France Football is one of the best known football publications in the world and Brentford have featured in their latest issue. The magazine has been described as the go-to magazine for discerning football fans across France and the French speaking world and reporter Thym Pinon was in London at the start of the year. The article he produced can be seen below.
It was written after the defeat to Nottingham Forest in January but was researched over a period of weeks. It includes interviews with defender Julian Jeanvier, striker Bryan Mbeumo and Co-Director of Football Phil Giles and has been translated by Steve Lewis, a Bordeaux-based Brentford fan. Steve moved from the UK in 2004 and still travels across on both work and leisure , taking in regular Brentford home and away games, usually joined by poker pro son, Romain Lewis.
See the article below and PDFs of the piece can be seen at:
Thanks to an avant-garde scientific approach, this club from the London suburbs, treading water in division 4 only 11 years ago, is on track to target promotion to the Premier League. Shocking? We sent our FF reporter to London to investigate.
"Just after the final whistle, the two sporting directors (Rasmus Ankersen and Phil Giles), ghosted up to me smiling and said if that match was replayed a 100 times, you would only win it three times based on today’s stats. At that point, I realised nothing had changed in the Brentford philosophy."
Quote from Maxime Colin, ex Bee after Birmingham City’s one nil win at GP on opening day of season.
Phil Giles - "Maxime knew that was a lucky result – a rare headed goal from outside the box with their only on-target chance – that would practically never happen again, there is nothing to worry about!"
Thomas Frank – who started his post Dean Smith role as Head Coach with only four points from ten games – was judged more on Brentford’s ‘Expected Goals’ formula rather than the low league position – ‘the true table’ according to Phil Giles.
"It is important for us to have access to a table of team rankings not just by points gained – which can be driven by both good and bad luck – but more on overall performance levels in each match."
Thanks to a complex algorithm developed by club owner Matthew Benham’s Smartodds company, the club can, according to Julian Jeanvier, "work calmly towards the objective of reaching the top places in the Championship".
How many other head coaches would have survived such a poor run of opening results in charge as Thomas Frank?
"The results weren’t good, however the signs like the number of top quality chances created led us to believe the indications were positive and it was going to turn around," argued Phil Giles.
BMW and RECRUITMENT
Did the management at Brentford doubt for one minute that the best attacking trio in the entire league would fail to ignite under Thomas Frank this season? Probably not.
Brentford’s entire recruitment philosophy is based on analysing statistics based on the Smartodds model. Scouts put in reports on players, a dedicated stats team study all the data they have accrued on each player to determine if the investment will be worthwhile. Especially monitored are teams that technically – like Brentford - over-perform based on their resources and the players who drive their success are under the microscope.
Such stats based research enabled Brentford to pick up Neal Maupay from St Etienne (after a successful loan spell at then Ligue 2 side Brest), Said Benrahma from OGC Nice (again after a successful loan spell at Ligue 2 Chateauroux), Julian Jeanvier (from Ligue 2 champions Reims) and Bryan Mbeumo from ESTAC Troyes, again in Ligue 2. Ex French grammar school English teacher Brendan McFarlane was the Deux-Sevres region based scout behind the treasures unearthed in Ligue 2, after he was appointed by Brentford after they studied his regular football blogs.
"I like the idea of the uniqueness of our club," states Phil Giles from his office just opposite the pro team training ground changing room. "We are now, for example, the only team in the UK not to run an academy, and this, for the most part, is serving us well."
Closed now for around three and a half years, the academy was too high a cost to justify (around £2.25 million per annum), too expensive compared to what it brought back to the business.
"The year I arrived, we had two highly rated under 15’s snapped up by scouts from Manchester," recalls Maxime Colin. "Six months later, the Academy closed. Benham has the financial clout, otherwise he wouldn’t own a second club (FC Midtjylland), he is above all a mastermind."
The result of the experiment? 16 players passed through the Brentford B team – the ‘new’ academy composed primarily of players aged between 17 and 21 - brilliantly managed by 28 year old Rob Rowan, who tragically died prematurely at the end of 2018.
DEAD BALL TRAINER and SLEEP COACH
Hanging on the wall between the First Team and B Team changing rooms at the training ground is a plaque listing the names of the B Team players who have been called up into the A team.
"These guys can really believe that the bridge exists," recounts Julian Jeanvier. "And it’s a really good thing as we are working literally side by side during the week and this eases their integration into the first team squad on match days."
And when they are elevated to train with the first team, they benefit from the combined knowledge of the specialist training staff (currently numbering around 12) which would make most Premier League teams envious.
Thomas Frank can call upon a set piece trainer, a specialist in ball control and ball striking, a sleep trainer and even a personal development coach. Which captured the interest of England coach Gareth Southgate and deputy Steve Holland and prompted their visit a few weeks back to Brentford’s the Osterley training camp. Under the guidance of another Frenchman Nicolas Jover, statistically Brentford had become one of the best teams at set pieces in England. Pep Guardiola successfully headhunted Brentford’s set piece expert for Manchester City last summer.
THE PLAYERS RECEIVE THEIR ‘PERFS’ BY WHATSAPP EVERY DAY.
If Jover made the journey north, the reputation of Brentford has continually gained almost mythical status especially among agents who flock to Griffin Park, north of Richmond Park and surrounded by its four pubs.
"The club is now recognised as a very modern institution, capable of allowing a young player to step up and get the kind of game time at the top level which he could only dream about at ‘bigger’ Premier League clubs."
It’s precisely this savoir-faire that lured Josh Da Silva from Arsenal to Brentford and who has now completed his 50th appearance for the club and is progressing every week. Take as well Ollie Watkins, currently top scorer in the Championship with 20 goals and counting so far. "What I found at Brentford surpassed all my expectations. The attention to detail on and off the pitch has given me the perfect opportunity to realise my full potential."
The perfect canter before galloping off to the Premier League elite?
Everything at Brentford is geared towards taking performance up to the highest level. Take, for example, the WhatsApp group created for the players to check on daily training stats and the team meetings that precede training sessions, where the staff prefer to focus on the previous weeks stats on the number of successful completed passes in the last attacking 30 metres, as well as examining ‘defensive coverage’ which checks on the defensive cover and action by each player in a match. And the methods are all beginning to bear fruit.
After not only smashing transfer market valuation models, the Bees (currently 5th in the Championship) have never been closer to realising their Premier League dream. And timing is everything, with the delivery of the spanking new Brentford Community Stadium due this spring, part financed by the profits driven by the transfer fees secured for the likes of Neil Maupay, Chris Mepham and Andre Gray.
It’ll only be a few months before hostilities could begin in the elite for Brentford.
INTERVIEW WITH BRYAN MBEUMO – YOU CANNOT CHEAT HERE!
Arrived last summer, the France Espoirs ‘Under 21’ International reveals why Brentford is so special.
Last summer, you didn’t hesitate for one second to sign for a team in the English second division?
At first, I had decided I wanted to make the next steps of my football progression and journey in France and I was solicited by some of the bigger Ligue 1 clubs, including both Marseille and Rennes among others. However, the moment Brentford made an approach to my agent and we began talking, I knew only had one choice to make.
When the First Team Coach and one of two Directors of Football presented ‘Project Brentford’ in detail, I said to myself that it could be my best route forward. The type of football delivered in The Championship and the game plan proposed by Brentford – based on an emphasis on passing and a high press – convinced me.
Was there one aspect in particular that especially appealed?
When these guys make the effort to come and meet you at home, that they knew perfectly your own playing profile and style and present in detail what they think you will bring to the team and how they will add to your own game, you cannot remain unmoved by such an approach. And I was invited to attend the first home game of the season at the stadium (0-1 v Birmingham City) before I signed and that absolutely made my mind up – the atmosphere here at Brentford is incredible.
And not one single regret to date, not playing in the elite leagues?
Not one! Everything was put into place to make me at home and ease me into the set up. And above all the positive mental attitude across all levels at the club is a super stimulus.
But don’t you get a massive headache every time you have to sit through all these statistical sessions?
We hear a lot about figures, it’s true. However, they do it because it is effective (11 goals and 6 assists at the time of writing for BM). And you have to admit that the stats never lie! When we win, we realise that the models and graphs are working. And conversely if we lose. At Brentford, everything is under the microscope, you cannot lie and cannot cheat! But I must admit, as I’m still getting to grips with the language, there are certain precise details I’m struggling with but that is normal under the circumstances.
What is the main difference you’ve experienced at Brentford after playing in France?
Certainly the use of statistics, however equally the number of performance improvement specialists available. In France, one staff member is charged with running lots of tasks at the same time whereas here each trainer has his own highly identified speciality. It’s really impressive.
Between chasing promotion to the Premier League and a potential Olympic Games call up for France at Tokyo 2020, the last part of the season is set to be highly exciting?
The road to the Premier League has always driven me on but the road is long, I really prefer not to think about it too much. With regard to the Olympics, that dream will only be realised if I continue to impress here at Brentford. It would be a dream to represent the country in Tokyo. Especially since it has been a fair while since France was last in the Olympic soccer finals and this type of opportunity only comes around once in your career.