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Researching for this week’s PrideOfWest.London podcast. we came across this Matt Benham interview from Autumn 2014 – just after the Forshaw deal to Wigan.

Fair play to him, he logged onto Brentford fan forum Griffin Park Grapevine and did an impromptu Q&A with fans firing him questions in real time over a period of 2 hours or so.

It’s an excellent piece. Openly honest.

What’s more to the point is looking back to seeif any philosophies have changed … what players we were looking at at the time … and what is different.

Some of the points we pulled out out were:

FFP was as big an issue in our Championship season as it is now. As our recent accounts article  pointed out, we had spent a lot of money getting out of the Championship (relative to our income) and in the summer of 2014 (our playoff year when we bought in Andre Gray and Scott Hogan).

If we went over FFP, we would have been embargoed until this January 2016 (no Vibe, Colin, Barbet, Bjelland, O’Connell, Woods, McEachran, Kerchbaumer etc)

Even back then (just out of Division 1) he talks about using statistical modelling as JUST part of a system which also used traditional scouting.

He talks about getting to the Premier League within 5 years (2019).

He admires German clubs – as they have an affordable football models and don’t look to fleece fans. He also felt their players were culturally similar to English players as opposed to say Spanish players – hence easier bed into the UK.

He talks about how he gave Mark Warburton the job – it wasn’t the initial plan for him to be manager. He was to remain sporting director.

Ironically, he talks about the thoughts of upgrading the academy to a Cat 1 academy. He talks about how he actually really likes and respects Chelsea as an academy – lots of humility in their set-up.

He talks about British talent .. and why clubs are looking abroad strictly because of cost. He also interestingly specified his preference between English and foreign players if the price and skill level were exactly the same.

If you are not registered with the Griffin Park Grapevine (GPG) you should sign yourself up

Matthew Benham Q&A on the GPG Forum – Autumn 2014

About the Forshaw deal

I said that we wouldn’t sell any key player. I could be churlish and say ‘Adam wouldn’t be a key player now’ etc etc but I didn’t envisage, when writing that, that we would be selling players like Adam. The whole situation was very tricky

Trying to find the right words here .…

Adam was great for us for two seasons. He obviously really wanted to go. All parties could’ve handled the situation better. I think the price that we got was decent. Luckily in Denmark agents and bidding clubs act far more ethically

The Adam situation was particularly difficult because on the one hand we needed to play it firm, so as not to set a precedent that players, agents, bidding clubs could force us into transfers – and on the other hand we didn’t want to play hardball to such an extent that we harmed the career of a 22 year old who had been so good for us and was now in limbo

Wigan have an interesting record for the way they conduct their transfer business. That was the case before Uwe Rosler arrived and will be after he leaves.

To be fair to Wigan, I guess that they would say that it’s just part of business …. ‘dog eat dog’ … and others would do exactly the same to them. Which is true.

In Uwe Rosler’s opinion he doesnt ‘owe’ the club anything – he worked very hard, laid a good foundation and the club got a nice pay off. After that its strictly business. We were surprised that he came for players and staff in December, given his contract (his contracted apparently stated that he wasn’t allowed to come back for Brentford players and coaching staff for a period of time – Ed).

However Wigan’s lawyers said that the contract wasnt enforceable, and they were probably correct.

From my personal point of view, I would happily use legal ‘loopholes’ to get players or staff from another club if we have no relationship with that club. But I wouldn’t do so if we had a decent relationship with them.

Then again, being a manager is a VERY precarious profession and if you have someone hard nosed like Dave Whelan looking over your shoulder, it might cloud your judgement.

Rosler thanked me in the press for helping push the Forshaw deal through. I guess he wanted to smooth over some of the bad feeling that Wigan’s tactics had created.

About the Delort deal

We were close on Delort several weeks ago. I think he’s a very good player. It collapsed on agent fees. We resolved that we wouldn’t revisit the deal if that agent – who wasn’t actually the player’s official agent – was still around. Tours told us that they would make sure this agent was out of the picture.

We enquired on Saturday evening, after Scott Hogan was injured, however the fee was now higher, the wages were higher, the agents fee was insane (word on the street was the fee Wigan paid the agent was 500k euros – Ed), and this particular agent was still involved, so it was an easy pass.

I will be charitable and say that our ex-manager must’ve been misinformed when he announced that we had bid more money than Wigan

The deal was very messy for many other reasons – he is a talented player but it was best to stay away. Then out of the blue we heard about Betinho, who Mark Warburton had been a fan of for a long time, since Nextgen.

About Patrick Bamford

We were in the hunt. but Middlesboro were always gonna have first option on any Chelsea players going to the Championship because of Jose’s relationship with Aitor.

Chelsea have been great to us though. First with George Saville .Then they offered us another very talented player this summer. Unfortunately, we were quite well covered already in that position and we were reluctant to take the player as we couldn’t guarantee him pitch time.

Chelsea’s academy is by far the best in England. We hope to build that relationship. Neil Bath and his team have done a great job there, and have always been very good to us. I love their philosophy.

The FA could learn a great deal from them

About FFP

Without selling Adam Forshaw, we would be pushing things on FFP. We would prefer to be FFP compliant if we can. However:

1. Unlike the majority of champ clubs, we were FFP compliant last season (different rules in League 1)
2. If we were in breach we wouldn’t be sanctioned until jan 2016 at the earliest – we would be restricted on transfers to ‘one out, one in’ until falling back in line
3. The English Championship version of FFP is radically different to any other version. It very likely breaks competition law. Especially with the parachute payments (the original idea behind parachute payments was to stop relegated clubs going broke, now it gives them a huge advantage and enables them to outspend the rest)
4. Clubs seem to make choice as to how they do their business. They’ll have seen all the legal opinions and will have seen that the league aren’t chasing QPR, who bust it by a mile, and are maybe taking an informed gamble as to whether or not they will overspend

About FC Midtjylland & pre-season friendlies

A pre season friendly is likely with FC Midtjylland. That will compare the level of the two teams. We haven’t discussed yet with the staff and the players where we’ll go. Florida was a long way but was very good. Personally I like the idea of the West of Ireland. Matchbook has most of its staff in cork and its a lovely part of the world

We will be sharing a lot of info on best practices – training, conditioning, medical etc.

Player movement either way will be pretty low, especially in the early days – such things lead to suspicion that one club is getting the worse side of the deal.

FC Midtjylland had Max Clayton on trial. People speculated that it was a ruse to get him to Brentford cheaply – as its cheaper to get out of contract U24 players if they go abroad. But that wasn’t the case. They were just looking at him for themselves.

About the Moneyball approach to running a football club

I think many people have misunderstood the Moneyball concept (Fyi, Moneyball was a book written by Billy Beane who’s Oakland A’s found a way to compete against teams with much bigger budgets in the 90s by finding undervalued players through ground-breaking statistical analysis – Ed)

It wasn’t about baseball using stats – they had been using stats for 100+ years. It was about using proper statistical methods to find which measures have “predictive utility”. Things which were popular, like RBI, actually told you very little. Less popular stuff like getting walks told you much more.

We use some elements of Smartodds’ models at Brentford. But its only a small part of the process.

On his input in buying players over and above providing funds

Sometimes the suggestion comes from my side. Sometimes from the scouting side. Both sides have to like the player strongly for us to proceed. And even then its perfectly natural than some wont turn out as you hoped. I do interact, to a degree, with potential new signings, but won’t do so much going forward.

About his original Brentford credentials

Don’t think I went on Paddy’s unofficial coaches. Pretty sure I only went on official club coaches. Mainly 81 to 83. Then got into cross country running and didn’t go so much

On Brentford’s style of football

I enjoying watching Brentford play attacking, passing football and it’s the right way to play to get wins too.

On getting into owning a football club

It just seemed like an interesting and fun thing to get involved with. I’d known Rasmus Ankersen for a while. He actually gave a talk to the Brentford players at the start of last season. He used to play for FC Midtjylland – well, his career ended a few minutes into his debut – and was involved in their academy.

The key thing is that they can get involved with non-EU players in a way that an English club simply can’t. Thats not really something that will benefit Brentford, as it takes a while to get EU passports in Denmark. But the idea is that FC Midtjylland can develop non EU players to help the club get into Europe regularly – and also to sell the best ones to other European clubs.

On the objective of reaching the Premier League in 5 years

Yes I truly believe it is attainable

On what books he would recommend

I like popular science and other non-fiction

Currently reading “adapt” by Tim Harford

One of my all time favourites is is “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman

Anything by Dawkins, Pinker, VS Ramachandran ….. the usual geek stuff

On how Brentford can maintain the feel of a nice little family club

By following the model of good German clubs. They don’t look to fleece the fans. They try to make it affordable

On Championship rivalry

There are two teams I would love to beat 5-0 in the league this season

(In another post MB indicated that he was looking forward to the Fulham and Wigan most this season so we are making a deduction that these are the two teams he would like to beat 5-0 .. but MB didn’t actually specify – Ed)

On the idea of putting on free coaches to Wigan away to show how small a club we are

Not a bad suggestion

About his favourite cheese

Goats cheese, feta cheese or halloumi

On Marcello Trotta

He was devastated after he missed the penalty. He wasn’t the designated taker but it was a ‘heat of the moment’ thing and none of the other players knew who the designated taker was anyway. He showed fantastic guts to come back the following season and more than made up for what happened

He’s not on our radar at the moment. Hope he gets a good move

On Mark Warburton as manager

Mark has done fantastically. Also David Weir, Frank McParland and all the other staff

It wasn’t the initial plan for him to be manager. After a day or so I called Frank and asked him what he thought. He said ‘Make me Director of Football and give Warbs a shot as manager’. Uwe suggested it too. It didn’t seem the right time to do an extensive search so seemed like a logical choice

(If you were to ask me to choose between the two) Mark Warburton is more to my personal taste as a manager than Uwe Rosler. Others might have a different opinion however

Favourite and least favourite matches in last 10 years – excluding clinching and missing promotion

Best – Orient away last season
Worst – Probably Doncaster away in 2012/13. We lost having been so, so superior. In the director’s box we got loads of abuse and taunts when they scored. The only other place that happened was at Birmingham [in the league cup] with their last minute goal

On the Yeovil playoff final

My worst moment as a Brentford fan
I admit crying at that match

On Adidas’ transfer badges on the Brentford kit

I’m not a great fan of the Adidas badges. I prefer woven ones but the football staff strongly, strongly prefer Adidas to any other kit suppliers

On the Next Gen series that he conceived with Mark Warburton

Maybe it will be resurrected. I hope so. The clubs loved it. UEFA hated it. They launched their own rival competition and leaned heavily on sides not to choose ours, so we had to wind it down. But various clubs have asked from time to time. It can be very good if we learn from the best

On his companies Smartodds and Matchbook

Smartodds produces research. That research is purchased by a betting syndicate, which I am the head of (so no customers, we’re just punters) and Matchbook – a betting exchange similar to Betfair (but better, of course).

I’m the majority shareholder for Matchbook. Matchbook tends to cater more for the big punters – especially those who use the VIP service for “off screen betting”. We specialise in US sports although we’re getting bigger in soccer (sorry to use that word, but football means NFL in the betting world)

On family issues

His wife wasn’t overly impressed when he bought his 2nd football club
His father played handball for Montenegro
His parents were teachers at Eton. He went to Slough Grammar
His kids were both Arsenal fans but he has managed to convince his son to support Brentford. His daughter has no interest in football

About his own footballing prowess

I played in goal. They called me “Matt the Cat”. Well, I called myself that. I was shit

On whether the Uwe Rosler “You’re getting sacked in the morning” chants rang true

He was not that close to getting sacked. Even if we had lost at home to Colchester.

On the Jersey Road training ground

Medium term our tenure of the training ground is secure. It would be nice to have our own training ground eventually

The training ground isn’t as open to supporters and outsiders as much as it used to be because if we’re working on, say, set pieces, we need security. And we’re wary about scouts coming to watch academy players

On Brentford’s Cat 2 academy

We might consider trying for Cat 1 quite soon. Potentially it might even save us money with the increased grants.

On the Brentford’s scouting network and our recent influx of Spanish (and Portugese) talent

The scouting network is not that extensive. They may grow it one day. We looked at players in a number of countries. It just happens that Spanish players are more open to coming over compared to, say, German players, for economic and social reasons

On other teams’ set ups he admires

I admire Chelsea’s academy a lot. It’s by far the best in England. I love their philosophy. The FA could learn a great deal from them

They have a lot of humility – which isn’t a word that usually springs to mind when people think of Chelsea. They are constantly looking to improve in every way they can, rather than saying “We are the best” which is very common in football, especially English football. They take a lot of care on the development of the players as people and not just footballers eg. more focus on education than most

I like Dortmund a lot

I like Roger Schmidt at Leverkusen

On Franchise FC (aka MK Dons) manager Karl Robinson

Sorry to disappoint people but I quite like Karl Robinson

On signing Jota and Toral

Jota would have happened anyway. Toral was then offered to us when we thought there was a reasonable chance that Adam would leave so we went ahead and signed him

On Brentford’s cup ambitions

What team we decide to play in the cup depends how we are doing both in the league and injury-wise. Playing a mixed side in cup games isn’t just about resting regular players. It’s also very important to give other players pitch time. The game is so intense these days that you need a big squad and its important for fringe players to be ready to step in if they’re ever needed for league games

About the worst ground he we has been to

Dinamo Zagreb. My wife wasn’t too happy that there were no ladies loos

On Brentford players he believes can play at a higher level

We have several players with the potential to play at the top level. We saw from the Palace game that there’s not much of a gap between the Championship and lower end of the Premier League. The huge gap is between the Champions League Clubs and everyone else

Montell Moore is a very talented boy. He could go very far and (what’s more) he is from Brentford – I think the first player since the 50s

Who will play for England? Pritchard of course (who just got an England U21 call-up). Montell at U19 is close I think. I would like to think that a couple of others aren’t far away at U21 level either although there always tends to be a bias towards those at premier league clubs, even if they’re not playing much, versus league players who start every week

About the ‘dearth of young English talent’

Young English talent is as good as its ever been. Unfortunately other countries have been improving at an even faster rate. People find this difficult to believe but luck is just a massive factor in the international game because there are so few matches in knock-out competitions. Even in a 46 game league season, the 7th best side can get the rub of the green and win the league – like Doncaster!

So England have been at the same level as Holland, in my view, post 1996. But Holland have reached 5 semi finals and England none, with luck accounting for 99% of that. Thats not to say that the English game cant learn a lot from the very best, like Spain and Germany.

One huge difference between the game in Britain and everywhere else is the refereeing. Our refs let far more contact go. That’s pretty much what the public want. Which is fine but you cant then turn round and ask why we don’t produce the likes of Iniesta.

Given the choice, if two players were the same level and the same cost, we would of course always go for the local one

On his favourite part of the ground to stand during matches

The Braemar Road paddock

About his Favourite song

I do like ‘its all your fault’

On his favourite match day pub

The Griffin

On his ideal opening game at Lionel Road

Barcelona friendly

About the most frustrating thing an agent has done

About a year ago we had a deal in Switzerland collapse very late on, for a striker Armando Sadiku. We ended up going for Marcello on the final day of the window. I sent out an Italian maths PHD, Luigi, from Smartodds to help with the deal.

The agent, Dino Lamberti, wanted to kill the deal so he kept abusing Luigi, calling him a clown and an amateur. Eventually Luigi said ‘**** this’ and flew home.

On his favourite Brentford player

Andy Sinton favourite – despite going to QPR
Szczesny – best player..so far..

About how long he is planning to stick around

I’m here for the long haul