The Ideal Destinations for Each of Brentford’s ‘BMW’ Trio

Said Benrahma, Ollie Watkins
Watkins and Benrahma have been key to Brentford’s good season | Alex Pantling/Getty Images

It was make or break for Brentford in the play-off final against Fulham. They broke.

After a scintillating, breath-taking, heart-pounding campaign in which the Bees notched a league-high 80 goals, Thomas Frank’s side froze on the biggest stage of them all, ensuring they’ll be a Championship side for at least another year.

But while Brentford may be a second tier side next season, a fair few of their players may not.

The Premier League vultures are already beginning to circle, with the famous BMW frontline proving hot property this summer.

Saïd Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo and Ollie Watkins notched a staggering 57 league goals between them last season (not including two more in the play-offs) – a total that nine Championship teams failed to surpass – leading to widespread speculation regarding their futures.

So, with ‘BMW’ attracting a whole host of admirers, let’s take a look at whether each player is likely to leave this summer and which clubs would suit them best.

Saïd Benrahma has been in sensational form this seasonSaïd Benrahma has been in sensational form this season
Saïd Benrahma has been in sensational form this season | David Rogers/Getty Images

Benrahma has been Brentford’s best player since arriving in 2018 and of the three forwards he looks the most likely to be on his way out.

Just about every club in the Premier League has been linked with the magical Algerian at one point or another, and he seems destined for a move to the top flight.

With the Bees hierarchy said to be demanding a fee of around £25m for the former Nice winger, some clubs may have been deterred by the 24-year-old’s non-existent display at Wembley.

One of the many clubs whose name has been mentioned as a potential suitor for Benrahma is Crystal Palace.

With Wilfried Zaha’s future at Selhurst Park yet again up in the air, the Brentford man would offer an alternative (although granted not at the same level) and leave the club with additional funds to strengthen elsewhere.

Palace fielded the oldest average starting XI in the Premier League last season. Were they to secure the signing of the 24-year-old ahead of a host of interested sides, it would represent a step in the right direction and a marquee signing for the club.

Bryan Mbeumo has enjoyed a fine first season in English footballBryan Mbeumo has enjoyed a fine first season in English football
Bryan Mbeumo has enjoyed a fine first season in English football | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

15 goals and eight assists represent a fine return from Mbeumo in his maiden Championship campaign, though inconsistency has been an issue for the 20-year-old.

Having only made a handful of appearances in Ligue 1 prior to his move to Brentford, inexperience was always likely to play a part and it’s clear the youngster still has a lot to learn.

The former Troyes striker’s sporadic dips in form are perhaps the reason he hasn’t attracted the interest his strike partners have, though that’s not to say he’s been without his admirers.

Despite his clear potential, a move to the Premier League seems a little premature and both Mbeumo and Brentford would benefit from the 20-year-old spending another season in the Championship.

Ollie Watkins finished second top scorer in this season's ChampionshipOllie Watkins finished second top scorer in this season's Championship
Ollie Watkins finished second top scorer in this season’s Championship | Alex Burstow/Getty Images

Only Aleksandar Mitrovic hit more than Watkins in the second tier this season, with the former Exeter man bagging 25 goals in 46 league games.

The 24-year-old is said to have had an £18m price tag placed on him by Brentford, news which has alerted a number of Premier League clubs including Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Leeds United.

Dean Smith revealed prior to the play-off final that he’d tried to sign Watkins while manager of Brentford and confirmed he was still a big admirer of the centre forward.

With Aston Villa struggling for goals and seemingly keen on providing a focal point to their attack who others can play off, Watkins would provide the perfect foil.

The Brentford man is quick, powerful and useful in the air, and he could offer healthy competition at a reasonable price once Wesley has regained fitness.

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How Nathan Aké Compares to Manchester City’s Centre Backs

Nathan Ake
Nathan Ake spent four years in total at Bournemouth | Dan Mullan/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the 2019/20 league campaign didn’t quite go to plan for Pep Guardiola.

However, the Manchester City manager can at least now ‘proudly’ boast having made the most changes to a Premier League starting XI in one season – with his 143 surpassing the 140 made by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2008/09.

While much of the former Barcelona boss’ tinkering was driven by squad rotation and tactical changes, the same can’t be said for the bulk of the alterations made to his centre back pairing.

Nathan AkeNathan Ake
The Dutchman’s ability on the ball will undoubtedly have attracted Guardiola | Henry Browne/Getty Images

With John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi struggling to hold down regular places in the City first team, Guardiola has resorted to a number of different options, with 19-year-old Eric Garcia featuring alongside Aymeric Laporte, and midfield linchpins Rodri and Fernandinho even tasked with filling in.

The signing of Nathan Aké from relegated Bournemouth is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for City, as they look to shore up defensively and regain the Premier League title.

But just how does the Netherlands international compare to City’s current options?

First of all, it’s key to note that as a defender in a side that routinely conceded around 65 league goals a season, Aké’s stats at Bournemouth were vastly inflated when compared to City’s defenders.

John Stones, Nicolas OtamendiJohn Stones, Nicolas Otamendi
Otamendi and Stones have struggled to hold down a place in the starting XI | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

For example, to suggest that the Dutchman’s 469 duels won since 2017/18 compared to Laporte’s 226 make him just over twice as good as the Frenchman would be ludicrous. So, let’s put stats and figures aside and revert to good old ‘pub-speak’.

Aké is likely to be vying for a spot alongside Laporte should he break into the first team, with the former Athletic Club man a mainstay in Guardiola’s backline.

Of the three natural, senior centre backs the former Bournemouth man will be competing against – Stones, Otamendi and Garcia – each have their own qualities and flaws.

One of the traits which no doubt attracted Guardiola to Aké is his ball-playing quality. The former Chelsea man initially arrived at the Vitality Stadium as a midfielder, so his ability on the ball is very impressive.

When compared to City’s other options, the Dutchman is undoubtedly more composed than Otamendi and the at times comical Stones, though Garcia has shown shoots of quality since his first-team baptism.

Another of Aké’s best traits is his speed across the ground. The 25-year-old possesses a good turn of pace combined with excellent acceleration, and his arrival will add some much-needed pace to a cumbersome backline.

Nathan AkeNathan Ake
Ake also pops up with the occasional match winner | Steve Bardens/Getty Images

At just 5’11 the 25-year-old is below average height for a Premier League centre back, but both Otamendi and Garcia are of similar height, while Stones stands at around 6’2. With City lacking height in a number of other areas of the squad, Guardiola may be tempted to yet again add to his defensive options.

Unfortunately, the former Bournemouth man’s progression at the Etihad may well be hampered by the fact both he and Laporte are left-footed – unlike any of the aforementioned trio.

Guardiola has openly admitted he prefers the balance of a left and a right-footed centre-back pairing, yet the former Bayern Munich boss’ reasoning for this preference has nothing to do with defending.

He was quoted as saying this was because a centre back finds it more comfortable to launch attacks when opening up their body onto their stronger foot – and this poses a further question.

Guardiola knows he will need to shore up defensively if City are to retain their crownGuardiola knows he will need to shore up defensively if City are to retain their crown
Guardiola knows he will need to shore up defensively if City are to retain their crown | Pool/Getty Images

City scored 17 goals more than champions Liverpool last campaign, meaning it was defensive frailties which cost them their title – not their ability going forward – so do City really need to place such emphasis on ensuring their defenders are the right men to launch attacks?

Maybe it’s time for Guardiola to abandon his all-out-attacking philosophy and concentrate more on ensuring his side are solid at the back.

If he does, then two left-footed centre backs may not be such an issue, and Aké could have a future in the City starting XI.

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Zinedine Zidane Reveals Gareth Bale ‘Preferred Not to Play’ Against Man City

Gareth Bale, Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid
Zidane says he and Bale have a ‘respectful relationship’ | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Zinedine Zidane has revealed Gareth Bale was left out of Real Madrid’s squad for their trip to Manchester City because the Welshman did not want to be considered for selection.

Bale has been on the fringes of Real’s squad for the past year or so and only started 12 games during his side’s recent title-winning season. While undoubtedly a hit in the first few years after his transfer from Tottenham, his attacking returns have diminished in recent years.

With a space in the quarter finals of the Champions League up for grabs on Friday night, Bale will not be involved, having been left out of the visiting team’s squad.

Lago Junior, Gareth BaleLago Junior, Gareth Bale
Bale featured just twice during Real’s post-lockdown run-in | Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Speaking in his pre-match press conference, Zidane revealed as quoted by Marca: “In the end many things are said and we have a respectful relationship between the coach and the player.

“It is a private conversation, but I can only tell you that he preferred not to play and the rest is between him and me.”

Regarding the Wales international’s future at the club, the former World Cup winner added: “I don’t know, he’s now a Madrid player, nothing changes and I respect that. He preferred not to play and that’s the only thing I can tell you. We are concentrating on tomorrow’s [Friday] game.”

Bale played fewer La Liga minutes than wing rivals Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo this season and only four more than the continually injured Eden Hazard. Isco has also been favoured, while Marco Asensio’s return from injury has given Zidane another option in attacking areas.

While Bale’s golf and binocular antics have resulted in hysteric laughter from those not associated with Real, fans of the Bernabeu side have not taken such a light-hearted view.

However, his agent has frequently reiterated Bale’s desire to stay in Madrid, with any potential exit not looking probable for the near future. He was set to leave for China last summer, but the move was cancelled in its late stages.

For more from Jude Summerfield, follow him on Twitter!

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Marc-André ter Stegen: The Perfect Embodiment of Barcelona’s Goalkeeping Philosophy

Marc-André ter Stegen has become one of Europe's most revered goalkeepers excelling, in particular, with the ball at his feet
Marc-André ter Stegen has become one of Europe’s most revered goalkeepers excelling, in particular, with the ball at his feet | 90min

Nosebleeds are an unwanted wrinkle in life that are annoying but, for the most part, do little lasting damage.

However, something as simple and innocuous as a few bloody noses would prove to be one of the decisive factors in Marc-André ter Stegen’s footballing career.

Marc-Andre ter StegenMarc-Andre ter Stegen
Marc-André ter Stegen is rated as one of Europe’s best goalkeepers, but it was only a random act of fate that put him between the sticks | Pablo Morano/MB Media/Getty Images

When Ter Stegen’s grandfather signed his grandson up to Borussia Mönchengladbach – his hometown club – as a four-year-old, he wasn’t a goalkeeper. By the age of ten, Ter Stegen was still playing as a striker when his youth team coach presented him with a hefty ultimatum: go in goal or leave the team.

The side’s previous number one – bizarrely – suffered from regular nosebleeds and Ter Stegen’s running style did little to help the coach envisage a career for the child as an outfield player. Fortunately, Ter Stegen rapidly thrived in the role, flying through the youth ranks until his chance with the senior side came in 2011.

As Gladbach toiled at the bottom of the Bundesliga, the incoming manager Lucien Favre turned to his 18-year-old reserve keeper. In a local derby against fierce rivals FC Köln, Ter Stegen pulled off a string of saves as his side ran out 5-1 winners on their way to a dramatic relegation survival.

From that debut, the die-hard Gladbach fan who happened to be wearing a goalkeeping kit missed just one game for the first-team over the next three seasons.

In the summer of 2014, a tearful Ter Stegen ended his 18-year spell with the Foals when he moved to Barcelona.

Rumours emerged that the La Liga giants had been pursuing Ter Stegen for over a year after the club’s former first-choice Víctor Valdés announced he would not be renewing his contract. The Germany international denied the notion that he’d signed a pre-agreement with the Catalans in 2013 but it’s easy to see why Barcelona were keen to snap him up, given his ease with the ball at his feet.

In his third season in Spain, before a Champions League visit to his old club Gladbach, Ter Stegen delivered the telling line: “Sorry if my way of playing makes you nervous, but that’s how I play.” Since his days as a youngster up front, Ter Stegen has been keen to hone his ball skills.

As he told The Telegraph: “I always wanted to play with both feet, so today I’m happy I trained it so often.”

Ter Stegen explained how this comfort in possession is crucial for today’s goalkeepers, especially at Barcelona: “The game has changed a lot during the last years, now the goalkeeper is very important, he needs to be confident with his feet. That’s very important at Barça, it has been for a very long time and they were searching for someone who is happy to play with his feet.”

The revolutionary former Barcelona player and manager Johan Cruyff had an influence (and strong opinion) on numerous aspects of the modern game – even goalkeeping. For Cruyff, goalkeeping was not simply about diving around and saving shots, it was ‘a question of vision’. Ter Stegen – the only goalkeeper with two assists in Europe’s top five leagues this season – wonderfully embodies that particular ideal.

In fact, this campaign has seen Ter Stegen devote an even greater focus on his footwork. Barça’s number one tops the La Liga standings (by quite some margin) for the number of passes made by a goalkeeper and – on average – completes the shortest passes and takes the shortest goal kicks.

Quique Setién’s reign as Barcelona manager may have seen them relinquish the La Liga title to Real Madrid, but the self-confessed Cruyff disciple has given Ter Stegen even more responsibility with the ball at his feet.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Jaime MataMarc-Andre Ter Stegen, Jaime Mata
Ter Stegen’s passing was key in a tight match against Getafe | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The starkest example of this came against the high-pressing Getafe in February. On several occasions, one of Barcelona’s centre backs would roll a short goal kick to Ter Stegen. Getafe’s players seemed unsure whether to close down the goalkeeper, so hovered on the edge of the penalty area as Ter Stegen mulled over his options in a nervy game of cat and mouse.

Barcelona would ultimately prevail 2-1 – and their opening goal was the result of a slick 15-pass move – as Ter Stegen made more passes than Getafe’s midfield combined.

Cruyff once opined: “Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.” Ter Stegen’s confidence in possession can sometimes lead to the odd (or often spectacular) error.

This is an aspect of a ball-playing keeper’s game which is near impossible to eliminate but can be reduced, as Ter Stegen explained: “I tried to take fewer risks, or at least more calculated risks. This is the key word for me, it’s always calculated, I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Marc Andre Ter StegenMarc Andre Ter Stegen
Ter Stegen has won four La Liga titles, four Spanish Cups and the Champions League during his six seasons at Barcelona | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ter Stegen may have spent more than half his life learning and playing football west of the Rhine, but this calculating, wonderfully skilful risk-taker is perfectly moulded to the deep-rooted footballing ideals of Barcelona.

And to think, he could just as easily have been a middling striker with a funny run had it not been for a few nosebleeds.

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United Audition in 2003 Sporting CP Friendly

Manchester United's Portugese midfielder
Ronaldo made quite the impression against United in 2003 | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

On 7 August 2003, a jet lagged Manchester United squad wearied from an extended pre-season tour of America stumbled off a plane in Lisbon.

They were in the Portuguese capital to take part in a commemorative friendly against Sporting CP, who were marking the opening of their new stadium with a visit from the Premier League champions.

The game itself should have been a fairly inconsequential affair but it has gained legendary status thanks to the performance of a 18-year-old winger with frosted tips, socks pulled over his ankles and an irresistible arrogant swagger.

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Yes, this was the game that kick-started Cristiano Ronaldo’s ascension to the pinnacle of modern football.

Well, that’s how it’s viewed nowadays anyway. A contemporary match report from the Guardian instead focused on the future of an entirely different young prospect.

Eric Djemba-Djemba looked the part following his summer move from Nantes. The Cameroon international linked up in midfield with Nicky Butt, who captained the side in this friendly. With Juan Sebastian Veron poised to join Chelsea, Djemba-Djemba could find himself thrust into the spotlight when the season opens for real.

– The Guardian

In the same match report CR7 is afforded only a cursory mention as one of the “most exciting prospects in Portuguese football”. High praise indeed, but still somewhat of an understatement considering the record shattering career that the winger has go on to enjoy.

Eric Djemba Djemba of Manchester United celebrates scoringEric Djemba Djemba of Manchester United celebrates scoring
Eric Djemba Djemba did not go on to have quite as successful a career as CR7 | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Do not let the Guardian’s report fool you, though. United’s discovery of the young talent really was one of the most significant moments in the club’s recent history. Right from the outset against the depleted Red Devils, it was clear that Sporting’s gangly number 28 was a very special player indeed.

With a plaster covering a garish diamond earring, it took Ronaldo a matter of minutes to acquaint himself to United’s back four.

First, he fired a warning shot at Mikael Silvestre with a clever feint, before turning his attention to the hapless John O’Shea – turning him inside then out with hilarious consequences. It would not be the first time that Ronaldo would make the Irishman look a fool as United skipper Roy Keane recounted many years later.

“He was up against John O’Shea. Sheasy ended up seeing the doctor at half time because he was actually having dizzy spells,” the Sky Sports pundit revealed to the Telegraph in 2014 – in typically direct fashion.

John O'Shea of Manchester UnitedJohn O'Shea of Manchester United
John O’Shea endured an torrid evening against Ronaldo | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It wasn’t just fancy flicks and tricks that Ronaldo caught the eye with that evening, either. There were glimpses of the freakish jumping reach that would help him tuck home a mountain of headers during his career, while he also stung the palms of Fabien Barthez with several long range blasters.

Although Ronaldo did not register a goal or any assists in the game, he played a decisive role in two of Sporting’s goals in a 3-1 victory. Most importantly though, he earned the fear and respect of his future teammates.

Several members of the Old Trafford dressing room pleaded with David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the forward after the game, as Rio Ferdinand recalled to the Sun in 2018.

“We were on the bus for ages afterwards waiting for chief executive David Gill and the boss Alex Ferguson,” Ferdinand wrote.

“We were just willing them to sign Ronaldo.”

Roy Keane celebrates the 1st goalRoy Keane celebrates the 1st goal
Ronaldo initally struggled at United before turning into one of the best players in the world | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Silverstre – the very first victim of CR7’s extensive box of tricks that evening – was another player to speak up in favour of signing Ronaldo.

“It was an incredible performance to watch that night,” the Frenchman told Bleacher Report.

“This kid nobody knew tore us apart for the whole game. No one could get near him; he was amazing. At the start, no one had even heard of Ronaldo, but by the end, everyone knew about him.

“As he got the ball, he was beating players with ease on the left or the right. He was so quick and skillful; we were all a bit shocked. I remember thinking thank God I was playing in the centre and not at full-back.”

Just six days after his mouthwatering performance, Ronaldo would be announced as a United player. The rest, as they say, is history.

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