Time was when I wrote an almost daily blog on the fortunes of our favourite football team. I kept this up with metronomic regularity for a couple of seasons and even succeeded in publishing a couple of books on the back of it (both are still available on the remainder pile in the Brentford FC Superstore if anyone is still interested!)
Eventually I came to the conclusion that over around 400 articles I had written pretty much everything there was to say about the club, the way it operated, its style and ethos both on and off the pitch, its unique and innovative way of doing business and how it was regarded with a combination of suspicion, ridicule and ignorance by the media and the rest of the football world. I stopped at the end of the 2015/16 season because I did not want to repeat myself and run the risk of outstaying my welcome and boring myself and what few readers I had left.
Bees United have now asked me to resurrect my blog and provide a regular series of updates on the coming season and after some misgiving I have agreed and only hope that I find enough of interest to write about.
So what lies in store for the Bees in the months ahead? Will they manage a fifth consecutive top ten finish in a Championship that becomes ever more competitive and is packed full of big battalions swelled with the riches of Premier League parachute payments? Could we even cherish hopes and dreams of marking our last full season at our beloved Griffin Park home with promotion to the giddy heights of the Premier League, or could the fairy tale end and reality kick in and we find ourselves overwhelmed and outmatched by clubs with the wherewithal to outspend us? Before we consider this question in detail let’s have a look at some of their rivals and how they might perform.
As I write these words a mere three days before the big kick off, it is still totally impossible to assess how strong each club will be given that the transfer window still has a week to run and many teams will surely take part in a last minute lemming-like trolley dash which might make all the difference between success and failure.
Given that caveat who are the likely contenders? Two of the teams relegated from the Premier League are likely to challenge for an immediate return. Stoke City are managed by the Championship savvy Gary Rowett and are unlikely to inspire but they have already signed a series of battle-hardened experienced pro’s such as Benik Afobe, James McClean and Tom Ince and most importantly, kept hold of their best player, Joe Allen. The jury is out on newly appointed manager Darren Moore but West Bromwich Albion might also find that their functional style of football is well-suited to the demands of the Championship and Sam Johnstone, Kyle Bartley and exciting winger Harvey Barnes are excellent signings.
Despite their apparent financial concerns Derby County have certainly loosened the pursestrings and supported another unknown managerial quantity in Frank Lampard. Despite lots of speculation top scorer Matej Vydra, scorer of a wonderful goal against us for Watford a few years ago is still at the club. Jack Marriott should manage the jump from Division One, Chelsea youngster Mason Mount excelled in Holland last season and we all know just how good (and indeed, bad) Florian Jozefzoon can be.
Middlesbrough will be expected to challenge but will sorely miss the pace, power and dribbling ability of the injured Adama Traore who was easily the best visiting player I saw at Griffin Park last season. Aston Villa could be absolutely anything after the disappointment of missing out in the Playoff Final and staring at the financial abyss but so far have managed to keep hold of their talisman Jack Grealish. Leeds fans still find it hard to accept that they are firmly ensconced in the Championship with their glory years decades behind them and have a well developed sense of entitlement. Who knows how they will perform under the management of the legendary but explosive Marcelo Bielsa and it could all end in tears. Barry Douglas is a fantastic signing from Wolves but there are doubts whether the enigmatic Patrick Bamford will score regularly enough for them. What is certain is that their supporters are certain to experience a rollercoaster ride.
Nottingham Forest have conducted some eye-catching transfer business bringing in a plethora of highly priced Portuguese imports – and Lewis Grabban. However good they prove to be they now possess a bloated squad and a manager in Aitor Karanka who does not inspire too much confidence. Preston North End also over performed last season and will likely challenge again. They are fit, organised and never give you an easy game but might struggle to score enough goals despite the midfield prompting of Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson.
So where does this leave Brentford? How do I feel they will do over the coming season?
As we speak we have, as is customary, lost a few players having already replaced them with relative unknowns and potential bargains. Andreas Bjelland allowed his contract to run down having performed exceptionally well last season as a calm, left-sided defender who was largely responsible for mentoring Chris Mepham and talking him through games. Bjelland suffered the disappointment of missing the World Cup through injury and has returned home to play for FC Copenhagen after three injury wrecked seasons at Griffin Park. Fate was not kind to him and he never really regained the impetus lost by his long term absence through a terrible knee ligament injury sustained on his debut for the club. Club skipper John Egan has also left the club joining Sheffield United for a reported near £4 million club record fee – a massive profit on the initial £400,000 fee we paid to Gillingham. He too proved himself to be a solid, consistent and effective defender who was also dangerous at set pieces but somehow, for all his efforts and endeavour he never totally inspired confidence with the ball at his feet and as we all know our central defenders are expected to split whenever the goalkeeper gathers the ball, come short to take possession and then act as the first line of attack. This was never Egan’s game and hard though he worked and as much as he improved, which was all to his credit I suspect the powers that be felt that we needed to improve in this area.
Konstantin Kerschbaumer enjoyed a successful season on loan at Arminia Bielefeld scoring eight times from midfield. He had flourished towards the end of the 2015/16 season when he enjoyed a good run in the Brentford team and combined well with the predatory Scott Hogan who thrived upon the Austrian’s incisive through balls but perhaps he has found his level in the German Second Division and has joined FC Ingolstadt 04 for a reputed near one million pound fee. He leaves with our best wishes as well as thoughts about what might have been had he not been thrown into the team far too quickly in the Autumn of 2015.
Florian Jozefzoon established himself in the Brentford team last season and ended up with the impressive tally of seven goals and was a constant danger with his pace and set piece ability. Like all wingers he was inconsistent but he will be missed after being sold to Derby County for £2.75 million given that he was coming into the last year of his contact and it is extremely rare for a Brentford first team player to be allowed to run down his contract without being sold. Promising left back Ilias Chatzitheodoridis who impressed in his loan spell at Cheltenham last season but was not in the reckoning for a first team place has left for Panathinaikos where he will hopefully flourish and earn the Bees a healthy sell-on percentage a la Alfie Mawson should he eventually move on.
So far there have been three new arrivals at Griffin Park with two central defenders and a right winger arriving as direct replacements for the departing players. Brentford took advantage of Charlton’s requirement for cash up front by striking where others hesitated and signing their prime asset, England Under 21 International defender Ezri Konsa for a fee reputed to be around £2.5 million and a second centre half arrived earlier this week in the form of Julian Jeanvier from French Ligue 2 champions Reims for around £1.8 million. Jozefzoon’s replacement is exciting Algerian international Said Benrahma signed from Nice for another multimillion pound fee.
What all our signings share in common is that they all arrived under the radar with little speculation and they are all young emerging footballers with immense talent and development potential – as is the Brentford way.
Other long serving Brentford fans like myself still find it hard to read about the club paying (and indeed receiving) such high figure for their players and without checking, and apologies for any errors and omissions, I estimate that we have now paid over seven figures for fourteen players in Moses Odubajo, Jota, Lewis Macleod, Andreas Bjelland, Lasse Vibe, Ryan Woods, Dan Bentley, Sergi Canos, Rico Henry, Ollie Watkins, Neal Maupay, Konsa, Benrahma and Jeanvier and received multi-million pound fees for sixteen players in Hermann Hreiðarsson, Adam Forshaw, Will Grigg, Moses Odubajo, Stuart Dallas, Andre Gray, James Tarkowski, David Button, Jake Bidwell, Scott Hogan, Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin, Jota, Lasse Vibe, Egan and Jozefzoon.
Most Brentford fans are hoping that the number does not increase shortly to sixteen as the elephant in the room is midfield talisman Ryan Woods who is reportedly coveted by Swansea with a potential fee of somewhere in the region of £6-8 million being reported as our asking price. As most Brentford fans realise we remain a stepping stone club which signs young emerging talent, develops and improves them and then sells them to clubs richer than us and ideally further up the food chain at the top of the market, before repeating the process.
Given the size of our current stadium, our attendance levels and limited revenue streams this is the only way we can remain competitive and continue to punch way above our weight. We rely on our analytics and scouting ability to find and secure a constant flow of young footballers who recognise that they will be joining a club with a solid and ever-growing reputation for improving players, putting them into the spotlight and eventually allowing them to leave for greater riches and maybe opportunity when the time is right. And that is the key. We ONLY sell when we believe it is opportune and we have already replaced the outgoing player and only then if we receive top dollar. We are no longer naive and babes in the wood. Clubs have to deal with us on our terms, and generally they do.
It would be wonderful to hold onto Ryan Woods for another year – and maybe we will – but the model would say that it is now approaching the time to sell him when he has two years left on his contract and is approaching peak value. He has also served us well for nearly three seasons and in my view it is now his time to move on up and reap the rewards he has worked so hard for and fully deserves. One day once we have moved into Lionel Road and our revenues have increased exponentially, I hope that we can hold onto all our star players but for the time being we have to be realistic. That being so we have made it clear to predators that the likes of Chris Mepham and Ollie Watkins are not for sale at the moment. The time will of course come, but at the moment they both have long contracts and they are still developing, improving and increasing in value.
There is also social media talk of Nico Yennaris leaving initially on loan to a European club, with the name of Dukla Prague, being mentioned before eventually joining a Chinese club. There is talk that Dukla Prague share ownership with a Chinese club and given Nico’s Chinese mother I assume he would count as a homegrown player which would make him a valuable asset. I have not bothered to check this information out given that this is an unsubstantiated rumour at present. If both players were to leave then surely a replacement would be needed although I am sure both Josh McEachran and Kamo Mokotjo would expect to be given the chance to prove they could fill the gap.
The squad has been fairly bloated in size by Brentford standards although injuries to Maupay and now apparently Emiliano Marcondes have left us short of striking options with only the relatively untried Watkins and the rookie Marcus Forss currently available to play down the middle. I expect us to go with what we have got up front and not reinforce our currently limited resources as great things are expected from both Watkins and Maupay this season and young Forss impressed during the preseason period.
Said Benrahma has already made quite an impression on his teammates in training and he, Sergi Canos, Watkins and the highly impressive young Chiedozie Ogbene will compete for first team places on the wing with Josh Clarke and Alan Judge also available. Much is expected of Canos after an injury ruined 2017/18 season and hopefully he will rise to the challenge and show us just how talented and dangerous he can be. Alan Judge continues to make progress after his awful long term injury which would have finished a lesser man. His fitness has returned but he is still yet to regain his touch but hopefully more game time will enable him to do so.
The immensely gifted Romaine Sawyers will compete with Marcondes for the attacking midfield berth with the latter finally beginning to find his feet after a long settling in period. Lewis Macleod also will challenge for a box-to-box role and has the advantage of having a decent goalscoring record.
We are now strong in central defence with Chris Mepham, surely destined to become our first £20 million transfer, Konsa and Jeanvier backed up by the ebullient Yoann Barbet and the massive young Mads Bech Sorensen whose time will surely come.
World Cup hero Henrik Dalsgaard will put his comic cuts own goal last Saturday behind him and continue to impress at right back, backed up by the versatile Josh Clarke, but we have concerns at left back where Rico Henry is not expected back for a while from his awful knee injury. Yennaris, Barbet or Tom Field could fill in and it remains to be seen if the oft-injured Moses Odubajo will sign a contract and also compete for the shirt. Moses is more than good enough but there are serious concerns about whether he can stay fit enough to make a contribution.
Dan Bentley had an exceptional season last year and should continue to improve under the guidance of his new goalkeeping coach Iñaki Caña Pavón, He will be supported by the reliable Luke Daniels and another B Team alumnus Ellery Balcombe fresh from his exploits with the England Under 19 squad. A slight problem on the horizon is that both Bentley and Sawyers have only two more seasons left on their contracts and hopefully they can be persuaded to extend their stay at the club.
Brentford’s performance in last Saturday’s friendly against Watford was Brentford to a T. We overplayed at the back and conceded two suicidal and easily avoidable goals. We were at times overpowered by a stronger and more ruthless team which took no prisoners but our sublime attacking one touch football tore gaps in the Watford defence. As per normal we were guilty of playing one pass too many and refusing to shoot when the chance beckoned. We missed far too many flagrant chances in front of goal.
I am hoping and to a degree expecting that the team both as individuals and a group will grow up this season, continue to play some fabulous football but also fight and scrap where necessary and improve their game management. If that is the case and we pick our moments to shoot and become more clinical in front of goal – big “ifs” it has to be said – then I predict a strong challenge for the playoffs.
I am really looking forward to the season and I hope you are too.