If football embraced nuance and long-term processes rather than feed an addiction to sweeping statements based on the most recent result, Brentford would already be considered a resounding success. On the pitch they are a sight for purists’ eyes, expansive and entertaining. Off it they are run prudently with an arguably unrivalled level of player trading success, a comparatively small club continuing to punch above its weight while growing in a sustainable way.
Their return to the Championship play-off final, overcoming the heartbreak of last season’s defeat to Fulham, is in the words of Thomas Frank “extraordinary” and “remarkable” because of the pandemic-influenced circumstances and sales of their best two players last summer. And yet the head coach knows that tomorrow afternoon’s result against Swansea City will see their season consigned to glorious triumph or yet another failure with little grey in between.
“I definitely believe that the work we put in every single day, a clear strategy, a clear structure, everything aligned, over time will give us success no matter what will happen,” he said. “That’s my feeling. It’s an extraordinary achievement this year. Everyone knows the headlines if we win or lose. Both can happen so we need to be open minded but we need to believe we can win.
“To lose last year, come back with the shortest turnaround and selling the two best players potentially in the league, breaking the transfer record twice, is remarkable. We are a success. It just depends on how big of a success we are. It’s black and white in football but the way we do things is a success. That will take us to reach our goal eventually one way or another.”
Frank hopes it will be tomorrow. If not, Brentford’s business model dictates that they may sell another star player in the summer – even if that is something the Dane insists he will not think about until after a walking holiday in Scotland and trip home to see his family. Ivan Toney, the £5m acquisition from Peterborough who more than filled the space vacated by Ollie Watkins’ sale to Aston Villa, and the left back Rico Henry, absent through injury, are among those who have been monitored closely by top flight scouts.
But if Brentford break their horrible play-off record and progress from this format for the first time in ten attempts to reach the top flight for the first time since 1946/47, the key names would only depart for very silly money. “Honestly, I’m only thinking about the game,” Frank reiterated. “Then we’ll see what happens.”
Either way do not expect fireworks at Wembley. Both regular season meetings ended 1-1 and Swansea, not the most prolific goalscorers, pride themselves on defensive solidity. Twelve of the past 14 finals have been decided by a single goal. If play-off semi-finals are second only to the Champions League knockout stages in terms of guaranteed entertainment, the richest game in football is almost always attritional and cagey.
Last year there was a feeling that Brentford faced Fulham a little too amped up, the emotion of saying goodbye to Griffin Park when coming from behind to beat Swansea in the semi-finals sending them over the red line. Their performance ended up being flat, like a marathoner turning up for race day having produced his best run in training three weeks earlier, even if it required extra time and a piece of quick-thinking from Joe Bryan to return Fulham to the Premier League.
Nine of Brentford’s starting XI from that midweek evening behind closed doors remain in the squad and while not all of them will be involved tomorrow it helps to have such familiarity and pain in the dressing room. “It’s a plus,” Frank said of an experience that he has previously claimed will trouble him until Brentford win promotion. “But how much you don’t really know. That experience of last will help maybe in some decisive moments, maybe that intuitive feeling in the body. Maybe that can help. Maybe.”
It will be a day with few certainties. “The only thing I will predict is it will be an unbelievably tight game that will be decided on the finest margins.” Nailing their preparation will be key, then. Frank has channeled the legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson and the Last Dance documentary series in the past. Last week he showed the squad a video of Liverpool blitzing Barcelona in the Champions League as they came from behind to knock out Bournemouth.
Few head coaches seem to have his knack for emotional oration but as of yesterday afternoon he had still not decided what to say to his players at Wembley. Do not rule out a spontaneous speech from a squad member either.
Bryan Mbeumo gave one last season before the final game at Griffin Park that took everyone by surprise, reading some pre-prepared comments from the screen of his phone. Christian Norgaard, who was injured in the warm up last weekend and a significant doubt, provided a rallying call at 2:55pm before they eventually overcame Bournemouth.
“I don’t know what I’m going to say,” Frank said. “I’ve been thinking about a few things but I haven’t nailed anything in my head yet. We’ll try to play on the emotions of the players but we need to try and keep a cool head. It’s a fine balance.” And a game that either way will be decided by the thinnest margins.
Source by Football London