On May 11, 2016, Brentford made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the rest of English football.
The club decided to break with convention by disbanding their academy in favor of adopting a B team model. They had become frustrated at losing their best players to other clubs and decided that an approach different was needed to help them achieve their long-term goal of winning promotion to the Premier League.
Going forward, Brentford would only focus on developing a small group of players aged between 17 and 21 instead of ‘trying to master the full spectrum of talent’. Their unique system has benefited the club immensely over the past six years, as several players have progressed and become important first-team members via the B-team route.
However, Athleticism understands that Brentford are planning to reopen their academy and are holding meetings over the next week to work out exactly how to achieve this. Brentford’s management team have regularly reviewed the status of the academy over the past few years and have come to the conclusion that the time has come to revive it.
What prompted this turnaround? And what will now become of Team B?
Athleticism uncovered the key details of what’s to come next.
Why did Brentford close their academy?
Brentford closed their academy because it was costing them too much money and not producing enough talent. They spent around £1.5million a year running a Grade Two academy, but struggled to compete with other teams who could offer their best players higher salaries and better facilities. Ian Poveda left the club in 2016 aged 16 to join Manchester City (and is now at Leeds United) but Brentford only received a compensation package of around £30,000.
Robert Rowan, the club’s technical director, who sadly died aged 28 in November 2018, was instrumental in the decision to create a B team. If Brentford couldn’t outspend their opponents, then they had to. surpass. Brentford’s theory was that by focusing all their resources on the 17-21 year olds, they would establish a more efficient route to the first team.
As a result, they withdrew from English football’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) and Professional Development League system. The EPPP, which was introduced in 2012, covers the development of homegrown players from under-nine level to under-23 level.
How does their B team work?
Brentford often sign players for their B team who have fallen out of favor or been released from Premier League academies. Midfielder Paris Maghoma, who was promoted to the first team for the 2022-23 season, joined them from Tottenham Hotspur in January 2020 and England Under-19 international Daniel Oyegoke arrived from Arsenal l ‘last summer. Non-Championship sides have also proven to be fertile hunting ground, with Brentford having signed Ryan Trevitt from Leatherhead and Fin Stevens from Worthing over the past two years.
Team B does not participate in a league. Instead, they host their own matches against a wide variety of opponents. Over the past 12 months they have played against European sides such as Monaco and Brondby as well as non-League sides Barnet and Dulwich Hamlet.
In November they played the Korantina Homes Cup in Cyprus, then in February they traveled to Portugal for the Atlantic Cup, won by Zenit Saint Petersburg. In April they won the London Senior Cup after beating Hendon in a penalty shootout. The purpose of their match schedule is to provide the team with different tests to prepare them for the level of football they end up playing.
Why do they want to reopen their academy?
Having avoided relegation in their first top-flight campaign since 1946-47, Brentford are in a sound financial position. When they closed the academy in 2016, it was a heavy burden but the cost wouldn’t be so restrictive for now.
They also aspire to play in Europe, but UEFA rules state that clubs wishing to participate in its competitions must run an academy or they will be denied entry.
Article 20 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Viability Regulations explains that a license applicant must have, or be affiliated with, “at least four youth teams in the age 10 to 21″ and “at least one team under 10 or organized”. football activities for children under 10”.
The next section of Article 20 states that “each youth team, with the exception of under-10s, must participate in official competitions or programs contested at national, regional or local level and be recognized by the member association of UEFA”. Currently, the existing Brentford configuration does not meet these requirements.
Clubs must apply for a license in March to participate in UEFA competitions the following season. By now starting the process of setting up their new academy, Brentford hope to avoid finding themselves in a tight spot in the middle of a season if they have a chance of qualifying for Europe.
The impact of Brexit has also forced them to consider their options. When the B team was created, it mainly focused on recruiting European players. The club has capitalized on its Scandinavian connections – owner Matthew Benham has a majority stake in Danish club Midtjylland – and identified emerging talent in the region. Mads Bech Sorensen and Mads Roerslev, who have made a combined 32 top flight appearances under Thomas Frank this year, first joined the B team after joining AC Horsens and Copenhagen respectively.
However, after the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, it became difficult to buy young players from the continent. Clubs cannot sign anyone under the age of 18 from abroad, while any new European signings must qualify for ‘governing body approval’ (GBE), a points-based system that ranks eligibility of a player based on factors such as international experience, as well as the league and team he was signed with.
This has prompted Brentford to put more emphasis on signing British players over the past couple of years.
How long will it take to set up and where will it be based?
The short answer is that setting up an academy will be quick and easy, but bringing their plans to fruition will take a few years.
Brentford’s long-term ambition is to have a Grade 1 academy, but this is complicated by several factors. It will take a long time to set up the infrastructure and find the right people to run the project. Athleticism understands that the most likely outcome is that the club will start at category four level.
Brentford do not own the land where their Jersey Road training ground is located. It is operated on a 20 year lease, although they hope to own it in the future. The club’s plans for the site, which they revealed in a public consultation in December, already involve the creation of a new high-quality performance center and state-of-the-art academy.
However, if they cannot buy the entire land, they will have to find an alternative solution.
The temporary academy, which is being built at Jersey Road to support the club for the next five to 10 years, only has the capacity to support a category four academy. The worst-case scenario will involve Brentford finding a new location for the club’s training base and academy.
How much will reopening cost?
Setting up a category four academy will hardly cost the club any money. They would just add a development program for 16 year olds on top of what they already offer through their B team.
The biggest hurdle in this regard would be ensuring that they have the appropriate policies and processes in place to meet the criteria of the EPPP. Building a Tier 1 academy will be expensive, especially since it depends on buying land, but the costs involved should be more manageable if done gradually.
What will happen to Team B?
The success of the B-team project is obvious.
Over the past six years, more than 10 players have officially been promoted to the senior setup, including Chris Mepham, who then joined Bournemouth in January 2019 for £12million.
Brentford signed Marcus Forss after being released by West Bromwich Albion in 2017 and he scored the winning goal in their Championship play-off semi-final win over Bournemouth last year. The club have no intention of getting rid of the B team and it will remain an important development tool for them, especially while their academy is slowly being built.
(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)