“The BMW is still running fast,” said Thomas Frank, the Brentford head coach, referring to Saïd Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins after watching his three-pronged attack combine to devastating effect against Fulham at Griffin Park on Saturday. Watkins carried the ball to the edge of the box, where Benrahma took over, buying a yard of space before scooping a cross towards the back post for Mbeumo to fire the only goal of the game, his eighth of the campaign. Brentford will leave their 115-year-old stadium at the end of this season and have designs of going out with a bang.
Mbeumo, a £5.5m club-record signing, has scored in Brentford’s past four matches, including a 7-0 demolition of Luton. The 20-year-old winger is the latest Brentford player to make a seamless transition from Ligue 2 to the Championship after joining from Troyes in the summer, following in the footsteps of Benrahma and Neal Maupay, the striker who moved to Brighton in August for £16m after two prolific seasons.
Benrahma was a £2.7m signing from Nice after impressing on loan at Châteauroux, and Maupay a £1.6m arrival from Saint-Étienne after shining at Brest. The defender Julian Jeanvier, in effect John Egan’s replacement 18 months ago, joined from Reims, while Maxime Colin, now of Birmingham, piqued Brentford’s interest at Troyes. Yoann Barbet, now of Queens Park Rangers, joined in 2015 after a season at Chamois Niortais.
It is not only in the French market where Brentford have found joy; Watkins was a £1.8m buy from Exeter City in 2017, and in the summer they paid Barnsley £3m for Ethan Pinnock, who was playing for Dulwich Hamlet three years ago. Pinnock has been paired in central defence with Pontus Jansson, who was made captain after arriving from Leeds United in July. The pair in effect replaced Ezri Konsa and Chris Mepham, who this year sealed Premier League moves to Aston Villa and Bournemouth respectively, bringing in £27m.
Brentford have sold almost £100m of talent since 2014 and sales are vital to countering the club’s £10m-£20m annual operating loss. At 28, Jansson represented a noticeable shift, being the oldest outfield player to join since Lasse Vibe four years ago, but strengthening the defence was a priority.
“We conceded too many goals for a team who wants to get promoted,” says the Brentford co-director, Phil Giles. “Thomas was big on that when he took over last October and [assistant head coach] Brian Riemer, who has done a great job with our defence, was very big on not just adding more experience but also the mentality; to really enjoy defending, to make sure you don’t concede and being proud about that. They have done a fantastic job in changing the mentality.
“Pontus has made a big impression and his leadership has been great. I think he saw Brentford as a team who scored lots of goals and were very good going forward but maybe not as good defensively. I think he felt he could help us become more solid at the back, [and be] the missing piece of the jigsaw to help us attack the top six and the top two.”
Brentford are not perfect – Giles highlights the departure for £250,000 of Jack O’Connell, who has become a staple of Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United – but they have delivered more hits than misses. Brentford, fourth after eight wins in their past 11 matches, hope the next step for Benrahma and co is the Premier League – with them. They have finished in the top half each season since promotion five years ago under Mark Warburton but have not reached the play-offs since 2015.
Dean Smith returned to his former club for Konsa in the summer and the Villa manager is among Benrahma’s admirers, though the Algeria winger is under contract until 2022. “I think from our squad right now there are seven or eight players who can potentially play in the Premier League in the long term and the absolute main aim is that it is with us, hopefully next season,” says Giles. “If we keep doing well I think we have a chance of getting into the top six, at least.”
No player under 22 has been involved in more goals in the Football League this season than Mbeumo and second in that list is Marcus Forss, the 20-year-old Brentford striker on loan at AFC Wimbledon. There is also excitement at the potential of the teenage midfielder Dru Yearwood, signed from Southend in the summer. Like Mepham, the Finnish striker Forss represents a success story for the Brentford B team, a development squad born after the club ditched their academy in 2016. Forss was released by West Brom, whom Brentford face at the Hawthorns on Saturday. The midfielder Arthur Read, who came through the ranks at Luton alongside the Norwich full-back Max Aarons, joined the B team in the summer. Against Reading in November, Brentford’s bench comprised five B-team players, plus 19-year-old Dominic Thompson.
“That was evidence of there being a magnificent pathway,” Giles says. “You cannot close your academy without a clear plan and an idea about what is to replace it and, because it was a little bit controversial at the time, there was a lot of pressure on the club to make sure we got it right. But we felt there was an opportunity to not develop players at eight, nine or 10 but focus more on can we pick up players released by mistake from other clubs or find players from overseas? This year players like Luka Racic, Jan Zamburek and Mads Roerslev have all played significant minutes for the first team.”
• The Luton chief executive, Gary Sweet, has said the club cannot financially compete in the Championship “mad house” and believes a salary cap should be enforced. Luton are two points above the relegation zone following promotion last season but Sweet said the disparity did not mean they could not stay up. “There are more currencies in football than money,” he said. “The first one being points on the board, but the second one being a lot of ethical and moral values that we hold.” Luton have turned down several lucrative sponsorship deals from gambling companies.
• Bristol Rovers’ promotion push will not be derailed by Graham Coughlan’s sudden departure, says the club’s chief executive. Coughlan has traded Rovers, who are fourth in League One, for Mansfield, who are 18th in League Two, after growing frustrated with the level of financial investment. Coughlan also cited family reasons, with the Irishman’s family based in Sheffield. “The wheels aren’t going to come off,” said Martyn Starnes. “We’re very happy with the staff we have got here.”
• Graham Westley has returned to Stevenage for a fourth spell in charge. Stevenage are second-bottom in League Two. “Given our current league position, this is not the time for us to experiment with managers,” said the chairman, Phil Wallace. “I need someone I trust.” Mark Sampson will revert to the role of first-team coach.