Brentford boss Thomas Frank insists rival strikers Ivan Toney and Neal Maupay ‘both feel like sons – only one has left home’.
The Bees have made an impressive unbeaten start to life in the Premier League in their first season in the top flight since the 1946-47 campaign. And on Saturday afternoon at the Brentford Community Stadium they entertain Maupay and Brighton, who themselves have chalked up two wins from the first three matches.
Danish coach Frank, 47, coached ex-Brentford forward Maupay for two years - first as assistant to Dean Smith, then as head coach before the Frenchman’s £20million move to the Seagulls.
Maupay is just one of many striker recruitment successes for the Bees over 15 years, with Toney – the current No9 – now already rated at £40m after arriving for only £6m from Peterborough.
The 25-year-old Maupay and England’s Ollie Watkins – who moved to Aston Villa a year ago for £28m – were the most recent to fly the west London nest.
Frank, who also helped Watkins convert to playing in a central striker role, said: “I would rather play a team with Ivan Toney, Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins than have to choose one!
“But you know it is like having three sons, and then two of them are grown up and move away from home and you have one at home.
“In general I wish the best for all three of them, but of course Ivan is playing in our team so I hope he scores two goals on Saturday and Neal gets none.
“However it does give me and the club pride that even those who have left are playing at this level. I am pleased we got promoted so we kept the squad more together this time.
“But if people develop here and move on you always follow them, you have been a part of their lives and vice versa, there is a connection.
“And we are in a different position now, you saw that this summer. Maybe the bar is raised, and if we have to sell someone it is only a top-six club. But I’d rather keep them all!!”
With any plans for a Super League shelved for now, the prospect of elite tournaments with no promotion and relegation as found in US sport is off the current agenda – at least for now.
And Frank says this fixture is the perfect example of why clubs and fans must be able to dream. Ten years ago the pair met in League One and 23 years ago in the fourth tier of English football. This is the first time the clubs have ever met in a top-flight match, thereby completing a memorable set.
He said: “It is massively important to have promotion and relegation, it is a big part of the sport and what you are playing for and trying to achieve. And in some cases trying to avoid something!
“The stories of both our clubs are fantastic and should give a boost to a lot of other clubs that are dreaming about the Premier League and getting up here, or building sustainable clubs.
“Both are great examples – and it is also a reminder to those clubs at the top that can never stop developing.
“Ten years ago no one would have thought this fixture would be a Premier League game, especially some of the established clubs.
“So for us we need to remember where we have come from, and the day our ego grows too big and I can’t take the bin out and bring it back, then we have big problems. That happens at some clubs.”
Frank also has big hopes for 23-year-old Norwegian international defender Kristoffer Ajer – a summer signing from Celtic. The centre-back has followed the same path to the Premier League as Virgil Van Dijk when he moved to Southampton six years ago before then being snapped up by Liverpool.
Frank said: “I definitely think that Kris can show he has the quality for the Premier League.
“Obviously Virgil is one of the best centre-backs in the world so that would be nice if Kris could develop into that.
“But we certainly think he can compete in this best league in the world. He has lots to learn, but is willing to improve.”
Like all Premier League managers in the press conference round this week Frank was also asked about the proposals to stage World Cups every two years.
The plans from Fifa, perhaps surprisingly being pressed hard by their consultant and long-time Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, have attracted criticism on several grounds – including the dilution of the importance of the event, and the effect on popular tournaments such as the Euros, the African Cup of Nations and the Copa America.
Frank said: “I don’t know logistically how Fifa would do it with all those other competitions. But I think it would be too much. We already have a Euros and a World Cup every two years, those are the two I follow the most. I love both of them, and international football is very important.
“But every two years might take away from the special feeling of a World Cup, you don’t want it too often. I don’t think Arsene Wenger would have been saying this as a coach in the Premier League!”