After the euphoria of doing the double over Leeds United at the weekend this morning’s report in the Times that Brentford’s manager, Mark Warburton will be “sacked” at the end of the season regardless of whether he has led the club to an unbelievable promotion to the Premier League seemed very much like a return to the bad old days of “It’s Brentford innit?”. The initial report was troubling enough, particularly for fans who had already seen rumours from Spanish twitter accounts in the past week or so about contacts with Rayo Vallecano’s manager which meant that the report wasn’t entirely out of the blue. However, the club’s subsequent classic “non denial denial” statement has, inevitably escalated things further. The initial report, and statement are linked to in this report by the Guardian.
When it comes to the big decisions, football fans’ ability to change things are not far short of those of King Cnut who reportedly demonstrated the limit of his powers by showing that he couldn’t order the tide not to rise. At matches we can “be the twelfth man” in raising the spirits of the team by our support, but even that might at times also have the effect of spurring on opponents to raise their game. We can protest at the rapaciousness of owners like David Webb and Ron Noades, but they tend to leave pretty much on their own terms. Very occasionally, like in the famous protests against Brentford being taken over by QPR in 1967, they work (or I suppose where there is a broader campaign beyond the fans of one club, such as with Ched Evans). But, the reality is that we can’t any more will that Warburton be kept on than we could suck Marcello Trotta’s penalty into the Ealing Road goal if the club’s considered position is to make a change or if his considered position is that there are other opportunities he’d like to take up. As he’s on a 12 month rolling contract it was always a risk that he might leave or be replaced.
I hope that the report is a storm in a teacup and that the club’s statement is merely a reflection of reality – that conversations always go on between clubs and managers without there being anything malign about that, that as a small world or “village” there will always be gossip and speculation and that there is no intention that Warburton will do anything other than continue to lead the team towards promotion. For fans like me who are amazed by where he has taken us and where he may take us, the idea of him no longer being part of that journey is worrying. But in large part that is because of uncertainty and because it would feel unfair if he weren’t rewarded for his efforts by being guaranteed in post. However, our success and development over the past few years is not down just to Warburton but has been part of a broader and clearly well thought out strategy and plan from Brentford’s owner, Matthew Benham. There are few if any major decisions made in that time which weren’t done with great thought and care for the club’s interests so I don’t think it is very productive to try and second guess things on this matter or to get too worked up over something which we can’t particularly influence.
The years of bitter experience of disappointment as a Bees fan mean that this might lead to Benham dissipating the good will and good work so far by making a bad decision on Warburton, but he has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt by fans as to his intentions and plans. Furthermore, while we get the standard “three claps and a thumbs up” from MW at matches, he and Benham have been colleagues and friends for a lot longer. We certainly can’t get into determining the course of that relationship. Perhaps a positive precedent we can look to is the way in which the club handled the departure of Adam Forshaw. Forshaw, as we sometimes forget now due to the stellar performances of the club this season, was the outstanding talent in the team last season and League 1 player of the season. As soon as it became apparent that he was seriously considering Wigan’s bid, even while the level of the initial bids was well below that which the club thought right, he was sequestered from the first team squad so as not to be in a position to destabilise the preparation for the season. The mere possibility of Warburton leaving the club would be even more of a shock and if there were any real plan to this end, it would be odd if he were to be treated any differently.
While my argument for not fighting too much over the report might seem a bit of a counsel of despair – if not now, when should we criticise, if we took this view we’d just have rolled over and let Noades take the club to Woking etc – it isn’t. The crucial difference is that we have no reason at the moment to doubt the bona fides of the club’s ownership and management. If that were to change, it would be a much bigger issue than that just of retaining Warburton as manager.
All we can really do is look forward to tonight’s home game against Watford. Another “six pointer” and a chance to make up for the narrow defeat at Vicarage Road. I expect there will be a lot of chanting in support of the team and manager tonight and that is the very best thing we can do to keep ourselves on the path towards the unimaginably bright future. Losing sight of that to peer too deeply into the all too imaginable abyss of undoing everything that has been achieved by the club would mean we’d defeated ourselves as fans.