Beesotted’s Tim Street looks back at this week’s monumental achievement – The Bees are guaranteed survival in the Premier League and can look to underpin a great season in the transfer market this summer.
For Brentford to have this week (without even playing) mathematically secured a second Premier League season – having realistically secured it some weeks ago – is an amazing achievement by everyone concerned. So too is the fact that the club hasn’t spent a single second of its debut Premier League season in the drop zone.
Who would have thought in those dark winter days of just one win and nine defeats from 11 league games (admittedly featuring some really tough fixtures and injuries to key players) that these final two games, against Everton and Leeds, would see the Bees able to relax while their opponents are the ones looking nervously over their shoulders at the trap door.
There are, of course, those with glasses half-filled to the brim who never thought relegation even the remotest of possibilities. And those constantly in need of a refill who wouldn’t have entertained getting the cigars out until at least after the final whistle at Elland Road on Wednesday night.
Me personally? It was only after hammering Chelsea that I truly relaxed. I’ll admit to having been a bit worried at times over the winter – when we couldn’t buy a win, it seemed teams had sussed how to play us, confidence was low, the injuries showed no sign of abating and no reinforcements arrived in January aside from a slightly risky signing who would not even see any action for another month.
Fair play to the directors of football (or singular director of football, as unsung hero Phil Giles is now), by the way, who have always let it be known their reluctance to make signings in January, when value for money is at its lowest and the market is flooded with panic buys – and who stuck to their guns and belief that there was enough talent in the squad, when it was all available, to keep the Bees the right side of that dreaded line drawn atop the bottom three. And I won’t go on too much about the one who did come in, as enough has been written already about Christian Eriksen – but what a player, and what an impact.
Like many Bees fans though, it does get frustrating when the credit for Brentford’s turnaround is focused exclusively, by outsiders, on the superstar in our midst and none given to those players around him – even if he has helped lift their confidence and raise their game, getting them back to playing the sort of football we all knew they were capable of, but which had gone awry during the sort difficult spell which even far more established Premier League clubs suffer, and will continue to. The impact David Raya has had since returning, and the brilliance of Kristoffer Ajer in recent weeks, shows just how much they were both missed during those dark days too.
Anyway, I alluded in a previous paragraph to our directors of football becoming a single director of football, Rasmus Ankersen having left at the end of 2021 to become a director at Premier League rivals Southampton, when the sports investment company he co-founded and is CEO of, Sport Republic, became majority shareholders in the south coast side.
It was one of those delightful little quirks that life throws up that Southampton’s first home game following their takeover was against Brentford. Unfortunately, despite a brilliant goal from Vitaly Janelt, the Bees put in one of their worst performances of the season to go down to a 4-1 defeat. Things looked a lot brighter for Ankersen’s new club than his old one that night, but as things stand, it’s Brentford who sit two places and three points above the Saints going into the final couple of games.
That is due to another of life’s little quirks – the fact that Brentford secured safety (even without Leeds’ capitulation on Wednesday night, they would have had to make up a massive goal difference on Brentford as well as winning their final three games and the Bees losing their last two) with an impressive 3-0 win over Southampton in the return game at the Brentford Community Stadium.
It will have made for painful viewing for Ras at times, but I’m sure he will also have felt a certain amount of pride in not only in the part he played in helping the Bees secure a second season of Premier League football, but also in the non-too-small part he played in helping them get there in the first place.
Because let’s be honest – for all the plaudits Brentford have received this season for what they have brought to the Premier League, and in recent seasons for the football they played and recruitment system used to get there – it has been far from plain sailing. We can all remember the horror with which the announcement that Mark Warburton would be leaving the club at the end of a season in which they were in the midst of a promotion race in their first season in the Championship was greeted by the wider football world – or should I say, village?
I can remember at the start of the following season, playing away at Burnley – about to start their own impressive journey to the Premier League – and I sat talking to a gentleman from their local press before the game. Try as I might to put the Brentford point of view across, he would not have it and decided we were a basket case club who would deserve what would surely come their way. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t alone. Media darlings only a few months before, the Bees were now held up to be all that was wrong with the modern game – how quickly things can change.
But change is exactly what was at the heart of it, as owner Matthew Benham sought to replicate in English football the ideas which had started to build an unprecedented period of success for his previously unheralded Danish side, FC Midtjylland – of which Ankersen had been a player, coach, and was now chairman.
I won’t go too much into Warburton-gate, or the subsequent difficult summer of 2015, of which the club has since admitted it tried to change things too quickly and were unable to prevent a dressing room rife with confusion and a sometimes-toxic atmosphere. To be fair to those running the club, they quickly realised that building the utopia was going to take time and small building blocks – something in which Ankersen would play a big part.
There would still be many ups and downs before that famous day at Wembley Stadium in May 2021, when the promised land was finally reached. There was still much to be learnt by those running the club, as the process was constantly critiqued and fine-tuned, but never faltered from. The rewards for doing so are now being reaped, and Bees fans have Ankersen to thank almost as much as anyone for the part he has played in the journey. It will be interesting to see what comes next at Southampton, and what his involvement will be.
It will also be interesting to see who becomes Brentford’s director of elite performance, a role which the club advertised this week. While not a direct replacement for Ankersen’s former role, a lot of the responsibilities outlined in the job description could have come straight out of his book of philosophy. From implementing new ideas and research, often from outside the football ecosystem, to being open minded to all new ideas and being able to demonstrate the effective implementation of new research.
From being a strategic thinker and able to create and implement effective and robust processes which enhance the long-term development of the club to helping cultivate a learning and development culture. Sound like anyone you know? The king may be dead – or have upped sticks 60 odd miles to a new home – but long live the next one.