The biggest newspaper in Malmo, Sweden says Pontus Jansson wants readers to know that he’s not coming home yet but when he does it won’t just be to retire. Pontus who says in his twitter profile that he ‘Plays for Brentford FC & supports Malmo FF’ Sydsvenskan that ‘Brentford is one of the most curious clubs in Europe. I try to learn as much as I can and one day bring it to MFF’.That’s the Google translate version anyway. Bees fan Rune Dahl Franck helped us with a more human version of what Pontus has been saying to his fans back home.
Both eyebrows and expectations were raised among the Malmø FF loyals in December 2020 when news broke about Pontus Jansson having bought a property plot in the quiet seaside village of Lomma, just a 25 minute drive north of MFF. Sydsvenskan, the largest regional daily newspaper in the southwestern part of Sweden, broke the story and immediately called the club to ask the question on everybodys mind; Is Pontus finally coming home? “I’m afraid it’s too early for Pontus to return now, but we constantly keep in touch” MFFs Sporting Director Daniel Andersson said.
He was spot on. Two years later Pontus Jansson, and soon to be father of two, still lives in London. He is having the time of his life, and just put pen on paper on a contract extension that ties him down at Brentford until the end of the 2022/23 season. Sydsvenskan met Pontus last autumn when he and his wife since 2017 Åsa Thornell and their 3 year old daughter Bella walked through the sunny streets of Lomma, a 10 minute drive from the town of Arlov near Malmo where he grew up, to check on the ongoing construction work being carried out on their new house.
“My brother lives just around the corner and constantly sends us pictures and updates on how the project is coming along, but it’s lovely to see it with our own eyes” he told the paper.
Pontus (31 years old on February 13th ) is deeply rooted in the county of Scania in South-West Sweden and the country’s third largest city Malmo. Time and time again he has expressed his wish and desire to return to the club he signed for at 15. After his debut on the first team in 2009 he played 106 games and scored 6 goals for Malmo FF before he tried his luck in Italy in 2014 at Torino FC in Serie-A. Two years later he was loaned out to Leeds. Even though he was popular among the fans at Elland Road, and enjoyed life in West Yorkshire, he never felt at home. Not like in Malmo. After signing for Brentford and moving to Richmond in 2019 he is settling in and finally feeling at home again, just like in Malmo. .
“This is the greenest part of London, and with the parks it’s perfect for children.» he told Sydsvenskan. But, with the Corona-virus dictating what we can, and cannot do, since the beginning of 2020 it took time for him and his family to get to know Richmond, Brentford and London in general.
“Ever since we moved here the lockdown and pandemic has restricted our liberty to get to know London, but since the reopening, and life more or less returning to normal, we have had the chance to get to know London well. What a city it is. What a place to live! There’s so much to do here for everybody. “I feel at home here, and I never thought I’d feel like this living any other place than in Malmo.”
One of the reasons he is settling in is his decision to stop playing for the National team. After 36 games on the U-17, U-19 and U-21 level and 27 at National team level he finally called it quits last summer. He hasn’t looked back since. “I would not have been at the same happy place in my life, and felt the harmony I know feel, had I continued to play for the National team. I treasure the breaks I get both physically and metally. I need the breaks to recharge” he says. He admits never having had the same strong feeling playing for the National team, as when he is playing for his club.
“Brentford is my passion. Playing for Brentford and taking care of my familiy is what I live for” His daughter Bella, who will become a big sister in March, is attending an English day nursery and is bilingual. Life is good for Pontus. “We are structured and have good daily routines, so I’ll manage. Luckily my wife wants me to play so she can have a little time of her own too”
Like most football-players his dream was to compete at the highest level. “From my first day at Leeds in Championship my dream was to take the next step, and play in Premier League. And here I am. Every day is a gift. Every training session is enjoyable and every game is unique”.
He admits to living his dream. “I never have time on a daily basis to think of it that way, but it hits me from time to time. I did an interview with Sky before this season and we talked about the fact that not many Swedes have captained a Premier League team. I’m very proud of the fact that I have.”
Pontus Jansson surprised a lot of people when he signed for Brenford in 2019. Even his agent Martin Dahlin was taken by surprise. Dahlin is a seasoned football player and prolific striker netting 29 times in 60 games for the Swedish National team in the 90s. He played for Malmo FF, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Roma, Hamburger SV and Blackburn before retiring in 1999. A true Swedish football legend having been part of the Sweden team finishing third at the 1994 FIFA world cup.
“I had the chance to go to bigger clubs and maybe double my salary” Pontus says. Instead of having his agent do what agents do, Pontus called Brentford himself to ask if he might fit into their plans. “I guess that’s an odd and unique way of doing transfers, but I had a good feeling. It’s safe to say I am very proud of my decision to sign for Brentford”.
It didn’t take long before Pontus became vital in Thomas Frank’s plan for Brentford. According to Pontus both Rasmus Ankersen and the physioteam wasted no time before they started to pick his brain about the time he spent under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds.“
Brentford had for some time wanted to make a real push for promotion and become a Premier League club. Work on building a brand new stadium and upgrading the training fascilites was going as planned when I arrived, but some have told me the club changed after I signed. That we lifted ourselves to the next level both on and off the pitch. I was appointed Club captain, and Brentford became my team. Now I’m involved in many different issues both on and off the pitch on a daily basis because I’m not afraid to take responsibility”.
Jansson has complete faith in the Brentford way, and believes there is more to come.”Brentford is unique in how we work. I believe you must have your own way of playing, and your own philosophy to stay in Premier League. We give 110 percent every minute of every game. We try to stand high with our defensive back line and press high to score goals. That inevitably leaves large areas on the pitch for some of the fastest and strongest players in the world. It’s very hard work both physically and mentally to play like this because you can’t let your guard down for a single second, but we have to. You won’t stay up if your plan is to defend yourself for 90 minutes”.
Clark James: Wasn’t it pretty much a no-brainer? I mean, you’re sort of at a loss where you are right now, and then suddenly someone you know is interested in signing you. He’s someone you trust, you’ve had good experiences with him already, and he helped you develop before.
Brian Riemer and Mads Roerslev
Roerslev: Well, I called Riemer and he told me that Brentford was interested in me and that they knew I needed playing time. I had played next to none in the past two years. He told me that I was going to get a lot of games for the B team. This was, of course, a step back as I was going to play for a B team. I obviously wanted to play for the first team, but Riemer told me that my entire career so far had been about reaching this and doing that. They wanted to offer me stability, no expectations, and an environment where I could focus on developing as a player. I undoubtedly had what it took for the B team, but this was about building up my match sharpness and perhaps eventually moving up to the first team.
Mads in a B team game at Griffin Park in September 2019
Daniel Sichlau:Could you tell us a bit about Danish “colony” at Brentford? You’re away from Denmark, but it must feel a lot like being home because of all the Danes at the club.
Roerslev: It’s very funny. I don’t think there are other places in the world, outside Denmark of course, where you feel so Danish. When I first arrived, I spoke more Danish than English. You never feel alone because there are so many you share the same culture and language with. That said, it’s not we Danes just keep to ourselves. There is definitely a Danish culture at the club, but it’s something everyone is a part of, and everybody benefits from it. We don’t isolate ourselves by any means.
James: Who is your closest friend in the club?
Roerslev: Hmm, I often hang out with Mads Bech, Bidstrup and Luka Racic. I mean, we Danes are all very close, but I see those three the most.
Sichlau: Just how Danish is it? Do they serve Danish food in the canteen?
Roerslev: Haha they do not. We showed them Gifler and everyone was so crazy about it. Everyone loved it. I remember one time when I was injured, I was about 4 minutes late for my rehabilitation session. They told me that I could either pay the fine as you normally do when you’re late, or I could buy the physios a Cinnamon Social from Ole & Steen. It’s this huge Danish cinnamon cake. I obviously went with that option, so I took my car and went to Ole & Steen and bought them their Cinnamon Social.
Sichlau: That’s class that is! So, tell us a bit about your development and your breakthrough at Brentford.
Roerslev: Yes, I remember feeling that everything went according to the plan. I played a lot of games for the B team and I’m doing well in the games. I train with the first team every now and then. Dalsgaard is the right back at that time, and he is playing every single game, which is a lot in the Championship. The backup for Dalsgaard then suddenly gets injured and Dalsgaard is a little fatigued and has a minor injury. He is unable to play the next game, and since the backup is injured too, I get called up for that game.
We’re playing Sheffield Wednesday and I’m starting for the first time in my Brentford career. I play really well, and then three days later we play the next game. Neither Dalsgaard nor the backup are ready, so I get the chance once again, and I play really well again. This resulted in getting moved up as the first-choice backup for Dalsgaard. So after just 6 months, I’ve moved from the B team to the first team.
James: What about Thomas Frank and Brian Riemer? Do they pull you aside ahead of games like that and talk to you about it?
Roerslev: Yeah, they both did. They told me that they wouldn’t start me if they didn’t feel I was good enough. They gave me the confidence and the trust a young player needs in a situation like that. They handled it all really well.
Sichlau: I think it’s about time you get to talk about the best season you had in the Championship. I know the entire season was fantastic, but let’s skip to the play-off final. How was it to play in that game?
Roerslev: It was insane. We stayed at a hotel the day before the game, and I had no idea that I was going to start in the game. We had gotten the team sheet, but Nørgaard was dealing with an injury and wasn’t sure whether he could play or not. It was the play-off final, I was sure that Nørgaard would play that game, so I didn’t count on starting. I went to bed very nervous even though I was going to be on the bench. I mean, you’re playing for promotion to the best league in the world, and all of my family had made sure to tell me how much money we were playing for haha. Anyway, I wake up the next day and join the others for breakfast. Then suddenly Thomas Frank pulls me aside and tells me that Nørgaard is unable to play and that I was going to start. My legs started trembling and I remember saying to myself: Remember an extra pair of underwear. It would undoubtedly be the biggest game of my career. He told me right before breakfast, and I remember not being able to eat anything. But I had to. I had a game in just a few hours. I kept poking my oatmeal and trying to force it down, but it was almost impossible. Anyway, this is our second play-off final at Wembley in a year, but this one is with fans, which was fantastic.
The game starts and the adrenaline level is a bit higher than it usually is. However, we came from a great season, we were on a good run and we had plenty of confidence. We played well and also scored relatively early in the game. A penalty after just 10 minutes with Ivan Toney as cool as you like. We continued playing well after the goal and I assisted the second goal. It was a counterattack after one of their set-pieces. It was a corner and I saw it was cleared towards our rapid winger, Bryan Mbuemo. I saw an opportunity to just get forward, and so I did. I ran as fast as I could and tried to get in a beneficial position. The ball is then passed to me inside their box. I cut back and squares it to Marcondes who puts it behind the keeper. My life peaked at that moment haha. We went absolutely bonkers! It felt almost unreal. However, we knew that we couldn’t celebrate too early, so we kept working as hard as we could. We controlled the game and took no risks.
After that, it was all one party. It was the best feeling in the world hearing the ref’s whistle and seeing the rest of the team and staff running on to the pitch. Everyone was so happy and almost crying. That night was crazy. I didn’t even sleep that night actually. I had to leave for the Danish U21 national team the day after the final, so I went straight to the airport at 8am without getting any sleep.
Sichlau: What an amazing story. You have to tell us about going from the Championship to the Premier League.
Roerslev: Well, the Premier League itself is something I have dreamed of ever since I was a little boy. So, the fact that that dream would come true just around the corner was magical. I also kept thinking that if I manage to do well in training now, I will be so close to achieving what I’ve always dreamed about. With that said, it’s not an entirely new planet all of a sudden. It’s still football, it’s more or less the same people around you, there’s just more media coverage and attention around you and the team. At the end of the day, it’s not that much different. You still work hard in training week in and week out to earn your spot as a starter.
Sichlau: Fantastic! Let’s go to the 11th September 2021. It’s a Saturday and you’re playing at home against Brighton. Do you remember that game?
Roerslev: Haha of course. It’s my Premier League debut. It was a big moment for me. Obviously, when you’re on the bench, the feeling is a little different. You don’t feel the same pressure or adrenaline as you do when starting. You’ve had time to assess the game and you know with 100% certainty what you have to do if you come on off the bench. That’s at least how I feel. But it actually wasn’t until after the game that I realised that I could call myself a Premier League player. Who would have thought that two years ago when I sat on the bench at Vendsyssel?
Sichlau: Haha yeah. So you were on everybody’s lips after your 2-0 win against Arsenal. Brentford was not just the talk of town, you were the talk of England, if not the world. There’s still a lot of attention around Brentford, not just here in Denmark, but also in the UK where people just love this underdog tale. Could you tell us a bit about how all this attention is affecting you? You’re still trying to be the same Mads Roerslev, working hard and talking to your friends, but I’m guessing the attention and coverage can be hard to handle sometimes.
Roerslev: Well, I think it sounds crazier than it actually is. Honestly, I don’t find it hard to stay focused on the football. I’ve had my debut, I’ve tried to win a Premier League game, but I still have so much more to achieve, so I try to stay grounded and keep working hard.
James: Could you tell us a little about Thomas Frank? He managed to get you promoted despite a relatively small budget and he seems to be thriving in the Premier League. He has already been linked to some of the big clubs. Do you think he has the abilities to manage one of the biggest clubs in the league?
Roerslev: Absolutely! I can’t see why he shouldn’t be able to do so. His ability to manage people, and the respect he has, not just at Brentford, but everywhere, and his tactical abilities. It’s all just on-point. However, it’s always difficult for managers and head coaches, even the biggest ones. Just take Mourinho as an example. You never know for sure, but I think Frank is among the best right now. I think he’s the best manager or head coach I have ever had.
Sichlau: If you had to highlight one thing about Thomas Frank that you like the most about him, what would that be?
Roerslev: His humility. It doesn’t matter who you are and what you’re called. The best one plays. You might be the star and the best paid on the team, but if you don’t perform, you won’t play. He doesn’t sugar coat things. I think that’s the best thing about him.
Sichlau: Fantastic! Let’s not talk about Thomas Frank future or the clubs he may or may not manage after Brentford, but what about you? Do you wish to play for a bigger club, or do you have ONE club that you have always dreamed about playing for?
Roerslev: Hmm, well I’ve supported Manchester United since I was little, but I don’t have a club that I have to play for before I hang up my boots. I’ve always dreamed about playing in the Premier League, and of course as a little boy you want to play for Barcelona or Madrid. But no, playing in the Premier League has always been the dream, and I’m there now and I’m loving it.
Sichlau: So, for how long have you supported Manchester United?
Roerslev: That’s actually since Ronaldo first played there. He was my idol, so it just made sense to support Manchester United. I think I still have some old United shirts in my closet. With Ronaldo on the back, of course.
Sichlau: Perfect! Thank you so much for taking your time to do this episode with us. Good luck with the rest of the season!
Roerslev: It was my pleasure!
Interviewers; Daniel Sichlau & Clark James
17 November 2021
Transcript and translation by Tobias Neigaard
For a summary of Mads’s roller-coaster career before he joined Brentford HERE.
ONE STEP FORWARD Mads was first signed by FC Copenhagen from his local team at the age of 7.
ONE STEP BACK The club had so many young players that the coaches lost track of who was who and Mads was placed in the fifth best team of his age group. ‘After a while, I was moved up to the best team, but the coach’s son played in my position, so it took a while before I got my chance there’.
ONE STEP FORWARD When the boys reached Under 14 level Mads was selected for the Club’s elite academy.
ONE STEP BACK Mads wasn’t given a contract .’There were four of us who were told that we had been picked for the academy, but the club never really let us play with the academy team’.
ONE STEP FORWARD At the age of 17 Mads was moved up to FC Copenhagen’s first team .One of the coaches was Brian Riemer, now Thomas Frank’s deputy at Brentford. To get some first team experience, they decided to loan me out, I joined Halmstad who at that time played in the Swedish league.
ONE STEP BACK Two days after he played his first league game for Halmstad he was called back to the stadium to meet their Director of Football. ‘They tell me that they had made a mistake with my documents. They had written down that I was from 1989 instead of 1999 in the player registrations. Apparently, this is a huge problem when you’re 18, so I ended up getting suspended for three months by the Swedish FA.So, I returned to FC Copenhagen after that, which was a terrible blow to the guts as a 17-year-old kid. It was a catastrophe’.
A SECOND STEP BACK Back at FC Copenhagen for two years he didn’t get much playing time.’ I was sent out on loan again, this time to a Danish club Vendsyssel FF’ .
A THIRD STEP BACK When he arrived on loan there was confusion about his role. ‘I went to the gaffer’s office to talk to him about it. I asked him why they had loaned me if they weren’t even going to play me. He calmly responded, completely honest, “I don’t really know anything about you”. So, he had definitely not been a part of the plans to sign me. At that moment, I honestly thought about quitting football. Not much has gone right in my career in terms of loans’. I’ve always had big ambitions for my talent and where I would be in the long run, but when so much fails at such a young age, you can’t help but feel awful. After my time at Vendsyssel, I re-joined FC Copenhagen and wasn’t doing very well mentally. I didn’t play for FC Copenhagen, I didn’t play for Halmstad and now I failed to play enough games for Vendsyssel, a team at the bottom of the league. I returned to FC Copenhagen and saw that I wasn’t a part of their plans. Not even as a backup. So, I knew I had to leave.’.
A GIANT STEP FORWARD Brentford came calling. ‘I was very fortunate that Brentford started showing their interest in me.I thought that sounded great. A team in the Championship with Brian Riemer as a part of the staff. I think it might have been him who recommended me to them as he knew me very well from our time at FC Copenhagen U19’.
Mads talks about his time at Brentford in an interview with a Danish podcast. HERE
The new year got off to the worst possible start with the news of the death of long-standing supporter Pete Hayward at the ridiculously young age of 67. Pete was a stalwart and passionate supporter of Brentford and Bees United, but above all else was probably one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, with an infectious smile that would brighten even the drabbest 0-0 draw and – the greatest commodity for any Brentford supporter over the years – an unflinching ability to look on the bright side of life, convinced that good times were just around the corner. How right he was!
Pete came from a family in Northolt where supporting Brentford was clearly a tradition. One of six siblings – Pete’s Dad Syd, his three brothers Chris, Vin and Phil; and his sisters Marg and Therese were all supporters. Pete was a regular home and away for more than six decades (he started very young!) – his subsequent move to Wiltshire was never going to prove be an obstacle to his support.
He was never one for Committees or endless meetings, but if there was a job to be done, and if the result was for the good of Brentford Football Club, then Pete could be found near the front of the queue, rolling up his sleeves determined to get stuck in: canvassing for support during the ABeeC election campaign, sponsored walks, rattling buckets or numerous other fundraising activities – all in aid of Bees United, he would never be deterred.
Whilst most people would be content with a 25-mile sponsored walk to somewhere such as Wycombe, as many of us did, this was just small beer to Pete. In the winter of 2004 with the Bees looking down the barrel of relegation to the fourth tier – Pete declared, after one particularly ignominious defeat, that if the team managed to avoid relegation, then he would walk to Hartlepool the next season.
As it was, thanks to Martin Allen’s “Great Escape”, the Club did avoid relegation and Pete was determined to keep his word and make the 280+ mile trek north in February 2005 when the team was next scheduled to play at Hartlepool.
The Hartlepool Five, February 2005.Pete Hayward is on the right. Picture courtesy of Dave Lane (2nd left)
He was joined in the venture by four other walkers – Dave Lane, Rod Gowers, Pete Atkinson and John Dempsey – the venture had logistical support from John Anderson who drove the group’s mini bus and would ferry the walkers from their scheduled stopping point each evening to their nearest travel lodge, and then return them next morning to the exact same point to continue the next leg of their journey north.
The sponsored walk was a mammoth undertaking which required significant organisation and faced many challenges and obstacles, not the least being heavy snow in the north east as the walkers neared their destination, but it merely underlined Pete’s commitment to see the venture through. The group raised more than £10,000 with funds split between Bees United and Helen Rollason Cancer Care Centre Appeal. Just as importantly though it highlighted the commitment by Brentford supporters to support the Club which was clearly ailing at that time – a crucial link to keep the Club alive and see it through to the better days we are currently experiencing.
No one would have been prouder than Pete on that golden evening last August for the first day of our Premiership campaign against Arsenal: a full stadium for the first time in nearly 18 months – and a new stadium at that; and Brentford, defying the odds, to beat one of the giants of the English game 2-0. What probably Pete would have appreciated more than anything else though was that he was back with his fellow Brentford fans who meant so much to him.
Pete would have been here supporting the Club, whatever the circumstances – whether it be against Arsenal or Aldershot; Liverpool or Lincoln; Manchester City or Mansfield. Quite simply Pete loved Brentford – the sort of person who was the backbone of the Club. It was with a mixture of pride and sadness, but above all genuine fondness for a departed friend, that many of us were proud to stand and applaud his memory in the 67th minute during the Manchester United game.
Our deepest sympathies go to Peter’s wife Lin, his two children Jack and Clare and to his wider family.
If supporters would like to make a contribution in memory of Pete Hayward the family are suggesting donations to Wiltshire Air Ambulance.
The estimable Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight analytical website predicts that Watford, Newcastle and Norwich will be relegated with the Bees only having a 4% chance of relegation at the current time. He sees us as finishing comfortably in 13th position with 45 points – a massive 12 points more than Watford who he has going down in 18th place.
It does have to be said, however, that to my amazement he no longer sees us as having any chance of qualifying for the Champions League this season!
The final snippet from his rankings – and it is a gloriously satisfying one – has him placing us as 57th in his Global Club Soccer Rankings – four places higher than Leeds United. I am sure that this will have them choking into their beer at Elland Road.
To put our performance into context it is worth reminding ourselves that five of the last seven teams to be promoted to the Premier League via the Playoffs were relegated immediately and the other two barely survived by the skin of their teeth.
There have already been some incredible moments and memories for us all to relish.
Who can possibly forget the boost, fillip, passion and vibrancy of the opening day victory over Arsenal, Thomas Frank celebrating with Woody, the community singing with Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, Yoane Wissa’s last gasp winner against West Ham which silenced the vociferous fans at the London Stadium, Ivan Toney’s ice-cool perfection from the penalty spot, David Raya’s saves and precise distribution, Kristoffer Ajer striding forward to turn defence into attack like a modern day reincarnation of Hermann Hreiðarsson, pummelling the Chelsea goal for 20 minutes somehow without reward, Marcus Forss’s four goals against Oldham and, best of all, the home draw with Liverpool when the Bees perhaps came of age in the top flight?
James Gheebrandt of The Times reflected on this amazing game a couple of weeks ago: “Even allowing for their surprisingly excellent start to the season, in which they took eight points from their first five matches, including beating Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers, nobody gave them much chance of bloodying the nose of a giant.”
Ethan Pinnock’s goal was scored from “a miniature masterpiece” of a free kick and the match itself was described by Gheerbrandt as “perhaps the best Premier League game I’ve covered in the six seasons that I’ve been reporting on football for The Times.” I also will never forget the look of mutual respect and stunned mental exhaustion that passed between Thomas Frank and Jurgen Klopp as yet another late chance to win the game went begging. That expression symbolised perfectly what the season has meant to every Bees supporter to date.
There has been much well-deserved praise for Brentford throughout the media recently with Jamie Carragher voting our 2-0 win over Arsenal as his best moment of 2021/22 season so far in their Monday Night Football end of year awards and Mike Calvin nominating Thomas Frank as his Manager of the Year.
So how does the media expect us to perform for the rest of the season?
The answer is – pretty well.
The Daily Telegraph described us as “over-performing” and continued: “The Premier League rookies were tipped by many to go straight back down but they have punched well above their weight. Fast and flexible football has made them one of the league’s most watchable sides and Thomas Frank is one of the top flight’s most engaging managers.”
High praise indeed, echoed by Alyson Rudd in The Times who has become a true believer: “Thomas Frank’s team have a palpable strength of personality and somehow are coping well since the injury suffered seven weeks ago by David Raya, who is so crucial to their style of play as well as being a goalkeeper in form,” with her and her colleagues predicting a ninth-place finish.
I will end this media round-up with the in-depth comments of Nick Ames in The Guardian who is also bullish about our prospects: “Brentford can be delighted with the first half of their Premier League bow. After 19 games they are 12th with 23 points and, even though there is plenty of football to be played, you would struggle to find a single onlooker who believes they will not secure another season in the top flight. That said, the victory over Aston Villa felt crucial given they had only won two games in their previous 11. It was earned through sheer grit and Thomas Frank had a fair point when he said afterwards that only Leeds have suffered comparable injury woes. Promoted sides often wilt when the ravages of the winter begin to kick in but Brentford, who dazzled with their flowing football in the Championship but have shown different sides to their game in the Premier League, have displayed the mentality of giants to pull through and prove doubters wrong.”
Ames has raised two important points. Unlike other promoted teams who perhaps expect the Premier League to adapt to them, Brentford have adapted to meet the demands of the higher division. Norwich are a case in point, attempting to play the same brand of vibrant attacking football that got them promoted without the services of their best player Emiliano Buendia who helped get them there. No wonder they have struggled.
Whilst the Bees have certainly strengthened their squad they lack a game changer – somebody who can run at terrified opponents or make something special happen with a stroke of genius – in other words the likes of a Benrahma or a Dasilva.
The key point of difference is that the Brentford hierarchy has realised and taken this on board and adapted the team’s style and pattern of play accordingly.
Rather than maintaining their traditional Championship style based on high possession and attacking flair, Brentford now employ a relentless and energetic pressing game intended to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible and then to counter-attack at pace. Set pieces too are paramount as the team now includes a plethora of six footers, all gifted in the air.
That being said what we do lack is a reliable set piece taker who can provide the necessary ammunition better than once in every three attempts.
Remember also that none of the Brentford squad that began the season had ever previously started a Premier League game beforehand and to a man they have more than risen to the occasion. As Shandon Baptiste told the Counter Attack podcast: “Everyone has come from nothing” which makes for a tight-knit and hungry squad eager to prove that they belong at the top table.
Thomas Frank has rightly received many plaudits from people in and around the game as much for his openness and personality as his coaching and managerial ability.
What do his players think about him? Let Mads Roerslev provide the answer: “His ability to manage people, and the respect he has, not just at Brentford, but everywhere, and his tactical abilities. It’s all just on-point…. I think Frank is among the best right now. I think he’s the best manager or head coach I have ever had.”
“He knows the game and players want to play for him,” was the view of Shandon Baptiste.
Brian Riemer’s role as defensive coach has become ever more important given the need to remain organised and vigilant at the back as we have already learned to our cost on several occasions that momentary lapses of concentration or carless mistakes are invariably and ruthlessly punished.
Goals too have been shared around the team with Toney and Mbeumo nowhere near as prolific as perhaps hoped, although Brian has hit the woodwork seven times and Ivan, described by team mate Mads Roerslev as a “physical monster” has adapted his role for the greater benefit of the team, and to date, thirteen different players, plus one generous opponent, have scored for the Bees in the EPL.
Perhaps the biggest problem so far this season and the one that has contributed the greatest to Brentford not occupying an even giddier position in the league table is injuries and illness.
Last season was bad enough with the likes of Norgaard, Henry, Baptiste, Goode, Dasilva, Jansson and Dalsgaard missing vast swathes of the season, but that pales into insignificance when you examine how badly the squad has been afflicted by both injuries and Covid in the first five months of the current season, and remember, Brentford do not possess the same squad resources, numbers, depth and quality than any of their divisional rivals.
In other words, we have been competing for much of the season with one hand tied behind our back.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is to itemise just how many of the first 19 Premier League matches the team that began the season has missed through injury, illness or suspension:
- Raya has missed 10 games
- Ajer has missed 13 games
- Jansson has missed 0 games
- Pinnock has missed 1 game
- Canos has missed 1 game
- Onyeka has missed 1 game
- Norgaard has missed 1 game
- Janelt has missed 5 games
- Henry has missed 3 games
- Toney has missed 2 games
- Mbeumo has missed 2 games
Other key squad players have also missed matches
- Sorensen has missed 12 games
- Wissa has missed 5 games
- Baptiste has missed 6 games
- Jensen has missed 3 games
- Goode has missed 8 games
- Roerslev has missed 2 games
- Zanka has missed 8 games
- Fosu has missed 9 games
There has been so much enforced chopping and changing since the beginning of October. No wonder the defence which seemed so organised, cohesive and almost impregnable early on in the season has only kept one clean sheet since the loss of David Raya, who combined his role as last line of defence and first line of attack so effectively, and that is no real indictment on Álvaro Fernández, who after an admittedly and quite understandably, shaky and unsure start has progressed by leaps and bounds in goal although he has yet to fully convince that he could become the permanent number one should Raya leave the club at some point.
One of the three central defenders has invariably been injured and at one time recently three of the six were unavailable for selection.
New figures released in The Times recently from www.premierinjuries.com revealed that injuries in the Premier League this season are up by more than 10%. There were 344 player injuries reported between the start of the season and the end of 2021. This can partially be explained by the disruption to pre-season training caused by the European Championships, the ravages of Covid preventing squad rotation and players being forced to return from previous injury prematurely when still not fully fit or prepared for the intensity of match action. A packed Christmas schedule certainly added to the problem.
It is the intensity and speed of thought required to cope with the physical and mental demands of the Premier League and the need to run 12 km every match that perhaps makes injuries inevitable and Brentford are not alone in their woes but have been harder hit than most.
What makes me even more confident about Brentford’s prospects is the fact that at the time of writing vital players such as Mbeumo and Ajer are returning to fitness and available for selection with Henry apparently not too far behind.
Most encouragingly, the club released a bizarre video yesterday of David Raya, swathed in a T-Rex dinosaur costume returning incognito to training to the universal acclaim of his team mates and seeming to move quite freely across his goal line, leaving only Zanka currently unaccounted for but apparently also close to a return along with Rico Henry, and Frank Onyeka away at the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria.
The first half of the season has been a wonderful learning experience for the club and its supporters and there is no reason to either hope or expect for anything different in the new year.