Brentford signed Liverpool youngster Sergi Canos, and during the course of conversations it was clear there was like-mindedness on how analytics was evolving performance. The intrigue was enough to prompt further discussions.
Graham and Julian Ward, who is now Liverpool’s assistant Sporting Director, accepted an invitation to Brentford owner Matthew Benham’s Smartodds research headquarters, where he and Rowan shared their due diligence process for potential signings.
Benham and Rowan headed to Melwood later that year to be offered a similar insight into Liverpool’s operations.
By then, Benham and Rowan were planning a radical rethink on how to develop first team players, scrapping their £2 million academy in favour of a jet-setting ‘B’ team of teenage talent to play a combination of tournament football and friendlies against the likes of Bayern Munich Under-19s.
There was consternation and criticism from many quarters when Brentford took the decision. Liverpool’s sporting director Michael Edwards was among those who appreciated the rationale for clubs at Brentford’s level, sympathetic to the fact they kept losing academy players to wealthier clubs before they had made their debuts. Edwards was impressed by the inventiveness of the change and by the number of first team players Brentford’s ‘B’ team has since readied for championship football. Providing adequate Premier League players may prove a more difficult task, but the club’s tie-in with Danish club FC Midtjylland and knowledge of the Scandinavian market obviously helps.
Under their respective German coaches, Liverpool and Brentford have achieved their primary goals as the backroom teams keep supplying the materials for those front of house, Jürgen Klopp ending the Premier League title wait and winning the Champions League, Thomas Frank securing Brenford’s first top flight promotion since 1947.
They have done it by allying smart recruiters with elite level coaching designed to play brave, attacking football, allied to the ‘marginal gains’ which might come from such quirky methods like throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark, who was working for Brentford long before he received a call from Klopp.