Wednesday 18 January 2023. It was 10 degrees Celsius and mid-morning on the French Riviera and the sun was beginning to appear over the cliff top that is host to one of the most impressive training venues in European football.
There is a small stand on site which, if you peak behind, you have a stunning view of the coastline already bathed in the winter sun. Of course, the setting is the training ground of AS Monaco, and the young Bees were on their second visit in as many years. An impressive game against a Monaco XI one year before saw the B team run an experienced side close and they put up a good enough test for relationships to be maintained and Neil MacFarlane’s side were back for another year to give this season’s crop of youngsters a fantastic learning experience.
This time around it was the Under-21 squad from Monaco. Nonetheless, when you come up against a club which has famed itself on developing some of Europe’s best talent over the past decade, you know that the side from West London are about to come up against a team which will be packed with ability, packed with players who are dreaming of following in the footsteps of a Kylian Mbappe or a Benoit Badiashile. That is perhaps why the date will live long in the memory of the players and staff when they look back at the 2022/23 season. It was labelled a ‘sensational result’ by B team head coach Neil MacFarlane as he was left delighted with his side’s 4-1 win on that Wednesday morning. His team stepped up. So did one of his brightest talents. It felt like a moment where Michael Olakigbe truly arrived for the young Bees as he put in a stunning individual display.
Brentford B had the advantage just seconds before half-time. Another impressive young player Yehor Yarmoliuk had robbed a Monaco defender of possession earlier on before slotting home to make it 1-0. The side then significantly improved their chances of coming away with a win. A long ball forward from Nico Jones was nodded down by a Monaco defender before Ryan Trevitt picked up the ball centrally. He quickly threaded the ball out to Olakigbe who cut inside and fired home into the top right-hand corner to make it 2-0. The winger then scored another impressive goal when he latched onto a ball down the right in the second half before he drove down the wing and thumped an effort inside the near post. Having netted five times for the side now, at the time of writing, Olakigbe is showing his best form. After signing for the club back in the summer he had to recover from an injury before he made his debut for the side in October 2022 away at Aston Villa. Since then it’s been steady progress and he’s now in fine form and looking to keep building over the course of remaining months of the season.
“I’m just getting started”, said Michael, who has taken a seat inside the Robert Rowan Performance Centre. He’s been out training all morning as the B team prepare to face Middlesbrough in the knockout stages of the Premier League Cup.
Olakigbe celebrates scoring against AS Monaco
He continued: “I’m looking to kick on. I take it day-by-day, and I’m just focused on performing for the B team because every match that I have is an opportunity to play to the best of my ability.
“It’s about having the discipline to improve every single day. To not take a day off and put consistency into my performance on and off the field and make sure that I maximise the opportunity to the best of my ability. I have to be on it in terms of my performance, fitness, recovery, analysis and if I can move the needle an inch every day then I hope I can get to the first team.”
When you interact with Michael you’ll not come across a larger than life character. A likeable, polite young man with good manners who has been shaped by his upbringing, the 18-year-old has been shaped by his family values.
“My parents are very respectful, hardworking and demanding,” explained Michael. “They instilled in me the mindset to make sure that I take an opportunity when it comes and to be ruthless. They made me tough, and they’ve worked very hard and want me to have those values as well. It’s not just words, they show it through their actions too. It’s also about your general manners as well. Always please and thank you.
“My mum runs an Academy called Pro Ballers Academy. She’s not a coach but she runs it and works with some coaches who run sessions for different age groups. When I was younger she picked up on football quickly and in this industry when you are a good player you have a lot of different people around you, whether it’s agents or coaches, and she’s now been around that football environment for a long time and she’s grown to really like it.
“She thinks it’s a good way to give back to our community in a way. My year group at school was rare in that we had quite a lot of players sign with some big clubs, but I don’t think there were many scouts that were around my area too much. She wants scouts and coaches to be watching my area more so she’s bringing the opportunity to Bexleyheath. She’s passionate, really enjoys football and wants to help. She cares and wants to help young kids and provide an opportunity for them.”
Kyreece Lisbie and Michael celebrate in Monaco
Growing up in Bexleyheath, it was clear that Michael had a raw ability to take the ball past players with energy to burn. He made friends with other players his age and started playing where it starts for most of us- on the streets. That energy as a youngster saw his mum send him to join a local team where his ability was picked up on quickly. Funnily enough, one of his earlier clubs was Erith & Belvedere, who Michael knocked out of the London Senior Cup earlier in January with a stoppage time winner for the young Bees.
He continued: “I went to Erith & Belvedere, funnily enough,” smiled Michael. “I then moved to East Soccerbase Academy, and it was a set up where they would play against lots of big teams. Within one session at the age of 13 I was told that there were clubs interested in me. One of my friends was at QPR so I decided to move there, and they really liked me and believed in me.
“I was at QPR for a season or so and then played against Fulham and I tore them apart at Under-13 level. Fulham were then interested, and they wanted to bring me into the club. We thought it through and made the decision that, for my development, I should move there. The coaches there encouraged me and said they could help me take my game to the next step. I spent four years there and really developed my game and worked with some good coaches. I went into the Under-18s and worked with Steve Wigley who is a manager who is very demanding and he played a role in my development.” Last season Michael made 22 appearances in the Under-18 Premier League for Fulham, whilst helping himself to 11 goals and three assists for the team. Come the summer, the youngster felt the chance to come to Brentford to try his luck in the B team was a brilliant opportunity as he looked to forge his path into first team football.
He explained: “I felt that at Fulham I came to a point where I got everything I could from them. Looking long term, I just couldn’t see my way into the first team there and the way Brentford were keen to show me the opportunity here made me feel like it was an option that I had to take. Neil (MacFarlane) and the club have said to me that they’re willing to help me, and they believe in my potential.”
Having returned to full fitness in October, Michael has scored some impressive goals for the young Bees. He’s also continued to learn a great deal and was included in the first team’s trip to Spain during the World Cup break late last year. Having had that opportunity, as well as more chances to train alongside Thomas Frank’s team in West London, Michael is making the most of being around the senior players. The youngster says the group have been very welcoming. He continued: “It’s been good. It’s a different culture because at Fulham I wasn’t with the first team but here I’ve had my first proper exposure. Players like (Yoane) Wissa, Vitaly (Janelt) and Ivan (Toney) have put an arm around my shoulder to bring me within the group and the coaches have too. Kev (Kevin O’Connor), Justin (Cochrane) and Thomas (Frank) too have encouraged me to keep going, to listen to the experience around me. It’s been a good experience with them and hopefully I can be with them a lot more.
“Ivan is so confident. It’s something that I want to instil into me and when I speak with him you can tell that he’s so calculated and confident in his game. He has that belief that he can score goals whenever. He delivers consistently and he tells me to step on the pitch and show people who I am. To hear that from someone who has scored so many goals so far in his career really helps you. When I speak with Wissa and Bryan (Mbeumo) they explain to me how important it is to work hard off the ball which is something that, to play for Brentford, you need to be able to go forward as well as back. They’ve said to me that they know that I can beat a player and I can cross and finish, but what we need is that hard work to go back and help the team. Things like that are what makes the difference to getting three points.”
It's certainly been an exciting few months for Michael at Brentford having produced some scintillating form, as well as had a chance to get around a first team environment for the first time. The youngster is clearly motivated and ready to commit to doing everything he can to make that breakthrough, and having seen the likes of Trevitt and Yarmoliuk add their names to the Robert Rowan First Team Debut Board this season, Michael will be working as hard as he can to become name number 26 on the board in the coming months.