The heartbeat of Brentford’s midfield, Romaine Sawyers continues to pull the strings in the post-Dean Smith era and was handed the captain’s armband in November by new Head Coach Thomas Frank.
We caught up with the Saint Kitts and Nevis international at the Club’s Jersey Road training ground.
Brentford have lost just once in nine league outings. The Club is in a good place at present…
After a tricky start, Thomas recognised that we had problems and changed the formation. He gave it a lot of thought and then translated to the group exactly what he expects from us. Thomas has always been demanding, even when the previous Head Coach was here, but he really stepped that up when results weren’t going our way.
We’ve always had the ability and it’s not like we made five or six new signings in January that’ve come in and made a difference – it’s a change in mentality that’s made the difference. Thomas is constantly on to us about our concentration levels in training, in analysis and anything else we do during the week. We’re reaping the rewards on the pitch.
How has the change of system impacted you? Are the demands greater now that you’re playing as part of a two in the middle rather than a three?
It’s different. At first, I didn’t really like it because I wasn’t able to play as high up the pitch, but everyone enjoys their football when the team is winning games. I’m relishing the role – I get to play with a lot of freedom. Kamo [Mokotjo] is a joy to play with, as are Ceachs [Josh McEachran] and Josh Dasilva.
You and Kamo seem to be the perfect foil for each other…
It’s amazing – he’s quite easy to play with because you know what you’re going to get. He’s a six, seven or eight out of ten every week, he doesn’t have lapses of concentration and he’s easy to talk to. He gives you a lot of information on the pitch. Although I’m captain, he’s constantly in my ear. If I play a pass that doesn’t come off, he encourages me to make the next one. He’s making my life a lot easier.
We’ve found a nice balance – we trust each other. Every now and again Kamo will drift forward and I’ve got to respect that because he gives me plenty of cover. We choose our times when to sit and when to push forward.
Has your relationship with Thomas changed since his appointment as Head Coach?
He didn’t have a power trip when he got the job and I’m sure there’s some assistants who step up and think, ‘Oh, I’m the big man now.’ Thomas is still quite relaxed – he’s a people person. We don’t have to call him gaffer and I think that’s a real indication of how relaxed he is. He makes us feel comfortable. There’s always been a great deal of respect for Thomas – there had to be for him to do his previous role. He’s made the transition easier for the group; he could have started throwing his weight around but he chose not to.
What do Brian Reimer and Kevin O’Connor bring to the dressing room?
Everybody knows how much the Club means to Kev and vice versa. Like Pete Gilham, he’s Brentford through and through. It’s great to have him out on the training pitch with us. Thomas used to be the bridge between the players and the coaching staff and now it’s Kev who fulfils that role. He’ll speak to people in the changing room and pull you for a chat if needed. He played more than 500 games – his knowledge is phenomenal. I’ve had conversations with him on the coach that have lasted for hours – it’s amazing to have him around.
People didn’t really know much about Brian when he came in but his ideas and demands complement Thomas’. When you sit down with him and hear about his Champions League heroics at FC Copenhagen – about how they kept clean sheets against Juventus, Man United and Real Madrid – you’ve got to respect it.
You were named as Brentford’s captain in November. How did that come about and how have you dealt with the increased responsibility that the armband brings?
We rotated the captaincy under Dean, so being made captain for the second game of the season was an indication that I’m deemed as a leader. Thomas has always told me that I have the capacity to take on a leadership role.
It [the captaincy] never really interested me. I had conversations with the management team last year and said that I didn’t need the armband to have an opinion or a voice, but when we rotated the captaincy and my peers voted for me to lead out the team for the second game of the season I thought, ‘Okay, maybe it’s time to step up and take on that responsibility’.
Myself, Thomas, Henrik, Bents and Nico had a conversation about the captaincy shortly after Thomas had got the job. Thomas said he was planning on naming two captains. After a period of time and some further meetings I told him that I was ready for it. The captaincy became more appealing to me after the experience of the Stoke game.
Being the captain of a Championship side is a great achievement. I’m trying to act as the bridge between the Head Coach and the players; sometimes players don’t want to talk as much when the gaffer is present. Thomas has given me the responsibility of the captaincy, now it’s my job to repay him for the faith he’s shown in me.
Did Thomas outline what he expects from his skipper or was the onus on you to make the role your own?
It was a bit of both – Thomas is open to ideas, especially when you get him one on one. Thomas told me what he expects from his captain, both on the training pitch and during games. He saw that, every now and again, I demand and shout. He said that with the respect I have in the dressing room I could do that more. People realise that I’m not a bad person – I’m only ever vocal for the benefit of the individual and the team. The more you speak about the game, the more your eyes are opened to it.
It was a turbulent period for the Club around the time that you were made captain; do you feel as though you’ve grown as a person because of that?
If I can get through this period, then I can get through any period. Losing Rob [Rowan], a person who meant so much to the Club, had a massive effect on everyone at the training ground. The Club took a big hit during that spell, dealing with the tragic loss of Rob in the midst of the poor run that we were going through.
It’s testament to everyone that we rallied together and got through it; we’ve come out the other side and we’re playing the Brentford way again. We’ve got a good group of players and staff - we’ve got no bad eggs and no bad attitudes. We’re a tight-knit group and no one takes anything too personally. We all chip in and there’s no lapses of concentration because we cover each other, left, right and centre. As captain I’ve always tried to remain positive, regardless of how things are going. That’s with complete respect to Rob’s family. People deal with loss differently. Meps [Chris Mepham], for example, was really cut up about it.
Have your experiences on international duty helped prepare you for the captaincy? Representing Saint Kitts and Nevis must be a very different challenge to playing for Brentford…
I’m seen as a leader out there because of my playing credentials, so my international experience has definitely helped me adjust to the captaincy at Brentford. It’s about more than just football when I’m representing Saint Kitts; I’m in a position to make a difference and help the community. A Saint Kitts international playing Championship football provides something for others to aspire to.
Is there much interest in football on the island?
There’s a growing interest. One of the West Indies cricket bases is there so cricket is popular. Kim Collins won the 100 metres gold medal at the 2012 Commonwealth Games so athletics is quite big as well. The likes of Usain Bolt and Chris Gayle don’t come around too often so, with the amount of Saint Kitts players playing overseas, football presents probably the best chance of sporting success.
What’s been the highlight of your international career so far?
It hasn’t come yet. If we win the next game [against Suriname], we’re on the brink of going to the Gold Cup for the first time in the country’s history. That would be a huge thing for the country.
Do you think your style of play and demeanour on the pitch can lead to an unfair amount of criticism?
My body language can be deceptive at times but it’s my playing style and part and parcel of who I am. It works the other way, too. In some people’s eyes I can make things look easy because of how laid back I am. I’ve had to deal with criticism before – it’s not something that plays on my mind. I’m going to keep being me.
In the nicest way possible, the people who are important know what my game is about. I won the Players’ Player of the Year award last year. No disrespect to the other awards but, when we’re here to work for ourselves and for our team-mates over the course of a 46-game journey, most players would say that one means the most. Thomas knows me personally and he’s the one who picks the team. Sometimes he will show me footage and say, ‘Look, you’re walking here’, and I’ll be the first to admit when that’s the case.
We have a great sports science department, so the statistics are always there. You can’t hide from those numbers. I can look as laid back, lazy and languid as you like – whichever word you want to use – but the numbers are there to show that such an impression of me is not accurate.
It’s funny at times, how marmite I can be. If I was an insecure person I’d love to sit down with those who think I’m lazy and ask them to justify their viewpoint. Everyone has an opinion – I understand that because I’m a football fan myself. I support Arsenal and we’re the worst for how we perceive things; one week we’re good, one week we’re bad.
How do you assess your performances this term?
I’ve had to adapt at times this season. Previously, when things weren’t going so well for me, I had the potential to drift out of games, but I can’t do that now. I’ve taken a step up in terms of the level of responsibility on my shoulders and my performances have had to follow.
When Thomas gave me the armband, the first thing I said to myself was that I don’t want to be a captain who gets taken off and has to pass the armband to someone else. That’s just a personal thing – I think it always looks bad if a captain comes off and it’s not due to injury because he’s the one who’s supposed to lead by example. That was the first thing that stuck in my mind: if you’re the captain you can’t be coming off on 60 minutes. That thought has made me step up to the plate. I’ve been consistent and I’ve got a team around me who believe in me.
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