Preview by Colin Murrant
…. playing away at Brentford in the FA Cup two years running are by my calculation over 7000/1*, although I stand to be corrected on this. Now, I am not a number nerd but the recent history of Brentford and in particular its owner, Matthew Benham, are strongly associated with statistics and odds. Apparently, and according to ‘non-stop-casinos’ (link attached), Benham is a professional gambler who mostly bets on sports and with his passion for analytics, it is no surprise that he was very successful.
This is not a story about MB himself but if the reader wishes to understand more about his history and how he uses data and algorithms, then this link may be of interest to you and an excellent insight to the man: https://non-gamstop-casinos.com/matthew-benham-successful-bloke-world-online-gambling/
A West London Football Club playing in the shadows of Chelsea and with Fulham and QPR as near neighbours, is always likely to have to fight for its survival. Yet, Brentford have done this with increasing success having been promoted from the First Division as runners-up in 2013/14. They have since then established themselves as a consistent Championship team with finishes of 5th-9th-10th-9th-11th-3rd, they currently sit 4th with two games in hand on the teams above them and only five points behind second place Swansea.
The Bees are fairly unique in that they have only a first team squad and a Brentford B development squad: no U23s, no Academy, they survive in part by buying good potential players and selling them on at a profit. A perfect example of this player trading can be seen with their forwards: Neal Maupay bought reportedly for £1.6m in 2017 from Saint-Étienne sold to Brighton in 2019 for £20m: already being developed was Ollie Watkins, bought from Exeter for reportedly £1.8m sold in 2020 to Aston Villa for £28m. Saïd Benrahma bought from Nice in 2018 for circa £2.7m and now on loan at West ham ahead of a transfer in the summer.
The latest addition is Ivan Toney, bought in the summer from Peterborough for £5m – a player who previously plied his trade in Division 1, already leading the Championship goal scoring charts with 16 goals and probably Premier League bound, with or without Brentford. In Brentford’s plans they will usually know who and when they buy a player, when they will sell him, for how much and who will replace him.
Rasmus Ankersen, Brentford’s co-director of Football, spoke to talkSPORT last year, ahead of the Leicester 3rd Round cup tie. Ankersen explained the Brentford philosophy along the lines: Brentford understand that underdogs cannot win by playing the same game as everyone else, they need to be different. To that end Brentford use analytics to help them search the world for what they describe as ‘Whispering Talents’; high-potential players who are not achieving their full potential.
Brentford are not blinded by League positions in their analysis they look beyond that, the number of good chances that a team creates is more likely what they are looking for. When manager Dean Smith left The Bees for Aston Villa in 2018, typically their next manager was already at the Club. The amiable Thomas Frank lost eight out of his first ten matches in charge, but the Club stuck to the plan they had, not responding emotionally but believing they were doing the right things as performances were good, if not converted in to points. If management is about science as much as an art, then the team leading Brentford are clearly leading exponents of this. But science alone cannot alone identify a player, it might tell you where to look, where the clubs are that might be shielding those rough diamond players.
By knowing where to look, Brentford will find these talents and at a good price. The aim is then to develop the player and sell on at a profit. The profit helps Brentford pay its way whilst, at the same time, gradually increasing the quality of the squad. Of course, not everyone buys into the analytical approach to the degree exhibited at Brentford. In May 2015 in MyLondon, then manager Mark Warburton was quoted as saying about his departure, “I think the manager has to pick the team and have the final say, in my opinion. I think there’s going to be a much greater emphasis on mathematical modelling than currently. There are certain aspects which I think have worked well at this football club, but Matthew’s the owner and the board have made a decision”.
If the Director’s successful approach might be considered to have been lucky at Brentford, then Benham and Ankersen had already used the same philosophy at FC Midtjylland in Denmark: a club they part own. In 2014, Benham became the majority shareholder of the Club’s holding Company. Whilst Leicester City was one year away from their League Title miracle, in 2014/15 FC Midtjylland won the Danish Superliga for the first time in their history. Since then, they have repeated the feat in 17/18 and also in 19/20. Introducing their algorithms in Denmark was in part characterised by supplying data to the team-manager at half time to help adapt tactics. This is now common throughout football as often managers and coaches can be seen referring to iPads or laptops throughout the match.
At the King Power there is a room that sits near the changing rooms where analysts operate throughout the match relaying information. Individual player data also appears on the big screen for the fans to see – how many passes, how many shots, how far a player has run etc: clearly a lot of the data remains confidential, but it illustrates how important analysis is in the modern game.
In the 1970’s the first noises were heard of Brentford wanting to move from their Griffin Park ground. A pleasant little ground hemmed in by houses and with the unique characteristic of having a pub on each corner of the ground. A ground in which Leicester City will forever hold the record of being the last FA Cup tie winners; and Kelechi Iheanacho the last FA Cup scorer.
In 2020, the ambition to move was finally achieved, after 116 years at Griffin Park: however, fans are still waiting to pack those new stands at The Brentford Community Stadium whether it be to support The Bees or London Irish. With a capacity of 17,500 and corporate facilities, Brentford will hope that the stadium will enhance their financial position.
It is extremely doubtful that the viability of the stadium would have been an emotional decision or indeed a hope. No doubt a full analysis including increased attendances, better access (next to Kew Bridge Station), hospitality income etc. etc. will have appeared in some statistical calculations: probably way beyond what you would find in a normal Business Plan.
As we approach the 4th round tie a thought occurred to me, I wonder if in all of Benham’s algorithms, did he have The Foxes at 5000-1 to win the Premier League in 2016 and, if he did, did he consider the Foxes a team of ‘Whispering Talents’ and put a bet on them?
The Sunday 4th Round tie will probably witness a stronger City team than put out for last year’s match; Rogers putting out a strong team against Stoke in Round 3. Although, with Everton away on Wednesday night, it is not likely that Jamie Vardy will lead the line. Who will appear for Brentford? Last year they rested most of their first team and the squad has recently been hit by COVID-19.
Those of us older fans will remember Leicester City being in three Cup Finals during the 1960s. As we left Wembley Stadium in May 1969, having just lost to Manchester City, none of us would have believed that we would not have returned to another Final some fifty-one years later. Every team in Round 3 has a chance, but the performance and control the team exerted against Chelsea shows The Foxes need fear no-one: could this be the year? The odds against City …….. winning The Cup are 12/1 and dropping.
- Odds of Home draw for Brentford in Round 3 19/20 =2/1
- Odds of Leicester drawn away to Brentford Round 3 19/20 = 63/1 (64 teams in Round 3)
- Odds of Home draw for Brentford in Round 4 20/21 =2/1
- Odds of Leicester drawn away to Brentford Round 4 20/21 = 31/1 (32 teams in Round 3)
- Odds of Leicester being drawn away to Brentford 2 years running 2x63X2x31 = odds of 7812/1
The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation