Brentford in the Premier League: The English surprise club – sport
Matthew Benham, owner of Brentford Football Club, is also the founder and owner of professional gambler statistical analysis company Smartodds and betting exchange Matchbook. He probably wouldn’t even have thought of his club’s current winning streak in the premier league set. The London suburban club, halfway between the city center and Heathrow Airport, are unbeaten in eleven league games. No other first division club currently has such a record, neither in England nor in any other top league in Europe. Particularly noteworthy: Brentford defeated top clubs Manchester City (2-1) and Liverpool (3-1) and drew against leaders Arsenal and city rivals Chelsea and Tottenham.
The break in play last weekend, when Brentford was unable to play at Manchester United (4-0), who were downclassed at the beginning of the season, because United instead triumphed in the League Cup final, has added at least another week without a defeat. The last time there was one for Brentford was at Aston Villa – in October, more than four months ago.
With an impressive 35 points after 23 games, Brentford FC, who were promoted to the Premier League in 2021, are almost certain of staying in the league again. The club is far better off in ninth place than some higher-ranked competitors. His team’s run was “crazy”, says the charismatic coach Thomas Frank. The Dane recently tuned in from home as a guest on the BBC’s Monday Night Club. At the moment he is “the king of the castle”, but that could change quickly, says the 49-year-old.
With his unconventionally open nature, Frank, who has been in office for four and a half years, stands out from many of his more reserved coaching colleagues. And that suits the innovative Brentford, which also as a club seems to be an alternative to the predominantly conservative clubs in the Premier League. Brentford’s development and style of play are reminiscent of Union Berlin, which is stirring up the establishment in Germany. The success looks almost like coincidence. But behind it is a sophisticated plan by the club owner.
Benham, 54, grew up in elite Eton near Windsor Castle, studied physics at Oxford University, worked in investment banking and traded at Premier Bet alongside Tony Bloom, a successful gambler who owns league rivals Brighton. After a dispute, Benham went into business for himself with Smartodds in 2004, advising clients with algorithms, statistics and data analysis. When he was in the newspaper a year later Independent read that a fan association of his favorite club Brentford was looking for a lender to pay off the previous owner, he initially participated anonymously with a six-figure loan. This earned him the nickname “mysterious investor” in the British press.
Owner Benham’s long-term thinking was initially less about immediate success
In order to save the club, which was temporarily relegated to the fourth division, from collapsing, Benham gradually increased his commitment: within a short time he approved further loans in the millions – until he agreed with the supporters in 2012 to take over the then third division completely. Parallel to his involvement with the Danish club FC Midtjylland, which always resembled a test playground for his decisions in Brentford, Benham perfected his data-driven concepts and hired analytically thinking people like Southampton’s current sporting director Rasmus Ankersen. He once explained in Rory Smith’s book “Expected Goals” that “interesting ideas tend not to come from the top leagues” because the clubs there have to act “with less risk” due to the drastic consequences of relegation.
Unlike many smaller clubs, Benham pursued a long-term strategy that was less concerned with immediate success. Brentford relied on performance metrics such as expected rather than actual goals when making coaching and player signings, which can also have something to do with good and bad luck. Brentford, for example, made a profit on transfers in six of the seven second division seasons before promotion – more than €100m in total. Again and again, little-known attackers such as Neal Maupay, Saïd Benrahma and Ollie Watkins managed to be discovered and later sold at great expense.
The same applies to current goalscorer Ivan Toney (14 goals in 21 league games), whom Brentford once bought from third division club Peterborough for five million euros. The robust, strong header Toney, 26, is the ideal target player for coach Frank’s direct playing style. Based on structured, disciplined defence, the intensity and physique of the team means that it is always able to attack quickly – with crosses on the outside or high passes to the front. The unpredictable approach makes Brentford one of the most uncomfortable opponents for the league’s top teams, who are always looking for control of the game – and often lose it to Brentford.
But now Toney, who was called up to the England squad for the first time in autumn 2022, faces a month-long ban. According to media reports, he has admitted to frequently breaking National Football Association (FA) betting rules. The FA charged him with 262 counts in November and December 2022, said to have occurred between February 2017 and January 2021 when Toney was playing for lower-league clubs. Rule E 8 prohibits players from betting on games themselves, asking others to do so on their behalf or providing inside information. The Guardians wrote that a conviction was “inevitable”. For the time being, Toney can continue to play – also next Monday in the derby against Fulham. Bookies believe Brentford remain undefeated.