Beesotted contributor, Jim Levack, looks back at Wednesday night’s memorable win over Dean Smith’s Aston Villa at Griffin Park.
The unbridled joy of a quality last-minute winner was tempered slightly by Dean Smith’s appearance at the post match Villa media huddle.
The man who played such a pivotal role in the evolution of the system in place at Griffin Park bore the look of a haunted man.
He lashed out at the “pathetic” standard of refereeing this season. Have to agree with him there.
Then he hung the rest of his mitigation of a pitiful Villa display on Gavin Ward’s failure to award a penalty. Can’t agree with him on that.
He had the air of a man weighed down by the massive expectation that comes with spending huge sums on transfers and salaries and the knee-jerk reaction of a fan-base fed a diet of hope and instant success.
In stark contrast Thomas Frank cut a confident, assured figure as he addressed the media.
“Dean has said his side deserved something from the game. Do you agree?” I asked. An emphatic “No,” with a smile came the response before he reined it back in by insisting he’d be sharing a beer with his vanquished former colleague shortly after.
Dean is a kind, warm man for whom family and walks with his dogs come first, but in the harsh world of football that’s of no interest to supporters and financiers of a once successful club now down on its luck.
It was hard not to feel sympathy for the normally sanguine Dean, who I don’t think I’ve ever seen that rattled by a result such is his ‘treat the impostors of triumph and disaster just the same’ mentality.
The ‘grass isn’t always greener’ was another cliché that sprang to mind. In Dean’s case the verdant fields have turned a sun-bleached yellow and his dream is on hold until a major rebuilding in the summer.
The main difference was that Villa were a group of talented players, while Brentford are talented individuals melded seamlessly into a team with a built-in work and improvement ethic.
Last night was, for me, a better all-round performance than Stoke. High tempo, slick passing, massive desire, width, that goal… and the fact I work among the Villa faithful.
The pendulum has swung. We’re playing better football now than under Dean and Frank has proved the Doubting Thomas’s wrong.
And here’s a thing… I was initially one of them.
I found his press conferences slightly dull, his explanations of formation switches and “little tweaks” as he rubbed his thumb and index finger together too detailed, the machinations of his obviously technical mind far too explicit.
I thought that level of academic approach would be too much for the average footballer and the results – initially – bore that out.
Unsubstantiated rumours abounded of unrest, people turning up late for training. Again it would have been the beginning of the end at a club like Villa.
But instead he tackled things head on as he hinted in a recent excellent interview piece with the Guardian where he endeared himself further to the average Bees supporter by using a bit of terrace talk not often repeated by a manager.
During his dark start Brentford fans were far less reactionary than most in the Championship and could see what was being built here, were determined to be patient – upto a point – with the new man… and now it’s paying off.
But he has changed his style too. His answers to the media are more concise, he offers the pithy little soundbytes that our profession adores and even drops the occasional whispered expletive into his post-match interviews. Off camera of course.
He, like Dean, is a man who understands the real world, the stresses and strains of parenting, this game we love, and loss – as he showed with his dignified and heartfelt comments around the death of close friend Rob Rowan.
Once a manager shows he understands those things – because there are few things more important – he can use his knowledge to manage men and get them playing the kind of finessed football he wants.
Psychology and knowing your people is a massive part of this funny old game.
He showed against his old colleague that he has the tactical nous to improve things further still. Letting Sergi see the whole pitch and conning Villa when the teams were handed in was a masterstroke.
I’d love Dean Smith to be a success at Villa, but think that in Thomas Frank we have someone who can – as he put it – make those little tweaks that turn the fine margins our way.
Thanks for proving me wrong.
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