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Beesotted contributor Nemone Sariman shares her thoughts on the return of Neal Maupay

The first time that I met Neal Maupay, it was at the Porsche showroom in Chiswick. We were at an organised Brentford FC event, but I often leave that part out when relating the story to people. I find it quite funny for others to think that I bump into footballers all the time during my regular midweek trips to the Porsche showroom.

I queued patiently like a fan girl and asked Neal, in my best French, whether I could please have a photo with him. Then I started chatting, again in French, about the most recent game (I can’t even remember which one it was now), how the referee wasn’t really on our side, patati patata, and I was overjoyed when Neal told me that my French was “perfect”.

That was it; Neal was imprinted on my soul forever. And the memory of this delightful encounter happily eclipses that of the time I met David Raya and tried to speak Spanish to him, but the poor chap just looked confused.

The second time that I met Neal, it was the end of what turned out to be his last season with us, and he was walking down Braemar Road after a game. He was mobbed by fans as if he were one of the Kardashians (older people: ask your kids), yet his smile was unwavering and he posed for photos with every single one of us who asked. I said hello, and we both laughed at the ridiculousness of my introduction of, “Hello, we met in the Porsche showroom, remember?” (in French, bien sûr) and the fact that that would probably the the first and the last time I would use that opening line when greeting someone. And, for the few moments that we chatted, despite the throng of fans around us including little kids asking him for physical items*, he made me feel as if I was the only person there.

*Maybe I’m just too uncool to appreciate that times have changed but, in my day, it was autographs and photos. Kids nowadays just come right out and ask footballers, “Have you got any stuff I can have?”

I asked Neal one question before bidding him adieu. No, I didn’t ask for the shirt off his back. I wanted to know whether or not he would be leaving us. He said no. And, four years later, he has (kind of) proven to be a man of his word, because he’s back.

The general response among Bees fans has been positive but, as ever, there are some Negative Nellies out there who want to spoil the party for the rest of us. If you haven’t encountered them, lucky you. But the threads running through their arguments seem to be one, or more, of the following:

“Why not Brennan Johnson?”
Erm, because we didn’t want to pay whatever it was that Nottingham Forest wanted for him. And because Brennan Johnson didn’t want to come. He may not have SAID this. But, as they say, “No response is still a response”.
“Why not Johan Bakayoko?”
See above.
“Whereabouts in the starting 11 would Neal Maupay fit in?”
Thomas Frank always has A Plan. Trust the process.
“Why would we want a striker who’s only scored once at Everton?”
It’s Everton. Even Haaland would struggle to score more than once there. And the fact that Neal scored considerably more than once when he was with us, should be of far greater significance than his performance at a club riddled with problems, non?

However one might feel about Neal as a player, his passion for Brentford is palpable; despite being fearsome on the pitch, he has always treated us with respect, even since leaving us. He kept his goal celebration low-key and restrained when he scored against us away at Brighton on that depressing Boxing Day. He has never put us down, unlike others that I could mention (to protect their identity I shall refer to them as “Harlee Dean”). And he has time for the fans. That last point is very important and a huge part of what makes Brentford special. I disagree with Ivan Toney when he says it’s hard work, because most clubs and players work hard. It’s more than that. We can see from the smile in his comeback photos that Neal genuinely likes us and is happy to have been welcomed back into our family. He has come home.

The last time I wrote for Beesotted, I pondered the idea of the number seven proving significant to us Bees in our battle against the Dark Arts of Bournemouth. We didn’t get the Ben Mee 7th minute goal that I had predicted … but will number seven be lucky for us, and for Neal, for the rest of the season?

Nemone Sariman