Billy Grant and Dave Lane from Beesotted met up with Brentford’s new manager, Marinus Dijkhuizen – it was a great chance to chat with the incoming Gaffer, to tell him what to expect from a fans’ perspective, and to understand a little more about the man tasked to take over the baton as the club pushes for promotion to the top flight.
An interesting article popped up on the excellent De Correspondent blog recently written by Michiel De Hoog – the same journalist who wrote the fascinating piece “How Data Not Humans Run this Football Club”. The article documented Marinus Dijkhuizen’s journey from Excelsior in Holland to Brentford, two clubs that seemingly share remarkable similarities.
It opens up with Dijkhuizen supposedly suggesting a striker for the Bees to look at. The press had been all over this move. Beesotted passed on reporting this rumour – we had heard otherwise.
This striker was Michiel Kramer.
Any layman looking at Kramer’s record (I’m going to veer away from using the word ’stats’ for now) would naturally think “He seems half decent”.
Playing for ADO Den Haag in the Dutch Eridivisie (Premier League). Kramer was their top scorer – 17 goals in 32 appearances last season and 24 goals in 46 matches overall for Den Haag.
Before that he had scored 39 in 105 for FC Vollendaam in the Dutch Second Division.
Kramer was averaging around one goal every 2.5 games, which seems like a decent enough goals to games ratio to me.
The player was referred to Ted Knutson – head of analytics for Matthew Benham’s company SmartOdds – and also head of player analytics for both Brentford and FC Midtjylland.
Ted has a big say in who comes and goes at Brentford.
If he recommends a player, the small management committee must agree with his thoughts before he is then scouted for signing.
Ted normally takes his time to come to a decision on a player. On Kramer, the answer came back within minutes.
“No” was Ted’s answer.
And the reason he gave surprised me.
“Yes he scored loads. But he doesn’t get into good scoring positions frequently enough”.
Apparently to people in the analytics game that’s a big no-no for a striker.
To me, that doesn’t make any sense.
Surely, if you don’t have many chances but score the few chances that you have, then you are a more reliable goalscorer than someone who has many chances and misses a lot of them?
Not in the analytics world anyway.
Whereas traditional scouts would favour a player like Kramer – a player who does not necessarily create his own chances but relies mainly on service from his team mates and scores whichever way he can – by luck or by skill, scouts who base their choice of player on stats actually prefer players who get into good scoring positions – and create their own chances.
Lots of chances.
Players who make something out of nothing.
Even if they miss a lot of chances.
The thought process is that there are players who score with luck on their side, but that luck will even itself out over a long period of time.
Kramer was deemed to be such a player.
People like a young Lewis Grabban. And Andre Gray. And Harry Kane. Are perceived to be worth their weight in gold.
I can only presume that is because it is believed that the ‘hitting the back of the net with more regularity’ part of the job can be coached into them over time (if they are young enough). Whereas, it takes a special player to be able to make his own chances – of which not only he, but also his team mates can benefit from.
Roll the clock forward two weeks…..
It’s a beautiful summer’s evening sitting by a riverside pub beside Kew Bridge. We’re sitting with a towering Marinus Dijkhuizen, all 6 ft 6in of him, supping a lovely cold beer. Chatting football.
His English was excellent.
He even laughed at some of the nonsense that we came up with. Some people who have spoken English all their lives often have problems with that!
We chose the venue as it was symbolic.
The One Over the Ait pub has been built as close to the original Brentford Rowing Club headquarters as you can get, a place where, 125 years ago, the decision was made to form Brentford Football Club.
And a stone’s throw across the road is Lionel Road – the location for Brentford’s new stadium.
Marinus clearly appreciated the history and, hugging his brand new copy of the Brentford 125 Year book, told us that he looked forward to reading more.
We gave him the low down of our ‘little club’ on the outskirts of London. He gave us the low down on his little club on the edge of Rotterdam city centre.
We agreed that the two clubs were remarkably similar. Small, homely, and with a loyal fan-base unspoilt by success. Both were performing well above everybody’s – except the fans and club staff’s – expectations.
Clubs where everybody seems to know everybody.
I was itching to ask the question.
“Kramer. He did OK in Holland. Was he your suggestion?”
“No” Dijkhuizen said. “That was the agent. It was decided by Phil and co that he wasn’t right for Brentford. He’s signed to a club in the United Arab Emirates now”
Dijkhuizen had received a crash course in how new Brentford operates. He used to formulate his own stats. And scout the away team. And write the opposition report.
Now he has a team of people to do this for him.
He told De Correspondent:
“At Brentford I have three video analysis. At Excelsior I had only half an analyst. I also have a ‘mental coach’, a kicking coach, a coach for taking set pieces. There is even a throw in coach as statistics show that possession is highly likely to be lost from throw ins. There is also a person who fully analyses each opponent – something that I had to do myself for every Excelsior match”
“This must be quite daunting for you” we asked him
“Yes …. I have many names to learn” was MD’s reply.
“But you have to rely on someone else’s information. Information you used to gather yourself. Anyone who is particularly control-freakish, that would make them feel very uncomfortable. That must be strange for you?”
“Yes it is strange for me. It is different. I have to get used to it. But it’s all good.”
Marinus was well aware of what he was getting himself into.
“Stats have been used in the game for a long time. I used stats at Excelsior. It’s how you use the stats that is important. Many teams do not use the information at the fingertips to their full capacity.”
That’s like buying an Aston Martin then driving it at 30 mph on the motorway.
“The thing about stats is – there as so many stats. Too much information sometimes. The question is … what do you do with it? I only need certain information to manage the team. So I will tell the guys what information I need and they will give just that information to me”
We laughed about his interview at Smart Odds. He turned up in a suit, whilst everyone who interviewed him was casual. Matt Benham sat there in a Brentford shirt. It took him by surprise.
“Lots of guys in front of hundreds of computer terminals. And great coffee” was his lasting memory.
If there was any major bug-bear he had with England it was the coffee. Never cross a Dutchman and his coffee.
“England hasn’t got good coffee. At the training ground the coffee (Nescafe) is terrible. But don’t worry, we are sorting that out. That was our first priority”.
He seemed quite taken aback how much SmartOdds had analysed the rise of Excelsior during his time there. Their improvement was documented in a graph – showing Excelsior creating better chances and conceding less chances as time went on.
His interview was to ascertain if it was just luck that he happened to be in charge at the time Excelsior got better or if he actually contributed to their improvement in form.
Three weeks later he had accepted Brentford’s job offer. He was the No 1 candidate of the four people interviewed.
It’s fair to say MD must have passed the test – as he did with our own Beesotted interview on the video above!
We highlighted the fact that the Press are waiting for Brentford to fail. The way the club operates is something they don’t understand. Changing the way one runs a football club goes against everything that traditional football is all about.
It’s something that Bees fans are aware of. And is something that could make Marinus’ job harder.
But he understands that is the nature of the game.
“In Holland they are quick to let their opinions be known too … I am used to that pressure…“.
It may be co-incidence, but ever since Marinus was announced as manager, Brentford have been linked with a number of players from the Dutch Eredivisie.
Mokotjo. Kramer. Bjelland. McEachran.
We ask Djikhuizen if this was down to him.
“No this is a coincidence. Those players were identified months ago. But now that I am here, I will have a lot of input into who we bring in. I tell the guys the type of player I need. They go out and give me options. We then look at the player and we all agree if he is right or not”.
Without bringing in any new players, he was excited about the team that he had inherited.
“They’re a bunch of really talented players”.
He loved the fact that there were no pre-conceived prejudices.
Every question that was thrown at him, he just smiled … shrugged his shoulders … and said:
“I’ve only been here one day … I have a clean sheet … I haven’t even seen the players train as yet. I will have a better idea after Portugal”.
One thing he was sure about though was the style of football.
“Don’t worry. Brentford will still play attacking football. That won’t change.”
Marinus is definitely not impressed by material possessions. He was awaiting the delivery of his company car the following day – a pretty impressive motor – but was looking forward to the convenience of having something to get him from A to B rather than the badge on the car itself.
“Many people have a huge, expensive car, but sleep in an apartment you can barely swing a cat in. I’m happy to have a nice spacious three bedroom apartment with good views fairly near the stadium. Enough space for the family when they come over”.
Marinus is very much a family man.
He is looking forward to his family coming over to spend time with him. He has a wife – who works in the marketing and communications department at a hospital – and two daughters aged 11 and five. They will stay in Holland while he beds down in the UK.
He admits he has a lot of work to do in the next month or so, and will have his head down concentrating on the Bees job.
He is pleased to have taken his father to Griffin Park for the Coventry game in Brentford’s promotion season – his 70th birthday present. His dad is proud, but slightly irked, that Marinus is now Brentford boss. He used to get VIP treatment at Excelsior. Now his son has moved abroad, he is not sure how that is going to affect his VIP status.
Marinus has already planned to fly his father over for his second Brentford match in August for some West London hospitality!
One thing that made us very happy was the discussion of pre-season. We talked about Uwe Rosler’s first pre-season tour to Germany and how it bonded the players and the fans so fantastically.
Bees fans have been gutted that there has been no proper fan-tour since then… but would welcome a pre-season in Holland for sure.
“This year we’re off to Portugal. This was decided months ago. I’m sure it will be great, but it is very hot over there. Much hotter than in the UK. Holland has similar temperatures to England. It would be great to have a pre-season tour there as I know it well. I can arrange that very easily. But there are also many other factors we need to consider, so we will see how it goes.”
All in all, Marinus came across as a thoroughly decent bloke.
As you can see from the Beesotted video interview we recorded, he is very down to earth.
A people person.
Definitely on the level.
He listened intently to what we had to say.
He was interested in the history of the club.
He understood the importance of mixing progress and expansion, with maintaining what makes Brentford special and unique.
He knows he has big shoes to fill. And that the pressure is on this season.
But he is up for the challenge, and enthusiastically told us how he is looking forward to taking the walk across the road … to Lionel Rd …
To lead Brentford out in the Premier League in their new stadium.
And on that positive note I’ll leave it ….
Welcome to Brentford, Marinus… Welcome to Brentford.