Billy Grant pours over the recent transfer of Pontus Jansson from Leeds United and asks the question “Why Brentford?” He also talks to Leeds fans and Malmo fans to get their views on the player who was once a hero on the terraces of both clubs.
Brentford have gone gung-ho this last few week or so – relative to previous season – spending around £19m on signing five new players.
Every single one of these players has a certain quality about them. However, it was one player really stole the headlines.
Signed from Leeds United for around £4m. Jansson’s signing caused an absolute storm over the weekend. The press were stunned when it was revealed that the ‘un-named team’ who had made a cheeky bid was Brentford.
That was then followed by some Leeds fans remarking they couldn’t believe the bid had been accepted by “F*cking Brentford” – a phrase that was taken in good humour by Bees fans prompting a catalogue of hash-tagged social media posts as well as T-shirts to make an appearance over the weekend.
However, what was more poignant about this signing was the fact that it signalled a sign of intent from the West London club.
Brentford had chosen their moment and were ‘going for it’ this season – making a proper push for promotion.
And this was the first real sign.
The fact that in their 129-year history, Brentford have only spent a total of £36.6m on player transfers and 52% of that money (£19m) has been spent during this current transfer window tells a story.
Pontus is a big catch.
Rumoured to be a bit tricky to handle. But a big catch regardless.
He had a great season last season. Not only did he do just about all the basics well according to @smarterscout. But he was also dangerous on aerial duels from dead balls with above-average finishing skill in those situations.
Whoscored.com make him strong in every area – Passing. Ariel duels. Tackling. Ball interception. With no significant weaknesses.
So why Brentford?
Well first of all, there’s no co-incidence that ex Brentford (and ironically Leeds) manager Uwe Rosler was involved.
Rosler now manages Malmo – the team Jansson supports and used to play for.
Jansson had been training with Malmo after Bielsa had made the decision to sell him. Janson cited FFP as being the reason why Leeds needed to sell him after over-spending chasing promotion last season.
But according to ex-Leeds defender Danny Mills speaking to Football Insider, there was a falling out with the Leeds head coach after Bielsa did not grant him extended holiday after playing a couple of European qualifier matches for Sweden in June.
So Jansson was out in the cold.
But still – why Brentford? (or should I say Why F*cking Brentford?)
First of all he was sold and bought into the vision.
Jansson said on signing for Brentford
“My ambition is to play in the Premier League but I didn’t want to sit and wait for the right club in the Premier League to make an offer later in the summer and let this chance [to join Brentford] pass me by. I felt early on that Brentford was right for me”.
He also stated that his relationship with Bielsa was not as close as he has had with other managers –
“I have always liked to have a close relationship with my coach. Like the relationship I had with Roland Nilsson or Rikard Norling (both managed Jansson at Malmo) for example. That hasn’t been as easy with Bielsa and one reason for that is the language”.
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Rosler told Swedish paper Sydsvenskan he rubber-stamped Jansson’s credentials when Brentford put the call in:
“They (Brentford) called and asked how he was. I could only say positive things. He always gives everything on the training pitch and has been a good example for our players this summer.”
Having been the first manager employed by Brentford’s then new owner Matthew Benham, Rosler was instrumental in the change in style of football for The Bees. Needless to say, he is also very familiar with the set-up at Griffin Park. But was surprised how much the club had moved on since he had left.
“I’m glad Brentford gets such a good player. But I have to say I’m a little surprised. It is a transition that is a mark for the future.
I can say that Brentford gets a very good player for a very reasonable price. £ 5.5m is almost nothing at all in the English market at the moment – and they get one of the best midfielders in the series.”
The big question is whether Jansson will fit into the culture of Brentford with him being a larger-than-life character.
Post-Warburton era, the club has become almost forensic in ensuring all the players it signs are of a particular ilk. The ‘big time charlie’ signings went out the window and were replaced by well-mannered, dedicated athletes.
Reports coming out of Leeds of Jansson being self-centred and a troublemaker were contradicted quite heavily by our contacts in Sweden and by Rosler himself.
One contact who worked with Jansson and prefers to remain nameless said:
“He’s one of the best guys he ever met in football. Everything they are writing about him and Leeds is bullsh*t.”
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Piecing things together, it can be deduced that Jansson plays with his heart. And with his need for a close relationship with his manager and his alleged tendency to go off on one, it seems to me that Jansson needs to be around real people-persons.
People who will listen to him.
And people who he will listen to
People he respects.
Maybe Bielsa was too sergeant major for him.
A great manager. But just not Jansson’s style.
Having met Thomas Frank many times, I can now understand why Jansson jumped at the prospect of working with him. Frank eats, sleeps and talks football. But he is also a real people person. And I have no doubt he felt he and his team (Kev O’Connor. Peter Gilham etc) could form a bond with the Swede in a way that Bielsa and his team could not.
And ironically – with a section of Leeds fans belittling the fact that Jansson is now looking to play in front of 12k fans instead of 35k – maybe this will actually suit him.
The fact is he is a Malmo fanatic – regularly going back to Sweden to stand with his friends on the terraces. – says a lot to me.
Malmo’s are one of the biggest clubs in Sweden. But their stadium has a capacity of ‘only’ 22,500 – not that much bigger than Brentford’s new stadium in Lionel Road.
For most Brentford fans, 17,500 is plenty. As long as it’s full. And it’s rocking.
I would guess – judging on the team he supports – that size is less important than vibe for Jansson.
Not saying Leeds stadium doesn’t have a vibe. When Elland Road is full and rocking, it is an impressive sight to see for sure.
But my gut is saying – being a Malmo fan – Jansson also does not feel out of sorts spending his time hanging at a more ‘cosy’ club either.
Maybe (and I’m being analytical here as opposed to critical so don’t take offence Leeds fans) Leeds was too unwieldily. And chaotic.
Too many manager changes.
Too many owner changes.
A giant club in a not so giant league.
Lots of people in the building doing ‘things’.
Maybe (and I’m just pontificating here) that personal touch was being lost in the whole machine.
The personal touch he will definitely get from being part of a smaller but efficient, ambitions set-up.
Drawing a parallel to the music industry.
It’s like a successful band being dropped by a major record label like Universal – after having some fantastic memorable moments there. But at the same time also complaining about it being unwieldly. And impersonal. And the A&R guy not understanding the musical direction you wanted to take for your next album.
Then being signed by a small but powerful indie label like XL. Where the A&R guy tells you they don’t have as much money as Universal. But promises the whole company will focus on nurturing your talent and use their close media contacts and clever marketing to get your music out to as many people as possible.
To get more of a feel for what type of player Brentford had signed, I spoke to four people – three Leeds fans and one Malmo fan.
From their answers, you get a real picture of what type of player we will be getting at Griffin Park.
It may work our perfectly for Brentford.
Or tt may be a disaster.
But one thing is for sure. We’re giving it a go.
Welcome to Brentford Pontus.
What type of player is Pontus?
Oscar Marriott (@OscarMarrio)
Without a shadow of a doubt the most talented defender we have seen at Leeds in the last fifteen years. Two words come to mind when describing Pontus’s game. Commanding. And proactive.
What I mean by proactive is that whenever he anticipates danger he will always try to deal with it himself rather than delegating to better positioned players.
A regular feature of Pontus’s game is to charge twenty yards into the midfield, dive into a crunching tackle and subsequently launch a dangerous counter attack up the other end of the pitch.
Pontus makes defending look entertaining. He is all action nine times out of ten. He will be the player with the most tackles, interceptions, blocks and clearances on the pitch.
Now this might suggest he is someone who is a red card merchant or a mistake waiting to happen. But nothing could be further from the truth.
In all his time at Leeds I think he was sent off once (a red card which was overturned days after). He has that perfect balance to his game. He’s aggressive but won’t overstep the mark in this regard.
When Pontus picks up a booking he adapts his game to avoid the second yellow but still keeps that aggression.
Ryan Wilson (@Ryan_Pigeons)
Pontus is a solid old school style defender but with a good touch and composure. With some tweaks to his attitude there is no reason why he couldn’t play in the Premier League
Andreas Madsen (@MadsenMasa)
He is regarded as a true hero here in Malmo. When he left the club to join Torino he made sure that the contract was drawn up in such a way that Malmö received some of his pay so that the transfer was not regarded as a Bosman. I believe the fee was about 500,000 Euros
I can’t pin down a single game where he has outshone. It’s more how he has played over the whole season. He plays with his heart. Whenever he is free, he comes back to Malmö and stands on the terraces. Even when he was subbed when he played for us he would then go into the stands and join the cheering section.
When he returns to Malmö he always gets a warm welcome from the fans
Zaf Choudry (@LoveLeedsUnited)
The best defender we have had for a long time and without doubt a massive loss. But given the choice of him and Bielsa leaving then I would have driven him down the M1 myself to Griffin Park.
What are his positive points?
When things were going well and the team and fans need rallying, Pontus was always there to pick them up and get the crowd going. He will put his body on the line to stop teams scoring.
He will give you 100% commitment every game. Not much to fault really. Solid defender and can play it out from the back. Skillful at times. Wears his heart on his sleeve. And will soon become a fans favourite.
He is a strong defender who is tactically skilled. He is good at corners – both defending and attacking.
When it comes to defending one-on-one situations, Pontus excels. Very few players get the better of him. He covers his fellow defenders really well too, I lost count of how many times he did this for Leeds and by doing this, it gives the players around him more confidence – improving the whole defensive unit dramatically.
Another big strength of Jansson’s is his penalty box defending. He makes so many goal-saving blocks, interceptions and tackles. He is very technically gifted for a defender at this level as well.
What are his negative points?
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Sometimes his positioning can be very suspect. His attitude can also be hit and miss. One game he will be Mr Leeds United giving his life for the team. Then when the going gets tough, his body language and head would give the impression that he didn’t want to be on the pitch. We saw him strop off the when it didn’t go his way on quite a few occasions.
He’s temperamental. He can also be vociferous in a bad way. He likes to be the main man when he’s perhaps not the best team player. He can have bad games and was known to make the odd mistake which can prove to be costly.
It’s hard to pick up on anything technically that Jansson drastically needs to improve.
There are probably two aspects of Jansson’s game which have stopped him playing at a higher level in his career so far. The first would be his positioning which occasionally let him down. Pontus likes to deal with everything and with this sometimes goes to challenge for balls he’s never going to win – leaving a lot of space in behind.
Sometimes he does try to be too clever and loses the ball in dangerous areas. He loves doing Cruyff turns to get himself out of difficult situations for example and nine times out of ten he pulls it off. But sometimes he goes over the top.
I saw a lot of Brentford last season and it looks like three at the back is one of your main systems, Pontus never really convinced in this role for Leeds. If he was to play in this role for the Bees, he would have to play in the middle of the back three to be at his absolute best. I’m not sure he has the positional sense or attributes required to play on the right or left side of the back three.
He is very true to what he believes in which is a positive but also can be a negative. I guess if you are a weak leader he can be a problem. He will put the team’s performance before being nice to a weak coach
Brentford have a ‘no dickheads’ rule. Pontus is said to potentially be a disruptive dressing room influence. Is this a possible problem? Or was this down to Bielsa not bring able to man-manage such a lively character?
Pontus is a character. Absolutely no doubt about that. And sometimes he makes some really poor decisions such as:
- getting suspended for swearing and making accusations of corruption during an interview
- charging down the tunnel after a defeat (something he does consistently sadly)
- going against managers orders
I don’t believe he’s a difficult character though. Just very emotional and sometimes his heart rules his head. You see afterwards he regrets the bad decisions he sometimes made.
Given the reaction from our players on social media, I think it’s clear he was massively popular and loved. I can understand why Marcelo Bielsa and the club have made the decision. But for me his positives have always outweighed his negatives in this sense.
This could be a problem and it is one of the main issues Pontus seems to have. Under Bielsa last season we saw the most composed and less disruptive Pontus yet. He had been dropped by previous managers for various spats on the training ground and on the pitch. So it is not just isolated to Bielsa and his coaches. It seems even Bielsa was struggling to control his outbursts and actions as we saw towards the end of the season – most notably against Aston Villa when he tried to tackle Adomah. And against Derby in the playoffs at Elland Road.
I think it’s quite obvious he can be a “dickhead” otherwise other clubs would have been all over him for sure. When you undermine a manager – whether it be Bielsa or anyone else – it proves you will put yourself before your team and that’s not the Brentford ethos at all.
We will see how Thomas Frank manages him. But the shock for Pontus is going from 35,000 fans loving him to around 8000. Can his ego cope with this?
Brentford’s style is very much passing football. Defence has been the main reason why we miss out on playoffs. Do you think he’ll fit in to our style?
Yes he’s great on the ball. His ability to travel with the ball as well makes him crucial to that type of system. For Leeds, this aspect of Pontus’s game really helped us progress up the pitch nicely.
As I’ve said before, he will always try to play football and express himself – unlike the more traditional defenders at this level who take no risks. There will be the occasional mistake but he will win you a lot more points than he will lose you playing the way he does.
I don’t think there is a better team in the league going forward than the Bees at the moment.
Pontus will give you more balance by improving your back line which will put a lot less pressure on your attacking players.
From an outsider looking in, I think you’ve built a very strong starting eleven in every sense.
He will fit Brentford’s style well. He arguably excelled under Bielsa’s passing and playing out from the back-style so he should fit in very well at Brentford.
I’m sure Frank and your data analytics guys wouldn’t spend £4m if they didn’t think he would fit into your style. He made the Championship team of the season so you know you have potentially one of the best defenders available.
Good luck to Pontus. He was a Leeds icon whilst he was with us. There’s no doubt about that. But he won’t go down as a Leeds legend. That will only apply to the players that get us out of the purgatory otherwise known as the Championship.
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