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.
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.
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.