Now in his ninth year with the Club, James has been on hand to ensure the players are in the best place physically to develop and push themselves closer to the First Team and work on their game.
“Across the course of my time at the Club I’ve had numerous roles,” explains James. “When I first arrived, I predominantly worked in the Academy on a part-time basis and then became full-time as an Academy Conditioning Coach. I then spent time working with the First Team for a couple of years before the B Team project started. Following that I took the role of Head of B Team Athletic performance.”
The Coach has been an important figure in helping to shape the B Team programme on and off the pitch, working closely with our much-loved Technical Director Robert Rowan who sadly passed away in 2018.
James continued: “I spoke with Rob quite a bit about the B Team project and how he wanted to set it up and be different to what was in place anywhere else in Britain. I saw it as a better games programme because having previously worked in the Academy, and I mean this in no disrespect at all, you’re playing Cardiff City, Bristol City, Ipswich, Millwall and Charlton, the same teams year in, year out.
“That was a big shift, but the main reason for the change was to get players through into the First Team. At the time there were question marks over how we did that, but one of the big things for us was that, physically, the players weren’t challenged enough to put them in a place where they were ready to step into First Team football. We looked a lot at data from under-23 games and it wasn’t comparable to First Team football. Looking at data now from B Team games it is comparable, if not sometimes better depending on the individual, but a good example this year would be Joe Adams away at Swindon. He was hitting metrics from a high intensity perspective in the top three ever recorded at the Club.”
James believes the variety of games for our young players is providing them with an excellent opportunity to continue their development and reach higher standards as they’re being challenged physically at a younger age- often against players who are a fair bit older.
“The games programme tests them more physically and better prepares them for First Team football, explains James. “It’s also treated a lot more like a First Team so the environment that they’re used to is not dissimilar when they step up, as we’ve seen with our players over the course of the last four years, the transition becomes easier. It doesn’t mean they’re ready to slot straight in all the time, but it means that they understand the requirements.”
Since its formation four years ago, the B Team model has played some eye-catching games, whether that be youth sides from Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, to fixtures against First Teams like FC Seoul and AFC Wimbledon.
On those challenges, James says the side will be targeting more of the same. He said: “We now find it possible to play against First Teams of a very high standard, if you take last season for example, we played against FC Astana’s First Team who four or five weeks previously were playing Manchester United in the Europa League. That’s massive credit to the project. There’s two or three players from that game that have gone on to play more with the First Team, whether that’s play matches, or go away with them on pre-season so that’s what makes it worthwhile.
“When you see players performing well physically in games, when you see testing going well. Our testing numbers from year one to now and the group mean is drastically higher, whether that be in a 1k aerobic test, sprint tests, or movement jumps. Don’t get me wrong, it can still be better. For me, I look at the success of our tours and how we take that forward in terms of the teams that we play, and the aim now is to keep going, whether that be getting into more competitive cups and continue to take the project forward.”
Looking back on his nine years at the Club, the Brentford B Coach says the will to keep on improving which flows right through the First Team and B Team is what keeps him so motivated.
He continued: “Looking right back to year one for me personally, every year has got better. When I first walked into Jersey Road, we had the pavilion and one portacabin for the medical team. The training ground has gradually improved, as have the pitches, the new stadium was being talked about and now we have it. On the pitch, you look at performances for the First Team, they’ve drastically improved, the number of the players coming through the B Team has continued and they’re making more debuts. The project of, not just the B Team, but the Club as a whole hasn’t stood still. There’s always a next step and it becomes more challenging and harder to do because the margins to get there are difficult to achieve. It’s brilliant to be involved.”