When Dean Smith was appointed manager of Norwich eight days after being sacked by Aston Villa last November, Thomas Frank called him up.
‘I just asked him, “What on earth are you doing?”,’ laughs the Brentford manager. ‘I said if I was him I’d have been off travelling the world.’
Smith and Frank are friends and former colleagues. Frank was assistant to Smith at Brentford for two years. On Saturday their teams meet at Carrow Road and Frank knows full well why Smith jumped straight back.
Thomas Frank (right) admits when he is sacked, he does not want to return to football as quickly as his former colleague Dean Smith (pictured left), who took a new job eight days later
He knows how tight the grip of football management can be. Equally he does not look at it as a career for life. To the Dane, 48, the world is too big for that.
‘Yes I do mean it,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘The day I get sacked I’ll next be travelling. I’m addicted to football and it’s a privilege to be part of it but it would need to be an unbelievable offer before I’d say yes. I worked very hard to get to this level and it’s tough. The contrasts are big. It’s fantastic but hard and nothing in between.
‘And it’s also the freedom. Football traps you, you know. We have maybe four international breaks where you can travel a bit or have some down time. Then there are the summer breaks but because my children are older, it never really fits. We maybe get a week together. So I really, really think that I will travel, yeah.’
It is as honest and accurate a dissection of life as a manager as you will ever hear. Frank knows how it may appear on paper but also how it really is.
An amateur player as a younger man, he was a youth coach for 18 years before finally stepping up to senior football management with Brondby just nine years ago.
So Frank appreciates the job he has. He is committed to improving players and keeping Brentford in the division. It is just that he has seen the other side of the game, the other side of life.
‘I said to myself when I started here that I would be a head coach for 10 years and I have seven years left of that,’ he says. ‘I still mean it but also it could be that in 10 years you meet me and I’m still doing it. Maybe even here at Brentford.
In an exclusive interview with Sportsmail, Brentford manager Frank (above) has spoken openly about his desire to go travelling once he is sacked rather than rush back into another job
‘For someone like me, who was never a player, it’s pretty cool to be here now. I look and there is Ronaldo on the field, Salah. It’s normal to me now. But I know there are bigger things out there. It’s not the only thing I can do.’
Back in August, Frank enjoyed a social evening with the media. He vowed to approach Premier League football with the same ambition, energy and style that had characterised his team’s football in the Championship. Three days later Brentford beat Arsenal in game one.
Now, with spring round the corner and Brentford carrying the weight of eight league defeats from 10 games, Frank looks slightly less fresh. But he remains optimistic about his team and continues to carry a desire to be as normal as possible in a profession that does not greatly encourage it.
One of his long-held beliefs, for example, is that Sunday — as long as there is no game — should be a day off. No football. No calls to people at the club. With the pressure of the season beginning to grow a little, I wonder how that is working out.
‘Well, last Sunday was easy,’ he says. ‘We had friends over from Denmark. So we had breakfast in Barnes at 10am. Then to Notting Hill and Portobello Road and then on to Little Venice. So it was very nice. A long walk. We went to Regent’s Park and took the Tube back to Richmond about 5pm.
‘Then an afternoon drink and a nice dinner and I was home at 10pm. When you are together with other people and talking then it’s difficult to think other thoughts, isn’t it? And that’s a good thing.
‘Because otherwise your mind is thinking constantly about the players, the club and how we’re doing. That is the curse of football. It’s 24/7. It’s relentless.’
The Bees won their first ever match in the Premier League against Arsenal on a raucous night
Last Sunday must have been a difficult day on which to switch off. The previous day brought a home defeat by Newcastle and though Frank’s team are not in desperate trouble yet, after today’s game at Norwich comes a home fixture with Burnley. Brentford really need to win one soon.
At the club’s training ground there is no feeling of unease. New signing Christian Eriksen — who Frank worked with as a Denmark youth international — drives past in a car still carrying its Milan number plate.
He, more than anybody, embodies Frank’s deep-seated belief that often in life things turn out the way you wish if you work hard enough.
‘It’s easier when you are winning, for sure,’ Frank laughs. ‘We are losing a few Premier League games but because it’s the first time any of us have tried it’s still a massive occasion every time we play. The most successful teams are the ones that are calm and consistent and have the same messages.
‘Trust the style of play and believe that eventually it will turn around. After our good start nobody would have imagined this bad spell apart from maybe me. Look at Sheffield United’s first season. Unbelievable. Fantastic job by Chris Wilder and his staff.
‘Then next season it suddenly doesn’t click. Same players. What happened? That is the mystery sometimes of this game.
‘As the head coach you need to put a happy face on and be energised and positive. It’s a big thing and it can be very difficult. The big question is: can you bring that energy every single day? Because you have to have energy to give energy. So you need to take care of yourself. Get your sleep, take your exercise.’
But a run of recent defeats leaves Frank’s side in danger of relegation from the Premier League
Frank accepts that between now and the season’s end, he will be as much psychologist as coach. On the whole, Frank will stick to what has served him in the past. His team traditionally play on the front foot and that will not change.
‘I try to speak about being brave, cool, aggressive and that’s a big thing,’ he explains, slapping his hands together for emphasis. ‘Play forward. Turn up. Press high. We win or we learn. I try to be direct with any criticism without killing people as who does that help? But of course they need to know if they can do something better.
‘Then I try to show lots of positive situations. So we wanna press high? Here are three situations where it was perfect and we created chances. I try to reinforce the positive messages.
‘I believe the better you can do your principles and the better you can protect your culture — in terms of how you behave and train — the greater the possibility of success. I do think we constantly need to be curious and adjust things but the principles remain.
‘Yeah, I adjust against Liverpool or Man City, for example. We don’t play out as much from the back. What do we gain from that against two of the best teams in the world? Not much. But they are small adjustments from the core.’
Brentford lost just 1-0 at home to champions City and 2-0 at the Etihad. Creditable results, both, but Frank takes nothing from faint praise. Defeat is defeat.
‘We put in a good performance at home against City and I was satisfied with that part,’ he says. ‘Sometimes you do have to look past the result otherwise you are going to die in this job.
The signing of former Inter Milan midfielder Christian Eriksen could galvanise Frank’s outfit
‘But the feeling of losing is so tough because you are competing and you want to win so badly. You may be facing the best team on paper but it still feels horrendous. It feels the same whoever it is. It is just so, so painful.’
Frank is an expressive man and during our 40 minutes this subject finds him at his most animated. There is not a coach in the world who does not take defeat as a deep and personal insult.
Equally, Frank has made sure that his players understand there are bigger forces at play in the world right now. He explains: ‘I said to the players before the Newcastle game, ‘Be brave. What is the worst thing that can happen? You lose a match. It’s not the end of the world. Look at what is happening in Ukraine’.
‘There are bigger things out there and I do try to remind the players about that.’
Frank’s career principles have long been about player development and improvement. It is tempting to wonder if he is particularly suited to such a results-based environment as the professional game.
He nods at this but counters that it is possible for the roads of development and tangible achievement to run parallel. His future, he says, may lie in consultancy or leadership training. It may even lie outside football.
And what about the Denmark national team? Given his success in England, it seems likely his phone may ring one day.
Frank also discussed the prospect of replacing Kasper Hjulmand (above) as Denmark manager
‘My wife said no already,’ he laughs. ‘Imagine being Gareth Southgate! The pressure, the spotlight. Everyone knows him. The family. No matter what he says he is a genius or an idiot.
‘So they would just have to ask my wife and she will make the decision. But she knows that if I got that offer then I would 100 per cent want to consider it. Of course. I have coached half the team at youth level and have already had this nice little reunion with Christian here.
‘I know the staff and the current manager Kasper (Hjulmand) is a good friend of mine. So we will see.
‘What I know is that it’s difficult to plan in life. I have been lucky so far. I had this dream and then, oh, it happened. So what is the next thing? I don’t focus on that while I am here but maybe there will be some cool, interesting job some day.’
And before then, there will be some steps taken into the world, a furthering of an adventure that actually started more than two decades ago.
‘I have been privileged to backpack with my wife in 2000,’ he explains. ‘We went to Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Bolivia. This time I will go definitely to Africa. Tanzania, South Africa. I will go to Canada. Maybe some places in Asia. I have always liked the thought of Japan.
‘Maybe revisit some of those initial places. Not backpacking this time. Maybe upgrade a little. A nice car maybe…’