In conversation with Jani Viander

Having just completed his ninth year as a goalkeeper coach with Brentford, it seems now is as good a time as any to sit down and reflect with Jani Viander. The former Finland international has been an integral member of staff in moulding the young players at Jersey Road since he first arrived in West London having been working within the youth set up at Norwich City beforehand.

He’s seen the Bees earn promotion from League One in his early days before establishing themselves as a club in the Championship and then making the step up to the Premier League.

Jani began working with the Academy at Jersey Road before taking on the goalkeeper coach role with the B team in 2016. Since then he’s been able to work with some fantastically talented goalkeepers who have either earned promotions to the first team group or are out plying their trade across Europe. It’s almost come full circle, and with the emergence of the Under-18 group this season, Jani now has the opportunity to work with the even younger keepers who have arrived at the club. There’s been so much change in nine years, but it’s been a memorable journey so far.

“I’ve been here for nine years now and so much has changed. Where we’re sitting now used to be the goalkeeper area when I first started with the Academy,” explained Jani who has given up his time in between some analysis sessions with his young keepers to take a seat in one of the meeting rooms at the Robert Rowan Performance Centre to reflect and look forward to more exciting challenges.

“So much has changed, shortly after I came in the club were promoted to the Championship. We’ve seen the club do well in that division and now go on to get promoted to the Premier League. We have a new stadium and, of course, a new training ground to work in. There’s been so many changes and it’s been a really great nine years.

“I enjoy working in football. You can have different structures, bringing the Academy back is a nice change, it can bring more resources and opportunities and for us it keeps things flowing nicely when new things are coming.”

Jani has played a role in helping the likes of Ellery Balcombe earn a promotion to the first team, as well as Patrik Gunnarsson who is now playing regularly for Norwegian side Viking FK. Nathan Shepperd left for Dundalk and became their player of the year whilst Matthew Cox is another young keeper to have been officially promoted to Thomas Frank’s squad. The current crop of B team keepers in Ben Winterbottom, Roco Rees and Vincent Angelini are improving all the time whilst the likes of Marley Tavaziva and Reggie Rose train regularly with the B team but have earned minutes with the Under-18s frequently this season.

Matthew Cox was promoted to the first team in the summer of 2022

“When they come to us younger, they have less experience. Previously the recruitment structure was to perhaps find players from other clubs who have gone through the whole academy system,” said Jani. “Reggie and Marley haven’t been consistently in academies which I like because it brings something different. Sometimes you can create a bit more with players who perhaps haven’t had certain coaching before. We’ve seen both Marley and Reggie show real appreciation for their opportunities and they’re working as hard as they can to become the best they can be. You get a buzz from them straight from the off which is brilliant. Marley and Reggie are great characters, and we will work with them to help them to improve and time will tell how far they can go.”

The likes of Ben, Roco and Vincent have rotated frequently in recent months in terms of their match minutes, but when they’re not playing for the B team they often get exposure to the first team training group.

Discussing the B team keepers and how they’re faring, Jani explained: “Ben has had great exposure with the first team. He’s been travelling with them and played some games over the World Cup break, which was nice to see because we want to push the players into that first team group and he’s had some good time with them. Roco had a bit of a stop start beginning of the season with a couple of niggles, but he’s had some very good performances for us, particularly when we went to Monaco. We’ve only recently brought Vincent in and he fits nicely into our group so we look forward to watching his development moving into next season as well. The great thing we have here is our keepers get to train with the first team. It’s brilliant for them, when they come to us you tell them about the opportunities that they will get, and they can see it straight away. You want to have that pathway, it’s so important.

“In the B team there’s the reality that it’s only one team but this year with the Under-18s we’ve been able to give minutes to Marley and Reggie whilst they train regularly with us. The good thing is, generally speaking, that if one of our keepers plays with the B team then the others will often go and train with the first team so there’s a nice balance there. They see the setup and we want to be fair to the boys, when they train well, we want to give them opportunities because we’re here to help them have a career.”

When discussing that close proximity in training with the first team and B team, Jani recalls a recent moment when Reggie was afforded the opportunity to step in and train alongside David Raya.

He explained; “Young Reggie recently stepped into first team training and David really took him under his wing and that’s the brilliant thing we have, the togetherness and helping each other. I spoke with Reggie to discuss how his session went and he was buzzing, he was full of energy after training with David. I always say to the keepers when they have their first team opportunities to make sure that you be yourself. Don’t try to be anything else and nobody will ask anything more if you give your best. Make sure you walk away from the session knowing you gave your best.

Young Reggie Rose has been getting game time with the Under-18s whilst training regularly with Brentford B

“David is outstanding. He has been here for a few years and the consistency that he has is so good. He keeps the standards week after week, he’s good with his feet and perhaps his biggest asset for me is how he reads the game. He’s there even before the action happens and then it’s about picking the right decision. For our young players to watch and train with him is brilliant for them.”

Jani has been able to witness the B team development since its formation some seven or so years ago. As a part of the coaching setup alongside head coach Neil MacFarlane and assistant coach Sam Saunders, Jani believes the sort of fixtures that the programme has been able to pull off this season has been fantastic for the B team group and their development. There have been five matches against European first teams whilst in Portugal, as well as tests against youth sides from Holland and Monaco as well, and Jani says the players are being tested all the time.

“It’s been absolutely amazing. For the goalkeepers particularly, it’s been brilliant because the games push them to their limits,” said Jani. “Every match they have to be on the top of their game, whether it’s concentration or decision making. It’s been an outstanding year for our games programme. When you play against high level opponents you know that you can be punished any time so that’s a brilliant learning curve. When you have games where you don’t have much to do then they’re difficult to analyse and go through with the players to identify their improvements, but that’s not been the case very often this season.

“This year has gone to another level, the Premier League Cup is a new thing for us, and we’ve had two trips to Portugal as well as games against Monaco and first teams from England like QPR. The Ukraine match was the icing on the cake, we all sat and watched them play England and they’re the same players who featured against us. Ben played in that game and it was about keeping the instructions fairly basic. When you play against better opposition like Ukraine you know they can punish any mistake, so it was about finding that balance in being confident as well as realising what to do at certain points on the pitch.

“We have Yehor (Yarmoliuk) and Ryan (Trevitt) who have made debuts this season which was fantastic and so many of our players have done well but we also know that the demands are higher than ever. The higher level the first team push then the higher level we need to go as well. We need to do even more to get to the first team than previous years. It’s not easy but in football it often comes down to circumstance. You never know, we’ve seen Crystal Palace have a young goalkeeper feature for them recently (Joe Whitworth.) It can happen any time and it’s about the players being ready all the time for that moment because you never know when it will come.”

Having been witness to the club’s development over the years, from the portacabins on the other side of the site to a brand-new performance centre, Jani feels those improvements are helping the B team to continue to push the levels to keep close to the first team. A regular dialogue with first team goalkeeper coach Manu Sotelo in an environment where clips can be analysed and meetings with players to aim for improvements can take place in more suitable environments, will only help the overall goal of the project- to get the players ready for first team football.

“I’m hungry to learn more,” said Jani. “This new training facility gives opportunities to do more; Manu and I are constantly in conversation about new things. We’re able to sit down for longer with players in a better environment to analyse and reflect on performances. The new facility has given everyone a boost and we’re all enjoying the set up and this B team project.”

With a couple of months remaining of this season, the B team still have lots to look forward to. There’s a Premier League Cup semi-final with our West London neighbours Fulham on the horizon and Jani says everyone in the setup is excited ahead of what will be a brilliant experience for the players.

He continued: “To have a semi-final against Fulham will be a brilliant occasion. It’s a great opportunity for the players; that preparation, exposure and opportunity. For them to go and play our local rivals in a Premier League Cup semi-final. That’s the main thing, of course, we want to produce a good performance and with that the result. For me the biggest thing is they get that experience which they’ve earned.”

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