“It gives us self-belief… No, that’s not the right word. Let me Google the translation. Sorry for making you wait.”
In a number of years of interviewing foreign managers, never has one stopped to make sure he has the perfect word from his native tongue.
Thomas Frank is thorough. He exudes self-belief, helped by a bullish clarity about how things should operate, both in terms of his teams and himself. In three years as Brentford head coach he has moulded the club around his principles, and they have become ingrained in the culture of the club on and off the pitch.
There is only a Plan A. And, after winning promotion in May, it’s working. He will not be tempted to deviate when Liverpool, in his own words one of the top five teams in the world, visit West London live on Sky Sports Premier League on Saturday evening.
Would Frank, for example, prefer to lose that game living by the front-foot, pressing game he has honed than compromise in the pursuit of something more?
“Definitely, 100 per cent,” he tells Sky Sports without a moment’s thought. “Over time, it will give us more points. We all know we will go out there and do our very best to win the game, we’re not thinking about anything else.
“Believe in the way you do things, and you will get success. It’s not that we don’t tweak bits and pieces for specific opponents, but at Wolves we played our own game throughout the game, I thought that was very important – and it’s why we won.”
And why not go for it? Brentford have only lost one of their five games since promotion, have kept three clean sheets and beat Wolves 2-0 with 10 men at Molineux on Saturday.
Ivan Toney scored one and made the other in that marker-laying victory, and is finally finding his feet in the top flight six years after his Premier League debut in an ill-fated spell with Newcastle, where he managed only two league appearances across three seasons. Frank’s attention to detail is apparent again when his star striker is raised.
“For Ivan, thinking you have made it by playing some minutes in the Premier League to ‘oh, wow’, playing back in the Football League – League Two, I think? I’ll have to check that, I should know that,” he says.
“There are a lot of players in our team where you can see that their journey has not been as smooth as some others. I think that gives us a special edge. A lot of them have been through a lot of tough situations and shown incredible resilience and learned along the way.
“He’s taken it step by step, added things and been understanding. He wants to learn, he listens, he reflects and he’s very intelligent as well. He’s a handful, in the dynamic duo with Bryan Mbeumo.”
Long-term development of the club and its players in a short-term world is nothing new to Frank, who was Denmark U17 and then U19 manager at the start of his coaching career, as he looked to progress the careers of future internationals over a matter of years.
The senior team’s run to the Euro 2020 semi-finals had a certain personal pleasure for him – “I coached more or less half of that squad at one point or another,” he says – while his experience in helping to guide them has served him well in his club coaching career. Toney is one of the most apparent but there is also Josh Dasilva, Rico Henry, Mbeumo and Ethan Pinnock among others.
Playing the long game only works if it is allowed to and fortunately, Frank’s influence at Brentford has grown far deeper than creating a platform for his ‘dynamic duo’ to shine. That is no mean feat given owner Matthew Benham’s decision to deny his head coaches a veto on incoming players was enough to convince former boss Mark Warburton to walk away from the club entirely in 2015.
This head coach and his owner are, clearly, on the same page. Though Brentford’s summer recruitment would not have been his responsibility alone, the decision to make only four first-team signings after winning promotion was a view he shared.
Frank, under Benham’s moneyball-style use of data in player identification, has spent time building a side he believes in. They have trusted in his principles, and now he feels obliged to return that trust.
“I always said we only want three or four players who can go straight into the line-up,” he said. “We believed our squad was strong enough when we looked at our team. In football, 70 per cent of the success is budget, 20 per cent knowledge, and 10 per cent luck. Hopefully we are filling the gap with our knowledge – and then we have to pray for some luck.
“We trusted our process and our strategy and believed our players were good enough; we wanted the classic, one in each position through the spine of the team. Another centre-back, Kristoffer Ajer, a midfielder who could press, Frank Onyeka, and a winger/striker, Yoane Wissa.
“If you’re telling the dream to a lot of people, they need to see it, smell it and know they can fulfil it. The players have earned the right to play in the Premier League. Of course, it’s our responsibility, the directors of football, Matthew and me, to avoid becoming too emotional if we need to recruit – but we trust these guys.”
Of course, principles are much easier to stick to when you have something tangible to justify them. Results. Brentford arrived in the Premier League as an unknown quantity just as much as it was one to them. An opening-day win over Arsenal, still a huge name in English football in spite of their recent struggles, provided a huge relief to Frank. Not only had his trust been rewarded, but so had his players’.
“It was very, very important,” he said. “In football, also in life, confidence is such a big thing. But it’s building the self-worth too, that you’re a good enough person and so remain calm and grounded, that’s even more important. If you want to perform, it is crucial.
“After that performance, and a big scalp, a truly deserved win against Arsenal, that gave us more. Our second win, against Wolves on Saturday, was up there as well. They are a good side, and it gave me that thought that ‘okay, we can cause trouble for a lot of teams’. I’m not saying we’re going to win a lot of points, but we’re not going to be easy to beat.”
Frank insists Brentford have been worth a point or two more than the eight they have picked up from their first five games, although sitting ninth in the Premier League is about as much as the head coach could have hoped for at this stage – in a division as much of a new dawn to him as many of his players.
“You never really know quite what’s going to hit you,” he says. “Of course, I’ve watched a lot of Premier League football, and we haven’t changed anything in our approach to analysing opponents or training. We prepare as we always have done, but I was pretty sure we were at a level to compete.
“It is one thing to compete, getting points is the next level. It’s been satisfying to see us compete in all five matches so far, and get some points. We just need to keep going.”
With a win over Arsenal, victory with 10 men at Molineux and the best start of the three promoted sides under their belt, that sense of self-worth, coupled with his laser-like determination, means Frank has no worries about the joint-leaders visiting the Brentford Community Stadium on Saturday.
“What a challenge,” he smiles. “We will go out there and do our very best to win the game. It’s not here where we need our points to finish as high as possible – but we’ll take everything we can get.”