Former Brentford B defensive midfielder Ethan Robb has admitted the club’s new youth setup is far superior to conventional academies.
In May 2016, the Bees decided to restructure their youth academy and withdraw from the Elite Player Performance Plan and Professional Development League system.
Now, rather than competing in youth leagues, Brentford B play exclusively in friendlies, either against U23 sides or senior teams further down the football pyramid.
Robb, a product of both Portsmouth’s academy and Brentford’s youth format, believes the B team better prepared him for the challenges of senior football.
He said: “Academy football can be quite false sometimes, it’s the same every week.
“When you’re playing for the Brentford Bs, there’s always a different challenge round the corner.
“One week you’re up against someone a similar size to you, the next you’re against a striker who’s played 300 times at professional level and just dropped down to the National League.
“You’re up against different people all the time, all with different experiences.”
Following his departure from Portsmouth in 2020, Robb spent six months in non-league football before he was scouted for Brentford in January.
The 20-year-old only viewed the loan spell as a six-month trial and was able to focus on the positives when Brentford ultimately decided not to extend his contract last summer.
After his loan expired, Robb returned to Bognor Regis Town, who are currently eighth in the Isthmian Premier League.
He said: “Brentford were very honest with me and were impressed with my attitude, but they didn’t feel there was a realistic pathway into the first team for me.
“It was such a big thing that came out of nowhere for me, so without doubt, I count myself very lucky to have had that experience.
“Playing now, I feel like I’ve learned so much from the experience – the coaching was unbelievable.”
Robb benefitted from having only one figurehead – Brentford B head coach Neil MacFarlane – to look up to and impress, which is often not the case at youth academies.
He said: “With Neil, I knew what he wanted from me so I could base my game around that to try and get into the team.
“In academy setups, there are often so many members of staff – team managers, academy managers, coaches who do other age groups – you can get mixed signals.
“One time you’re told one thing and the next you’re told something else.
“But with the B team, I knew what was expected of me and that was that.”
Scouting talent from lower divisions seems to be the favourable strategy at Brentford, who conceivably cannot compete with the financial backing of most top flight football clubs.
According to Robb, his Bees journey started when Brentford told youngster Finn Stevens to keep an eye out for talent during his loan spell at Worthing in 2019-20.
By targeting up-and-coming players from non-league and poaching rejects from Premier League youth academies, Brentford have found an inexpensive, yet profitable, business model.
Chris Mepham remains the undisputed success story of Brentford B’s system, rising through the ranks into the first team before joining Bournemouth for £12m in 2019.
Even Brentford’s star player Ivan Toney was taken from League One outfit Peterborough in 2020, after several years of toing and froing in tiers three and four.
Robb occasionally rubbed shoulders with the Brentford marksman during his time in London and felt he benefitted from seeing the first team in action on the training ground.
He said: “Quite early on I played against the first team a couple of times and – whilst it wasn’t always their strongest team – it was really good experience.”
Photo Credit: Mark D Fuller