- 23 Jul 2020
- Reaction score
This was an absolutely excellent read - huge thanks for getting it written upSo here it is at last. Sincere apologies for the amount of time this has taken, but at least it's here now.
Myself, @nocoat, @King Bee, @Stuardo, @BFC1997 and @Brentford77 met with Phil Giles a few weeks ago now. The conversation was free-flowing and Phil spent almost 4 hours just down the pub chatting Bees with Bees fans. The below is a more-or-less transcript of the bit we can share (on an open forum anyway ) . It's not in order as I've tried to make some sense of the evening and grouped together similar questions etc.
The transcribing actually cost a lot of money because it was long, there was overtalking the whole time, and we were in the front of the pub next to a major road. DOH! So if you feel that this service deserves a contribution towards the cost and you'd like to make one, please use the "Help Keep Us Ad Free" link above. Thanks and appreciated.
Anyway....here it is:
The Brentford ModelQ: When other clubs say they can adopt the Brentford model, like it is a very straightforward thing to do. How easy or difficult is it in fact for them to do that? In fact, what is the Brentford model?
Phil: Well exactly; what is the Brentford model? If is the model is playing, predominantly, young players and accepting that they may not excel all the time, but that is okay, we will just develop them and develop ourselves slowly. That is not that hard to do. Just say, “We will not buy anyone over 24, and we will play all the young players.” That is straightforward.
Phil: If it is using all sorts of different information to try and buy players, some stats, that is not also that difficult. Obviously, one thing that we have got the advantage of is Smartodds. There’s some information – I don’t want to overblow exactly how much, but there is some information that is out there that we make use of and no-one else has access to it. Other clubs might have access to different things that we do not have access to. But, obviously, that is a unique bit.
Q: Are the metrics you have got access to proprietary, as in, you do not tell people what they are, or people cannot get them? The ones that just Brentford has access to, are they a secret sauce that no one even knows what you are looking at?
Q: What is it you are looking at then?
Phil: Let’s just tell the world! There are a few things, but I think the thing that helps us is that right from the top down, everyone is on the same page with it all. That really helps. There is no one pulling in different directions. It is just really stable and consistent, which does not always happen at other clubs. But Matthew, me, and Rasmus, in particular, but others as well, have been there for a long time now, so it creates stability, which is helpful.
Q: On that thought, we had a director of football philosophy, Flemming Pedersen. Have we given up on that, or is that you and Ras with Matthew now?
Phil: That role was more of a direct translation of what happens overseas where you will have somebody who is not the head coach, but is maybe somebody who is going to be there more long term, who is going to help to define and identify the way we want to play. Like a head of coaching, basically. He is not the head coach, but he is more in-charge of the coaching principles, and that helps to really make sure all your coaches are aligned with the same sort of ideas and teaching the same thing. So for B team, first team, Steven Pressley.
We don’t really have that role at the minute, and the pandemic does not help because our coaches in the B team and the first team have to stay geographically separated, which does not really help cross-feeding ideas to each other. We try and make sure they regularly discuss, “What are we doing? How are we doing it?”
Thomas has obviously got some fairly strong ideas on how he wants the team to play. And it is one of the key pillars, if you like, making sure we are all aligned to how we want to play. What sort of players do we need to do that? How is the B team going to develop players to do the same things?
TacticsQ: What latitude does Thomas have over tactics? For example the decision to have everyone back or everyone up on corners, which costs us that goal against Bournemouth. Is that his decision, or is that a coaching philosophy?
Phil: That is his decision. How we set up to defend a corner is his decision. There is nobody from the outside saying, “This is how you set up to defend a corner.”
Q: Do you not use stats analysis to say, “That is a ridiculous idea, because our stats show that if you do that you are going to concede a goal every three games, so just don’t do it Thomas.” Does that happen?
Phil: No, not so much that. But what we have done is we have looked at things like, if you have got a throw-in within your own 18 yard box, so 18 yards from your own corner flag, if you have got a throw in there we can look at, say, what is the likelihood of us scoring from there, that position, throwing in, moving up the pitch and scoring, or what is the likelihood of us throwing it in, and then the other team picking it up and scoring against us? So not so much a dogmatic approach to this … “this is the way it is going to be done”, but more of a guidance for, “In these situations we need to think about these points”. Then we leave it to them to work out how they do it, and judge how they do it, right?
Q: So, the old Mads hurl it into the mix, Pontus elbow the keeper …
Phil: Rasmus has quite strong views on that, Midtjylland have been very good at it for years. It’s effective right, it’s not a beauty contest.
Q: We conceded like that, against Swansea last year. You have to be able to do it to the opposition as well.
Phil: Exactly. I think we have learnt over the years, if you are too naïve and you are not physical, if you do not compete in that way, no matter how many things you do right, those things will catch you out.
Phil: However, for me, there are certain situations where the rules need tightening. Football needs to give an automatic red card for someone who deliberately goes, “they are breaking, take them out”. We had players like Josh McEachran, I think he used to do that. Didn’t Romaine get sent off for taking out someone out too? In the Euros, when Harry Wilson got sent off, that was just a horrible cynical tackle. And Robbie Savage was saying, “That is never a red card, that’s ridiculous.” It bloody is. If they just write the rules properly, that has to stop the cynical taking out of players when you are in a position to attack. When there is obviously no attempt to play the ball, you just take the man, just give them a straight red card.
Q: What are the tactics against Chelsea and Liverpool?
Phil: Arsenal are a better team than us, really, in terms of possession on the ball, so that is why Arsenal had more of the ball. Chelsea will have more of the ball, so we have just got to be, in my opinion, with those teams who are better than us, is defend how we defend, you know, tight, compact, good distances, move them away.
When we get the ball, we need to attack much more quickly. You cannot settle on it and go, “Oh, a nice pass there, a nice pass there,” you have got to go bang, bang, bang and be away. You have got to react so quickly to the half a chance that they might be out of position, because if you just take your time on it, they will be back in position, and you will not have any chance of scoring.
Q: You said that in your post transfer window video that pace and power in the Premier League is clearly ramped up. Is that something that you have seen just anecdotally with your eyes, or is there something that you have got, analytically, behind that to say, “Pace and power is so critical?”
Phil: Analytical. You can see the physical metrics that we took playing Premier League teams last year, when we have played them, was at another level compared to the Championship.
Q: Did we look at that last year because, obviously, I know it is West Brom and Fulham, but they both got relegated, and we beat Southampton and we beat Newcastle, sorry, in the cups. We beat four Premier League, we would have had 12 points in the Premier League last year, just on the cup games. Is that a different metric?
Phil: West Brom was a draw
Q: We beat them on penalties, I call that a win. But is that a difference? Do League Cup games do not really count, or is that something you can take into the season about how we can adapt, how we can learn and what things we should do this season?
Phil: I think you can take a little bit out on the physical intensity but I think you, kind of, know that anyway. You watch a top Premier League game between two of the better teams, it is on another level, especially if you watch it live, close to the pitch. You see it so much clearer than you do on television.
Q: It felt like that against Arsenal. The first 10 minutes you were thinking, “Oh my God, we are pinned up,” and then after that it was like, “These guys cannot hurt us, they have got nothing.”
Phil: I am not sure. I think last year there were games that we started slowly and there were games that we started fast. But there are periods of games you will dominate and there are periods of games that you will not dominate.
The Transfer ProcessQ: When transfer targets’ names are out in the press, are you worried that other people are going to come in and just gazump us?
Phil: Yes, it can happen. That is why I do not tell anyone anything about the transfers. As soon as it is out you do run the risk that other clubs ring up the agent and go, “Oh sorry, we want to do it.” As soon as we have got an agreement to get a player in, we want to get it nailed down as quickly as possible.
Q: Doesn’t that happen anyway? Especially with the agents that represent the player, they will know that Brentford are interested at £Xm, doesn’t that get out anyway to clubs?
Phil: Yes, they do, but let us say we have gone in for the player and another club are in for the player, we are offering £10,000 a week, and another club are offering £8,000, or let us say it is £10,000 from both sides. The player looks at it and goes, “£10,000 a week, okay, I am happy with Brentford, it seems like a better fit for me.” Then he is on his way down in the car, and then it leaks all over the newspapers, all over the internet. Then the other club are ringing up going, “I know we are at £10,000 a week, but actually we can do £15,000, actually, we can do £20,000”. Originally, they were trying to haggle the best possible price. But then suddenly they can pay a lot more.
Phil: And also, maybe they can pay the club more as a transfer fee. They go back to the club saying, “We will pay you more” and then what do the selling club do? If there are unscrupulous, they will come back to us and say, “The deal’s off.”. We tend not to do that, if we have agreed a deal, we will do the deal. Even if we can get a bit more… If another club offers more we will go, “Yes, we will agree that with you as well but, ultimately you’ll need the player to get on board”
Q: Yes, now that we are in the Premier League, are you finding the clubs are putting a Premier League premium on top of anything you have been quoted?
Phil: It is hard to know, because we have made offers for 1000s of players in the past and the clubs say, “No, we want £25m,” or something ridiculous, and that was when we were in the Championship. But now we don’t know whether they say £25m because they are crazy, or it is a Premier League premium. So it is hard to be able to say “Premier League premium” or “not Premier League premium”. It might just be that, you know, sometimes clubs just say they want this much, and it is way above what anyone actually would pay.
Q: Phil, I think you mentioned here, in one of the other sources, that on the final day of the window, a European player that we had been interested in and were told originally was not available, for whatever reason, suddenly became available on the last day. Was that just not doable in the time?
Phil: Yes, I mean, with COVID as well it just adds an extra layer of complexity on top of Brexit. If you are coming from a red zone country you cannot come here for 10 days [because of quarantine rules in the UK], so you would have to do a medical overseas, which is not that straightforward. Not ideal. Then you have to sit and wait before he can actually come into the country. Then they would need their work permit as well to be all sorted. You cannot do a quick deal. You used to be able to just ring up, the night before the transfer window finished. You would look at flights to Heathrow, 9:00/10:00/11:00am. Get on a plane, fly him over, straight in from Heathrow, medical, signed, and done.
Q: 90% of those roadblocks are COVID-related, aren’t they?
Phil: It is a combination, COVID is not helping, but also the work permit situation also makes it more complicated.
Q: Could you have got it across the line if that was the only impediment?
Phil: It would have made it a lot easier but no, I do think we would have done anyway. In that case, specifically, I do not think we would have got him signed, just because it is all well and good the club saying, “We want to do a deal, let us do a deal,” but you have still got the get the right price and get it nailed down, and the player, and the agent. So, it is not so straightforward.
Q: I am amazed anything happens on the last day, to be honest.
Phil: My favourite phrase at the end of the window is, “Act in haste, repent at leisure.”
Q: Are the agents worse now we are in a bigger league? Are they a nightmare?
Phil: It is much the same agents. It is the same people.
Q: I was going to say, also you say you have to satisfy the agent and the player, are those two different entities?
Phil: They can be.
Q: How does that work?
Phil: A player will have representation agreement with an agent, and it will state the percentage of his salary that he is going to give to the agent. The agent will basically be negotiating for us to take the cost of that from the player as part of the overall deal. Then there will be a negotiation of how much we pay the agent for doing club-side services acting for us. HMRC are very hot on this at the minute, about how much a club is paying the player’s agent for club services that the player does not pay any tax on. If you are paying on behalf of the player, you are saying, “You are going to have to pay 5% to your agent, we will cover that for you, fine.” He still has to pay the tax on it as a benefit, but then there are the club-side services, which are, “How much do we have to pay the agent for doing all the other bits and pieces that we would like him to do, like ringing up the club and saying, ‘My player wants to go to Brentford, please can you make this deal happen?’”. It’s quite an important thing to get him on board with.
EntertainingQ: When an agent or somebody comes over to Brentford, and you want to entertain him and make him special, when he comes into Matthew’s box…
Phil: They come to my box.
Q: Have you got a different box to Matthew?
Q: Is there a champagne reception set up for them?
Phil: For agents?
Q: Yes, what do you to do to actually, “This is Brentford, this is how you…” Maybe they have gone to Chelsea or somewhere to see Abramovich, it is all gold plated, he has got Osetra caviar and Beluga caviar set up. Where are Brentford? What is the catch?
Phil: Me and Rasmus, obviously. You cannot impress them with everything…
Q: Why are you in a different place than Matt for the game?
Phil: We are next door. So what happened was, when we moved to the new stadium, the whole place was empty and we needed to socially distance. I actually was on the high risk register, so I said, “I am going to go up to one of the boxes and keep away from you lot who are, basically, trying to kill me.” This was before any vaccinations.
Anyway, so I started to use the box for that reason. Then I said to Jon Varney, I said, “Do you know what, if I had that box it would be great, because we would entertain lots of people, make lots of good contacts, and it would be fantastic.” So, obviously, the box was originally lined up to go to sponsors, like stadium partners, shirt partners and all that, you get a box with the whole package when you buy the advertising.
So I had a bet with him, I said, “If we get promoted this year I am keeping the box,” because I was already in there every week, using it when there was no one in the stadium. I said, “If we get promoted, I will keep it.” He went, “Deal.” It was his mistake, that was his big mistake, saying, “Deal.” He was just so happy to get promoted.
Q: So when are we all being invited ?
Phil: You won’t need it.
Q: We do not need an invite? We just come and turn up?
Phil: You do not add any value. If you can bring me some good players then, yes. But on a serious note, it is quite good to be able to bring them somewhere and do something with them which is a bit different. And also, player’s families, or whatever…
TransfersQ: There is a lot of talk about clubs looking at what is the overall package. Is that what we do, in terms of both the transfer fee and wages?
Phil: A little bit we do, but it tends to be: “this is the wage bill” and “how much have we got from a sale or transfer?”. “What is our net transfer spend going to be this winter?”. So, it tends to be a little bit separate.
Q: How satisfied are you, overall, with where we are, candidly, after this window? Was there some positions we’d rather be stronger in?
Phil: I would rather we had all the best players in the world in our team.
Q: Yes, of course.
Phil: Unless we achieve that, you could always look at it and say, “Could we be better at X, Y and Z?”
Q: Basically, in terms of what we were looking at, in terms of the players we were looking at and where we were trying to build…did we fulfil our expectations?
Phil: Yes, I think so. We can always say, “We could have got this… If we had got this player maybe we would be in a slightly better position” but that is not the same as saying, “We are unhappy with the position we are in.”
Q: No, I am not saying unhappy. Were there deals that you think, “I would have liked to have done that deal within this window?”
Phil: Yes, always!
Q: How does it work from window to window? Do you say, “It is the same, sort of, players in January…?” You will be looking at those players again in January because you identified them and we’ll see if they are available again?
Phil: Yes, some of our best signings took window after window. Ollie Watkins was not a one-window signing, we looked at him for 18 months before that, and it takes time to get there. But one of the good things is, if you make an offer on a player, normally with a strong expectation of signing that player then, but also putting ourselves in the best shape for six months down the line when we have built, kind of, a loyalty between us and the player that he knows that we have been there for a long time. So when another club comes in late on, you can say, “Well, we have been here for a long time, that is a risk for you to go to make that move to another club.”
Q: In terms of bids for our players. I know you said we didn’t have any, but that’s not the same as there’s no interest, right? so did we have any enquiries at all, any phone calls?
Phil: I don’t remember a single one. I might be misremembering one or two maybe, but I don’t remember a single one.
Q: What about Dervisoglu, it felt like he had a bid every five minutes.
Phil: Yes, not very good ones though. Again, that’s another example where there’s lots of competing opinions on what we should do.
Q: Do you think he will play for Brentford one day?
Phil: Yes, if he develops in a few areas.
Q: cos in pre-season when he does play a lot of fans get excited because he’s really good on the ball but it’s strange that he’s always out on loan.
Phil: We have sat with him and worked with him and he’ll say, “I am working on it, I’m improving,” but it’s that balance of do we keep him and try and work on it internally and hope he progresses that way or do you loan him and hope he progresses in a different way. He’s very, very good, I mean on the ball he’s got some things that he does that are top level.
Q: Is that why we didn’t do a loan with an option?
Phil: Never ever do loan with option, unbelievably rare cases where we do loan with options. There’s no logical reason to do a loan with an option unless there’s a massive loan fee. Option pricing in finance is unbelievably complicated and it’s complicated mathematics. Option pricing for football players, how do you do that then? There is no formula.
Q: We obviously have a budget for what we were going to spend on players in the summer, how much of that have we actually spent? Use percentages if you like.
Phil: We don’t really have a hard and fast budget. We don’t sit and say “net £20m, that’s it”. It very much depends on how we’re progressing through the summer and obviously with the cashflow for the future lined up, so we know, more or less, where we’re going to end up at the end of the season in terms of our cash position if we spend x.
But that’s not the same as a budget because it might be that we decide we’re going to borrow. We’re in a strong position so we’re going to borrow a little bit and spend a little bit more.
Q: On player transfers, you know you were talking about how we have to sell when they get towards the end of their contract. Do you expect any players we have got at the moment to renew their contracts, or are we going to sell them all before the end?
Phil: Some will renew. I don’t know which ones yet.
Q: You have to make that decision 18 months before the end of the contract, right, whether to sell them in the last 12 months?
Phil: Well before 18 months. I am always on top of the contracts anyway. The day after the playoff final I had a day off, but the next day I brought my spreadsheet up and I was like, “Right, who has got what contract?” The good thing is I already knew all of our players were on quite long contracts. Not one player needed to have their contract extended this summer. We go into the season thinking, “Right, let us see how we get on, and we will let it roll out a little bit before we have to get to the point of contract renewals”. See where we are and see how we are doing.
Q: We’re all smarting over the whole Saïd Benrahma loan and this, that and other when the whole internet said they’re a bunch of bastards, West Ham. Were they a bunch of bastards?
Phil: They were alright, not at all what you say.
Q: Do you find there are clubs that are ones that you really don’t want to work with if you can avoid them? Like you pick the phone up to Peterborough and you put a bid in and they just say, “How much?”
Phil: No, they’re all interesting in their own ways. What I find really hard, the only type of person on the other end of the phone that I find hard to fathom is the really emotional CEO or the really emotional director.” And he’s just getting really upset about a deal. “Calm down, it's just a business transaction, just say no if you don’t want to accept an offer.”
Q: I remember the Exeter boys put on their twitter feed, “We’re going to make loads of money from Ollie Watkins,” was that meant to be top secret?
Phil: When that went out, I got Lisa to contact them straightaway and say you need to get that taken down.
Q: Too late.
Phil: Yes, it was too late but then their chief executive rang me the next day, all apologetic.
RecruitmentQ: Where is the next level in your mind? Is it with the technology? Is it cameras? Because going back to the days of we'll sign a guy from Cheltenham, good striker for the ball. That seemed to be a thing and then he didn’t develop for whatever reason. Was that just something you tried and didn't go anywhere?
Phil: With what sorry?
Q: Ryan Williams from Morecambe
Q: Yes, Morecambe. And we got him cos he was a great striker of the ball.
Phil: Well, one of our coaches at the time said he said he was a potential Champions’ League player. And I said "Well, are you sure about this?" So, we basically did it on the back of a cheap gamble, you know. We said, "Okay, we'll do a one-year contract, go and show us you're a Champions League player”.
Phil: He went, "Alright, I'll come and I'll take the chance." It's good on his CV anyway. He was a great lad though. He was a really, really good character. A really nice guy. So, it was never a bother having him round. He was never going to be good enough to play for us.
Q: How much of an impact do the coaches like that have on the team?
Phil: In terms of improving them or on choosing them?
Q: Well, yes, improving them mainly. Obviously, we've had lots of coaches that have gone on to Man City, Arsenal, set-piece coaches, Gianni Vio, smart people. How much were they involved in the selection process? They might have worked with players in the past?
Phil: So, the first thing is everyone who comes to the club - wherever they've come from - will always have an idea of the better players [at their former club, what they're like, their characters, all the rest of it, their availability. So, you definitely want to tap into that.
When they come to us, you want to ask, "Who do you like? Who have you worked with? Who might be good for us?" We want to extract that information. But then once they are brought into the recruitment process, they'll have an input - everyone has an idea of what we think we need.
I'll have an idea of who I think is going to be going and when. We've got all the contract data. Over the next two weeks, we'll start to have conversations about the shape of the squad in future.
We’ll discuss with Lee what the priorities are going to be for January. We’ll give the coaches the time and space to get on with coaching. Then in November time, Lee will present back to me, Ras and coaches who are the options.
We’ll say to the coaches "Right, go away and have a watch of these players. These look like they're quite plausible ones." What we don't try and do is say to them, "Tell me if they're good or not." What we say to them is, "Try and picture them in the team and think how you would utilise that player in the team."
Because we shouldn't really have bad players being presented in those meetings. They may not quite fit what we want to achieve on the pitch, but that detailed look at them at that final level is when we get the coaches involved. They will feedback into that and then we'll go, "Right, what are we going to do now? We know what the coaches think, what the recruitment team think, what we need, and what the price is".
Then we'll go for the first option and inevitably we won't get them. So, then you start going down the list. That's why the coaches need to have watched a range of players.
Q: Would Hoffmann and Djuricin be examples of players that were fairly good players, but just didn't fit our system?
Phil: Yes. So, Hoffman's gone and done well in Germany, he's done fine. But that first year, first window was particularly complicated by the fact that we were basically trying to do recruitment, without actually being in the training ground. Me and Rasmus was trying to run it without a recruitment team, without a head coach and without a style of play.
So, we just went, "Let's get a range of players and see". You're always going to have a few hits and misses.
Q: Was there just too many players at one time without having a head coach?
Phil: Adding so many players at the same time didn't help, because they all have to blend and fit together. We actually didn't have a very deep squad [at the end of the 2014/15 season]. The team that got to the playoffs were the same 11 every game more or less and the depth after that was players like Tommy Smith and Richard Lee who were out of contract and left.
Q: Do we have an edge an all positions in terms of evaluating players that play there? Obviously with strikers there’s goals, and with creative midfielders there’s assists, or assists for assists, but what about the more defensive positions?
Phil: The more defensive the position, the harder it is, I think, the more you have to have a bit of an expert opinion on it, because, for defenders, nothing happening is a good thing. If they make nothing happen, just by moving player out of the way or being physically strong, whatever, that is good, but it does not manifest itself, necessarily, in a data point, other than the net outcome of that is that they did not create a chance. So, for more defensive players it is a bit harder to use data to say anything about them, you have got to have a bit of a mix. All players have got to have a bit of a mixture, as many components as you can find, really.
Q: Is there a bigger jump now from the B team to the first team or are we trying to improve the B team by a similar level?
Phil: Yes, we will. But that will need more investment, because we will maybe sign players who are just at a higher level to begin with. We spent something like £700,000 on transfer fees for the B team, in the summer.
Q: There is a pandemic going on at the moment and the B team are not travelling is that much, is that impacting their development?
Phil: I would not say it is impacting their development. We would like to have a broader breadth of games. Last year was almost like the southeast only, basically, because we could not travel anywhere, we could not go to hotels, nothing. But then last year one of the Conference teams, was it Macclesfield Town, went into administration, and so every week in the conference there was always one team who had a game to play. So often we would pick up that team, and if they had a free week we would go and play them. So that was helpful, and that is playing senior men’s football at a good level.
Q: Some good questions have come in about the B team. The whole model of taking players into the B team and then into the first team, and then from the first team we sell them onto bigger teams. Has that all changed now we are in this new league? Do we sell to our Premier League rivals?
Phil: Yes, I think so. If we have got a player and he is on a contract, at some point he is going to get to the end of his contact and he is going to want a pay rise, or he is going to be offered a pay rise somewhere else, which we cannot afford. There is always going to be some upward mobility and progression for players. Paris Saint-Germain and Man City are the only two I can think of where there is not upward progression for the players. Maybe Chelsea.
Q: Was Danjuma on the radar? Was he just too expensive?
Phil. He is a player that we would not even bother with. He is too expensive. So, he is a player that Matt will not have to veto it, because we already know not to even bother wasting his time.
Q: Is that because he is just too expensive?
Phil: Yes, expensive. Where is the sell on value? You are getting that player there, that is the most expensive point in his whole career, that is never going to be a Brentford signing.
Q: Are we ever going to be at a point where we might have enough funds to say, “That is what we will do?” Like Man United, they can sign a 36 year old, and PSG can sign a 35 year old.
Phil: I do not think we will ever do that. Some players, like Pontus Jansson, we did not buy him for retail value/sell on value.
Player DeparturesQ: Can we talk about why Marcondes left?
Phil: Why do you think? Because his contract ended!
Q: No, we know that he wanted to renew, it would appear.
Phil: We offered him a contract a while before his contract come to an end and he turned it down.
Q: What had changed?
Phil: We got promoted by that time so the whole picture had changed, so the deal wasn’t there to be done at that time.
Q: What about Dalsgaard, was he always going to leave at the end of the season?
Phil: Yes, he had family, a young family back in Denmark. It’s a bit of a more complicated situation with him. He’s definitely close to his family and, without having like a really in-depth conversation about this, it was more or less actually Rasmus has built the Danish connection, they chat in Danish, Danish agents, whatever. So, I wasn’t in detail involved in it but I think it was much more a kind of everyone was more or less happy to say, don’t accept anything, Midtjylland want to sign you.
Q: You can do another angle of let’s not try and sign this Danish player from Midtjylland this season because actually we want them to push on and because they’re in Champions’ League group stage, so we’ll get more cash or is it a completely separate in the club?
Phil: No, I mean there is a case to say that Midtjylland should keep some of the better players during the Europa League group stages. I think it’s quite a good group they’ve got. They need to build points for the Danish coefficient. If the Danish coefficient is good, it’s easier for them to get back into group stage in the future whereas if Danish teams are rubbish, the Danish coefficient drops and it’s so hard to get in the Champions League and that’s such a money spinner. There are all sorts of conflicting and competing different interests as to what players should be where.
Q: It brings us neatly on to Cajuste, doesn’t it? Was that ever a goer for us?
Phil: There were other clubs also trying to pay good money for him. Midtjylland isn’t 100% owned by Matthew these days. There are also other shareholders to consider so we can’t say, “Well, we’ve got an offer of x million Euros to sell him into Germany or whatever, but you know what, we’re going to be bringing him to Brentford for half that.” It doesn’t work like that.
Q: Why didn’t he go if there were so many offers on the table?
Phil: Sometimes it just doesn’t happen, sometimes players don’t go. There might be offers, but I presume not at the right numbers.
Q: So, it’s fair to say we were never really in for Cajuste then? That’s basically it. So, Matthew lied to us, is that what you’re saying?
Phil: While Matt obviously has strong views over what happens at the end of the day, there’s lots and lots of conversations about these things and he isn’t necessarily involved in every single conversation. We’re always talking about. I’ll talk to Rasmus and say, “What are the pros and cons of making that happen?” And Matthew might say, “I like Cajuste, he's a good player, he’d be great in Brentford’s team,” but that’s not the same as saying, “Right, let’s make that happen and bring him in and put him in our squad”.
Q: He could just sign in January.
Phil: That’s the thing, if he’s fantastic for Midtjylland this season it might make sense to try and make it happen then. But, again, it’s not as if just because he plays for FCM, we can just go, “You’re over here [at Brentford] now.” The player himself might say, “Well, Brentford want to pay me £20,000 a week and this club want to pay me £50,000 a week, so I’m not going to Brentford.”
Tuchel/KloppQ: I was going to get back to Klopp and Tuchel, managers who’ve been linked to Brentford in the past. Was there any dialogue between Klopp and us?
Phil: Thomas Tuchel we had him visiting Smartodds. Actually, I went and picked him up at Heathrow and brought him over, took him here and we went for dinner with him. So, just to get to know him and build relationships etc. He's just got a fascination with lots of aspects of the game, how it can be played differently, the detailed way of thinking about the game. So, he's always trying to learn. That's how you get to that level, right, by just being like a sponge.
EnglandQ: Phil, you mentioned that because of Brexit there are more English or UK players. Is there an angle or even a thought at Brentford about, actually, we could help the development of the English football team, in the future, or is that really not a consideration? I think you said there are more British players in the B team because it is far more difficult to get the young players in. Do you see that as, possibly, helping the England football team, or is really not a consideration and it is all about how we can make Brentford better? Is it that likely that we could help each other?
Phil: Maybe if we get a really good one! But they are the least of my concerns, the England football team. When we closed the academy down, there were a few moral objections about, “Is it good for the community? Is it good to not be developing players for the national team?” Hang on a sec, are we investing Matthew’s money for the benefit of English football now? He can invest his money in anything he likes. Also, the community… it is not a community project. It is a business.
Q: How involved is Matthew? Just take signing Toney, as an example, does he get involved with negotiation? Does he decide yes/no? What is his role?
Phil: He is never involved directly in negotiations. Sometimes you will have an agent who will maybe get his number from somewhere and try and call him. I always say to him, “Don’t pick it up. If they call you, you have just got to tell them to speak to me, because it is just going to get so messy.” Also trying to get him with emotional blackmail…
Realistically, if he does not want to sign a player then we’d have to get to the bottom of why we disagree. That is obviously the senior team. B team players, more or less, we get on with it and do it. We know what we are doing, and there’s a certain (level), few hundred grand players he’s happy for us just to crack on , if it’s millions then he will have an input.
We’ll keep him updated as we go through the window. He’ll have me and Rasmus keeping him updated with where are we, who is available, what is the likely prices, how do we think the squad can evolve, what are the coaches saying, what do our recruitment team think of players. He will have his own opinions on what is the right way to play and all the rest of it, and we will feed that back through that chain.
When it comes to the finance of a deal, the wage and all the rest of it, Rasmus and I always negotiate it. Generally, we will say to him, “This player here, this is what we want to do, are you happy for us to progress it?”. “Any idea on the parameters of what the framework needs to look like?” and if he has got ideas, he will tell us. “I do not want to go more than X on this player.” We will stick with that framework, and then we will say to him, “This is the deal,” at the end of that process.
I have not even spoken to him since the summer window closed [at time of meeting], to be honest with you, because he just, sort of, lets us get on with it.
Q: Which players has he vetoed?
Phil: Not a lot, because we know his tastes in players. Like, he wants young players because he likes assets to develop. There are some players, like when we were looking for a right back, whose agents are messaging saying, “He is available.” There is no point in having a too detailed conversation about it because he is too expensive, or hasn’t got any upside, or he is probably no better than what we have got. So, we would say to them we are not interested in these players. They have got to be either better than what we have got or younger with a lot of development potential.
Q: Is Matthew the person that decides what goes on in terms of what happens on the football pitch? Or is it you and Ras? How does that dynamic work?
Phil: Matthew is not active at the executive day-to-day level. He will only really speak to me and Rasmus about what is happening on the football side. He rarely gets involved off the pitch at all. But on the pitch side is his big interest. He will mostly speak to me and Rasmus, occasionally he might have a conversation with Thomas. Me, Ras, Thomas and Matthew went for dinner, I think two nights before the Arsenal game. That was quite a rare thing to actually do that and meet in person.
Obviously, we understand the principles he wants to run the club by, like his ideas, philosophy, and all the rest of it. We, more or less, take that and run it according to that without management from Matt. He comes up with a lot of ideas but will just let us get on with it.
Then when it comes to players, he will have an idea on what he wants the club to spend, what profile of players he wants, specific ideas about who is doing well in team and who is not doing well. We will have a look at the players we want to buy and get him to formulate his own perception of it.
Then there will be certain situations happen on pitch, like the Bournemouth goal where he was, like, “Why are we doing that?” (Laughter). “Come on, have a chat to them and make sure this is not going to happen again.”
Q: The 10 players up on a corner?
Phil: I mean, look, we have done that a lot. With those situations you have always got to have a balance, when you see something go wrong, how many situations went right before that having done that?
Q: Is Matthew as good as you've seen in terms of risk analysis? Is he as good as we think he is?
Phil: Yes, he's like - he's got unbelievable mentality for it. But he hasn't done any betting actually for about five years. He doesn't actually do any of that himself.
Q: What does that mean? He just doesn't touch the buttons or…?
Phil: Doesn't price any games. He doesn't work out all the odds of any game in the betting. He doesn’t make any decisions, just has people who do it for him.
Phil: He's a very, very smart guy. He's a very smart guy and, also, has a perfect mentality for it as well. Very dispassionate.
BudgetQ: Obviously when Pontus came in it, kind of, changed the wage structure a bit, With the players now having had their contracted pay rises for being in the Premier League, where do we sit in terms of the wages we are paying compared with, obviously not the very top teams… Where are we in the wages, we pay compared to our Premier League compatriots?
Phil: I would imagine bottom.
Q: £12.5m a year, is what I read. Probably bullshit.
Phil: That is bullshit.
Phil: I think we are on below 50% of turnover to wage ratio.
Q: Re Saman, when you’re saying he wouldn’t be very surprised about Saman in the Premier League, I guess last year when he had that year off football, he lost a bit of fitness etc. What made you confident he was going to come here and succeed?
Phil: I’m neither confident nor not confident, I guess what I’d say is he hasn’t played for a long time. Thomas and I have sat with him, and we talked about various things around his situation and he’s always been very committed to wanting to play. Thomas always trusts him, because he knows he’ll do the things off the ball and easy to do. That’s the starting point to anything, can I trust him to basically run back, sprint back when he needs to and defend. If I can trust him to do that, we can build on the rest.
One of the things we said to him was it’s hard for him with a few minutes here and few minutes there to build some sort of consistent performance level and that’s same we saw with Jack O’Connell. We see this all the time, and if a player plays a few minutes here and there you don’t see the real player, it’s impossible.
Q: Does it not worry you that Nørgaard is on two yellow cards after three games, and he has got to make it to nineteen?
Phil: No. If he gets a ban, he gets a ban. It is not good, but it also provides an opportunity for someone else. Things like injuries too, you don’t want them, but that is where opportunities happen to bring another player in and then you learn something about that player, and the other players get an opportunity to play.
Q: When Janelt was signed I, for one, was not expecting him to be a starting player, and then Nørgaard got crocked, you put him in, and you think, “Bloody hell, what a player we have got on our hands here.”
Phil: That is just serendipity.
Q: Was he expected to be a starter, or was it more of a backup?
Phil: You never sign them as “he’s a starter” and “he’s a backup”. But the fact that Christian then goes and injures himself is obviously a negative, but the positive is Janelt comes in and gets an immediate chance.
Q: What is it we do differently, because everybody is looking at the stats and the data, you pick a player like Janelt at Bochum, was he in the reserves? £0.5m, and he now has got to be a £15m-plus player, hasn’t he?
Q: I mean, that kind of growth in value over such a short period of time, you would think that every club would have the ability to spot such a vast difference between the quality of a player and his perceived value by the others. What did we do differently there?
Phil: In that specific case I am not quite sure, to be honest with you. I am not sure there is a magic formula. Our scouts spotted a player in Germany, and we had the information, the data and whatever. But he was not playing every game. I don’t think he played every game at Bochum in that previous year. You assume that that player would be so good that he should be playing. Maybe they have got another player in that position who plays really well? So maybe if we’d had him here, and Nørgaard had played every game, Nørgaard hadn't had the injury and that serendipity has not happened and created that opportunity, then he doesn't play for us very much last season. And then he comes and says, “Right, I want to go and play somewhere else”. As with Sheffield United with Jack O’Connell, then everyone says, “How the hell did they let him go, that was absolutely ridiculous?”
He was at the club when Ras and me came, and he was a young player, he had a fantastic attitude, and his training was always spot on. Ras and I, we had Harlee and Tarkowski at the time, as first choices, and then we bought Bjelland. That was done when Ras and I hadn’t really stepped foot on the training ground, really, when we were lining up those transfers, in that first summer. We felt that Bjelland would be a good player for us, so we bought him and then he injured himself, so Tarkowski and Harlee played, Jack O’Connell did not get a look in. He gets one game, he does okay, he gets another game, he is playing against Andre Gray, who is on fire, and Burnley hammer us. From there he is never given a proper chance, for a myriad of reasons. You can’t charge top money when he’s sold in those circumstances. We could not say anything about Jack O’Connell’s price because we paid £250,000 for him, again, before my time, so we got our money back.
Q: Do you think of that human element, because, I guess, Mawson was similar. You say, “Look, you are fourth or fifth choice, and we do not really see you as a first team player, but, actually, you want to develop your career.” Do we actually look at that human element as a factor when there is a bid come in, or do you think, “No, actually, it does not suit us?”
Phil: We try not to look at the human element. It is one of the things about my job, and football in general, that it is a little bit of trading people. We have to do it but, obviously, we are aware that when a player comes in and says, “I want to go, I have got this opportunity…” Someone like Chris Mepham, when he had a chance to go. He had had a chance to go the previous summer, clubs were offering him a 17-times increase on his salary, and good clubs as well. You understand that, when you sit in that room and you say, “Look, if it was the other way around, I would be the same as you, I would feel the same as you, and I know we have your career on a string and we are in control of this, but you have got to understand that if you were in my seat you would do the same as me, otherwise you would get fired straight away.” So that is a little bit tricky. You have got to try and take that emotion out of it. But it is not always easy. But like I say, they get injured, and it creates another opportunity for a player. So maybe if Harlee had got injured early that season, everyone perhaps says “We are missing a player” and then Jack O’Connell plays and everyone says, “Oh, is he good enough?”. Then we find out that he is the player that Sheffield United got, and everyone thinks, “Oh brilliant, aren’t Brentford brilliant because they have managed to find another young player.”
Q: Is it true that we only signed Janelt because Bidstrup was injured?
Phil: No, we um-ed and err-ed about Janelt for a while. It’s never straight forward. It’s never a linear process. It’s never like, “Here’s a position, it is free, there is a player, let us go and buy him.” It is usually “Here’s a position, we could buy him, or we could go and do that, and then he can cover, so we can do this, and we can do that, we can play this system, we can go 3-5-2, we can go…” You know, there are all sorts of ways you can shape it. What you kind of want is players who can play multiple positions, that is really helpful, in terms of building a squad. That is what we are trying to do always, not build a team but build a squad. So, it’s helpful that Sergi can play wing-back because it doesn’t put that immediate pressure on us to go and sign an out and out right back, and then we can be flexible. Then that allows you to pick and choose the squad. So instead of panicking, having to fill a position and go, “We have not got this position, we need to go and buy someone now.” We can actually wait for the right opportunity.
Q: In that way that then, If Thomas was to come to you and say, “We need a right back because Henrik has gone”, would you then say, “Well actually we think Sergi can play wing back, so you have to play 3-5-2 now.”
Phil: We would certainly have that conversation.
Q: He gets dictated to, to a certain point, or…?
Phil: Yes, up to a point. I mean, he has to be, in the sense that he cannot change it, if we have not got a right back. We definitely had those conversations about, you know, what is the preferred system? What system actually suits our players right now? Actually, in the last two years it has flipped once or twice. We have gone from playing a 3-4-3 at the start of the first play-off season. Not quite working. You just think, “Can we do better?” Then going 4-3-3 and immediately seeing a change. Then, towards the back end of last year, we were drawing a lot of games, not really creating, so again you think “what is the preferred system? What suits us better? How are we doing right now?”. And build around that.
Q: What is that tension: Do you go to Thomas and say, “The left back’s not performing, the right back’s not performing, we are going to buy a player for you?” Or is it Thomas saying, “I am not happy with this?” Or is it actually a collective and you have those conversations?
Phil: It is not a mystery. I mean, obviously, we can all see who is playing well and who is not playing well, and they can see it and we can see it. So, we all have a conversation. Sometimes it is also about when you buy a player, it is not about who is playing well or not playing well. Basically, it is just, “Is this player going to improve our squad or our team? Is he available?” Marcondes for example, it was just a good opportunity to buy a player. It is sensible money. He had been doing very well. Without a clear, “He is going to come in and play this specific role” but more, “He is going to come in and add something to the whole group.”
Q: I was going to talk about roles and stuff and acquiring players in that same vein. It always struck me, when we did the deal with Baptiste, and I understand why you were carrying on with Baptiste, that it was more like a buy one gets one for half price? He always struck me as a utility player, and that is how he was going to be used. What was the thinking behind buying Fosu? I totally understand the Baptiste thing. Fosu, sort of, came out of nowhere?
Phil: They weren’t really done together, they just happened to both be at Oxford. Fosu had a release clause and had done very well, first off, in a year at Charlton, so therefore it was a relatively, A) a straightforward deal to do, B) pretty good value and C) we had gone through the first half of the year with Ollie, Said and Bryan, Sergi had done his ACL, obviously, and was out for the season. So we did not have a lot of depth in those front three positions, so we thought he could come and cover Said and Bryan, and then he would obviously then grow and evolve, and perhaps take a place in the team. I was not really aware, at the time, that he would you actually be able to do right back/right wing back quite so effectively as he did. While he has never nailed down a role and been first on a team sheet, he has always got lots of minutes just by being flexible.
Q: So why are we trying to loan him out?
Phil: Because some players need to go and play and minutes. He wants to be playing more.
Q: Don’t we need him to provide the squad that you just spoke about?
Phil: It’s a balance. It’s always a balance between how many players have we got; how many do we expect to get minutes…? If a player is not getting minutes, are they better off going playing somewhere else, because he is only going to be devaluing himself by not playing minutes here. So there is partly the value of the player and partly of keeping him playing and therefore if we need him the second half of the year he has actually played 20 games, and he comes back in again like Marcondes when he went to Midtjylland, he came back a better player, more ready, having done that loan, rather than sit, just sit and sit and sit, and not play.
Q: Going back to the Janelt point, I am interested, how do you pitch the offer price? Sometimes there are release clauses, although through agents that is confidential, and they shouldn’t tell you. But how do you say, “We think this guy is worth X?” How do you feel you are not over offering, or is it just that you offer something, and then go and go and go? So Janelt, £0.5m, did you just think it was, “Throw £0.5m in and see what they say?”
Phil: There are no hard and fast rules. Lots and lots of different cases of how you might do it. The easiest case is you know there is a release clause, that is the easiest case. The second way is, ideally, you have an inkling from the club or the agent that there is a price for the player that the club will sell at. They want to sell him, and they are expecting X. Also, they may need to sell for financial reasons, like when we got Ezri, we had a feeling we would be able to get him on a sensible deal, and we managed to negotiate away a sell-on out of the deal because they needed some cash, so that helped us hugely. Instead of a 20% sell on and selling him for £12m, you know, that saves us 20% of the £9m profit, which is £1.8m, nearly £2m in saving.
Then you have got more regular cases where it is quite a bit harder. You try and work out what will be normal for a player in that position? You are looking at the length of his contract. He has got a year ago, they might be wanting to sell, if he has got two years to go, I think it’s more (complicated), if he has four years to go, they can just turn around and say, “We do not want to sell him”. Then there is no price, pretty much. How much sell on is there? What age is he? Is he going to go on and develop? How much potential have you got on him to make a multiple of X on him? It is really hard.
Then you have got players who you start off thinking, “It should be this price,” like with Kris Ajer for example. Then there are other clubs involved so you think, “Well, it’s not going to be that because there is now another variable, how do we get out of that situation, where we are not bidding against other clubs who are ramping the price up for us?” Then you might get to a point where you think, “Well, this is beyond where we thought it should be,” then you take a step back and go, “Actually, given everything we know, do we not still think it is a good price? So should we not just do it anyway?”
Q: Do you look at what the alternatives are, so if not him then that is our second choice, what is the price and the utility?
Phil: Exactly, there are loads of examples, there are examples in the last few days where we had two players in the same position, one’s less than half the price of another one, one is marginally preferred, the more expensive one is maybe marginally better, marginally more suited to the Premier League, but do we not prefer to go with the other player? You know, what is the marginal cost increase?
Q: What happens if Ivan gets injured critically in the next game you play, who plays upfront then?
Phil: It’ll be Marcus.
Q: Not Bryan?
Phil: Bryan already plays upfront. He is playing central, so we’re playing more 3-5-2, so the 2 upfront now are Ivan and Bryan. Bryan plays that role so well.
Q: Is that an actual change of formation because it is for most games that Ivan is playing, Brian is running past, Ivan is clearly at the flick-ons, the play-ins….
Phil: That deep running is essential. If you haven’t got that, it makes it very hard to do anything.
Q: Is that a Premier League thing or is it just a football thing? We didn’t play like that in the Championship.
Phil: We did.
Q: We had 3, and now we’re gone to 2.
Phil: Yes, 2 is the formation but the principles are exactly the same, if you got nobody who can run past - if the centre backs are not worried about anyone going behind them - it makes it dead easy for them.
Q: So did Josh getting injured really scupper our gameplan last year, because he was one of those players who broke the lines.
Phil: I’d say less Josh and more Rico, so we ended up with Mads Bech playing at left back. So when we play a back 4 we don’t really have the pace at full back. Sergi at wingback solved that problem.
Phil: Pace in the team is essential. Pace and physicality. If you haven’t got that then you’re static and slow, you’ll never ever get anywhere.
Q: About Mads Bech, Two questions, one is the extent of his injuries, is it requiring surgery? And secondly when I first saw him play away to Reading three years ago, I thought this boy is so out of his depth, he’s never going to make it. Now he’s like a really outstanding…. he’s so good
Phil: Brian Riemer likes him a lot, he was saying two years ago, Mads will be a £15m player. I think identifying potential in players is really, really hard. When you see a player has got something but knowing where he’ll eventually get to is absolutely a really, really hard thing to do. So, who knows, like I say, if he’ll get to x, y or z level, all I know is he’s got a lot of attributes which are very good. He has had a couple of injuries over the last couple of years which have not been ideal, so he needs to hopefully stay fit. that’s another thing that can massively derail players.
Q: Do you ever see that players aren’t doing what you think they’ve been told. It’s like I’m sure we told them to do this on the pitch, why aren’t they doing it?
Phil: I never tell a player what they should be doing on the pitch because the lines of communication have to be absolutely clear. That can’t be me. I mean you see that all the time, right, because they make mistakes. That’s what happens. The coaches pick it up, they clip it up, they go through the clips and say “right, next time in this situation, do this”. Then when it gets frustrating is when they start repeating the same mistake over and over again. That’s when we might sit down and work out a more strategic level what are going to do about these issues. Is it just that player? How do you change it?
Q: Going back to injuries because obviously Dasilva’s out and Baptiste is a bit of an unknown quantity, going back to his injury and obviously we lost Marcondes on a free and we only brought in Onyeka, was Peart-Harris bought to go into a creative position?
Phil: No, well he will do eventually. We bought him because he’s got so much upside to him.
Q: So, he's kind of like halfway between the B Team and the First Team?
Phil: Yes, a little bit. So, we've spent a couple of million on him. So, he's a first team player. He's got so much upside.
Q: But he's not been in any squads yet? Is that just because he's getting used to the style or…?
Phil: Just give him time. The same as with Josh Dasilva.
Q: Where did the Joel Valencia signing come from?
Phil: We liked he was technically good enough but I think we underestimated the physical adaptation. And, also, we changed systems quite quickly. We didn't play with the position he was brought into. We thought we were going to play a 3-4-3 with wing-backs, so we didn't have wide players, we had wing-backs with two tens. So, he was playing as a 10 and then we switched the system to 4-3-3. Then, obviously, the front three played very well after Sergi got injured, so he never got a run.
Then he went on loan, had an injury and didn't really do anything at Legia Warsaw. So now he's not played for two years so now it's hard for him to get back in. I'm not saying he's not good enough. I mean, honestly, I don't really know.
Q: Did Crewe ring up and ask, "Have you got Joel Valencia available?"
Phil: This is transfer deadline day, so random clubs will ring.
Phil: The training round on deadline day evening is me in my office, Lisa, Allan and Lee. Everyone else will disappear off through the day. We just have this core team there and one of them will come running into my office, knock on my door, "Right, Crewe are on the phone……"
"Right, okay. What do they want?" "They want Joel Valencia." "Right, well, tell them they can make an offer." They make an offer. "Right, done”.
Thomas doesn't really have much of a role in the transfer deadline. I rang up the next morning and said, "Right, this is what happened. This is who you’ve got."
Q: Of the other clubs at our level, one that’s always thrown about is Brighton, the owner’s got a similar background to Matthew. Do they ever sign someone and you've never heard of them and you look into it and you think, "I wish I'd known about this guy?"
Phil: No, but they've signed players we have heard about, quite a lot. So like when they signed that midfielder from Germany, Pascal Gross. We knew him very well. Marc Cucurella we looked at when he was at Barcelona’s B Team.
Q: The one they signed this window? Was that someone that we were considering?
Phil: Years ago, yes. When he was at Barcelona B. But for this window that wasn't a position we were looking to strengthen. And, no, We wouldn't have done £15m on him!
(Conversation turns to Raya)
Phil: I said to Daviid a few days ago, “It has been everything faultless.” Not one thing you could point at and say, “You did not take a catch or you could have done that better… You passed it to the opposition” or something.
Q: Is that an analytical sort of play, because I think a few fans have said he seems to be going longer more often these days. is that actually a style of play that Thomas has said, “I think, first of all, do not concede, so go longer, clear it and pick up the second ball. We will play Ivan as a target man,” which he was not really probably doing as much in the Championship. Is that actually a style of play we have said we are going to adapt, and go risk adverse first?
Phil: Not so much risk averse, and I have not been in these conversations, but I suspect that they have said, “We will keep doing what we are good at but if it is not on then you cannot take big risks. If it is a good pressing team as well, you cannot get yourself caught in those situations.” I think that would have been the same anyway even in the Championship, if you played someone like Barnsley last season, for example, it would have been just being a bit more smart about trying to take high risk in those areas.
One of my bugbears was when we used to go long from a goal kick if we’d do it when everyone is scattered all over the pitch…
So you start off with a goal kick, let us say, in the six yard box, you have got the centre backs on the corner of the six yard box ready for a short pass, and they station their guys on the edge of the penalty box ready to press us, so the ball is not on - if you try it, they are going to close it down. So, what we do is we play a long diagonal ball.
Now what happens is, if you do not win that ball, if that ball drops and they pick up the second ball, you are so open, your defenders are trying to get back up from the six yard box into the line and you end up putting yourselves under pressure.
But what I have noticed, and I am not sure if this is deliberate or not, we have tended to get set for that diagonal ball, and then we look for the second ball. We have got every chance of winning it if we do the right things. You are rarely going to be able pick out a long ball and just ping it onto someone's foot and be away.
League ChancesQ: What’s the percentage chance of getting relegated, I was reading 538, it’s about 20%, is that-
Phil: Honestly, I’ve not really looked at it. I think I would guess 20 to 30%, I would guess. You might think “how do you not know this? you should know this!”. It doesn’t affect my life whatsoever because it doesn’t really matter what our relegated chances are, it’s not that we’re going to go, “What’s the chance, 30%? sh*t 30%, Matt, give us £20m.” It doesn’t work like that anyway. It might help us guide decision making in January, but we’ll see what the percentages are then.
Q: Is it true that you had that conversation with Peterborough about Ivan Toney and chances of promotion
Phil: It was Rasmus. The way Darragh is, it always ends up being a little bit of, kind of, verbal jousting in a well-meaning way. He’s pretty good, he makes it a fun experience, but he knows his stuff. We might say, “We’ll offer your £3m for Ivan Toney.” He’ll come back with [in January 2020], “so hang on a second, we’re going to take £3m, and what you’re going to do is you’re going to play the rest of the reason, you’re going to sell Ollie for £20m, you’re going to bring Ivan in the team and then you’ll sell him after a year for £20m, that’s what’s going to happen, isn’t it?”. And we can’t really argue with him because yes that was exactly the plan.
Q: Is finishing one place above relegation, having a decent cup run, getting the financials stable… Is that really key this year?
Phil: I mean, it is pretty important to stay up, but I would not say “Oh my God, if we get relegated this will be a disaster.” There is only so much I can control about that. There is a probability we might go down, and it is not zero. So I can only manage it a little bit, but we might just get unlucky and like it might just happen.
Q: How can we get to keep improving in the Premier League, because you have to churn a few players for that?
Phil: Yes, evolve the team, develop the players, some players will come in and just keep getting better, sometimes we will just buy some better players. Bryan Mbeumo, for example, is a player who can just keep improving. Then there are other players, like Kris Ajer, who has come in. We broke it down into various targets this year, in terms of how we want to do it this year. So a few targets, key targets, in terms of, “If we want to improve, what do we need to do?” We need to be physically better, stronger. We need to have more pace in the team. We need to be better at set pieces. And we need to retain our zonal defensive principles, because we do that very well, we have been very strong last few years. If you are going to do that, make sure you recruit someone like Kris Ajer, who knows how to defend with zonal principles, coming from a Scandinavian background like he does. He has slotted in seamlessly, so we keep doing the same things but do them better, as opposed to bringing in different types of defenders and changing completely the way we play. That would be a massive gamble.
Cup FootballQ: Cup football. We are brought up loving cup football because we hate league football, Well, I understand we did alright last year, even though we were not allowed to go. But when can we play better in cups, put the real teams out, and make it happen for us?
Phil: We shut this down last season, didn’t we get to the semi-finals?
Q: Yes, that was a fluke. (Laughter) I have been there against Oxford when we were crap. But, you know, putting out weak teams, Brighton at home, Oxford at home, absolute sh*t…
Phil: But that Oxford team, that team that played Oxford was not that sh*t. Go back and look at some of the players that played. It was players like, for example, Nico Yennaris played. Barbet, Jack O’Connell, Josh Laurent, Vibe, Courney Senior. The problem was that it was too many young players coming together at the same time, but most of them went on to develop into good players.
Phil: On the other hand, if you look at the Oxford team who played in that team, it was John Lundstram the midfielder at Sheffield United. They had a winger who is at Bristol City now, Irish winger, Callum O’Dowda. When you look at their team, that team got promoted out of League Two, that was a good Oxford side that had some really good players in it, players who went for millions in the future, and played Premier League, like Kemar Roofe.
Q: But my question goes back to, what do we have to do to proper team out? I remember Brighton at home, a couple of years ago, FA Cup. I was embarrassed. I was so gutted that we put a crap team out. We are Premier League, and I know how much money it is, but if we play Brighton now, in the FA Cup, we put a second string out. What do we have to do to put a proper team out and challenge for this cup?
Phil: It is just balancing up multiple requirements, isn’t it? I mean, we played at Tottenham in the semi-final and we played our best team, and then we got beat anyway. Then you have situations like where we played Forest Green. We had a relatively strong side there. We had got players who had not necessarily played many minutes, you had got Halil, you have got Ghoddos, that needed to play. Thomas plays Ghoddos, and then Ghoddos has to go and play at Villa because Onyeka was out. So do you say, “We are going to just pick our best team all the time,” but then go to Villa and Ghoddos has to play, but he has no minutes in the bank?
Phil: Remember the team that we played Middlesbrough, Alex Gilbert, Lewis Gordon, Fin Stevens played. It is ideal to give them the opportunity, but then that Middlesbrough game came at the end of a week where we played Tottenham as well in the League Cup, and we had back-to-back games. it is just an opportunity to play these players. Also, getting back to the probabilities, the fact is, it does not matter what team we put out, at some point we will get knocked out by a better team, almost certainly.
Q: When we played Leicester, a couple years ago, before the Forest game on the Tuesday (which we also lost). Did we agree with them to both play weakened team? We played a reserve team but it was really competitive, but they also played a reserve team. The question is, do the managers sometimes talk and say, “Look, we would like to play a weakened team, would you do the same?”
Phil: It does not happen.
Q: Do we want to win the FA Cup?
Phil: Yes, we want to win the FA Cup. But you cannot target that.
Q: I can. And I have. You have only got to win six games, haven’t you?
Phil: Like I said, every game is balancing up what is the need overall at that time.
Q: I get what you are saying, but you understand the question. All of a sudden, we get through Forest Green, we get through Oldham, we get one more easy game at home and, all of a sudden, now you are two or three games off the final and then Frank and you start going, “Alright… nocoat started moaning at me in the beer garden, let us put a proper team out.” That is what I want to see here.
Phil: Let us see where we are January, let us say, 7th in the league, we are 15 points outside the bottom three…Maybe we can do something different. But I still think, even then, we probably need to give minutes to players who have to play.
Fans’ Site, Social Media and MediaQ: Do you go on the internet sites to read what people say or life’s too short for that?
Q: You do, but seriously you look at what people say about Mbeumo - “the best player in the world now” - and all that. Or someone says “Ghoddos is not good enough”, do you look at that or do you not care?
Phil: I see it sometimes and I try to ignore it all.
Q: Of course because you know better but do you read what people think about your men? You must do it, I’d do it all the time.
Phil: Yes, I’m not religiously using it [social media] all the time, what they think about Brentford’s players because it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t really affect anything.
Phil: I was on my way to Palace and I put on Five Live and they were previewing all the afternoon games. They had Dion Dublin there and they were talking about the Harry Kane situation and they were saying, "So, Dion, what do you think about the Harry Kane situation?" And he was saying, "Well, players have got all the control over it these days. Contracts don't mean anything. If the player wants to leave, ultimately he'll leave." I just went, "Oh, that's ridiculous.". As if Daniel Levy’s going to say, "Oh, his contract means nothing. I think he'll have to go."
It's rubbish. I can't listen to it. It's just for hours on end.
Phil: So then when you say, "Do I follow all of this stuff?" No, not really, I'm too busy with other stuff.
ConcernsQ: What, if anything, about Brentford FC keeps you awake at night?
Q: I was actually going to say does Ivan Toney getting injured keep you up at night? I knew you’d say no because you’re a professional, it must do a bit because Marcus Forss is brilliant, but he’s not Ivan Toney – he’s an absolute warrior.
Phil: There’s two parts to that, one is “is there any point being (kept) awake at night by an injury” and the second point is not really, because like I said before, when one door closes, it opens another opportunity.
It’s so random, all you can try and do is make good decisions and then let things evolve, not completely without control. You always try and keep it managed somehow but it will have a life of its own.
InnovationQ: Is Rasmus the only one who comes up with crazy ideas? The question in my mind is how do you keep up to date, because it’s all about disruption and innovation? How do you guys keep up to date with research? Are you looking at papers? Are you just trying things and seeing what happens and measuring it? How are you creating the next innovation? The next disruption?
Phil: The truth is we probably haven’t been focused on that enough over the last few years. We’ve haven’t had enough resource to handle it, to really sit there and go “right, who’s got an amazing whacky idea?” and see if that’ll work. It doesn’t really work like that. I’ve got Luke, he was Head of Analysis and now doing stuff where he’s actually researching the whole breadth of the market because lots of companies want to sell you data on this, or technology on that, or some brain training, or eye training that they say show that if they wear these glasses during training it makes you 30% better at football, or something like that.
Q: On that note, some football players must be colourblind, do we have a look at that? We don’t look at that as a reason why a player might not be performing?
Phil: Are you suggesting we change the colour of the grass?
Q: Not the grass but maybe some elements of the kit if it's a problem.
Phil: Red kit on a green background and being red-green colourblind is going to be terrible.
Q: It’s only certain shades.
Q: There comes a point, you say that we have free-kick coaches, throw-in coaches, nutritionist, all that and lots of the dinosaurs laugh at us and then you say “colourblind, it’s bullshit”. But there’s no way you didn’t give it a thought, has he got anything? Is this man talking b***ocks?
Phil: I’m not saying there’s no relevant argument. It might be the best thing ever, what I’m saying is we haven’t looked at it. And I’m not saying we haven’t looked at it because I don’t think it’s a good idea. I’m saying we haven’t looked at it because we haven’t had the time.
Q: Because you haven’t looked like it, it’s obviously not the most important thing like a throw-in or sleeping.
Phil: We got a bit more cash to spend recently so we’re investing some time and effort to look at some of these ideas a bit more. Grow it slowly over time. There’s nothing players hate more than some crazy idea forced on them.
Phil: Ultimately, what me and Rasmus can’t do, none of us, Matthew, nobody, we can’t actually go on the pitch and play ourselves. So, whatever we have to do has to be somehow funnelled or channelled into the players to then deliver that on that the pitch. That’s not so straightforward. Having a good idea is one thing but getting it into performance on the pitch is more difficult - there's almost subtle art to that, I think.
Q: Jersey Road, that had a big planning permission, but it hasn’t been enacted yet, is that happening now?
Phil: We got planning permission for a new training ground a couple of years ago and we were going to start that development but then COVID happened. We used to have a tiny gym in a portacabin and then we got a great big marquee, loads of space for social distancing the players in the gym which is bigger than the one we had in our new training ground design. So suddenly our new training ground actually, when you looked back at it, wasn’t really fit for purpose already two years later because for example the gym was already still too small.
Q: It’s not fit for purpose because of COVID or it’s not fit for purpose because of the size?
Phil: A bit of both. So now everyone’s got to be distanced, separate rooms as much as we can, players can’t be really close, breathing on each other in the gym or whatever. And also, it would have been just quite frankly a big disappointment to present a new training ground with a much smaller gym again and not really fit for purpose for a Premier League club.
Managers and their InterviewsPhil: Managers over the last 20 years have gone from being managers who sit on the bench and watch the game to now where they all stand up on the edge of the technical area prowling around. And then on a Sky game before they have the line-ups, they'll have the manager standing there, the full screen of the manager. The manager is like this, the cult of the manager. The manager is now the absolutely central figure.
Q: Do you not just speak to Thomas afterwards and say, "Did you really say that?" Or do you just go, "It's irrelevant. It doesn't matter"?
Phil: Yes, mostly it's irrelevant. I'll try and have conversations that are at a very strategic level. So, for example, we'll talk about what messages we want to get out over the course of a season, who needs to know and how are we going to play it and who are we going to speak to? So, we're quite strategic about who's speaking where and what, so we're not saying the wrong thing and we're not spreading ourselves too thin, you know, and becoming a bit boring, which can happen. Especially with Rasmus (Laughter)
Play Off FinalQ: Were you with Matthew and all the other directors at Wembley for our promotion? What was that actually like?
Phil: Yes. We were in the Royal box. So Matthew was where the Queen sits. (Laughter)
Phil: His family were in the front row and then there was another row empty and then it was me, Rasmus, Jon Varney, I think. Then behind us it was Cliff and his family. So, yes, because of the way it happened it wasn't so dramatic. For me, it was just like, "Right, there you go.". Almost an anti-climax, but you see there's a difference between the Brentford fans and people like me. So, Jon Varney and Matthew were like, "Oh, my God."
Q: The story going back to the semi-final was when Forss scored the goal to take us through to the final. Matthew apparently said…
Phil: He said to me - I can't remember the exact words - I said to him, "Right, happy with that?" And he went, "For f***’s sake. It's another week of absolute misery”. He's right because it is - the play-off weeks. Especially the Fulham one which was just miserable.
Phil: You're sitting there watching the Bournemouth semi-final, there's no fun in it. It's not enjoyable. I'm sitting there thinking, "This is not enjoyable. Why are we even here? I could be doing so many different things with my life right now, than sitting watching this."
Phil: The Fulham game, for example, the final, is a horrible one basically. There's no fun in it. It's not enjoyable. It was cold. Wembley Stadium was empty.
Phil: And then as soon as the outcome happens, I'm absolutely fine again. I don't wallow in it. I went down to the changing rooms after the game and went, "Right, lads. Never mind. Pick yourselves up. See you in a couple of weeks. We'll win the league next year. Don't worry about this. Absolutely fine." And obviously everyone is really down. But partly that's "I've got to do that. That's my job." And partly it's genuinely a little bit of a relief of knowing where we are. Me and Rasmus know what we're going to do now as we're going to try and sell Watkins and Benrahma and we're going to go out and buy Toney and whoever.
It's the uncertainty bit that's a bit of a killer. But then once you know what the situation is you just crack on. So, you try and tell yourself at some point in the Bournemouth game, “either we're going to lose, in which case I'll know what we're going to do next, or we're going to win, and I'll be happy about it”. But either way we'll crack on, you know?
Q: What was Matthew like after the Fulham game then? Was he just a broken man?
Phil: Yes, he's a fan. So, he was disappointed.
Q: So, how pleased were we not to face Barnsley in that final? Because the fans were like, "Not Barnsley. They've got our number." Do you guys look at that and go, "sh*t they've got our number", after they did a job on us.
Phil: No, you've just got to back yourself that you're better than them.
Q: I mean that's the conversation I had with Josh Dasilva at one of the games, he said, "We're glad that we're playing Swansea because we know how to play against Swansea."
Phil: Yes, I mean from my point of view, I suppose I was not overly concerned. There was also a chat about, "Is it better playing the weaker team in the final?” Not from my point of view, just play your best. I've got on my phone a list of top to bottom of who's the best ranked teams, so let's hopefully play the worst team. Let's just play them. Let the other teams worry about the other semi-final.
Q: Bournemouth are probably great to play over two legs, two legs, we'd probably beat them. But a one-off game, they probably have the quality to match us, which they showed in the first leg.
Phil: Well, not really, because it's a very marginal- it's all random anyway, as I said before. That's the moral of all this, it's all random. The Fulham Playoff Final was … it was like a coinflip basically.
Q: Does Thomas play up to it sometimes though? Because I remember the second leg against Swansea, the Fulham year, he had the whiteboard out, during the drinks break and he was having a bit of handbags with Connor Roberts in the playoff final against Swansea. He was there with his watch in the air like that. Do you think he loves it a little bit too much?
Phil: The watch in the air was a deliberate ploy because we knew already that Bournemouth were going to be timewasting from the first second and it’s so easy to lose 7 or 8 minutes from the game. So, that was a deliberate ploy, Same as the lap of honour before the game he did. Not a lap of “honour” so to speak, but you know what I mean. The whiteboard, no that was just him coaching. And the Connor Roberts thing - I think he was probably on edge as much as anyone. So, when they come together, he just kicks the ball away.
ArsenalQ: For the Arsenal game, we all had expectations of what the atmosphere would be like. For me, it just blew it out of the water. I mean how did it feel for you guys?
Phil: Yes, it was special. There were moments in it that were also good, like the Rob Rowan thing as well as the Saka moment, that was good. So, the overall atmosphere was good. It was just the coming together of lots of different avenues of things that went into that whole evening. One of the best five atmospheres, you know, top five games I've been in terms of atmosphere.
Other SportsQ: Do you cross over with other sports as well? I've read stuff about baseball and things they're doing and American football and what they're doing. Did any of that cross over into football or things we're looking and learning about?
Phil: Yes. I can't think of any direct examples, but we do speak to people from other sports and see what they're doing and get ideas and stuff. Some of the stuff around sleep, nutrition, recovery is all common to any sport? So, yes, but I can't think of any specific thing like, "We went and spoke to a basketball coach and got this idea about something." Not really like that, no.
CrowdQ: I was going to ask you the home crowd and our home form, is that material to how we perform as a team?
Phil: Home advantage dropped last season didn’t it? Home advantage disappeared. There were more away wins in the Premier League last year, weren’t there?
Phil: It is interesting. The interesting question is not “is there a home advantage?”, because there obviously is. The interesting question is what causes it? So, when you say the fans cause a home advantage, okay, so what do they do to cause a home advantage? Is it an impact on our players, inspiring them? Is it an impact on the other team’s players? Or is it, and this is my preferred theory, actually on the referee and linesmen, and they are a little bit weaker to give decisions in certain directions?
Phil: Everyone has seen the linesmen, especially the one on the Braemar Road side, who used to sit in front of me. All the fans would get on him like that, and you just can’t not be influenced. If it is a judgement call you are not going to put your flag up to get these guys off your back.
RecruitmentQ: Because Lee Dykes is now head of recruitment for both clubs, how does that works and who oversees him? What makes one player a Midtjylland player and another player a Brentford player? Apart from there is a requirement that we might need a striker or might need a right back, but if we are both looking for a right back, who is going to be a Midtjylland player and who a Brentford player?
Phil: The reason we have Lee and his team doing both of them is because we just have the same processes, and use the same information in the same way, we build one dataset and then we can have a look in different situations with different players. That is more or less it.
There are surprisingly few situations where there is actually a crossover or a decision of, “Do we want this player to be a Brentford player or Midtjylland?” I do not even remember one case of that happening.
Q: The other thing about… I remember reading an interview with Lee, and he was talking about an algorithm that he had actually developed himself when he was working at either Carlisle or Bury. The algorithm that he said that he applied was the algorithm he used to actually go out and buy Fin Stevens. Is there a kernel of truth in that?
Phil: Yes. one of the things I liked about Lee, when we interviewed him, was he had a spreadsheet, and he was just listing all the players in non-league football, where Bury could realistically recruit from, and came up with a scoring system, his own scoring system. That information was, basically, people trawling through club websites because no one collects this information. You have to go on for example AFC Fylde’s website, to even find out who started.
Now there is no great depth of really sophisticated data in non-league. What I liked about Lee was he was trying to solve a problem, trying to create a solution to solve a problem in a more objective way than just, “I will watch a few games and I will be the decision maker.” That filtering mechanism helped him, and we still use it in certain cases.
Obviously, a lot of the stuff at Brentford was put in place before him, and he has come in and is working with it, adapted it a little bit, put his own idea into it.
Let’s take Fin Stevens, you have got a 16-year-old who turned 17, playing every week where Worthing were, I think three levels down, then there must be something there. Then you look at his back story, he was at Arsenal’s academy and released at 15, why was that? Maybe he was physically not ready. Okay, so there is something now to go with. Is he a gamble that we can take in the B team? Absolutely. Why not?
Q: Can he make the Premier League, for instance?
Phil: Maybe. I hope so. I mean, ultimately, he is developing as he develops. The random bit is getting the opportunity. But when he gets the opportunity, let us see if he can take it.
Phil GilesQ: Do you get recognised by anybody when you are out and about?
Phil: Sometimes, but not very often. I took my son swimming in the summer and got recognised by somebody. It is quite hard because when somebody goes, “Phil!” like that, and I do not know who they are, I am thinking, “Should I know this person? (Laughter) Am I being a bit rude to you? Who are you?” It happens now and again, not very often.
Q: Is it difficult being a fan of football and doing your job?
Phil: Is it difficult being a fan of football? No.
Q: Do you become too dispassionate, feel like you can’t enjoy it?
Phil: No, I tell you what made me more dispassionate about football was working in betting which I'd done for 10 years before I started at Brentford.
Q: Where did you work before that?
Phil: Spreadex. They're Burnley sponsors now. In 2005 I moved to there. I worked there for two years before working for Matthew. So, that process of watching games and understanding all about the randomness of it. Then understanding all about managing risk, about things that can go for and against you like that (snaps fingers!). I’m more worried about the P&L and, obviously, that's so you can keep your job, as opposed to, "Oh, I'm an Newcastle fan, let's hope they win."
Q: Where do you spend your time? At the training ground or with the machines at Smartodds?
Phil: The Smartodds offices have been empty for the last year and a half. Earlier this year I was working out of there a bit on my own because I was living not far away. I’ve actually moved house, so I’m now spending more time working from home or the training ground but very little at Smartodds.
Q: Someone actually asked this, they said what’s the craziest idea that Ras has come up with?
Phil: I’ll answer a different question, he thinks the best thing I ever did was install comfortable seats at the back of the Directors’ Box at Griffin Park. Me and him sat on these seats with loads of leg room. He said “That is the best thing, of all the things you’ve contributed - and there’s not a lot - that is the best thing you contributed. You’ll never surpass this.” They were good seats, that’s one of the reasons that Matthew ended up moving there as well.
Q: Have there been any offers for Phil Giles from any other Premiership clubs?
Phil: No. I expect loads though, especially after this, you should publicise this, open to offers.
Q: If Newcastle come calling?
Phil: No! No, because I didn’t ask to be here. I mean, I never had this idea “I know what, I want to be the director of football of a Premier League team, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to angle for that role”. It just happened and I have other irons in the fire with other problems to solve as well in other parts of what we do such as Smartodds. If you go to another club and it doesn’t work out and I’m 42 now, so let’s say I went there, it didn’t work out, I’m 45, I’m sitting there going, “Right, what am I going to do now?” I need to put the kids through school, I need a job otherwise I’ll be sitting there all bored for the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years until I die.
Going around that merry-go-round of football clubs sounds utterly, utterly miserable. You’ve got to appreciate what you’ve got. It’s not just Brentford, it’s a wider thing for me.
Q: Shall we let Matthew know that he doesn’t need to increase your pay ever again?
Phil: Obviously that’s not what I’m saying, so for the purpose of this, put it out there that I’m open to offers!
Q: Are you down in the tunnel at a match trying to get autographs…?
Phil: I'm a fan as well, who is working in football. But I deliberately took a decision that I never get photographs with anyone. I don't do that.
Q: Not even after a game?
Phil: No. Actually, the night when we got promoted I got some photographs with some of the players, but that's just because my son had a programme and he had the idea to go round and get all the players to sign it. I got photographs with him and my other son. So the two kids and me with Ivan and Sergi. They were more family photos. The only one I ever got a photograph with was Pele. That's the only one I got.
CheeseQ: The final question, the traditional GPG question, which is, what is your favourite cheese?
Phil: Do I have to think of one answer or can I just ramble an answer?
Q: The floor is yours.
Phil: I bought some Comté last week, that was nice. I quite like blue cheese with walnuts. Something that is slightly soft, creamier. Something that oozes slightly, as opposed to crumbly blue cheese.
Q: That is like a Roquefort then, I would say that is a blue cheese which is quite runny.
Phil: Roquefort, yes.
When I was a student, which was a long time ago, I used to go to Morrison's and used to get like a big block of a really cheap cheddar. But bizarrely, it was absolutely unbelievable, because it had those, kind of, salt crystals in, you know when you get a little bit of salt in cheddar, with a slight crunchiness to it? That is also great.
Q: But anyway, Morrison's cheddar with crystal salts.
Phil: It should have been, by any law of cheese, Morrison's value pack of cheddar should have been rubbish cheese.
Phil: But it was surprisingly very good cheese, although I was a student, so probably had no taste whatsoever at the time.
So just go with Comté.
Q: We are going to go with that, and also the longest answer we have ever had for this question!
Am off to Morrison’s now for some cheddar...