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With the Brentford B team embarking on a successful European tour last week, Beesotted contributor Carl Massey has taken a look at how the young Bees are progressing and what it means for the next generation of Brentford stars. 

Hold the back pages – Brentford are Champions of Europe!

Okay, so Champions of Europe might be something of an over statement. But this week the Brentford B team – after a brief stop over to take on some unknown German outfit Bayern Munich (never heard of them) – flew out to Denmark to take part in the 2017 Kai Thor Cup.

The B team had prepared for the tournament by taking on the German Champions’ u19’s team –  coming away with a more than creditable 1-1 draw before heading to Denmark full of confidence.

In the Danish tournament, the Bees had an initial two group games against youth teams from Danish Superliga side Edsbjerg and German top flight team FC Hamburg. Also competing in the tournament were Lech Poznan from Poland, Brann Bergen from Norway and Odense who also hail from Denmark.

After a slow start – going down 2-1 to Esbjerg – the young Bees won the second group game 2-0 against Hamburg progressing to the final on goal difference to take on Brann Bergen.

Goals from the impressive Justin Shaibu, Henrik Johansson and Zain Westbrooke saw the Bees win 3-1. Brann Bergen were even awarded two penalties – one of which was saved by Brentford’s England U18 goalkeeper Ellery Ballcombe.

Where did all start?

So all in all a successful tour for the relatively newly formed B team and as they go from strength to strength, it’s worth reminding ourselves how the current set-up came to be.

In May 2016 the club announced that they would be closing the Academy which offered kids from the local area – as well as those scouted – an opportunity to be part of a professional football club’s development programme. Brentford announced that they would be withdrawing from the EPPP – The Elite Players Performance Plan – and also the Professional Development League System because it had become not financially viable.

So what did this actually mean? Simply put it meant that Brentford would no longer run an academy system for all ages and would not be partaking in the youth league. Instead, the club were to change focus and create a ‘B team’.

This would shift the focus from the development of kids from the age of 8 to 21 years to creating a clear pathway to the first team for an much smaller (elite) group of players between the ages of 17 to 21. This caused huge uproar from parents and players within the academy system who would now have to find other clubs in the hope that they could continue their footballing development.

Why the club did this?

During the period the academy closed, Brentford had two very highly rated players signed up by Premier League clubs. Ian Carlo Poveda – an exceptionally talented young lad – was swept up by Manchester City and Josh Bohui – who Brentford had developed extensively through the academy – signed for Manchester Utd.

The Academy was expensive to run and as there was no real protection for clubs who had signed a player under the age of 18 to – in effect – walk away. Any player who showed any signs of promise was in danger of a so called ‘bigger’ (or richer) clubs swooping down to sign them up. So Brentford made a conscious decision to switch their focus to players who they could tie down to professional contracts.

With no Professional Development League to play in, the brainchild behind the move – Head of Operations Rob Rowan – set about providing the squad with a fixtures plan to test the newly formed side.

Finding Talent

As part of the new model Brentford have signed a number of players from a variety of different areas.

Those players that showed real promise from the academy were offered contracts and the management set about supplementing this by signing others from both home and abroad.

Lukas Talbro was signed from fellow Kai Thor Cup competitors Odense. Justin Shaibu – A Danish u17 and u18 International – was signed from Danish side HB Koge. And more recently, Brentford have secured the services of Henrik Johansson a Swedish youth international who has some serious footballing history in the family.

Johannson is the grandson of Brazilian legend Garrincha who dazzled the world alongside Pele – winning two world cups – and was arguably one of the best dribblers the world has ever seen.

Many of the players that have signed for Brentford B have been (and this is not meant in a disrespectful way at all) cast-offs from academies and youth systems of other – often larger and more nigh profile – teams. These players have talent but need more development and often find themselves surplus to requirements at their previous clubs.

Since the B team has been formed, they have produced some eye-opening results showing that they can compete against some of the most well-established sides from both the UK and overseas.

As it stands the B team’s results are currently:

Played 27
Won 15
Draw 5
Lost 7

There have been some notable results amongst that as well.

Liverpool U23’s were beaten on penalties after a 2-2 draw, Manchester Utd swept aside 3-2 in front of over a thousand fans at Griffin Park and Southampton – who have a very highly regarded youth system – were smashed 5-2 in their own back yard.

What is also interesting is that in those 27 games, the Bees have had eighteen different scorers! Herson Alves has found the net nine times whilst Danny Parish has eight. Before Jan Holldack went out on loan this week to Wuppertaler SV, the defender/midfielder had chipped in with five goals whilst striker Justin Shaibu has added four as has midfielder Reece Cole. Winger Kyjuan Marsh-Brown and winger Luke Dunn have also each added three to the team’s total.

In addition there have been some real exciting young players added to the squad. Left back Ilias Chatzitheoridis may be a commentators worst nightmare but reports are that he is tearing things up for the B team.

Add to that centre back Manny Oniarise who – after looking very impressive for the B team – has gone on to sign on loan for Cheltenham Town. Since he signed for the League two outfit he has played in five straight games.

Jan Holldack – who I mentioned before has just gone out on loan to German side Wuppertaler SV – played a big part in the Brentford first team’s pre-season preparations.

This use of the loan system is an important part of the way Brentford look to develop players. After showing real promise in the B team, these players are now getting invaluable experience at senior level.

For the first half of the season, Flemming Pedersen had taken charge of the team. But that mantle has been handed to club legend Kevin O’Connor who has the responsibility of guiding this young talent through the early stages of their development and pushing them to their full potential so that they are ready for first team action.

Paying Dividends

Rob Rowan – Speaking to the BBC – has commented on the project when he said

A lot of football clubs have a hierarchy of first team and academy. I disagree with that and believe that, like in business, to maximise the potential in your assets you need to give them the best resources

This is a clear message to the elite group of players currently at the club and any potential stars that want to make the step up.

Come to Brentford and you will be given all the tools to maximise your talent.

Rob Rowan went on to say

“We sign players on two or three year contract in the elite age group from 17 to 21. Where there aren’t so many variable or influential factors”.

This means that the club are reducing the risk of promising players being poached from under their noses by the top clubs in the country whilst offering a unique opportunity for players to find a way into the first team at Championship level.

The club have also set targets of having B team players in the first team. The club are well on their way to achieving that. Winger Josh Clarke is now a first team regular – although he was more involved through the academy years (saying that, Josh is a real Brentford ‘original’ – joining Brentford before the academy was even set up). The excellent left back Tom Field is making the left back spot his own and centre back Chris Mepham made his debut for the first team against Eastleigh.

And it doesn’t stop there. Reece Cole has already made his first team debut – playing against Exeter City in the League Cup and was on the bench against Wigan last weekend. Whereas, goalkeepers Domanic Kurasik and Ellery Balcombe have both been on the bench during first team games.

During the recent FA Cup game with Eastleigh, Brentford had three youth team products on the pitch- Clarke, Field and Mepham – the most we have fielded in a single game since a 2-1 victory against Hull City back in May 2005 when the likes of a young Karleigh Osbourne, Jay Tabb, Ryan Peters, Darius Charles and Charlie Ide all made the step-up from the youth team on that day. I remember the chant “It’s just like watching Grange Hill” ringing round the terrace that day.

So, whilst the move away from the academy was an emotive one, it’s down to Brentford to find the best way of working for them. Since the formation of the B team, the club have commented that there has been a lot of interest from other teams around the country about how it is working – and no doubt nervous twitching in the corridors of the FA concerned about a domino effect.

Whilst Premier League clubs are free to farm players of all ages, the smaller clubs can’t compete. This way of thinking is in keeping with the overall ethos of the club. We have to find different ways of doing things in order to maximise our potential.

With the exceptional promise that the likes of Reece Cole, Chris Mepham, Ilias Chatzitheoridis and Justin Shaibu are already showing, the B team may pay dividends sooner than us fans expect. But the club will quietly go about hoping to hit and exceed their targets.

Looking to the future, it may not be too long before we see a first team containing even more youth players. That is an exciting and rewarding prospect for a club that can’t and won’t pay top dollar for over valued players but continues to match those teams around us – and with less spending power.

Up the Bees

Carl Massey

And you can hear a previous generation of Brentford Youth speak – Carl Hutchings – about his experiences rising through the ranks at the recent Beesotted Bees-Up in Fullers Brewery (below) alongside ex-Bees Paul Gibbs and Richard Cadette