On the last leg of his Eastern Tour, Billy Grant reports in from Hong Kong where things have been hotting up on the Brentford transfer front – with five players signed so far and one or two other new players on the horizon. But does that also mean that Bees players will be leaving the fold before the end of the transfer window?
And, with Brentford’s recent transfer successes, Billy questions whether the football world has finally given up it’s obsession of goading the club for being bold enough to take a different approach to signing players?
So far this summer, Brentford have made five new signings. Five very good signings on paper. The fans are very happy. Brentford management are very happy. Judging by the interviews, the incoming players are very happy “feeling wanted”. So what’s on the cards for 2017/18?
Wind the clock back 18 months, the Directors of Football and Head Coach Dean Smith were coming in for a whole heap of flack. Some fans were vocally unhappy with the quality of Brentford’s signings with criticism of the methods used by Brentford to find players. At the same time, certain media folk were joyfully using our ‘quirky approach’ as a stick to beat us with.
Fast-forward 18 months and the dialogue has changed somewhat. The fact that Brentford have been able to lose players like Scott Hogan, Andre Gray, Moses Odubajo, Jake Bidwell, David Button, James Tarkowski, Stuart Dallas – and replace them with with players of equivalent quality, or better, for less money has now got some of the same people praising Brentford for the way they do business.
That’s not a problem. It happens all the time. You may have an opinion on something. Re-assess the situation down the line. And re-evaluate your opinion. We’ve all done it. But it’s much more productive to at least give any new concept a chance before writing it off.
What’s more to the point, Brentford have been able to use the extra money to build a more rounded squad.
There is no denying that our 2014/15 Premier League play-off squad was talented, but threadbare. If we’d had even one injury to key players like Andre Gray, or Alex Pritchard, or Alan Judge, or Jota, or Harlee Dean, or James Tarkowski, it would have seriously affected our success that season.
If we’d had a catalogue of injuries, like we did the following season when over ten key players were injured at the start of the campaign, mid-table safety would have been a pipe dream.
But it didn’t matter at the time as the fans were only expecting Championship survival at the start of the season. Our unexpected, sudden, meteoric rise raised the bar somewhat. The fans expected more of the same the following year with what was – in effect – a brand new team. And when it didn’t happen, you could feel the pressure.
So what has changed in the last 24 months?
Well, to be fair, you have got to give props to the management team – Phil Giles… Rasmus Ankersen… Andy Scott… Rob Rowan… and others members of their crew who go un-named. They came up with a strategy on how Brentford signs players – using a healthy mix of statistical filtering of players to pinpoint their key targets, alongside human scouting and analysis to decide whether or not they would actually fit in at the club in a number of different ways.
And through hell and high water, they have been 100% consistent in applying it. Even with all the flack.
And credit where credit’s due, they have done some great business, not only over this summer so far, but over the past couple of years.
Lasse Vibe – cost around €1m. He is worth €3m to €4m now. Maxime Colin cost €1m. Now worth €3.5m. Ryan Woods – cost £350k. Now worth possibly £4m? Jota – cost £1m or so. Now worth £8m plus. Even Andy Gogia who didn’t work out for us, but cost us ‘nothing’, was sold for a €750k to Dynamo Dresden.
Of course, there have been some mistakes made – which Brentford have admitted but have also said that they would learn from – which some people are quick to focus on without necessarily balancing it up against the successes. You get mistakes made in any business, especially when you are playing the risk game. Risk is what we do because we are run by gamblers and our budgets are still smaller than other teams.
We are taking the gamble that the players that we buy – for less money than our rivals in most cases – will be a success at Championship level.
As a percentage, if you take an overall view on our transfer policy (rather than analyse them one by one) these risks have worked out. And as the financial outlay is lower than many of our rivals, when a player is not a success of course it hurts us financially. But taking a £400k blow to the belly hurts a lot less than teams like Aston Villa and Derby County who often take £5m blows to the belly – with a wage bill of £25k a week plus to boot.
A year or so ago, I wrote an article on how Brentford does it’s player scouting (click here) which attracted a lot of interest, not only from within the Brentford fanbase, but from outside too. It outlined how Brentford went about their business to find and sign players, and tried to highlight that the logical thinking behind the analytical approach, which was balanced by a human side, is something that Brentford was rarely given credit for.
Now, the focus on Brentford has shifted amongst some members of the public, and the media, from how unorthodox Brentford are in the methods they are using, which they felt would undoubtedly fail, to how Brentford have seemed to have mastered the success of creating value in players over a short period of time with a view to selling them on.
A positive shift to a certain extent. But in reality, still not really giving Brentford the props they deserve as very few of these people are actually saying “Brentford are building a quality team that can challenge the top six”. The assumption is (or maybe it’s what they want to believe) that we will sell these players immediately once they are worth anything.
Are they right?
To be honest, it’s not as simple as that. There are many other factors to take into consideration including timing and economics. The potential success of the team is a timing issue (there is an argument to say that this season, the timing is not right for selling your key players to get in finance to help build the team, whereas last season or the season before, it was). The length of a player’s contract drives the economics (if Jota had a four year contract at the moment, there would be no discussion of selling him at this moment).
Brentford have made five brand new signings, which is excellent news. The atmosphere around the club feels much more organised and relaxed than in previous years. We entered early pre-season with a finely balanced squad, which included a number of new players signed up and ready for integrating.
But does it mean that the team will challenge for the promotion places? It’s hard to say at the moment as a lot depends on what happens during the rest of this transfer window. And on how the new players settle in.
So what do we think will happen between now and September 1st when the window closes shut?
This is a real tricky time of the year.
With Brentford doing a lot of good business early, they would be wanting the transfer window to shut tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, that’s not the game that we are in.
And you can assume that there will be some outgoings from the Brentford team as there has been a sudden increase in the size of our squad and a number of players have only a year left to go on their contracts.
Then we have the situation where the Directors Of Football will decide whether or not those leaving players are to be replaced and with who.
A tricky job. But that’s what they’re paid for.
With Brentford learning from it’s mistakes from the past, you can 100% guarantee that the club has pinpointed every player at risk of leaving and has already lined up a number of potential replacements for him if necessary – meaning that Brentford could add even more signings to their pre-season tally (see below in incoming players).
But the problem is, as we get deeper and deeper into the window, those replacements may become unavailable as other teams then sign them. If you are unable to make a decision early, you could find that teams currently looking to loan out potentially high quality players (look at the impact Chelsea players Izzy Brown and Casey Palmer made at Huddersfield last season and Tammy Abraham at Bristol City) may decide to send the player earmarked for your team elsewhere, while you are still waiting for your player to decide if he is leaving or staying.
If any player was going to leave regardless, it suits Brentford if he left sooner rather than later, as it currently gives us a month to find a replacement.
If he leaves on 29th August, it becomes a panic, as the team scramble to make a last minute signing. Which may or may not be right for the team.
So bearing all of that in mind, who may possibly leave Brentford in the next month and what is the gossip flying around about who Brentford have lined up to replace them if they leave?
The number one player on every Brentford fans’ lips is Jota. Will he stay or will he go? He has so far refused to sign a new contract – which expires next summer – preferring to explore his options.
There is no hiding the fact that his agent is trying to find him a new club. A Premier League club. And if a Premier League club came in for Jota and offered him £20k a week, as much as we don’t want to admit it, there’s no way in the world we would be able to compete with that.
The problem with the Jota scenario is his agent has obviously indicated that one of the Premier League teams he’s speaking to will make an offer to Brentford but the offer has not yet materialised (sounds a bit like West Ham to me).
Hence we’re in limbo-land.
So as far as Brentford are concerned, it’s now business as normal with Jota, who started the pre-season match against Oxford after being withdrawn for the first two friendlies in wait for this supposed offer.
This episode looks set to painfully roll on and on over the window. It’s a hard one to call.
Question is … if he doesn’t get a Premier League offer, but a Championship club like Villa come in and offer him £62k a week, Scott Hogan-stylee, will he turn it down?
Will he do the MANNERS and commit to Brentford if he is unable to get a move by the first week in August – a date which will allow Brentford plenty of time to arrange a replacement?
Only time will tell on this one. But it’s looking a bit ominous it has to be said.
Contract due for renewal at the end of the season. For sale sign outside his house. Release clause in his contract. A class player with manners (he gave my eight-year-old daughter a training shirt). Attracting interest from teams in the UK and abroad.
Danish international Henrick Dalsgaard already purchased to cover from him. Unless Colin and Dalsgaard are going to be fighting for the No 2 shirt (which could happen and would give us incredible depth of squad), it looks unlikely that Maxime will be with us for the 2017/18 campaign. But funnier things have happened.
Harlee had a great season last season. He got the captain’s armband – something that he wanted for a number of seasons – and really raised his game. I believe (and this is just a personal opinion based on no fact whatsoever) being a new father gave him a different perspective on life and you could see how much he had matured as the season went on – focussing on the things that were important to him including improving his game.
But Harlee has chosen to see where the land lies before committing to a new contract and that leaves the Bees in a predicament. If he does not sign by the end of the window, Brentford are in danger of being forced to sell at cut price in January – with clubs knowing he has only six months left on his contract – or letting him go for a free next summer. If he does go, will Brentford have to sign a new centre back? Or will they settle with the three current Centre Backs – Egan, Barbet and Bjelland – and promote a B team player like Chris Mepham?
There is an argument to say that Brentford would be weaker without Dean at the back and no replacement if we are looking for a top six push. However, that will very much depend on how Mokotjo slots into the side over the first month, breaking up the attacks which allowed teams to catch us out fast on the break.
These must be the questions going around in the DoF’s minds at present as we try and ensure that we’re (quite literally) not caught short at the back.
I would love to see Lasse Vibe in the side next season. He has fire power, works hard and has a brilliant attitude. And he – like Colin and Jota – has MANNERS.
But Brentford have signed two potentially very good strikers – and possibly another attacking player (see below in incomings). So where does that leave Lasse Vibe?
Twelve months ago he was about to embark on an adventure in Brazil – leading Denmark into the Olympic football tournament. That didn’t work out too well and on his return to London, his form was so-so.
But he turned it around after Christmas – after Scott Hogan left – to become a key player for Brentford scoring 16 goals in the process.
So what next?
Will he be the man to fire us to the playoffs and beyond this coming season? It’s a tricky one.
Lasse’s stock is high at present. And he is 30 years old. Does he take the gamble and be part of the team to try and take Brentford to the Premier League? Or does he cash in while his stock is high and go for one final big pay packet elsewhere?
As much as Brentford would want to keep Lasse, if he was offered say £20k or £30k a week elsewhere, the Bees would be unable to match that.
When I was in Shanghai last week, I was chatting to our Chinese source Gary (check last week’s Pride of West London podcast) who said that Vibe’s name was doing the rounds in Chinese club circles, with the player being touted with a possible move to a number of clubs, including Changchun Yatai who were very interested in signing the Danish striker.
So clubs are looking at him. And my gut says that if he can find a big move at this stage of his career, he will go. And good luck to him. As long as it’s not F*lham or QPR of course.
But he has MANNERS and knows better than that.
Woodsy is a player with great potential who has caught opposition fans’ eye many a time with his commanding performances in the centre of the park. Aston Villa fans were raving about him when he commandeered the midfield up at Villa Park.
And recent rumours have linked the midfielder with Sunderland amongst teams – although with a number of years left on his contract, whoever comes in for him will have to pay top dollar.
So with teams sniffing around this young talent, we have to ask the question will Woodsy be at Brentford this season? We now have competition for places in that part of the field – Mokotjo. Woods. Yennaris. McEachran.
At any one time, we can only play a maximum of two out of those four players.
It has to be assumed – because we bought him for that very reason – that Mokotjo will be first choice in the defensive midfielder position.
If the assumption is correct, that leaves one player out of Woods, Yennaris and McEachran, to fill the second midfield slot.
Will one player take priority, or will they rotate? What happens if an offer comes in for Woods?
Too many questions. Not many answers at the moment.
I guess we will have to see how the window pans out.
The main name floating around the transfer-sphere at the moment is Emiliano Marcondes – 22 year old attacking midfielder playing for FC Nordsjælland in Denmark. With Brentford having a pretty decent scouting network already in place in Denmark (one that got their team to the Champions League a few seasons ago), you know that the homework has been done on this lad.
Beesotted’s Chinese sources – who have been very busy this window – tell us a deal has already been done for the player with him due to join Brentford when his contract runs out in January.
However, the latest whisperings say the player is now highly likely to join up with his new team-mates for the start of the season – adding to an already exciting list of signings by Brentford.
The highly rated Danish midfielder – who is half-Brazilian – was being touted for a move to Inter Milan a few years ago and has played for Denmark at U17, U18, U19, U20 and U21 level.
If his move goes through, it will provide healthy competition in the Brentford attack – with Brentford potentially looking at a new generation Alex Pritchard (no pressure then).
If Jota does leave, and everybody is praying that he stays, we believe Brentford have a number of Premier League players lined up to take his place.
Manners (and we know he has manners after the thank you letter he wrote to Brentford fans when he returned to Spain) would see Jota and his agent make up his mind sooner rather than later so that Brentford can go about their business of getting the team in ship shape for an assault on the top six of the Championship.
Other players potentially coming in will depend on outgoings – which is all up in the air at the moment. Defensive midfield is done. Attack-wise we are done if Marcondes joins.
But if Harlee leaves, will we bring in another centre back? That is the main unanswered question that remains as we approach the start of the season.
Watch this space for more news.