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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The Championship can be a division of dreamers, a league of clubs who can glimpse their past and a more lucrative future.
Each of its 24 participants this season has played top-flight football, but Brentford’s has been the longest wait. It is 73 years since they were relegated from the old Division One. Now only their London neighbours Fulham separate them from a place in the Premier League.
Their enthusiastic, intense manager Thomas Frank keeps on talking of the £170 million (Dh818m) reward for winning the play-off final. Money is a constant in the conversations and not merely because they are leaving Griffin Park, their home of 116 years, for the £70 million Brentford Community Stadium.
Brentford have become English football’s ultimate Moneyball team, the experts in identifying the up-and-coming, the undervalued and the unknown and selling them on.
Owner and lifelong fan Matthew Benham is a former professional gambler who founded a betting company. Brentford keep on playing the numbers.
The top two divisions are populated with profitable bits of business: Neal Maupay, Ezri Konsa and Romaine Sawyers raised £35 million last summer, while Chris Mepham and John Egan were among those to bring in £30 million the previous season. Factor in Andre Gray, James Tarkowski, Scott Hogan and Jota and Brentford have banked more than £100 million in five years.
Other Championship clubs, Bristol City and Preston in particular, have run businesses by selling on players to wealthier clubs but no one has done it as consistently or as productively as Brentford. It is why they often come up in conversations with rival clubs.
They feel role models, forever operating with the future in mind. That acumen explains why a club with the division’s fourth lowest average attendance, when crowds were permitted, could challenge.
But Brentford speculated to accumulate. Paying £5.5 million for a 28-year-old centre-back last summer was not designed with resale value in mind but Pontus Jansson claimed that, after falling out with Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds, he got his agent to call Brentford.
“They had to put my name into the data,” said the Swede, highlighting how Brentford’s recruitment is influenced by the statistics. Now they have improved. With Jansson, Brentford had the second-best defensive record last season; after conceding 59 league goals in 2018-19, they were only breached 38 times.
They were also top scorers, all the more admirable as they sold Maupay, the division’s second most prolific player in 2018-19, to Brighton. Just as when Dean Smith joined Aston Villa and Frank was promoted to replace him, the answer was internal.
Brentford had planned for Maupay’s departure and Ollie Watkins, having spent the previous year as a winger, replaced him as both the main striker and the Championship’s second most potent marksman, behind only Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. Watkins and winger Said Benrahma, whose campaign yielded 17 goals and eights assists, should graduate to the Premier League even if Brentford do not.
Bryan Mbeumo completes a 57-goal front three. Their acronym ‘BMW’ has become so commonplace that Frank often uses it; between them, they orchestrated a play-off demolition of Swansea that was conducted at blistering pace.
Mbeumo came from Troyes, Benrahma from Nice, where he was a serial loanee, and Watkins from Exeter; off the beaten track, in short. The entire squad has nine minutes of Premier League experience, courtesy of winger Sergi Canos for Liverpool in 2016.
They should arguably have already booked their top-flight place. After eight successive wins, they lost their last two league games when a solitary victory would have booked automatic promotion.
Now a club who have had four spells in the fourth tier since they last played in the elite have a second chance.
Updated: August 4, 2020 07:54 AM
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