Billy Grant met Brentford Director of Football Phil Giles at the beginning of the transfer window. He looks back at what transpired over the next few weeks as Brentford signed two highly rated players from the lower leagues.
The transfer window slams shut. Bees fans breathe a sigh of relief. More as a course of habit than anything else as the reality was – unlike previous windows – the indicators have been for a few months now that Brentford were always going to come out of this window relatively unscathed.
But how unscathed were we going to be?
I met up with Brentford Director of Football Phil Giles when the transfer window was merely a week old – a couple of days before the QPR match.
If you’ve never met him, Phil is properly chilled out – even at the hairiest of times. But it only takes one mad window – like the one when we lost The Birmingham Three (Jota, Dean and Colin) – for him to momentarily lose his cool.
As we sat down for a transfer window cup of tea and catch up, he was as laid back as I’ve ever seen him. We’re talking almost horizontal.
During our chat, his phone didn’t ring once. Anyone would think he was losing popularity.
It was just Brentford have turned things up a notch or two. And have made it very clear to the vultures that they can stop circling – for six months at least.
We hadn’t sat down very long before I waded in with the question that was on every Bees fan’s mind.
“So are we going to lose any key players this window?”
He just shrugged his shoulders and said with the utmost confidence
“Not as far as Brentford are concerned”.
“So are we looking to sign anyone?”
– the next big question on everybody lips.
“We’ll add to the team if the right player comes along”
Three weeks later, Brentford announce the signing of box-to-box midfielder Shandon Baptiste and winger Tariqe Fosu-Henry. Both Reading FC academy graduates who were released by the Berkshire club – working their way up from the lower echelons of the football league to try and make their mark on the game.
These weren’t the striker signings that fans were expecting. This was a bolt out of the blue.
Or was it?
Looking at our deficiencies this season, maybe these signings were not a real surprise.
So what did Brentford see in these two players that would help us in our bid to cement a playoff spot and challenge for a top two place?
Baptiste and Fosu-Henry
Grenadan international Shandon Baptiste (21) signed for Oxford in Summer 2017. Ironically he received a cruciate injury in an FA Cup against Brentford defeat at Griffin Park in January 2019 – an injury which apparently stopped The Bees from signing him that window.
He returned to first team action at the start of this season and has been in cracking form – despite a lingering cruciate injury which has seen him clock up less than 1000 league minutes in nine starts and eight sub appearances (he also played 3 FA cup and 4 league cup matches on top of that).
Oxford manager Karl Robinson made a decision to eased him back into the side slowly – not throwing him into the thick of the action each week. He touted him as as one of the brightest young stars to come out of the lower leagues.
One of Brentford’s biggest problems to date has been dealing with teams who come to frustrate. Teams who press high and clog up the midfield – making it hard for us to play through the middle and get the ball up to our lethal top three.
Birmingham at home. Huddersfield at home. Nottingham Forest home and away. Just a few matches where we lacked that additional bit creativity in the middle of the park to unlock the opposition door.
Along comes Baptiste. Described by ScoutedFootball as
“A game-breaking, supremely-talented dribbler, capable of navigating through the stormy seas of any press.”
His former youth coach Andy Whing is quoted as saying
“Shandon’s personality and attitude have got him to where he is. I look at his passing now and it’s second to none, it shows how far you can go.”
His strengths are dribbling, passing, long shots and taking set-pieces. He doesn’t dive into tackles but at the same time, loves a yellow card – reflecting his passion.
His favoured position is central midfield although he has played a few times – very well it has to be said – as a left sided attacking midfielder.
His dribbling stats put him in at No 1 in the Top 5 central midfield dribblers in the league. It’s (sort of) like the equivalent of having Jota (on his good days for Brentford) meets a young Patrick Viera careering through the centre of the park.
Difficult to defend against, he creates his own space and is not phased by defenders closing him down as he will dribble past them.
He has the ability to quickly turn defence into a counter-attack. Can pick up the ball deep and ghost through the opposition midfield to open up the game. He is also able to pick up the ball on the edge of the area to create chances for his team mates.
Where he needs improve – and this is where Thomas Frank will school him – is developing his all-round game. His tackling and interception rate can be improved. To become a key Brentford player, you need to work equally hard off the ball as on it and no doubt Brentford will be working on this with him the forthcoming weeks.
Oxford signed 24 year old Fosu-Henry from Charlton in Summer 2019 where he scored 11 goals in 57 appearances. He then ended up scoring 8 goals in his 25 appearances for Oxford this season – including a hat-trick against Lincoln and a goal against West Ham in the League Cup – before his move to Griffin Park.
The winger adds pace and energy to the team and is a fantastic outlet. His strengths are his shooting – he likes to shoot from range. He is also a great passer and dribbler – laying the ball off and playing short passes.
He needs to work on his ball retention. But that’s part of the usual work-in-progress for Brentford.
Fosu’s Charlton goals and assists
Rotherham manager Paul Warne praised Fosu after Oxford’s 2-1 win over them earlier this season
“He [Fosu] caused us all sorts of problems.
Every time he won it back, he got them up the pitch”
He looks as if he is a player to bring off the bench if Saïd Benrahma is having an off-day.
The performance at West Ham typified both players.
Baptiste’s run and through ball created the set-up for Oxford’s second goal.
Fosu executed a jinking run and strike for the third goal.
And Baptiste breezed through the West Ham midfield and into the area before burying the ball in the back of the net for Oxford’s fourth goal.
How did people online rate Brentford’s new signings
The football world were raving about Brentford’s transfer window activity. Despite the club’s transfer kitty being in the black after the sale of the likes of Maupay, Konsa and Mepham, Brentford still resisted the urge to spend big despite having a good peep in the shop window.
If the right striker opportunity came at the right price, sure we would have bought. But Ivan Toney’s £10m price tag and Lyle Taylor’s £4m price tag (Taylor goes for a free in the summer and his resale value is questionable) were deemed too much for Brentford.
Peterbrough chairman Darren MacAnthony was noticeably peeved by Brentford’s approach for Toney last week. Apparently we made four bids. But didn’t get anywhere near McAnthony’s £10m valuation.
I wonder who Peterborough Chairman @DMAC102 could be talking about on @SkySportsNews ??? “A top 4 championship club visited us + made 4 bids for Ivan Toney… they told us #pufc have a 7.5% chance of promotion and should sell him” 😐 #BrentfordFC pic.twitter.com/w71Gk4oaH9
— Beesotted Brentford (@Beesotted) January 30, 2020
How premier league teams have not purchased this player I’ll never know!
— TheSecretScout (@TheSecretScout_) January 31, 2020
Brentford have won deadline day. Two of the best buys during the whole window. Will be worth 10 times this amount in 6 months time. https://t.co/4Y6qwaoT0c
— Mark McAdam (@markmcadamtv) January 31, 2020
Oxford fan George Elek of the NTT20 podcast – who I really rate his opinions – was distraught when the news broke.
I’ve often wondered when I’ll first do something really stupid on tv. Bursting into tears when talking about Shandon Baptiste tomorrow eve on Sky is apparently the answer.
— George Elek (@GeorgeElek) January 30, 2020
Very impressive to find a combative, all-action midfielder AND a final third magician in the same player. Bet your lot are pumped for the second half of the season.
— Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) January 4, 2020
And when Oxford players West Ham, Baptiste turned in a stunning match-winning performance
They couldn’t keep up with him. All they could do was try to foul him. Unbelievable. Let’s enjoy him while he’s still here!
— Andrew Dawson (@ADawsonBros) September 25, 2019
Shandon Baptiste (21) is one of the best young talents in League One at the moment.
✅ Creating chances
✅ Pace to counter-attack
✅ Ability to control the game
✅ Likes to dribble
He would be some signing.
— Mezzala Scout (@MezzalaScout) January 30, 2020
Brentford’s double deal for Tariqe Fosu and Shandon Baptiste for £3m will be the best piece of business done in England today.
Hardly surprised that Brentford have done this deal. Astonishing value.
— Erling S. (@Ub3reem) January 31, 2020
Back to Phil Giles
So the window is shut. We didn’t lose any key first team players – as predicted. And we signed two players who could be just the extra boost we need when it comes to unlocking tricky defences.
The concept of keeping the squad fairly tight is key for Brentford.
Once you start to bring too many players in, different types of problems arise.
Like Lyle Taylor. Would we be going for him again this window?
With Ollie bang on form in his new striking role, the question one has to ask is “Would Taylor be happy to come to Brentford and sit on our (very strong) bench?”
Would Charlton lower the £4m asking price seeing as he would cost nothing in the summer?
These were the type of questions that Brentford were having to deal with.
I asked Giles if this ‘tight squad’ theory actually contradicted the manager’s buying ethos in the Warburton era which caused a fair bit of well documented friction.
Back in the 2015/15 season, Warburton was offered players and funds to strengthen Brentford in the January window. He refused them.
The excuse he gave was that he liked to keep the squad tight. The team was doing well and any outside influence could misbalance the harmony.
Not according to some.
Back in 2015, Brenford – despite being 5th in the league at the time – had only (in the stats world) around 10% change of promotion. We were higher in the league table well than our performances said we should be doing. We were over-performing our xG (and other stats).
That was great for the team. And great for the fans. We were just happy to be there and enjoying every minute.
But logical thinking said if we didn’t make moves to improve what we were doing on the pitch and up the ante, we were likely to blow out.
Despite the low probability of ultimate success, Matthew Benham was prepared to invest in players to strengthen the squad. It was a gamble. An outside gamble. But he was prepared to gamble.
Warburton didn’t go with it.
That is so much different to this time around.
We are much stronger in every way.
We have a better defence than in the Warburton era.
We have a stronger bench than in the Warburton era.
Overall – player for player – we have a better team than in the Warburton era.
And most importantly (for a team that uses numbers to guide it’s strategy), our chances of promotion are currently far higher than it was back in the Warburton area – with figures of 68% (as of the 1st February) being quoted for the Brentford to achieve Premier League football next season (compared to 10% five years ago).
That compared to Leeds (77%), WBA (55%), Fulham (31%) and Forest (15%) makes interesting reading.
None of this is set in stone of course. But it’s an interesting guide of how teams are doing behind the scenes. Behind what the naked eye can see.
It is based on how the teams have performed to date. And it makes predictions made of how they feel matches will go in the future.
However, these figures are unable to predict how January signings may affect how a team may improve or not. Or if a team will gets an injury from a key player.
It doesn’t mean a team can’t fall off. Just go off the boil. A hot striker just stop scoring. You lose a key defender. Or holding midfielder.
They are unable to predict whether Grosiki will be the missing piece for West Brom?
They are unable to predict whether Augustin be able put away a larger proportion of the plentiful chances that Leeds create (and miss).
They are unable to predict whether Baptist and Fosu will have success in unlocking away team’s defences.
They are unable to predict whether Fulham will regret not signing anyone this window?
OK in a month or so’s time after things have settled post-window, it will be interesting to see the shift.
That will go a long way in explaining why no players have left this window.
To be fair, the club has said if we are ever in a top six position come January, the club would give promotion a real go – investing in both current and future players.
And we have done exactly that.
Any player that comes in has to be better than our existing players.
Thompson. Racic. Roeslev. Yearwood. Marcondes. Dervisoglu. All these players are good players in Brentford’s eyes. They understand the way that we play. And what it takes to be a Brentford player.
So we are not in the position to carry any passengers.
Fosu and Baptise aren’t passengers.
They are two players who add something to Brentford.
Lets now see how they slot in over the next few weeks.
Exciting times ahead.
Check Beesotted over the next few days for more insights on Beesotted’s chat with Phil Giles