How Brentford became football’s unlikeliest success story

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I knew in my head. The plan was clear. I knew we had to be fantastic defensively, on set-pieces and in fitness. We knew the style of play and what I wanted to do. We were more dominant in the Championship, the highest-scoring team for two years, and it was about breaking the opposition down but we had to change that.

We needed to be one of the best defensive sides in the league. With set-pieces we knew were equally as good as any other team. Maybe they might have a tiny bit better delivery but in terms of physicality and the plan we were top. And then fitness. I should be able to run as much you. Maybe there is a little physiology but it’s really about mind-set and training. We focused more on defense especially in pre-season. We had to nail it.

Manchester City 2 Brentford 0 (February 9, 2022)

With the start we had I was thinking ‘can we be top 10?’ and then we got hit by injuries. Raya was out, a top six keeper in the league, for four months, Ajer out, Rico, Ivan. We had the bad spell. We lost nine out of 11 from Boxing Day to the end of February. I remember before the season people saying we could lose five in a row in the league and I thought ‘never’. Because of the culture and mindset. And we had the City game away. We lost and that was the fifth game. But we played really well and that kept me believing. Then the key players came back and I knew if I had my best XI then no problem. City was so close to being a defensive master-class but that spell was tough to take.

I hate losing, the players hate losing and that’s the biggest difference from the Championship to the Premier League for a team like us. We are just losing more games. For the top guys, (Jurgen) Klopp and (Pep) Guardiola, they only found out last Sunday (the Premier League’s final day) whether they are a success or not – more or less. They get a lot wins and that’s a nice feeling and it’s easier to go to work the next week. When you get the ‘hits’ you still need to stand up, come in with positive energy, smile, still producing messages (smacking the palm of his hand hard) and it’s tough. My three words this season were: cool, brave, aggressive. Every game.

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Chelsea 1 Brentford 4 (April 2, 2022)

There were three reasons why we went on a good run. Firstly we could never do it if we had not performed well in the bad spell. The basics were there. Secondly key players were fit. Even when City play without Kevin De Bruyne they are not the same. And then there was Christian (Eriksen). I am still convinced we would have stayed up without him. 100 per cent. But he has given us top quality, coolness, he has made his team-mates better. They have responded to him. He is smiling, enjoying playing football and being part of something and not just something but something remarkable.

In the last seven years, before us, there is only Aston Villa who stayed up – by a point, and they were lucky with the goal-line technology (failing) against Sheffield United and spent a lot of money – in the first season after the play-offs. And we are so comfortable where we are without – more or less – spending money and playing our type of football.

The Chelsea game is the obvious one. The Norwich game (3-1 win away from home) and the Burnley game (2-0) were very important but going to Stamford Bridge, playing against the European champions, the best cup team in the world, coming full strength and we beat them fair and square. Not many teams do that. I was crazy proud. It’s very, very rare as an underdog to perform at your max in all aspects of how you want to play. Following a game plan 100 per cent. That almost never happens.

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