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

The Boot Room



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 to £6m (figure quoted on both the Brentford fan website Beesotted and 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 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.

The Boot Room is a football analysis website, bringing original and creative content to the fans of the English Football League.


Who will win the race for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs?

The Championship play-offs are just around the corner.

The Boot Room



Photo: Getty Images

The Championship is a league renowned for its unpredictability and twists and turns in what is a 46 game long season.

On any given weekend, any team can beat another which makes it one of the closest and exciting leagues in the world.

This season has proved no different, with six teams still competing for a play-off place with just six games to go.

In 5th place currently is Derby on 68 points, three points clear of 7th placed Millwall with a game in hand.

They are at the moment the favourites to secure a play-off spot, with the top three having already practically guaranteed their places if they do not gain automatic promotion.

Aston Villa look to set to join them, with a maximum of eight points needed from their last five games to be sure of making the play-offs.

Gary Rowett’s side have bounced back well from the loss of Johnny Russell in January to the MLS and a string of first-team injuries that have decimated the squad in recent months.

Most of their stars, including Tom Huddlestone and Joe Ledley, returned for their 1-0 away win over Preston on Easter Monday, a result that was desperately needed.

They followed that up with a 3-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, and the goals of Matej Vydra plus the defensive experience of Curtis Davies and Scott Carson should see them over the line.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Two points behind them in 6th is Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough, who have seen an upturn in form since the former West Brom man took over in December.

Pulis is known for his defensive style of play but Middlesbrough have scored plenty since he came in, with Adama Traore in particular impressing.

A club like Boro will be expecting play-offs as a minimum, and you would expect them to achieve that goal given the quality of their squad, although even if they don’t get there this season, they will be one of the favourites to go up next season under Pulis.

(Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

The surprise package of this season has been Millwall, with Neil Harris leading his side to an unexpected 7th place berth at this stage of the season.

The Lions have only lost one game all season, that being on New Years’ Day at Norwich.

They have relied on a mixture of youth and experience, with younger players like Jake Cooper, Jed Wallace and George Saville complemented by the likes of veteran Steve Morison, and an immense run of form has given them every chance of making the play-offs, which would be a remarkable achievement.

Most fans surely would have been happy with a mid-table finish on their return to the Championship, but they have defied expectations so far.

They face tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, and home games against Fulham and Aston Villa, but win at least a couple of those and the Lions could be roaring at the end of the league season.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Behind them on 62 points is Bristol City, who have had a mixed run of form since the turn of the year.

They briefly went 2nd in the table after a Boxing Day win against Reading, just a week after Lee Johnson’s side defeated Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

They eventually lost on aggregate to Manchester City after giving them a stern test, but have only won twice since then.

Like Millwall, they too face a trip to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough and host Sheffield United on the final day, but they are only four points off the top six and can still make it in.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Another side who had an excellent first half of the season is Sheffield United, Chris Wilder’s side briefly sitting in top spot after a 2-1 away win against Leeds in October.

They have fallen away since then, currently sitting 9th and behind Bristol City on goal difference, but regardless of whether they qualify for the play-offs or not, it has still been a good season for Wilder’s men.

They drew 1-1 with Cardiff last week, a game which they had the better chances in, showing the fine margins that exist in the Championship.

The Blades lost in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley on Saturday, a result that puts them four points behind Middlesbrough.

They host Preston before the season is out, a game which could still prove crucial for both teams, and also play Bristol City and Millwall.

Brentford sit just one point behind them in 10th, having shown some resurgence in recent weeks.

Their transfer policy is a very effective one, using a stats model to sign players both from England and all around the world.

Some of their signings appear to be gelling together well, with summer signing Neal Maupay netting the winner in both of their previous two games.

Manager Dean Smith has been linked with Premier League jobs in the past, and has done an excellent job at the Bees, who will surely be challenging at the end of the season.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The final team that have a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs is Preston North End, Alex Neil’s side currently occupying 11th place on 60 points.

They have lost their last three league games, although they were unlucky to lose against Derby and had the fair share of possession and chances against Reading.

Neil’s side face only one team out of the top 11 in the remaining fixtures – Sheffield United – which could work in their favour.

They have missed the firepower of top scorer Sean Maguire, who missed four months of the season due to injury, but his return has boosted the team, who have seen some outstanding performances already this season from the likes of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne.

If Neil’s side can get substantial points out of their remaining games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the play-offs, although like the teams above them up to 7th, will need to rely on Derby and Middlesbrough dropping points.

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Three takeaways from Tuesday’s Championship action

Cardiff and Wolves extended their lead at the top of the Championship table.

Max Cohen



Photo: Getty Images

Last night featured a blockbuster slate of Championship matches, with all of the top three clubs in action. Here are the main talking points from Tuesday’s fixtures…

The title race is not over yet…

Cardiff City continued their scorching hot run of form with a 3-1 win over Brentford at Griffin Park. The Bluebirds notched their seventh straight league win thanks to goals from Sol Bamba, Matthew Paterson, and Kenneth Zohore. Cardiff showed impressive fortitude to fight back from a goal down, and after conceding just five minutes in, they clinically rebounded to claim the three points.

The win brings Neil Warnock’s side just three points behind the league leaders Wolves with nine matches to play, and given Wolves’ recent slip-ups, a late title bid is not out of the question. Mark your calendars for April 6th: the matchup between Cardiff and Wolves which could serve as a battle for first position.

But the battle for automatic promotion probably is.

As much as supporters of Aston Villa and Fulham would like to believe they have a chance to achieve automatic promotion, the top two is most likely settled. With Wolves joining Cardiff in picking up maximum points on Tuesday, the gap between second and third is now seven points with nine matches to go.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

With Cardiff showing no signs of letting up, it looks immensely difficult to topple the Bluebirds off their perch in second. Although Fulham is in the midst of a 15-match unbeaten run and making an impressive late charge, Neil Warnock’s side are on an 11-match unbeaten run of their own.

The Championship cements its reputation as the most exciting league in England

There is arguably no league in England that is as intriguing and unpredictable as the Championship. The vaunted status of the division was on full display Tuesday night when Queens Park Rangers shocked Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park.

Villa sat in third and had just come off a brilliant, comprehensive 4-1 thrashing of Wolves on the weekend. QPR, on the other hand, came into the match mired in lowly 16th position. Yet Rangers embarrassed the Villains on their home pitch and raced out to a 3-0 lead. That’s just the magic of the Championship.

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Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford

Finding himself in the best form of his career at Brentford, Romaine Sawyers talks us through his experiences adapting to life in the Championship with the Bees.

Romaine Sawyers



Photo: Reuters

The step up to the Championship, moving from Walsall to Brentford, was a difficult one.

For one, the quality of players is much different, no disrespect to League One.

There are a number of quality individuals and teams, but there is also a greater emphasis on the tactical side of the game, largely due to the strong balance of clubs from the top right through to the bottom of the division.

At first I was inconsistent and spent a fair bit of time trying to find my feet. But now I am over that hurdle and playing at a level I am happy with.

This season has been good. In fact, probably my best one to date. I feel that I’ve been quite consistent and in really good form.

I can’t thank Dean Smith enough. His influence has been massive. He gave me my first real chance at mens’ football and he has continued to have faith in me as I’ve progressed through the levels.

I was fortunate to spend my formative years at the West Brom in the club’s academy. I was there from the age of seven and received a great footballing education. I still speak to most of my coaches that I had at a young age there, even now.

Dean initially brought me to Walsall when I left West Brom, and he has been a key factor throughout my development. He knows to get onto me if need a kick up the arse, or he will compliment me if I need an arm over my shoulder.

Above all, he is a great man manager. He quickly finds your strengths and weaknesses as a player and knows how to get you performing.

He gets the balance of praise and constructive criticism just right, in order to get the very best out of the individuals in the team.

I would say recently is the best I have performed in my career and my Player of the Month nomination for December was recognition of the work me and my Brentford teammates have been doing.

It feels like a real group effort every time we go out on the pitch and that has shown both on and off the field.

At the same time as myself being nominated for an award before Christmas my teammate, Lasse Vibe, was in the mix for the PFA Player of the Month prize.

We have players who are topping stats charts left, right and centre and we have some real depth and versatility in the team. This means we can attack from all areas, whereas in the past we have maybe been reliant on one or two individuals.

Personally, I like to get on the ball and make things happen, helping the team to score goals by creating chances. I think I could probably add more goals to my game by getting behind the opposition defence more regularly.

I’ve scored four times this season, so far, but this is something I’m working on in training with the coaching staff at Brentford. We do a lot of work with video analysis to help me and improve this aspect of my game, but it is a work in progress.

Stats are a well known aspect of the backroom work at the club. Personally, I don’t read into them as much as others. I’m a player who prefers to be visual, making decisions and reacting based ‘on the eye’, rather than through what the data says.

It is good when you feel you are in positive form and you consider yourself to be in a good place, then the stats back it up. I prefer to see it as a secondary option, rather than a first.

Having said that, in terms of recruitment, it has shown to be a success time and time again through the players that the club have signed from lower divisions and abroad – there is a lot of talent to be found outside the top English leagues.

I have fond memories from my time with Walsall and being nominated for League One Player of the Year in my final season is probably the best moment of my career to date, alongside signing for Brentford.

However, I also hold a lot of pride in representing my heritage country, Saint Kitts and Nevis .

It is a very fulfilling ambassadorial role, in terms of giving hope and confidence to the youth of the country. Whether it is through football or something else, it is possible to provide for your family and that is the message I like to send.

Every time I go back there I try to motivate them a little bit more.

From a football perspective, it is a different culture and a new style. I think that has helped my game. It is a lot more physical and rough. You get kicked about and you have to learn to deal with that.

Playing for my country means a lot to me because of my family history. If I am there actively with football it gives me the chance to get involved with the people and their community.

Away from the pitch I am also involved in the Kick It Out campaign, which is a role that is very important to me.

I remember growing up and being a young boy wanting to be a professional footballer. It is extremely important that we continue to try and bridge the gap in today’s game.

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