There is no doubting that Dean Smith took Brentford to another level – steadying a previously rocky ship. However, Billy Grant believes there is an argument to say Smith’s move to Villa could be the opportunity for Brentford to move up to yet another level.
Dean Smith’s move to Aston Villa didn’t come as a massive surprise to many Brentford fans. He’s been touted with a move to his boyhood team on a number of occasions over the past few years. As Brentford has improved under his tenure, his stock has begun to rise and it was only a matter of time that he would fly the Griffin Park roost.
So what does Dean Smith to Aston Villa mean for Brentford?
Is it all doom and gloom? Or is this an yet another exciting turning-point in Brentford’s adventure to Premier League glory?
Now that is the question.
Before investigating the question further, I would like to give Dean Smith major props and thank him for the work he did in his time at Brentford. He steadied our ship. A slightly storm-damaged ship it was at the time he joined. And he sailed in occasional choppy waters, leading us to calmer seas.
He came to us at the time when the club was – relatively – in a bit of turmoil. He had to deal with the departure of a popular manager. Manage a change in the way the club was run (football doesn’t like change). And negotiate himself around the appointment of a previous manager who came in with all good intentions and quite simply wasn’t the right fit.
He had to deal with the politics of a camp which was mixed with players from the olde guard (the Warburton era) and bunch of new players who were still finding their feet in the division.
Then there was Tarkowski-gate. Having to deal with James Tarkowski who decided to effectively go on strike to force a move to Burnley. But then at the same time, he had to be diplomatic enough not to bury him afterwards too much – something that could have severely reduced Tarky’s value in the marketplace.
Unlike some others before him, he fully bought into the way the club was being run. It wasn’t only Brentford who benefitted from Dean Smith’s calm and open attitude. He also benefitted from people like Thomas Frank assisting him. Rob Rowan feeding players into him alongside Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen. The stats people providing him with information that he could use or bin at will. The sleep coach and set piece coach and all these other ‘invisible Brentford people’ who half the world don’t even know exist and were not fully embraced by previous regimes.
At times you could sense his frustration. Losing key players after they had a good season. Then having to build not so experienced players up from scratch … again. It was an endless job. And you can imagine him thinking “I would love to have one season when I could just keep them all. Every single one of them”.
But that’s utopia. And Brentford aren’t quite living in an utopian world at the moment.
I remember chatting to Dean Smith at around Easter last season. I remarked how well we were doing – emphasising we were very close .. but not quite close enough to light the cigar. And how an extra striker on the books – someone to convert all the chances we were creating – would make such a difference.
He said “But a striker like that costs money”. He was really matter-a-fact about it. But at the same time, I could sense a little bit of frustration. Being so close … but we could be even closer.
I felt he was pretty much indicating we were doing very well operating within our means. But if we had more means, we would be able to afford such a player. He wouldn’t be wrong of course.
Maybe Dean Smith felt that at Aston Villa, although it will come with a different sort of pressures, he would be able to operate without the same sort of pressure he has at Brentford. The pressure which sees him constantly trying to keep hold of quality players who are more than good enough to get them out of this division.
An interesting question was raised a few weeks ago by a number of pundits – including George and Ali on their excellent Not The Top 20 podcast show – and was discussed on the Beesotted Pride of West London Podcast (click above).
Is (and now was) Dean Smith a very good head coach for Brentford to keep us operating as a solid Top 10 Championship side but not quiet good enough to elevate Brentford to become a dangerous Top 2 side?
If there is any time we are going to find out, it is now.
Brentford can feel justified that they have done good by Dean Smith and stuck with him through thick and thin. At the same time, he has played his part in making Brentford an attractive prospect to a raft of high-calibre managers.
We have now reached a natural parting.
Smith has gone off to see if he can raise the bar at Villa – bringing some of the knowledge he has gained at Griffin Park to Villa Park.
Meanwhile Brentford have to now make a decision. Do we stick with what we know? Like we did when we employed rookie manager Mark Warburton. His job as Brentford’s Sporting Director was to try and make a short-list from the 27 managers who had been chosen as suitable candidates for the vacant Brentford role after Uwe Rosler jumped ship to Wigan. He ended up with the job himself.
Or do we play the field?
One thing that all Brentford fans will admit that has been missing in the last few years is 100% confidence that we have the ability to kill a game off week in and week out. And consistently having the ability to deal with teams coming to frustrate us when they pack the midfield and disrupt our style of play. Switching it up to have a plan B which will confuse and torment the opposition.
Don’t get me wrong. We play some fantastic football. But the question we have to ask is … with the players we have on the pitch at the moment, could we be even better?
Back to the potential new head coach. The most likely candidate at the moment – even if it a temporary role – is assistant manager Thomas Frank. Ex-manager of Brondby – deemed the second best team in Denmark at the time – he certainly has top-level management experience.
He moved from his home in Denmark to become Dean Smith’s assistant at Brentford – something we flagged up on the Beesotted podcast at the time as being rather ‘interesting’. Going from managing a Europe league side in your own country. To becoming assistant to a small but progressive Championship side in another country. That’s some upheaval.
According to our Danish sources, he’s very good working with young players. And Brentford would have had a good couple of years to see what he is like to work with in the flesh.
Somewhere in that pot could also fit ex Brentford defender and B-Team Head Coach Kev O’Connor. He knows exactly how the club operates and also buys into the way the club operates.
He has been learning on the job with his B-team exploits. He was lined up to have become assistant to Marinus Dijkhuizen but for various reasons, that did not work out at the time. Maybe this will become his opportunity to step up to the B-team in some sort of role.
But then maybe Thomas Frank is better suited in the role he is in currently. Who knows?
And if Thomas Frank doesn’t become the next full time Head Coach, we won’t be short of candidates. The bookies have Di Matteo as next favourite. With Luton’s Nathan Jones and Lincoln’s Danny Cowley right up there (have you seen Lincoln play .. certainly not ‘The Brentford way’). They even have Bruce, Pardew and ex-Brentford managers Warburton and Dijkhuizen in the pot.
If Frank is not the man, then I can’t see any of the above getting the job. I see Brentford going relatively left-field once again. Someone who ticks the boxes but isn’t necessarily a household name is the way we like to operate.
All in all, it’s an interesting time for Brentford. And with the eyes of the footballing world on us, it’s a crucial time to find out how well our system really works.
Personally, I’m excited for the future. Who will come in and lead us for the next few years? I have no idea. But whoever it is, I look forward to seeing him hopefully continue the good work done over the last few years – and we’re talking from Rosler onwards.
Coz you just never know.
Dean Smith’s departure may just be the kick in the @rse that Brentford needed.
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