When Mads Roerslev first came to Brentford from FC Copenhagen in autumn 2019, the young defender wasn’t quite ready for the immediate championship challenge.

Fortunately, Brentford had the perfect plan to prepare him for what was to come. The Danes first joined their B-Team – the group that was formed when this innovative association made the bold decision five years ago to restructure its traditional academy.

“When Mads walked into the building, the point was to see what was wrong with him,” Neil MacFarlane, head coach of the B-Team, told Sky Sports. “I felt that there was trust so we made him feel confident. Now he’s fine in the first team. That’s the whole strategy.”

Roerslev started in the first leg of Brentford’s play-off semi-final against Bournemouth on Monday night and is hoping to make it into the second leg on Saturday. Its history is not unique to this club. This season alone there were six debutants from the B-Team.

Mads Roerslev challenges David Brooks in the play-off semi-finals

“It’s not easy to get on a team that is doing this well, but this has been a really fruitful year for the B-Team,” said MacFarlane, the former assistant manager of Coventry City.

“One of the main examples has to be Fin Stevens. He played for Worthing and we got him into strategy at 17, coached him tirelessly, pushed him. He started more training sessions with the first team that played in the FA cup.

“Then he went up against Preston in the league. He’s had an incredible year. It just goes to show that the path is there for this young Worthing player.”

Stevens was out of the non-league but had previously been fired from Arsenal Academy at the age of 16 – ironic as Brentford’s change of course was partly due to Ian Poveda leaving for Manchester City at the same age for a small fee.

“We switched roles,” says MacFarlane. “We take players who haven’t quite made it at other clubs and try to improve them. This club has decided to withdraw from the academy and it definitely works. The number of debuts, the performances.”

“It’s important to only have the two teams. The players know there is a way. We have 40 players in an environment with the same goal of making the first team better. In other clubs there may be 80 players and no way.

“Players smell opportunity and that’s important when you sell the idea to players. It doesn’t matter how well I do this role, if the players don’t smell the way it’s harder. They have to feel that. That means what drives them. “

Leicester’s Cengiz Under fights off Brentford’s Fin Stevens during an FA Cup tie

Brentford is not tied to the standard game program of other clubs in the major league of English football. They still play against the U23 opponents and win against Arsenal and Chelsea, but the B-Team is messing things up. Last season there were tours to Portugal and Cyprus.

While international travel has been restricted due to the pandemic, Brentford has filled the gaps in its calendar with more games against opponents outside the league.

“It gives us this variety in our game program. I watch a lot of U23 football and every game comes in. When we include games against Bromley, Aldershot and Maidenhead, the boys are asked to deal with various tactical aspects. The basics of football .

“We make sure we test the players. Our average age could be 18, they are 24 or 25. They are tested against men, unlike U23 football. We played Charlton’s first team, Wimbledon’s first.” Team. We get a lot of variety.

“We can be flexible about it because we are not in a league so we can choose the best games for the development of the players. Can you win the first contact? The second contact? Can you be competitive in your duels and handle it. ” a moment from a set play?

“You get the balance, which is really important.

“I think it works.”

MacFarlane’s own background is significant.

He had seven years’ experience coaching senior players as assistant manager to former Hearts teammate Steven Pressley in Falkirk, Coventry, Fleetwood and even at Pafos in Cyprus. Most recently he was the manager of Kidderminster Harriers.

For the Scot, the appeal of Brentford has been the stability of the structure and the opportunity to work with talented young players.

For Brentford, part of MacFarlane’s appeal was that while he wanted to work with teenagers, he brought a first-team mentality to the role. “I treat them like first-team players,” he says.

“I have demands. I tirelessly push them to their advantage. I am a very intense coach, but I am also empathetic, especially in this year of all years when the club has provided excellent support to everyone through the pandemic.

“You have to get the players ready to play. Intensive training sessions to make sure they’re mentally and physically prepared. We’re pushing them to their limits. It may sound like the basics, but I don’t think anyone can reach their true potential until.” they can do it with optimal fitness.

“Young players want to be pushed.”

The success of the project depends on the closeness of the relationship with the first team group and, for MacFarlane, on the relationship with head coach Thomas Frank.

“Thomas is fantastic. First and foremost he is an amazing person, a good person. He is great with the group and what he did in the football club was downright sensational. He was good with me. There is a constant dialogue there.

“Everything is aligned, everything is connected.

“The way is there for everyone.”

Neil MacFarlane of Brentford oversees the warm-up on the field before the FA Cup game in the club's third round against Middlesbrough
MacFarlane oversaw the third round FA Cup game against Middlesbrough

Nothing has shown this more clearly than what happened when Frank tested positive for coronavirus the night before Brentford’s third round in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough. MacFarlane, his B-Team staff and many of the players competed and properly won the match.

“I was more pleased with the staff than me and had this experience. It was a nice moment because some of the B-Team players made their first-team debuts that day.”

The important thing is that it still felt like a Brentford team.

“The style of play is very coordinated anyway,” he adds.

“The recruiting team here is doing a fantastic job and is actively committed to ensuring that the recruiting of players for the B team is as intense as it is for the first team.”

“We want to play the same way so we build from behind in the same stages. They knew I was a high pressure coach, but we are also adaptable. We have to find a way to get the best players . ” in the team. That should always be the case.

“When I got in the first team played 3-4-3 and then switched to 4-3-3. We played 4-3-3 because we only had two center-backs, but now we have three, we’re playing 3-5 -2, which the first team rolled into, and we can also play 3-4-3.

“The improvements to the system are helping the players to develop.

“The principles remain, but you have to be flexible because the B-Team is never the same week after week. Our job is to add to the first team so that Charlie Goode could come down and play a game for us. make sure they are ready when Thomas needs them. “

Saturday, May 22nd, 12:00 p.m.

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Circumstances dictate that Brentford has to move on. Brexit makes smart overseas recruiting difficult, but is confident that the UK market can be leveraged. “The nice thing about talking to the players is that they all want to come to us.”

Promotion to the Premier League would also change the job, but Brentford has been building on that for some time – in the case of his new stadium.

“That’s the dream, the next step,” says MacFarlane. “Whether this year or next, I am confident that, given the structure of the club, this will happen at some point.”

This structure means that when Brentford needs his next player, he knows that the first place to look is not the market but his own B-team, confident that he will be ready.