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The Bees have become a progressive club on and off the pitch since the arrival of owner Matthew Benham, and sporting director Mark Warburton believes there is more to come

SPECIAL REPORT
By Liam Twomey

Chelsea last hosted Brentford at Stamford Bridge in an old First Division clash in November 1946. The Blues triumphed 3-2 that day, and the Bees were relegated from English football's top tier at the end of the season. Some 67 years later, they are still waiting to return.

But even if Sunday’s FA Cup fourth round replay at Stamford Bridge ends in defeat, there can be no doubt these are significantly more encouraging times for one of west London’s less heralded clubs, as memories of a past littered with all-too-fleeting highs and bitter lows borne largely at the sharp end of the Football League are gradually replaced with genuine hope for the future.

CHELSEA VS BRENTFORD
PLAYERS TO WATCH
FRANK LAMPARD
HARRY FORRESTER
The England international is in the middle of a sensational goalscoring run where he seems to find the back of the net in every match. Lampard has been involved in 23 goals in his last 24 FA Cup appearances and could improve that statistic if given a starting berth on Sunday. The former Aston Villa attacker has been linked with a return to Villa Park just 28 months after departing, proving just how well he has been performing under Uwe Rosler at the League One outfit. If the Bees are to cause an upset at Stamford Bridge, then Forrester will need to produce.
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Since being promoted back to League One as champions in 2009, the Bees have comfortably stabilised with three consecutive top-half finishes. This season they are sixth, right in the promotion hunt, and last month very nearly vanquished the champions of Europe at Griffin Park.

Like many of their west London rivals, Brentford’s turning point coincided with the arrival of a wealthy backer. But Matthew Benham is no Roman Abramovich, Mohamed Al-Fayed or Lakshmi Mittal. Assuming control in the summer of 2009, the betting tycoon and lifelong Bees fan used his riches to ease the financial problems which were threatening to destroy the club, but stopped short of bankrolling excessive spending in pursuit of distant dreams.

Instead, Benham sought to assemble a management team capable of delivering success on the pitch while he turned his attentions to other matters – most notably the upgrading of the club’s youth academy, which has since been awarded Category 2 status in the EPPP, and acquiring land just off the Lionel Road South with a view to building a new 20,000-seater stadium in time for the 2016-17 season.

‘Management team’ is the most accurate term because, unlike most Football League clubs, Brentford do not throw in their lot with an all-powerful manager. Instead, the first-team coach works in tandem with a sporting director. Since the beginning of last season, this duo has consisted of former Manchester City striker Uwe Rosler and Mark Warburton.

And Warburton, a former city trader and Watford academy coach, as well as the co-founder of the hugely successful NextGen Series, is adamant the club’s recent progress is no fluke. “We have a long-term plan in place,” he tells Goal.com. “The owner has a vision and we believe in it.

“We’ve got medical staff and analytical staff who could work at any Premier League club, and they do try and take them from us. A lot of my job is fire-fighting to make sure we keep them. But that’s a great sign, because it shows we’ve got the right people.

“We want to move up to the Championship and stabilise there, before kicking on. The bottom of the Premier League or top of the Championship is what we’re aiming for, the sort of position Reading are now. Right now it’s a far-off dream, but we’re moving in the right direction. If all goes well this year, then fantastic, but if not, we’re building the foundation.”

Brentford’s ‘European model’ of management is mirrored by Chelsea, where technical director Michael Emenalo oversees the work of interim first-team coach Rafa Benitez.

But while rumours abound at Stamford Bridge that the shadowy figure of Emenalo wields supreme authority on footballing matters in conjunction with Abramovich and his inner circle of advisors, Warburton insists that, at Brentford, his relationship with Rosler is very much a partnership.

BRENTFORD UP FOR THE CUP
2/1 Brentford are 18/1 with Bet365 to beat Chelsea in 90 minutes on Sunday
“I’ll always bluntly give him my opinion, and I think I can give a knowledgeable opinion – not in an arrogant way, but given my football background,” he continues. “That said, it’s very important Uwe is his own man, and we have an excellent relationship, which we do – I speak to him more than my wife!

“We talk constantly about football, but I don’t tread on his toes on a day-to-day basis in terms of coaching. I don’t get involved in that or team selection.

“If we’re talking about a player we’re trying to get, we’ll discuss it to death, but it’s his final call. That’s a very important point. People worry about how a sporting director might impact on a manager’s ability to do his job, but it should never do so negatively in that respect.

“What happens at a club the stature of Chelsea is not really my business, but you’ve got to have the relationship in place between the people in charge. That goes for any business. If you’re working in a bank, you have to get on with and trust the people around you.

“It has to be a genuine, trusting relationship. People say it’s a business arrangement and you don’t have to like each other, but that’s nonsense. If there’s any animosity or mistrust, it’s dead from the start.”

While not quite attracting the same level of ire as the dreaded ‘director of football’, the concept of sporting and technical directors is still viewed with suspicion by many in the English game.

But Warburton is convinced Brentford are simply ahead of the curve. “A lot of people are still unaware what’s really involved in the role, but I believe it will grow, and more clubs will adopt it,” he insists.

First, though, there is the small matter of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to contend with. Rosler surprised many with the strength of his disappointment at his side's failure to see off their illustrious opponents at Griffin Park, and Warburton is adamant the Bees will not be awed admirers this time either.

“Uwe’s played at the highest level,” he adds. “He’s a good guy to chat to, and very respectful. But he’s a competitive beast. You have to be to work in football.

“On Sunday we want to win. There’s no turning up and having a nice day, although we will enjoy the experience, and use it as a benchmark to kick on in the league.

“We're on track and making progress. In the long term, our aim has to be to fill our stadium every week. If we're doing that, then we're in the right place.”

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