Lee Dykes interview: Recruitment in modern football & Brentford's promotion to the Premier League

19 July 2021 10:30

Brentford’s director of recruitment Lee Dykes is one of the men behind the club’s rise to the Premier League - and one of the most talked about young minds in English football.

The club won promotion to the top flight through the Championship playoffs last season, beating Swansea City at Wembley, and are now gearing up for their first ever Premier League campaign - which kicks off with a visit from Arsenal on August 13.

At just 36, Dykes represents one of the youngest heads of recruitment in the Premier League. Despite his age, he has a wealth of experience in the game, beginning life in his native Yorkshire with Rotherham before working his way through the system with Crawley, Notts County, Oldham, Carlisle and Bury - where he became one of the youngest sporting directors ever appointed in the English game.

Brentford recognised his talents and appointed him in the the summer of 2019. He has since played a leading role in their rise to the top flight.

From the off, Dykes is very quick to play down the personal plaudits, despite the significant role he has played in the success of the Premier League’s newest members. He immediately points to the co-directors of football Rasmus Ankersen, Phil Giles and of course the leading light behind the whole Brentford project – owner Matthew Benham.

"What I think is massively under-rated is the structure at a football club, and Phil and Rasmus do such a wonderful job at Brentford and FC Midtjylland, they have been almost unbelievable,” Dykes explained exclusively to 90min.

"The strategy is always paramount, it is in the mindset of everyone, all the heads of departments have their own targets or strategy points and those strategy points are branches of the tree, but everything is geared to the main ambition of the club and ours was Premier League promotion – and none of this could have happened without Matthew Benham. He predicted this when he took over the club seven years ago.

"We have accomplished Premier League, but already we have a new plan in place.”

Despite only being a new Premier League club for a matter of weeks, already Dykes admits that they have already noticed some subtle differences.

"When you become a Premier League club you find out quickly that you are a club that players are willing, almost desperate, to sign for, which was not the case when you are in the Championship," Dykes added.

"Now we are a Premier League club based in the west of London, in a brand new stadium, you can imagine what contacts we are getting – but we are not agent led, we know which players we want."

Lee Dykes is one of the brightest young minds in English football | Lee Dykes / Brentford FC

Amid their promotion, Dykes insists that Brentford’s long-term strategy – with recruitment at its heart – remains the same throughout the club.

"Last season [2019/20] we lost the play-off final, and last year we produced lists and lists. We had Premier League and Championship. And when you develop Premier League lists and Championship lists, naturally you will always like the best players. In many ways the top of the Premier League lists to the bottom of the Championship lists is very different.

"But we already know every decision should be made with long-term durability and thoughts of the financial situation, even though we are in the Premier League."

Indeed, the extra money will not see Brentford turn away from their belief that their system is the correct one. Like with last season, Brentford signed just one player on loan, and that was the experienced Winston Reid to help cover in central defence. This is somewhat unusual, but Dykes explains why.

"Our whole club is controlled and we all have the same goals through our strategies, as I said. I believe a wonderful example of this is Finn Stevens from Worthing. We signed him for our B team and we got an injury in August. But instead of just going out and loaning a more developed player, we had an asset of our own – we used him despite being just 17 – we brought him in.

"This is the structure, this is our plan and we stick to it. We are not reliant on loan players, we took Winston Reid to help cover in defensive areas, but we would rather buy a player and progress him. We sold Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma, two of the best players in the league, replaced them at a quarter of the price, and got promoted.”

Of the deals done in the wake of Watkins' departure, one of the biggest was signing Ivan Toney [bought for £6.5m with future add-ons]. It now seems something of a ‘no-brainer’ - but for many that was not the case.

“I can’t tell you how many people spoke to us about Ivan, managers included, who told us that they weren’t sure about it and they would not have done it – but we did our homework.

"I knew Ivan from his days at Northampton and when he moved to Newcastle. When he made that move he was a young, inexperienced player who had been bought for a good fee at a young age. But when he moved to Peterborough, he had a child himself and something changed; he became a leader.