Brentford FanZoner Billy Grant hails the impact that loan signings are having on the club's quest for promotion.
It's been an interesting season so far. It was only last October that Brentford fans walked out of the Lamex stadium, after having just lost to joint bottom-placed Stevenage, grizzling that we had no chance of even making playoffs. Four months later we are top of the league, three points clear of the top playoff spot with a game in hand and unbeaten in 18 league games - 15 of them being wins.
It's hard to put the finger on exactly what brought about this dramatic turn of events. Uwe Rosler's 90 minute Stevenage dressing room lock-in undoubtedly helped.
But to say we had an uninspiring start to the season would be an understatement. It wasn't terrible. But other than a convincing 3-1 victory against Sheffield Utd, results like the 0-0 draw against hapless Carlisle, who everyone was wiping the floor with at the time, and losing 4-0 away to Bradford (OK we did have our keeper sent off after 20 minutes) did nothing to convince folk that we were ready to bounce back and dominate the league after the final day penalty catastrophe against Doncaster and playoff-final hurt against Yeovil.
What made it even more confusing was, on paper, Brentford were an even better side than the previous season. We had signed 20-goal-a-season striker Will Grigg from Walsall and hard man Swindon captain Alan McCormack, who switches between midfield and defence, amongst others.
The only players we lost close season were attacking midfielder Harry Forrester, who has since only played a handful of games for Doncaster due to injury, and goalkeeper Simon Moore who was replaced in 48 hrs by David Button from Charlton. We swapped the outgoing Forrester with the exciting young prospect Conor McAleney, on a season long loan from Everton, but unfortunately he broke his leg in the 2nd home game and Brentford struggled to replace him.
That was until six weeks later when Brentford came up against Kadeem Harris playing for Cardiff in an academy match. The match was broadcast live on YouTube and at the time, many Brentford fans commented how dangerous the young Harris looked that evening. Four days later, he was making his debut for the Bees' first team against Colchester coming on a late sub with Brentford staring a 4th straight defeat in the face.
By the final whistle young Harris had switched the impetus of the game with his darting runs down the wing and scored a goal as the Bees ran out 3-1 winners to start their unbeaten league run. Not a bad days work for the young debutant.
It was around that time that outspoken TalkSport pundit and Peterborough fan Adrian Durham publicly hit out at Brentford over their apparent over-indulgence in the loan market. Calling us 'LoanFord', he went at great lengths to question why we continued to bolster our ranks with loan players from Chelsea, Fulham and Cardiff as opposed to plucking up-and-coming players from the lower leagues.
Whereas on paper Durham was had his facts correct, Brentford are close to meeting their quota of loan players on their books (no more than most teams some would say), further research on his behalf would have revealed the positive rationale behind the Bees' strategy.
Whereas teams like Durham's Posh are willing and able to pay £1.5 million for a striker like Assombalonga, whilst bringing in a player from St Neots to work his way up the daisy chain, Brentford have identified a different way of doing business.
Yes it is true that there are teams out there prepared to loan in established players to temporarily fill a gap in their side. The only problem with this strategy is if there are no plans in place to sign the player up, if he is any good the chances are someone else will snap him up leaving a hole in the team once again. It's like putting a finger in the dam.
This is less likely to happen if you have spent time developing young players at the start of their career who have great potential but still a have way to go to develop when their contracts expire. This is Brentford's preferred method.
Three of Division 1's hottest prospects were on loan to Brentford for a period of time. Adam Forshaw and Jake Bidwell were Everton academy players before making the switch. Bidwell played over 50 games as a loanee. Harlee Dean played over 25 games on loan from Southampton before moving North.
This strategy of 'try and buy' seems to be working for the Bees. The end result is usually a relatively low outlay (transfer fee) coupled with a lower risk (you know what you are getting). From a business angle surely this makes perfect sense in this age of football clubs continually spending their way out of trouble.
By developing a relationship with initially the loan team and then the player, Brentford get an opportunity to really get to know the player inside out finding out how he carries himself professionally as well as socially and whether or not he fits into the current team ethos. It also gives the player an opportunity to get a real feel for the Brentford set-up.
As skilful a player as Nile Ranger and Gavin Tomlin may be, the current strategy at Brentford leans towards incorporating slightly more emotionally stable characters within the current set-up. That doesn't mean that these players won't deliver elsewhere mind you.
So where Durham has got it wrong is that he hasn't acknowledged that the is. Ore than one way of conducting your business in the football world. Whereas some teams are obviously very good at splashing the cash and attracting quality players, and it works for them, Brentford's signing strategy focuses on attracting young developing players to the fold where they can develop their game and, if the parent team decides to let them go, we will be first in line to try and sign them up.
There is no hiding the fact that we would also love to get on our books other young starlets that we have developed. Marcello Trotta (Fulham) has really blossomed in his time at Griffin Park. George Saville (Chelsea) is still learning but has been a revelation and can dance too. Kadeem Harris (Cardiff) is another fantastic prospect who had no fear terrorising division one defences up and down the country before he was cruelly chopped down at Preston to curtail his season.
With Nico Yennaris (Arsenal) we were able to forgo the loan spell and sign him straight as he, despite being at Arsenal since he was 7yrs old, was deemed surplus to needs.
Brentford's loan system works hand in hand with their grade 2 listed academy which is continually developing players (the under 18s beat both Liverpool and Everton last season to win the prestigious Milk Cup). It is expected that in 5 years time, half the first team will come from the academy.
So Brentford have proven that if you are strategic about it, you can use the loan system to your advantage. Yes there is a danger of putting players in the shop window for other teams to poach but that's where perceived ambition and relationships work in your favour.
So as we edge towards the business part of the season, Brentford have managed to lock down Trotta, Saville and Alan Judge on end-of-season loans. All three players look terrific prospects and having them as permanent parts of the Brentford furniture will do the team no harm at all.
And as for Peterborough. Maybe they've started to realise that the loan system has it's advantages as they seem to have taken a leaf out of Brentford's book having signed two young players recently - Josh McQuoid from Bournemouth and Ben Nugent from Cardiff academy (ironically one player who didn't quite work out in our 'try and buy' strategy as we sent him back to Cardiff at the end of his loan spell with us)........ Both on loan.
And maybe Adrian Durham's perspective on Posh should be less about about the pot painting the olde kettle black and more about finally realising there is more than one way to string that proverbial cat.