How Brentford used Walks, Talks, and Jenga to recover for another crack during the Championship playoffs
How Brentford would enjoy one last lap to end another marathon campaign. They have practiced enough by now.
Last week’s second leg semi-final against Bournemouth kicked off with Thomas Frank and his players running across the pitch to get fans moving. It ended with a jubilant walk through their new stadium.
Both would pale in significance if they could close Saturday’s play-of-final against Swansea with a round at Wembley.
Thomas Frank’s Brentford is just one win away from reaching the Premier League
Frank started the Bees’ playoff win at Bournemouth by getting fans excited in a round before the game
But perhaps none will be as important as the ones gathered away from prying eyes – and ears.
Ever since the heartbreak of defeat to Fulham in last season’s final, walking has become therapy.
“I could have used more than 10 days of rest, because it really hurt,” said defender Henrik Dalsgaard, who scored “probably the most crappy goal I’ve ever scored in that 2-1 defeat.”
Fortunately, he and his teammates have been able to rely on Michael Caulfield – a psychologist with nearly three decades of experience in elite sports.
Brentford will take on Swansea at Wembley with the last Premier League promotion spot at stake
The West Londoners want to avenge themselves to avenge last season’s final defeat to Fulham
He works as a consultant mental coach for Brentford and his recovery philosophy, ‘playfulness’, includes games of giant Jenga – with ‘stones the size of crickets’. This year, however, one of his more subordinate methods has proved particularly crucial.
“He walks around the fields and we just talk,” said Dalsgaard. ‘Whatever you want to talk about, we talk about it and take the heavy stuff out of your heart. Just get it out of the system.
It is clear that because of Covid some players have not been able to see their families, so it is difficult. There are many things we can share with him that don’t go to anyone else. ‘
Henrik Dalsgaard (center) praised the important staff in Brentford’s back room
Unsurprisingly, Caulfield has been particularly busy in recent weeks. The constant goal? “Happy people,” said Dalsgaard.
Rather than focusing on correcting last season’s mistakes, Frank focuses on retaining ‘joy and excitement’.
“The atmosphere in the squad is different this year, it just feels more relaxed and calmer,” added Dalsgaard.
Even in recent weeks, as the stakes have increased, players are left several hours after training – to play table tennis or chat over coffee.
Dalsgaard insists the mood at Brentford is calmer despite frustration that last season was not promoted
“We just got ready to go out, have some fun and not worry too much,” added the defender. “Maybe that’s what happened to us last year: we got scared of losing.”
The 31-year-old is Frank’s mouthpiece in the locker room, and his stiff grin epitomized their mood on Thursday. He laughed at the ‘scandalous’ schedule that has seen Brentford play 56 games for Saturday. He joked about his dismissal as a DJ in the dressing room.
What about the £ 180 million game? “I don’t feel under pressure,” said Dalsgaard. “To be here again is an enormous achievement.”
It is a testament to this squad’s determination to improve on last season’s point count without Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, both sold last year. But what good is another third place if Swansea is victorious?
Both league games between the two ended 1-1, and last season Brentford sneaked past Steve Cooper in a fiery semi-final.
“It would mean anything to the city and the club,” Cooper said. ‘Of course you try to play with a style and identity, but above all we play with a lot of heart and soul, because we know who we stand for.’
This is the result of two years of work for the Swansea boss, who can draw on the experience of leading England under 17 to World Cup glory in 2017.
For Saturday’s fight, the two clubs successfully lobbied for 2,000 additional tickets for their fans. Thankfully, the creepiness of last season’s finale will be replaced by 12,000 roars. But can Brentford prevent more despair and more bloodletting?
Ivan Toney, Rico Henry and Frank are among those who will be wanted this summer if they fall short again.
“If we perform well, we can do no more,” said Frank. Then it’s down to the fine margins and a little help from the football gods.
‘In football things are black and white, but the way we do things is a success. I think that will eventually help us somehow achieve our goals. ‘
The Bees take on Steve Cooper’s Swansea in the hopes of their first play-off promotion in ten tries
The Bees could lose top scorer Ivan Toney (right) and Rico Henry (left) if they stay down