi-final, we obviously knew we were going to be defending for the most part. We want to play the ball out of defence as often as possible but when we play high pressure teams like Leeds, we have to compare the pros and cons of playing out of defence versus using long balls. So, playing out of defence is important to us, but only when it makes sense. We also don’t want to ever become passive. Our ideology is to attack and dominate, but having the most possession is not a criterion for success. It’s not just a box we must tick. It has also been a major point for us to try and adapt to all kinds of defences and exploit the spaces different kinds of defences may allow.  When we play Sheffield Wednesday, who allow more central spaces between their lines, we have to be able to take advantage. Against Derby and Blackburn who are much more compact and narrower, then we have to play wider and utilise the spaces they allow on the wings. So, we don’t just have one approach which we stick to, we have to adapt. We want to have lots of players in the box when we’re attacking otherwise it is really difficult to create big chances. We want our wingers in the box, we want our number 8 in the box and potentially even the fullback on the other side as well. We want at least three, if not four, of our players in there. Another point that characterises our attacking play is exploiting the space behind the defenders. For example, crosses that go in behind the defenders. We especially want to do this against compact teams. We have worked a lot with that and believe that getting in behind them will open them up much more. We also have a full-time set-piece coach and an assistant. We want to be the best at set-pieces, as the extra goals you can score from set-pieces can make a difference in the long run.

Monnerup: Do you work on attacking set-pieces every day?

Riemer: We have a set piece “playbook” covering every situation. including kick-offs, throw-ins, corners, wide free kicks and central free kicks.  This is what benefits us. We believe there are about 60 set-piece situations in every game, which means it’s basically 60 times that you can potentially create a chance of scoring. I know you don’t do that every time but it’s 60 opportunities, and considering how much work goes into creating chances in open play, it makes sense to make use of all these situations. It’s something that both Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles care deeply about, and they will tell us if they think we don’t utilise these set-piece situations well enough, or if we don’t allocate enough time at training to work on our set-pieces. So, it’s something the entire club wants to be really good at, and therefore, we always spend time on set-pieces at training. Hiring someone full-time with the sole purpose to improve our set-pieces will undoubtedly improve the quality of our set-pieces. He is here every day analysing other teams, finding inspiration and solutions and comes up with new varieties that fit the team we’re playing next. It’s one of our ways to create a competitive edge. 

Monnerup: What do the players think about this? 

Riemer: If we create an environment and a mindset where set-pieces are important then players will embrace and even appreciate it. When I first came to Brentford I thought this focus on set-pieces was a waste of time and resources and the players would never embrace it. I was obviously proved wrong. It’s up to us to create a culture which the players will buy into. If the players don’t listen to us or if they don’t work hard enough, then we will address it immediately. We do this to maintain the culture and environment we believe in.

Monnerup: What characterises your defence?

Riemer: We play with a high defensive line so that we’re as far away from our own goal as possible. We also want to pressurise the opposition as high up the pitch as possible. Again, it comes back to our mindset of controlling the game and not being passive. The higher up the pitch we are, and the quicker we can regain possession, the better for us. That’s basically what we want to do when defending. To us, it’s all about distances between the lines and between our players. We want to make sure that we’re a unit and that the distances are right, and that the opposition will have a very hard time breaking through our centre. If they want to break through, it must be on the wings, and depending on how deep they pass the ball it will be either our number 8 or our fullback who push up and pressure the opposition. We work with zonal marking. In the UK, most teams would say they work with zonal marking, but they’re also really man-to-man oriented. However, we aim to be very zonal oriented from the edge of our box and up. This means that we are more focused on where our players are positioned on the pitch and where the ball is so that we move in relation to the ball, and less in relation to where the opposition’s players are. We believe that if we do this right, we’ll be able to cut all their passing lanes and dictate where they pass the ball. We’ll force them to play on the wings which allows us to intercept the ball there and launch a counter-attack from there. If they manage to get into our box, then we go into more man-to-man defence because we’ll have less time to close the passing lanes. We have to mark them more tightly when they get into the box. I mentioned just before that we want to be compact but also be aggressive and pressure them high up the pitch. These things don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand because applying a high and aggressive pressure will often create more space and we stretch our lines, so in those situations, we also go a little more into man-to-man marking. But the high pressure is not constant, so if, or when, they get past our initial high pressure, we drop down a little more and go into the zonal defence I talked about earlier. I must also mention our so-called “gegenpressing”, that is when we lose possession we will try to apply a very high and aggressive counter-press to win the ball back and regain possession high up the pitch and perhaps catch them out of possession. We always have the gegenpressing in the back of our minds in every single attacking play. It’s a part of the players’ mindsets to not give up and complain when they lose the ball. They know they have to win it back as quickly as possible. I think those are the overall characteristics of our defensive style of play. It’s been very important for us to say that even though we’re an attacking-minded team, we still focus on set-pieces. There is a common idea that it’s only defensive-minded teams who play for set-pieces and make a big deal out of them. Again, it comes back to how we at Brentford are trying to break old customs and ideas. We do not want to do things are certain way just because “that’s how it’s always been”. No, we want to be the best at set-pieces AND be a possession-based team with an attacking mentality. And even though we have an attacking mentality, we still want to be good at defending too. We work hard to make the players understand that we can’t just divide things; we want to be the best defending team as well as be the best possession-based attacking team. 

Monnerup: I believe your primary responsibility is the defence. 

Riemer: Thomas and I try to complement each other as much as possible. It’s nice also for the players to have a passionate person with a lot of expertise and know-how within the specific area or phase he’s in charge of. So, Thomas is in charge of the attack, and I’m in charge of the defence. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t assist each other, because we really do. We discuss everything with each other, but when we’re reviewing defensive plays, I’m the one who’s talking and vice versa. We have delegated the responsibilities, but we’ve also made sure that there’s a clear connection between everything. 

Monnerup: You’ve played, almost exclusively, with a 4-3-3 formation throughout this season, but when Rico Henry was injured, Thomas expressed you contemplated changing the formation to a 3-4-3. What were your considerations back then, and how fixed is this 4-3-3 formation?

Riemer: We did consider changing to a 3-4-3, but we decided against it because we felt we would be missing a few attacking positions. With that formation, you only have two central midfielders and three central defenders. Unless one of the central defenders is basically a midfielder you end up with three rather static players who will not build attacks. Then you have two central midfielders where, in the constellation we’re using with Jensen, Nørgaard and either Dasilva, Janelt or Marcondes, one of the ways we want to play is through the central positions where we can find gaps and spaces between the opposition’s lines and outnumber their midfielders. That’s very difficult with just two central midfielders. The next dilemma is who should play wingbacks? Dalsgaard is a fullback and not a winger. When you play with wingbacks, you have to decide whether to use a winger or a fullback. If you play with two fullbacks in those positions, you often end up with five defenders which takes even more players away from your attack. If you play with two wingers as wingbacks, you obviously get these extra attacking players, but it also leaves you a bit more vulnerable in defence. So, we decided against this formation because we believed we were much stronger with three central midfielders and two wide wingers who can run in behind the defenders. If you play with wingbacks, then they must be the wide positions and the two actual wingers are moved further in central and almost become to number 10s. That makes it a bit hard to get the same width that we like to play with. Those were the primary reasons why we decided against it, even though it was a monumental loss to lose Rico Henry to an injury because he is easily one of our top 3 players.

Monnerup: Absolutely. So now you use Mads Bech Sørensen instead of Henry, and he’s not as attacking minded as Henry. 

Riemer: I want to praise Mads Bech. He has done really well in what is not his natural position. He’s a left-footed central defender playing as a left-back. Rico Henry joins the attack and overlaps the wingers. He’s incredibly fast and creates so many opportunities around the opposition’s box. Mads Bech is much more defensively oriented. One thing that Thomas and I have been discussing a lot here ahead of the last stretch of games is who to play in the left-back position. It has nothing to do with how Mads Bech has played because he has done so well. But we need to consider the balance of the team. Mads Roerslev was considered for the left-back position but he’s right-footed. It’s been a bit of a pain in the arse, to be honest, because we didn’t have a natural left-footed left-back we could use instead of Henry. I think it’ll be an ongoing discussion throughout the last nine games, and we’ll make the decision based on who we’re playing against.

Monnerup: Yeah, I actually think it’s good to keep the formation and then use the different type of players depending on how you wish to approach a game.

Riemer: I know that you can play attacking football with a 3-4-3 formation, but I was talking about a 3-4-3 formation based on our players. For example, we believe Nørgaard is at his best when he plays as number 6 with two central midfielders in front of him. If you start changing things up, you might end up getting an upgrade here, but downgrades somewhere else, which means you’ll be worse off. You have to be careful not to change things too often because you might confuse yourself more than you confuse the opposition. We believe in our structure, and we believe that what we do is the right thing in the long run. We may lose a few games here and there, but in the long run, we believe in this continuity.

Monnerup: Could you talk a bit about your attacking trio? 

Riemer: Canos was a youth player at Barcelona and was sold to Liverpool when he was just 16. When I came to Brentford, Canos was still very young and still developing, but was actually doing really well. He became a regular starter for us last season and was playing really well. He then suffered a torn ligament, which kept him sidelined for about a year. He fought really hard to get back, and he’s now starting to show us all what he can do. He’s not slow, and is an incredibly smart player with an eye for open spaces and passing lanes, and he has a really good right foot. He’s so good at cutting inside from his left-wing and just curling the ball into the far corner. He can work hard, but it didn’t come naturally to him, so that’s one thing he has to learn here. He has had a tendency to get frustrated and lose focus if things don’t go his way, but I think he has come a long way on that point. I expect a lot from him. I honestly believe he could become a star here at Brentford but because of this injury, it’s taken a little longer than we initially thought.

Monnerup: Do you think Canos will be the next “big thing” if he can stay injury-free?

Riemer: Absolutely. He’s a young player and still developing. He’s also such a nice lad. I absolutely believe he’ll become the next “big thing” as you said. He still needs to score more goals to get to Benrahma’s level. That’s the primary thing he has to work on, because he does a lot right, but doesn’t score enough. Had he scored four or five more goals at this point of the season, then I’d say he was very close to being “the big thing”. However, he still needs that end product.

Monnerup: Let’s go over to the other wing and discuss Brian Mbeumo. 

Riemer: Mbuemo is someone who goes under the radar. He’s a French Under-21 player, which in itself is quite impressive considering how many fantastic French players there are. He’s ridiculously fast and has a brilliant left foot. He’s a player who can hurt any opposition, especially with his runs in behind the defenders. One of his unique features, is his ability to get into the box. He’s so good at finding the right positions in the box. I mean, how many goals has he scored where he just had to tap the ball in with his knee or toe? Last season he scored A LOT of goals, 15 I believe, whereas this season, his tally has declined quite drastically. His problem this season has been a lack of consistency. We, as a team, have created many chances this season compared to last, but our output has not been as good, which is partially due to our wingers not being as consistent as they were last season. So, that’s something Mbuemo needs to work on. However, he’s such a hard-working lad, aggressive in his pressing who works hard defensively as well. He’s the type of player that you just love to have on your team.

Monnerup: How good is Ivan Toney, and how is he different than Ollie Watkins?

Riemer: Although they both play as a number 9 and score many goals, I think they’re completely different. I don’t want to say who’s the better player because that really depends on what you want in a player. They’re both amazing. I think one thing that characterizes Toney is that he’s a big and strong player, but he’s also really good on the ball. He’s been at quite a few clubs before he came to Brentford. He’s a brilliant link-up player and really good at playing one-twos with the others. He has such a good eye for creating chances for himself and his teammates. He’s not your typical big number 9 who’ll jog into the box and score a simple tap-in. He’s so much more than that because of his ability to take part in the build-up. He’s not this super-fast and technical player who’ll dribble past two players and place it in the top corner. He’s still reliant on his teammates to set up his goalscoring opportunities. He’s still a massive part of our build-up play and he has this absolutely mental goalscoring instinct. He’s so incredibly good at positioning himself, reading the situations, which are some of the reasons why he has scored so many goals. He’s a classic striker with a special ability to also take part in the build-up. He works hard as well, but that was something he had to learn. In his first couple of games, he wasn’t fit enough so he couldn’t quite contribute to the high aggressive press we play with. In the first few games, we had to substitute him after about 60 minutes because he was shattered. He picked it up pretty quickly though. Thomas Frank would say he’s the world’s best penalty taker. He never misses a penalty. He has a very unique way of taking penalties, which makes the ball just roll into the back of the net. So yes, to me he’s a star player. He’ll be a Premier League player within a very short time, hopefully here at Brentford. I have no doubts that he’s going to dominate English football in the near future.

Monnerup: The results in the past month or so have been a bit up and down. What do you think has been the biggest disappointment during this period?

Riemer: Well, that depends on how you define disappointment. Take our game against Norwich as an example. Had we won that game, they would’ve still been within reach, but if they won they would start to pull away. The result was disappointing, but I feel like it could’ve gone either way. A draw would probably have been the fairest result. I don’t think the performance was disappointing, but it was more the feeling of believing we were just as good as Norwich, but they had started to pull away. However, we were poor at Coventry. Yes, we had some injuries, but we played a team who we felt we were better than. Even though we had these injuries and it was an away game on a poor pitch, it’s still a game we should win. I think that’s the only game during this past month where I thought our performance was far below our standards. We lost to a worse team, and that is just not good enough. 

Monnerup: What about your best performance during the past month?

Riemer: I talked to Rasmus Ankersen and he told me that it was the first time Brentford had beaten Blackburn away from home while he had been at the club. Ewood Park is a very difficult place to play as an away team, and despite their position in the league Blackburn are a good footballing team who have underperformed. To go there and beat them 1-0 was a massive achievement for us. I was very proud of it because we just came from the disappointing loss to Norwich. The other game I would mention here is the game against Stoke who are incredibly hard to beat. Especially when we went 1-0 down after less than a minute. They’re so good defensively, they play without risks in the back, they’re physically strong and love to drop down deep and play for set-pieces and counter-attacks. To turn the game around and win it 2-1 was massive. Those two games have undoubtedly been the best ones in the past month.

Monnerup: Why you haven’t managed to get as many points as you would’ve liked this past month? 

Riemer: It’s just not good enough. We wanted more points from these eight games. No team will go unbeaten through the Championship, but we should’ve won games such as QPR and Coventry away. The games against Forest and Derby should’ve been won too. However, we have had so many injuries. I know it’s such a classic excuse and all the other teams have had injuries too, but the truth is that around the Coventry game, Pontus Jansson, our captain, was out. Nørgaard, our vice-captain and perhaps our most important midfielder, was out. They’ve actually both been out for much of the season. Rico Henry got injured in that game and is out for the rest of the season. Josh Dasilva has been out for much of the season too. So, during this period, we were missing five or six players from our regular starting line-up. I think one of the main differences between Brentford and the bigger clubs in the Championship is that we don’t have a squad of 28 players, and we don’t have two equally good players for each position. We like to save those positions for our young talents. However, when you run into a lot of injuries simultaneously it might hurt our balance and depth more than it would hurt other clubs. I’m not crying about it, and I still think we had really good players who did well when we needed them. But I think any coach who says they’re fine with losing five or six of their best players, including the captain and vice-captain, would be lying. It all really culminated this past month and hit us hard. We brought in Winston Reid because of all these injuries. He did really well for us. But it broke our rhythm. It wasn’t just because of quality, it was just as much because of the lack of consistency and rhythm. Everyone knows that a successful team runs like a machine where everything is going as it should. You can maintain this “machine” if you have to change one, two, even three players because of injuries, but no more. That’s definitely one of the main reasons behind that rather poor run.

Monnerup: What are the things you think you’ve done well recently?

Riemer: I actually think that if you analyse the games we should have only lost a very few of them. I know how football works and that you can’t win games based on data. However, when you look at our last game against Forest, we had six or seven big chances and Forest had 1.5 and the game ends 1-1. We created plenty of chances to win that game, but we didn’t take them. I think we have actually played really well, and we have created plenty of chances, but we haven’t been able to deliver the final blow. The Forest game is a good example of how we had the opportunity to go 2-0 up after the break, but we didn’t score. We didn’t finish the job. And if you fail to do so, then no matter who you play, it can come down to a silly mistake or set-piece and you’ll end up losing or drawing. The Forest game is a prime example and it has happened to us quite often lately. I think we’ve played well, and statistically we’ve created a lot of chances and not conceded many. We’ve been bad at finishing the job, and the opposition have scored more than they should when you think of how few chances we’ve given away.

Monnerup: Is it good to keep a consistent line-up?

Riemer: Ghoddos, Jensen, Dasilva, Nørgaard have all played in midfield, so we’ve rotated quite a lot. The same with the wingers actually. We’ve tried to rotate quite a lot in all positions. I believe that one thing that’ll prove to be a good weapon for us in the last nine or ten games is the fact that we’ve rotated so much and most of our injured players are close to returning. So, I think the best version of our team will peak throughout the last games. We have already been through the period where our key players have been out and we’ve rotated so much that all our players have more energy than those teams that have been using the same 15 or so players throughout the season. I also think that as we’re going into these last games with a rather clear and regular starting line-up, we can build effective relationships and partnerships, which I think can help us score even more goals. I feel very confident going into these games.

Monnerup: I want to hear your thoughts on having to go through the playoffs again this season

Riemer: We’ll have a larger squad now, which makes it easier not to wear down the players. In addition to that, the better players you have on the bench, the easier it is to make early substitutions. We have to keep a core in the team that can build strong partnerships, but we also need to rest players as we go into this crazy ending. We need to give ourselves the best opportunity to do well in the playoffs by using the entire squad.

Monnerup: Do you have anything to add before we close?

Riemer: I just want to talk a little bit more about being in possession of the ball. This season, we’ve had the ball a little less than we did last season. It’s not something we planned, there’s more to it than that. It comes down to things such as the types of players we’re using this season, which are different from last season. We’ve had injuries which have made us more inconsistent. However, we’ve also tried to break through defences earlier this season, which can result in losing the ball quicker. Last season, we wanted to establish our attacks in the opposition’s half before trying to break through, which meant we had the ball a lot. Last season, we were also really good at finishing the job. Getting two or three goals ahead just kills the game. It also makes the opposition give up.

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