How Brentford became football’s most unlikely success story

I knew it in my head The plan was clear. I knew we had to be fantastic defensively, at set pieces and in fitness. We knew the style of play and what I wanted to do. We were more dominant in the championship, the team with the highest points in two years, and it was about breaking the competition, but we had to change that.

We had to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. We knew that set pieces were just as good as any other team. Maybe they have a bit better performance, but in terms of physicality and plan, we were at the top. And then fitness. I should be able to walk as much as you. Maybe there’s a little bit of physiology, but it’s really about mindset and training. We focused more on defence, especially in preparation. We had to pack it.

Manchester City 2 Brentford 0 (9 February 2022)

When we got started I thought, ‘Can we make the top 10?’ and then we were hit by injuries. Raya was out for four months, a top six goalkeeper in the league, Ajer, Rico, Ivan. We had the evil magic. We lost nine out of eleven from Boxing Day to the end of February. I remember before the season people said we could lose five times in a row in the league and I thought ‘never’. Because of the culture and mentality. And we had the City game away. We lost and that was the fifth game. But we played really well and that convinced me. Then the key players came back and I knew that if I had my best starting XI there was no problem. City came so close to being a defensive masterclass, but that spell was hard to take.

I hate losing, the players hate losing and that’s the biggest difference between the Championship and the Premier League for a team like us. We just lose more games. For the top guys, (Jürgen) Klopp and (Pep) Guardiola, it was only last Sunday (the final day of the Premier League) that they found out whether they were a success or not – more or less. You get a lot of wins and that’s a nice feeling and it’s easier to go to work the next week. If you’re getting the “hits,” you still have to get up, come in with positive energy, smile, still produce messages (hit the palm hard) and it’s tough. My three words this season were: cool, bold, aggressive. Every game.

Chelsea 1 Brentford 4 (2 April 2022)

There were three reasons we had a good run. First of all, we could never do it if we didn’t play well during the bad period. The basics were there. Second, key players were fit. Even when City play without Kevin De Bruyne, they are not the same. And then there was Christian (Eriksen). I’m still convinced that we would have stayed awake without him. 100 percent. But he gave us top quality, coolness, he made his teammates better. You answered him. He smiles, likes to play football and is part of something, and not just something, but something remarkable.

In the last seven years, only Aston Villa have stayed ahead of us in their first season after that – by a point and they were lucky with goal-line technology (failed) against Sheffield United and spent big in the play-offs. And we feel so comfortable there without spending more or less money and playing our kind of football.

The Chelsea game is the obvious. The Norwich game (3-1 away win) and the Burnley game (2-0) were very important but going to Stamford Bridge, playing the European champions, the best cup team in the world, came full force and we have beaten them fair and square. Not many teams can do that. I was so proud. It’s very, very rare for an underdog to do your best in every aspect of how you want to play. Follow a game plan 100 percent. That almost never happens.

Leave a Comment