Of the four clubs that entered this season’s Championship playoffs, Brentford were the only one never to have previously played at Premier League level. That will change next season with Thomas Frank’s side set to take their place in the English top-flight after their play-off final victory over Swansea City.
Brentford’s journey to the Premier League has been remarkable. Bought in 2012 by Matthew Benham, who built his fortune in the gambling industry, the Bees have taken an unorthodox route to the top. While data analysis is now commonplace across the English game, no club epitomises the ‘Moneyball’ approach better than Brentford.
Benham’s data-driven approach hasn’t just yielded results for Brentford, but for FC Midtjylland in Denmark, who have been owned by the entrepreneur since 2014, too. Methods borrowed from the banking and bookmaking world, where Benham has a background, have given Brentford an advantage in the transfer market. Mathematics graduates are valued as highly as any scout at the club.
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Said Benrahma, Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins all passed through Brentford on their way to the Premier League, but now the West London club itself will make the step up. Brentford will be the division’s smallest club, yet there is a sense they have yet to reach their ceiling. Victory over Swansea opens up all sorts of possibilities.
Promotion to the English top-flight is estimated to be worth around £280m. For context, Brentford’s revenue in 2020 was just £13.9m. If their model worked so well on a relatively modest budget, imagine just how much more effective it could be with Premier League revenue now flowing into the club.
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Brentford are disruptors and having disrupted the Championship they could now do the same to the Premier League. Many clubs have attempted to adopt a ‘Moneyball’ ideology over the years only for structural deficiencies and stubborn opinions of ‘Proper Football Men’ to get in the way. Brentford’s success shows what can be done if the approach is intertwined through all levels of the club.
Of course, ‘Moneyball’ doesn’t work without good coaching and Frank deserves a lot of credit for implementing an attractive, forward-thinking style of play. Brentford are a distinctly modern club and that is clear in the football they produce on the pitch just as it is in the way they operate off it.
The Bees will be the Premier League’s most interesting club next season. If Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United side caught the imagination this season, and Chris Wilder and his overlapping centre-backs at Sheffield United the season before, it will be Frank and his over-achieving Brentford team that force fans and pundits to think differently after the summer.
Ivan Toney will almost certainly score goals at Premier League level after hitting 33 in the Championship, including one in the play-off final, this season. The 25-year-old was signed for £5m - raising to £10m with add-ons - from Peterborough last summer. Now, he is surely worth at least four times that. Toney will be key to Brentford’s Premier League survival chances.
Having finished third in the Championship in each of the last two seasons, Brentford are ready to play in the top-flight. They have earned promotion and have proved the sustainability of their model over a number of seasons. The Bees will also welcome English football’s elite to a new £71m stadium befitting of the Premier League.
However, Brentford’s biggest impact in the top-flight could be in the way they prompt others to rethink their approach. Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s never actually won the World Series using ‘Moneyball.’ Instead, it was the Boston Red Sox who did that on the back of what they learned from Beane. What will the Premier League learn from Brentford?
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