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Brentford

Why Burnley new-man James Tarkowski could be a huge success at Turf Moor

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Unless you’re a Brentford or Burnley fan, James Tarkowski wouldn’t generally be on your radar. That is, of course, until he made the sports news for “refusing to play” in a match between the two teams in January of this year. As any fan would tell you, if one of the players in the team you support doesn’t want to play, that particular bridge between player and fans has been burnt. Yet, there’s always more to a story than that which appears on the surface.

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Having been the subject of a rejected bid of between £1.7m & £2.5m from Burnley around 13th January 2016, the Brentford central defender in fact “asked not to be included” in the match day squad for the fixture between the two sides, to be played 2 days later – these actions earned him a club fine of 2 weeks wages. It seemed this native of Manchester was unwilling to jeopardise the possibility of joining promotion-chasing Burnley and the chance to move closer to home. That Brentford’s best performing central defender appeared to show (through his actions) a desire to complete such a move signalled the beginning of the end of his Brentford career. The two clubs finally agreed a deal around the end of January, with the move being confirmed on 1st February 2016.

With the obligatory “undisclosed fee” being quoted when confirming Tarkowski’s move, various online establishments valued the deal at anywhere between £3m (figure from transfermarkt.co.uk) to £6m (figure quoted on both the Brentford fan website Beesotted and the72.co.uk). That reports suggest Brentford valued their player at around £7m in the summer of 2015, when Burnley made some initial enquiries, to around £5m after their first January 2016 bid, it’s really anyone’s guess as to the real figure involved. Suffice to say, having invested around £250k (figure quoted on Beesotted) when bought from Oldham, Brentford won’t have done too badly from the deal. In addition, while Oldham had a sell-on clause in place as part of the original deal, the Oldham Evening Chronicle have reported that Tarkowski’s boyhood team sought to cash-in on the deal and were paid £150k by Brentford months before his transfer to Burnley. So no timely windfall for them, unfortunately.

James Tarkowski is a 23-year-old, 6′ 3″ central defender who started his career at Oldham Athletic. Making his league debut in 2011 at the age of 18, Tarkowski racked up 89 first team appearances before signing for Brentford in the January 2014 transfer window. He went on to make 13 league appearances for his new club in a season that saw them finish 2nd and achieve automatic promotion from League One. At the tender age of 21 – and in Brentford’s first campaign at Championship level for 21 years – Tarkowski had established himself as their first choice centre back alongside Harlee Dean. He appeared 35 times that season, missing a block of 11 games from October to December 2014, initially through suspension, then through the form of his replacement – Tony Craig.

That break in first team action proved a pivotal one for Tarkowski. In the first 12 games of Brentford’s Championship season, he averaged a Squawka Performance Score of 14.83 per game.

> This score is calculated to represent a player’s positive influence on a game, based on statistical analysis. A score of between 10 and 20 is seen as an average performance, while gaining a score of over 50 would be a very good performance. <

In those 12 games his level of performance saw him gain 1 score between 40 & 49 and no scores of 50 or above. Significantly, when Tarkowski got back into the team, the subsequent 23 matches he played to the end of the season saw him average 32.74 per game. This was in stark contrast to his defensive partner, Harlee Dean, who averaged 18.47 per game for 21 games over the same period of the season. Tarkowski’s relatively high level of performance during this period was shown with 3 scores between 40 & 49 and 6 scores of 50 or above, while Dean’s totals for the whole season were 1 and 0 respectively.

To that end, Tarkowski’s average Performance Score for the 2014/15 season was 26.63, with Dean scoring 21.28. To add to that, his overall performance for the season saw him make only 5 defensive errors, 4 of which led directly to a goal, in a season when Brentford conceded a total of 59 goals. Despite the disparity in their analysed performances, both centre halves achieved similar levels in terms of tackling with Dean showing a 64% tackle success rate for the season against Tarkowski’s 63%. Not too shabby a season for a 22-year-old playing for the first time at Championship level.

The start to this current season saw a similar level of performance from Tarkowski, averaging 22.13 for the 23 appearances he made for Brentford. There once again proved to be a clear difference with Harlee Dean, who could only average a score of 11.33 for the 27 appearances thus far and is borne out with the number of high Performance Scores for the defensive pair – Tarkowski achieving 3 scores of between 40 & 49 and 4 scores of over 50 while Dean could only manage 1 score of between 40 & 49. Tackling successes of 52% for Tarkowski and 43% for Dean highlight yet another gulf in the performances of Brentford’s central defenders, but interestingly both are below the levels they achieved last season – Tarkowski down by 11% and Dean down by a massive 21%.

Clearly, James Tarkowski was consistently outperforming Harlee Dean when looking at the statistical analysis of their performances. As such, his subsequent sale would appear to be to the detriment of the team. That may well be the case, but a 22-year-old signed from French Ligue 2 side Chamois Niortais FC – Yoann Barbet – may well be the answer. Joining Brentford for £525k (figure from transfermarkt.co.uk) on a 4 year deal in July 2015, Barbet has played in 4 of the last 5 games since Tarkowski signed for Burnley and in a total of 6 games this season. While it is still (clearly) early days – and until his most recent game – he had achieved a Performance Score of 28.00 and a tackle success of 62%. He has also achieved 3 scores of between 40 & 49 from those 6 games. With a tackle success nearly 20% better than Harlee Dean, Barbet could well establish himself as the natural replacement for Tarkowski and help shore up a defence that has already shipped 44 goals this season. Unfortunately, a straight red card after only 4 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday has resulted in a sharp dip in his overall Performance Score to 18.33, but with Brentford going on to concede 4 goals you may wonder how they would have performed had he stayed on the pitch.

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As for Tarkowski and the reasons behind his decision not to play, he the took the unusual step of writing an open letter to the Brentford fans (after being given that club fine) through the official club website, hoping to clear up the issue prior to an official announcement of any transfer. It seemed this particular player wished to face up to his perceived detractors in an attempt to display an openness and honesty not normally associated with such goings on. Whilst this was an opportunity to apologise for his behaviour, it was also a chance to explain the reasons behind his decision. That a 23-year-old man wished to be closer to his gravely ill mother, to be able to support his family during an upsetting and difficult time, is something no decent person could deny. One could ask about the fine imposed by the club, given that both parties were aware of the situation some months earlier, but perhaps this punitive measure was undertaken as a result of the actions themselves, rather than the reason for the actions.

We’ve yet to see Tarkowski in the claret and blue of Burnley, so we haven’t had an opportunity to see how the events which have unfolded may or may not affect him. He seems to be a bright prospect – when analysing his performance data – and as Burnley look to bounce straight back into the Premier League, maybe we’ll be able to see just how good he is at the highest level. As for Brentford, well Tarkowski could be a major loss, but it’s also possible they’ve unearthed another defensive gem who can hold his own in one of the toughest leagues in Europe.

Season ticket holder at Nottingham Forest Currently have my own Forest related blog called Garibaldi Tinted Spectacles www.garibalditintedspectacles.com

Brentford

Exclusive: Brentford’s Ollie Watkins on his rise from League Two to the heights of the Championship

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Ollie Watkins

It is the stuff of dreams. Any young, budding footballer will say that they want to breakthrough at their childhood team and take them to Wembley Stadium before earning that big-money move further up the Football League ladder.

Whilst it remains an elusive goal for the vast majority, Brentford forward Ollie Watkins has turned his dream into a reality and made the leap from Exeter City to the bright lights of the Championship. However, it certainly hasn’t been plain sailing for the boy from Devon.

At just nine years of age, Watkins was turned down by local Football League side Exeter after a short trial period at the club. He was forced to go back to playing regular Sunday League football before the opportunity to impress arose once again further down the line, when the Grecians scouted him for a second time.

“I went on trial for the Under-9s and didn’t make the grade – concentration seemed to be the main issue amongst other things. I went away for a couple of years and enjoyed my football before I was scouted again by Exeter later down the line, and they gave me the opportunity.”

Watkins ensured that lightning didn’t strike twice as he worked his way through the youth ranks at Exeter, making an impression in their Under-18 team before being awarded his first professional contract back in April 2014.

He made his first appearance on the final day of the 2013-14 League Two season in a 2-0 victory over Hartlepool, coming off the bench to play the final 13 minutes for the Devonshire outfit.

There was no immediate route into the first-team set-up after that brief taste of action, though, and he was sent out on-loan to Conference South outfit Weston-super-Mare to continue with his development.

Initially intended to be a month-long loan, he ended up staying for the rest of the 2014-15 season after receiving first-team football on a regular basis and he finished the year with ten goals in 25 appearances.

His prolific form edged him closer to first-team exposure at St James Park upon his return, although it took three months of the new season for Exeter manager Paul Tisdale to name the young forward in one of his squads, eventually awarding him his first start in a 2-1 victory over fierce local rivals Plymouth.

“When I got my chance in the first-team I didn’t take it too seriously – in my mind I thought I was a first-team player already by that point. It was after that first spell when I realised what it would take to take to stay at that level.”

Little did Watkins know at the time that his outing at Plymouth in late November would signal the beginning of a remarkable – and sudden – rise to prominence, and by March 2016 he would have firmly forced his way into the reckoning at Exeter, on a regular basis, after a string of impressive performances.

Four goals in six games saw him clinch both the PFA Fans’ Player of the Month and the EFL Young Player of the Month for March and his excellent form continued, scoring eight goals in ten matches towards the end of the campaign – a run that included a sublime match-winning brace against old foes the Pilgrims.

After firmly cementing his status as a cult hero at Exeter, ending the year with ten goals in 22 appearances, he began the 2016-17 League Two season as an established and key first-team player.

He continued to spear-head the Exeter attack and helped them dramatically turn their fortunes around. With the Grecians sat rock bottom of the Football League in late November, Watkins led his side to a run of form that saw them win 16 matches out of 29 to secure a play-off semi-final tie against Carlisle United.

Watkins was influential in their play-off push, scoring 15 goals and earning 13 assists. However, he saved his very best for a pulsating semi-final second-leg when his double clinched a 6-5 aggregate win.

Football can be a cruel game, though, and after a stirring revival from Exeter following their dire position in Autumn they fell agonisingly short of promotion to League One as Blackpool ran out 2-1 winners at Wembley Stadium – and Watkins admits it is a game that still plays on his mind five months down the line.

“I think about the play-off final every day. We had a great year, going from bottom to the top seven come the end of the season, but I didn’t turn up. You can’t make excuses but it’s an experience I’ll learn from – you’ve got to leave everything on the pitch and I don’t think I did that at Wembley.

“I don’t have any regrets but looking back that’s definitely one thing I’d change. You’ve got to pick yourself up and go again and hopefully it’ll be a different outcome if I get to Wembley again.”

But they say every cloud has a silver lining, and despite the over-riding disappointment arising from Exeter’s play-off final defeat there was still something for Watkins to shout about at the annual Football League Awards bash as he earned the acclaimed title of Football League Young Player of the Year 2017.

There aren’t many that’ll dispute this after his performances during the 2016-17 campaign, a season in which he made a name for himself as one of the best up-and-coming young prospects in the Football League.

It was perhaps expected, then, that a number of Championship teams came sniffing around the 21-year-old during the summer transfer window as they looked to steal away the prolific forward.

Leeds United and Aston Villa were just a few of the high-profile names thrown around, but it was Brentford who managed to fend off competition secure their man, with Watkins arriving in west London on a four-year contract. This signalled the end of his ten-year spell at his childhood club.

Since breaking into the first-team at St James Park he found the net 26 times in 78 appearances, taking Exeter to the brink of promotion, and he admits the decision to leave was one made with a heavy heart:

“I was at Exeter for ten years – it was home. However, I want to progress and play at the highest level possible for the longest time possible. I wouldn’t be testing myself if I stayed in my comfort zone. The gaffer here [Dean Smith] showed great desire to get me to sign and I’m glad that I did.”

Nobody at Exeter would begrudge him his shot at the big-time and Watkins seems to have already taken to life in the Championship like a duck to water, despite having to adjust to a different style of football. He said:

“The ball is on the floor a lot more than in League Two – I found it very physical at that level and you’ve got to take your chances. In the Championship I’ve got some great players around me – they get me the ball and then it’s down to me to do something from there.”

Watkins has featured in all of Brentford’s matches so far this season, making nine starts, and in recent weeks his natural instinct to score goals has come to the fore after finding the back of the net in three matches in a row, earning his side a valuable point against both Derby and Middlesbrough.

There may have been an air of trepidation around west London when Jota – who scored 12 times in 21 matches for the Bees last season – left for Birmingham City and was replaced by the League Two marksman, with some wondering if he was ready for this level, but any fears have since been alleviated.

Heading into the international break – something the youngster hasn’t experienced before – he had been directly involved in each of Brentford’s last four goals, scoring three and earning an assist too.

His composure on the ball is akin to someone with far more Championship experience, whilst his fast turn of pace and his raw strength naturally lend themselves perfectly to competing in the higher division.

It is the burning desire inside of Watkins – allied with his clever and shrewd movement – that has earned him goals so far this season, and he has all the ingredients needed to be a long-term success story.

Whilst Watkins’ individual performances have started to catch the eye of late Brentford have found it tough going in the opening 11 matches of the new season, only sitting out of the relegation zone by virtue of goal difference after securing just the single victory against basement boys Bolton last month.

The Bees are without a win at Griffin Park in five attempts this campaign, frustratingly being held to four consecutive draws, but the young forward has played down concerns over their current form:

“There’s plenty of quality in the squad and we’ve passed some of the top sides off the pitch, we just haven’t put the ball in the net as often as we should have. There’s going to be more top performances from us and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s on the end of a four or five goal score-line.

“People look at the table and say, ‘they’re towards the bottom of the table, we should beat them,’ but they haven’t seen our performances. Once we’re sharper we’ll move onwards and upwards.”

The step-up from League Two to the Championship is a vast one but Watkins has made it look relatively easy after a strong start at Brentford and, if the club’s form is to turn around, expect him to play a critical role.

The 2017 EFL Young Player of the Year seems well-set to continue his meteoric rise after settling down well to life in England’s second-tier, and it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that a fair few of the past winners of the annual accolade have gone on to achieve big things throughout their respective careers.

The likes of Gareth Bale, Nathaniel Clyne, Fabian Delph, Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince and Dele Alli are all previous winners of the award, and they have set quite the precedent for Watkins to try and live up to.

And it is Tottenham and England talisman, Alli, who has come in for close comparison with Watkins over the past 12 months – and the Brentford forward admits he takes inspiration from the former MK Dons midfielder’s monumental rise:

“I get the comparison a lot – perhaps we look similar! I can see some similarities but I’m my own person and I’ve got to focus on my own game. He achieved that at a younger age than me; he’s at a different stage of his career now but hopefully I can go on to emulate what he’s done.

“Everyone wants to play in the Premier League – it’s the aim to get there and hopefully stay there.”

For now attentions will firmly turn back to Championship action and the looming visit of mid-table Millwall to Griffin Park, with Brentford continuing their search for a first home win of the campaign.

Millwall would do well to fully prepare themselves to face one of the league’s in-form strikers, with the rise of the young lad from Devon showing no signs of relenting just yet, as he continues to turn heads in his rise up the Football League.

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Birmingham City

How Twitter reacted to Birmingham City signing Jota from Brentford

Jake Jackman

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Jota

Birmingham City have completed one of the deals of the day in the Championship as they have signed Jota from Brentford. The official site confirms that they have broken their club-record fee to bring him to the Midlands on a four-year deal. The Spaniard had been linked to Premier League this summer, while the Bees had rejected offers from Middlesbrough and Hull City. It is seen as a huge coup for the Blues to land him.

Harry Redknapp was delighted with the transfer and the following quotes were reported by the Evening Standard:

“There will not be many better players in the Championship than him, that is for sure. He has got great ability. We are very pleased to have got that one done.”

The Blues manager has always pulled out big deadline day deals throughout his career, but this could be one of his finest. He isn’t wrong when he says that the Spaniard is one of the best players in the division and he will provide the spark that their attack has been lacking during the opening weeks of the season.

Last season, he was excellent during the second half of the season, contributing 12 goals and five assists. Brentford had one of the better attacks after his return and Birmingham will be hoping that he can have a similar impact on their front-line.

Jota is an intelligent player, who takes up good positions in the final third and is capable of producing end product on a consistent basis. It is rare to have a player like him in the Championship and the Blues will have to be seen as one of the favourites for promotion now.

Here is how Twitter reacted to the news:

https://twitter.com/gyazza/status/903166150070161408

Birmingham fans were pleased with the news:

Brentford fans were disappointed, but couldn’t see why he wanted to move to Birmingham:

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Birmingham City

Birmingham City agree fee for Brentford’s Jota – is he what they need?

Jake Jackman

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Jota

Birmingham City are close to signing Brentford attacker Jota, according to Sky Sports. It is believed that a fee of around £6 million has been agreed for the 26-year-old. This would be a huge coup for Harry Redknapp as the player has been attracting interest from Middlesbrough and Fulham during recent weeks. There is still a way to go before this deal is completed, but it is looking likely that the Spaniard will be going to the Midlands.

Will he make them a top-six candidate?

The club have maintained a consistent message that they need more signings if they are to challenge at the top end of the division. They have started the season poorly and are currently in 20th position after five matches. It was always going to take Redknapp time to improve the mood at the club after a disastrous end to the previous campaign and he will be hoping this signing provides the momentum to challenge for the top-six.

Jota was one of the best players in the Championship after returning to Brentford for the second half of last season. He contributed 12 goals and five assists, with a goal involvement every 100.5 minutes. It is surprising there hasn’t been considerable Premier League interest in him as the Spaniard is certainly capable of making the step up to the top flight.

His contribution in the final third was impressive last season, but his underlying stats suggest that he should be able to maintain it over the course of the season. Jota averaged 1.53 chances created and 3.79 attempted shots per ninety minutes. He was always involved in Brentford’s attacking play and Birmingham will be hoping he can be as influential in their team.

Despite his goal-scoring last season, he has yet to find the back of the net at the start of the new campaign. However, he has already contributed three assists and has remained a threat during a period of uncertainty for him. Birmingham have lacked quality in the final third when it comes to build-up play. Jota could be the missing piece in their attack.

Is Jota a good signing?

This is one of the more surprising deals of the Championship window, as Jota is regarded as a leading player in the division. His own aspirations have to be questioned as moving from Brentford to Birmingham is a sideways step at best, but it underlines the pull that Harry Redknapp has. Players want to play for him and for what he offers in recruitment alone, he was a good appointment for Blues. That said, results have to improve on the pitch soon if they want to challenge for promotion.

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