While their main rivals are trying to spend their way to promotion, Brentford are trying to catch them napping by drafting in a sleep expert.
The Bees want to make supporters’ dreams come true with victory over Arsenal in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, a fixture they hope to play again in the Premier League next season.
Unable to compete with the huge levels of spending in the Championship, Brentford must look elsewhere to gain an edge — and that includes having a sleep coach for the players.
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Expert Anna West is just one of the additions to the backroom team that highlights Brentford’s attention to detail under manager Dean Smith. They also employ a specialist ball-striking coach and a psychologist. “We used to say we cannot compete by outspending, so we out-think,” says co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen. “How we run the club is based on how we can be different to punch above our weight. Not everything will work, but if we don’t take risks we have no way of competing with bigger budgets. Finding competitive edges is in our DNA.
“One thing we have done is increased the investment in individual development of the players. So we have specific coaches dedicated to groups of four or five players, who do extra work and video feedback with them.
“Dean is focused on winning the next game. We want someone who has a longer perspective on what the player can become in two or three years’ time.Off the pitch there is a lot of work around sleep, for example. What are the choices you make when you are not at the training ground?”
Brentford also help players develop away from football. “We look at the person as well as the player,” says Ankersen. “We send them on visits to other environments to get inspiration. We’ve helped facilitate a business course for some, and we want to encourage them if they have other interests outside of football.”
The results have been impressive and Brentford have arguably become one of the best clubs in the country at developing players. They have been raided for their best talent in recent years but have successfully replaced the likes of Andre Gray, James Tarkowski and Scott Hogan with a clear strategy: investing in potential, developing players and then selling for a profit.
“We see an opportunity for Brentford to become the club in the country where the difference in level from when you arrive to when you leave is the biggest,” says Ankersen. “We want to be the best at accelerating young players’ development.”
Ace team putting buzz into the Bees
Rasmus Ankersen (Co-director of football)
A Dane, Ankersen has written books on talent and performance development and is also chairman of FC Midtjylland, the Danish club owned by Brentford’s main investor, Matthew Benham.
Phil Giles (Co-director of football)
A maths graduate with a PhD in statistics, Giles worked for Smartodds, Benham’s stats-analysis company, as head of quantitative sports research.
Robert Rowan (Technical director)
Rowan is responsible for the club’s scouting operation and is also effectively head of recruitment.
Anna West (Sleep specialist)
A consultant who works with the players to monitor their sleep and coaches them to ensure they are getting enough rest.
Bartek Sylwestrzak (Ball-striking coach)
A Polish graduate from Loughborough University, Sylwestrzak tries to help players develop better ball striking techniques, both in open play and in dead ball situations.
Brentford have made a £50million profit on players in the past three years and seem to have a continual supply ready to replace them. The latest star they have unearthed is Neal Maupay, a 22-year-old French forward who signed for £1.5m in 2017 and is the top scorer in the Championship with eight goals. “We have to spot that potential and have trust in the players,” says Ankersen’s co-director of football, Phil Giles. “The instinct is to always spend, but there are a lot of other ways to improve. You can, and we expect, improvements from the processes we see every day on the training pitch.”
It is now two years since Brentford controversially scrapped their youth academy and instead established a B-team to develop young players. They recruit players aged 17 or 18 who have been released by Premier League clubs, as well as talent from undervalued overseas markets. The model has been a success and has produced nine players for the first-team, including 20-year-old defender Chris Mepham, who is valued at around £15m. Brentford are just three points off leaders Leeds and there are exciting times on the horizon with a potential promotion challenge and a move to a new 17,250-seater stadium in 2020.
A lot was made about the use of statistical analysis when owner Matthew Benham took Brentford in a new direction in 2015, but there is now is a new narrative. “More and more the link with statistics and data has been left behind,” says Giles. “And it is about the way that we play and the development of young players.”
Ankersen adds: “People wanted a simple story to create a picture, that there was no human aspect involved. It was just laptops. If we lost, it could be used as a stick to beat us with. It is an important tool. But it is not the only tool.”