Reasons to BEE Excited
After a blistering opening weekend win over fellow London side Arsenal, newly-promoted Brentford have plenty to be buzzing about. Struan Garvie examines the club in more detail, giving neutrals a better idea of who the club are exactly.
The opening weekend of every new Premier League season always leaves fans asking a variety of questions, and the beginning of the latest campaign was no different. This year, fans have been asking whether or not Jack Grealish can justify his £100 million price tag, if Mason Greenwood is English football’s next star, if Trevoh Chalobah is likely to get a chance at Chelsea, or whether Mohamed Salah should be considered an all-time great.
One question that stood out, however, was about one of the Premier League’s newest sides – Brentford. Without a doubt, the shock of the weekend saw recently promoted Brentford secure a 2-0 victory over Arsenal. It is always fascinating to see new teams in the Premier League – in recent seasons we have been treated to Sheffield United’s overlapping centre halves, Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘Murderball’ and Burnley’s ‘sh*thouse’ approach. This season we will witness Thomas Frank’s Brentford take to the top flight for the first time in 74 years, but just who are The Bees?
There are many unique elements to this Brentford side that fans will soon identify as the season forges on. The first of which is their ‘Moneyball’ transfer strategy. The club uses analytics and stats to decide which players they wish to sign. This results in the club signing relatively unknown players with high ceilings – for instance, Ivan Toney. Many doubted his ability to perform at the top level following his torrid spell at Newcastle. Last season, he broke the record for most goals scored in the Championship (31) and was named Man of the Match in his side’s opening Premier League game against Arsenal.
This table displays a sample of Brentford’s recent transfer business:
|Player||Bought for||Sold for||Signed for|
|Neal Maupay||£1.80m||£20m||Brighton & Hove Albion|
|Ollie Watkins||£6.50m||£30.6m||Aston Villa|
|Saïd Benrahma||£1.53m||£20.79m||West Ham United|
|Ezri Konsa||£2.57m||£11.97m||Aston Villa|
|Ivan Toney*||£5.04m||N/A||Still at Brentford|
(Fees according to Transfermarkt)
Despite selling top talents such as Neal Maupay, Ollie Watkins, and Saïd Benrahma, Brentford remained one of the strongest sides in the Championship. This was because they were able to replace them effectively and efficiently. Often, teams relegated from the Premier League can be torn apart in the transfer market and fall away. Take for example Stoke City’s relegation in 2018 – the club sold key players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Lee Grant, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Jesé, and Erik Pieters. They were not able to effectively replace these talents and consequently haven’t looked close to returning to the Premier League since.
The strategy also helps Brentford avoid any Financial Fair Play punishments, if such a thing truly exists of course.
Brentford fan Matthew Benham graduated from Oxford University in 1989 with a degree in Physics. He then spent 12 years working in finance and became the Vice President of the Bank of America.
In 2001, Benham left the financial industry and entered the world of sports gambling. Benham soon gained a lot of experience in the field working with Premier Bet and upon leaving the company after a few years, he began to make millions through gambling.
In 2007, Benham provided a loan so the fans of Brentford could purchase the club, after suffering from financial difficulty. In 2012, Benham purchased the controlling shareholding from the club’s Supporters’ Trust to become the owner.
Benham has an excellent knowledge of analytics and sports betting and he put both into great effect with Brentford. Their excellent recruitment strategy is one of the main reasons that the club is where it is today. Benham is one of the most interesting owners in the Premier League and deserves huge credit for the work he has done with Brentford. Following promotion to the Premier League, the club is currently valued at over £200m.
Tactical Set Up
Brentford’s tactical setup is just as impressive as their recruitment policy. Frank has set up the side in several formations and systems in recent seasons. He will change the shape when necessary and can always get the best out of his squad. The 4-3-3 has been Frank’s go-to formation for much of his time in charge of the Bees. Last season, Frank used the 4-3-3 for much of their campaign but switched to a 3-4-1-2 towards the end in the run-up to the play-offs. This allowed the side to get more from wingbacks Sergi Canós and Rico Henry.
Under Frank, Brentford tend to press high and keep up a high intensity throughout the 90 minutes. The players are also given freedom during a game, with a fluid system allowing players to swap positions effectively. This makes Frank’s versatility even more important as the side can often switch formation during a game. Frank also likes to change up his personnel and will often rotate his side throughout the season. Last year, 18 different players played over 900 minutes for the side. From the opposition’s point of view, it makes Brentford an incredibly difficult team to prepare for.
In their opening match against Arsenal, Brentford lined up in the 3-4-1-2 formation to counter Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1. The system worked perfectly as Brentford did not allow Arsenal to create a single clear-cut chance and won the match 2-0. Despite being the clear underdogs, despite playing their first game in the English top-flight since 1947 and despite a starting XI with next to no Premier League experience, Brentford were excellent.
The scenes after the match were a joy to witness and something Brentford fans will remember forever.
Brentford’s unique set-piece play is another string to the side’s already impressive bow. We saw this in the victory over Arsenal as Brentford scored directly from a long throw-in that would have made Tony Pulis proud. Often, clubs are reluctant to use a long throw unless it is the last roll of the dice in the 90th minute. Brentford used it in the 73rd minute and were rewarded with a goal for doing so.
For attacking corners, Brentford use a distinctive setup. The side sets up with every outfield player into the opposition half. Three players stand at the edge of the box and the rest pile in with one player to deliver the corner. Sometimes another player will come short to add another dimension and drag opposition defenders out. Brentford deployed this setup against Arsenal and although they did not score directly from it, they did manage to score shortly after using the setup. By committing 10 players forward, the opposition are unable to leave players up the field and therefore are pinned inside their box. David Raya will also play high up the field and leave his box to deal with any long balls should Brentford’s strategy not work.
In recent seasons we have seen new setups from corners such as the ‘billiards’ or the ‘love train’ systems. These have been used by both Brighton & Hove Albion as well as the Scottish national team. Brentford’s approach may not have a name – yet – however, it is certainly effective.
At the helm of Brentford’s ship is Thomas Frank. The 47-year-old is one of the most innovative and exciting coaches in world football. Frank was given a BA in Physical Education by the Copenhagen Institute of Sports Medicine in 1999 in his native Denmark. He later studied Sports Psychology and Coaching at the same establishment.
Frank managed the Danish national team at numerous youth levels before becoming manager of Brøndby IF in 2013. He resigned from the role in 2016 and joined Brentford as the Assistant Manager.
In 2018, following the departure of Dean Smith, Frank was promoted to become the side’s Head Coach. He led the side to an 11th place finish in the 2018/19 season before back-to-back 3rd place finishes in the 2019/20 season and the 2020/21 season. The latter saw Brentford gain promotion to the Premier League following a 2-0 victory over Swansea in the Championship play-off final.
Despite being in charge for just under three years, Frank has already written himself in Brentford’s history books and will forever be remembered and appreciated by the club’s fans.
A victory over Arsenal on the opening day of the Premier League is no mean feat, and something Brentford and all their supporters should be very proud of.
All in all, Brentford Football Club is truly unique with an incredible story. However, there are plenty more chapters to come…