Updated: Feb 18, 2021
Two years ago, Championship outfit Brentford closed their youth academy. This came from restrictions imposed on them by the Premier League’s elite player performance plan. Brentford were scouting talented young players; however, they were producing them too well and too quick. Before the players were reaching the age of 16, other English giants were taking their players for minimal fees. Brentford were suffering by producing talented players. In 2016, they took the drastic decision to scrap their academy and replace it with a B Team. This released the shackles of Premier League benefitting legislation and allowed Brentford the opportunity to reap the profits of their hard work.
This decision was radical, not only this but it freed up a lot of money for the club. Abolishing the youth academy provided Brentford with £1.5 million a year, enough to fund their new project. Now, instead of producing young teenage players only for them to be lured away by fellow London or English clubs, they have set their recruitment net for players aged 17 to 20. Ian Carlo Poveda and Josh Bohui were both in the Brentford youth academies, these players now represent Manchester City and United respectively. Brentford received around £30,000 for each player, this is an insult to the talent of their scouts and something had to change. They now seek to collect the best players they can from around the world and bring them to Brentford. Whether this be released players from Britain or talented youngsters abroad, this allows Brentford to express their scouting prowess. Of course, the seeds have only recently been sown on this bold plan, but it is already attracting attention and interest. Rather than featuring in a league, Brentford B Team pit themselves against some of Europe’s elite youth sides. This season alone has seen victories against Benfica (6-0), Chelsea (2-1), Southampton (2-1), Everton (4-3), Bournemouth (2-0), Legia Warsaw (2-1), Manchester City (5-2), AC Milan (4-3), Inter Milan (3-1), Manchester United (3-1), Chelsea (3-0), Anderlecht (4-0) and Porto (3-2). In all, Brentford B Team played 41 times this season against select XI’s, Under 23 and 19 sides and other B Teams. This list of scalps across the world illustrates the prowess of this exciting project.
The opportunity for these young players to travel the world and play against some of Europe’s elite sides would be exciting. These are players who have fell through the net, but Brentford have seen their talents and provided them an opportunity. Their scouting model focuses on late teen players, this makes it easier for scouts to assess the abilities of the young players as they are more developed. Any late developing players are perfect for Brentford as they can reap the reward of providing these players a second chance. A lot of the players they pick up are born in the later months of the school year. Blinded by size and age groups, many youth teams select the biggest and strongest players for their teams. The younger players in each age group are being cast aside because they are not as big as their peers. The BBC quoted a study in 2015 that; ‘45% of players in top-level academies have players born between September and November’, yet ‘among 57 England players with 50 or more caps… 46% were born between March and May’. These unfavoured summer months players are often developing into the brightest stars, but their smaller physique is lessening their chances at youth team level. Brentford can swoop in and nurture these players during their later development, after ‘bigger’ sides are releasing them.
Brentford do not have the finances of most Premier League clubs, yet the B Team is more than competing with their youth systems. The comparative lack of finances means that the scouts need to work harder to compete. It appears that having a solid scouting system and removing the youth academy has provided Brentford with a formula that is working well. The Premier League rules were favouring the biggest sides in England, Brentford had the bravery to stand up to them and they are benefitting from that. Yet the aim of this system is not just to have a good B Team, it is for them to make the step up into the first team and make Brentford a Premier League side.
The initial aim was set at promoting at least one player into the first team squad by the end of the 2016-17 season, this was achieved when Tom Field signed a three-and-a-half-year contract. Field has gone on to make 16 appearances at Brentford at spent last season on loan at Bradford City. In all, four B Team members played for the first team that season which is more home-grown players to have played for the club in a single season for over a decade. The hope would have to be that if these young players are competing with the worlds best in their age range now, then in the future they will continue to do so. This will benefit Brentford in one of two ways; they can become a club that continues to produce great young talent but sells them on for much more of a profit now their players are older, or these players will continue through to the first team and build a new era for Brentford, establishing them as a Premier League club.
The key reason why Brentford are attracting so much attention is because they are competing with the top academies across the UK. Brentford are a relatively small team, their home at Griffin Park holds 12,700 and their record signing is Sergi Canós from Norwich for £2.5 million. They finished 3 places and 6 points shy of the play-offs this season and they have not competed in England’s top division since 1947. This is the reason why they are gathering so much interest, their radical B Team approach does appear to be working. It is going to take time before the first team see the true benefits of this system, now it appears to be a matter of when and not if. If you compare their strategy to other UK teams in how they scout players, it illustrates why they are seeing success. They saw the heavy bias toward the rich and glamorous teams that were collecting the very best of the very young players from around the country and did not want to support it anymore. This system does not mean that any young Brentford fan cannot play professionally, they will have an abundance of other scouts to impress. What Brentford are offering is a chance to nurture late developers who can go on to prove their previous clubs wrong for releasing them. Brentford do not have the financial power of the elite Premier League teams, so they had to find a way to distinguish themselves and allow the opportunity to compete. Also, the fact that Huddersfield are beginning to eradicate their youth teams under 16 shows that others are realising the potential of this model. Brentford have a new system that is sure to be of interest to any team outside the top half of the Premier League. They must make sure that, as the innovators of this idea, they are the ones who profit most from it.
Brentford have created a fascinating set-up that looks to be producing results. On the last day of this season Brentford B Team beat Manchester City Under 23’s 3-2, Manchester City U23 finished 6th in the Premier League 2 last season. There were only two teams from the Championship in the league last season and they finished 2nd and 3rd bottom. Brentford’s B Team are competing at a bracket above Brentford’s main competitors at the moment, they are travelling the world and sampling different styles and cultures first-hand. This is all due to the radical decision to challenge the big boys and taking their own interests first. It may take many years for the true benefits to reach the first team, but within just two years huge improvements have been made. The only worry for Brentford must be Huddersfield, if they can start to copy their system then who is to stop anyone else. This new system looks like it could be replicated for many teams across the UK and the more successful Brentford are, the more likely this is. They must ensure that they can reap the reward of taking such a big risk before any other team can come and copy their strategy. For now, Brentford must be proud of what they are doing and continue to do their work. They deserve every success they achieve by challenging the Premier League bias to its biggest teams and finding a new way to compete.