Brentford bid for Europe offers latest giant step in remarkable Ethan Pinnock rise
Brentford have dreams of playing in Europe next season, but Ethan Pinnock allows himself to dream even bigger.
The 29-year-old centre-back started out at non-league Dulwich Hamlet. From there to Premier League high-flyers Brentford might be a meteoric-enough rise for some, but the next World Cup is three years away and Pinnock wants to be there.
Hosts Canada, Mexico and the US qualify automatically, freeing up room for up to five other nations from the CONCACAF region to qualify. Pinnock plays for Jamaica, who are in with a very good chance of reaching their first World Cup since 1998.
“That’s the target — the extra spaces do give that extra incentive,” Pinnock tells Standard Sport. “I’ve got good confidence that we can make it. That would be a massive achievement for me and my family.
“We’ve got a few Premier League players at the moment — Michail Antonio, Bobby De Cordova-Reid, Leon Bailey, me — and a lot of players in the Championship and over in the States. We’ve got the ingredients. What we’re trying to establish is that continuity of squads and players, to gather the pieces together.”
Brentford signed Pinnock in summer 2019, and by the end of his second season, the Bees earned promotion to the Premier League. Now they’re eighth with 11 games to go in their second top-flight season, with European football more than a whisper in the wind.
“At the time of signing, if you told me this is the position we would be in now, I’d bite your hand off. Everyone involved in the club has worked really hard and it’s well deserved. As the season has progressed, we’ve really started to settle into our roles.
“We know that if things keep going then it is a possibility,” he says of securing European football. “We are focusing on the process, not the result. By the end of the season, we’ll see where we end up.”
Brentford recently went on a spirited 12-match unbeaten league run, which incorporated a famous 2-1 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad. Pinnock’s menial task was keeping Erling Haaland quiet. It could scarcely have gone better.
“Not many teams go to the Etihad and win — that was an unbelievable day. Tactically every man played their role perfectly that day. We stuck to our game plan and it worked out. Everyone knows what he’s [Haaland] capable of. It’s just about making sure he doesn’t do it against you.”
Besides beating City, Brentford have also held Chelsea and Arsenal to draws and seen off Liverpool. And early in Erik Ten Hag’s Manchester United reign, Brentford beat them 4-0.
“They weren’t smash-and-grabs,” Pinnock insists. “We start games really quickly and get on top of teams. When you can limit what they do, it opens up. Thomas Frank likes to say ‘confident but humble,’ and I think that really is telling of our mindset.”
Pinnock missed the first two months of the season through injury, but he has played the full 90 in every game since returning, keeping seven clean sheets. At the other end of the pitch, so much of Brentford’s success is down to the goals of Ivan Toney, away on England duty this month.
“He is a great striker who is really confident in his ability. You can see that in the way he takes his penalties. When something works, you always see more players starting to try it. If you wait, it’s hard to get to the ball. If you guess, he tries to see where you’re going. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 for a keeper.
“When the ball is up to him, you know the defenders are in for a tough game against him. He’s a clever player, and he’s getting his reward. But in small-sided games, I back myself against him!”
Pinnock and Toney will no doubt look back fondly on their career trajectories, and you would be hard-pushed to find a Brentford player who has not improved under manager Frank.
“A lot of the success is down to Thomas Frank,” Pinnock smiles. “He’s approachable, and players feel comfortable around him. He’s never too high or too low, and that rubs off on us as players. He coaches the older players the same as the younger players. Everyone can always learn.
“Everyone else has taken to him as well. In a couple of interviews, he swears sometimes. With the passion, he sometimes forgets he’s live on air.”
In recent weeks, the likes of Chelsea and United have been rumoured to be scouting Toney, while Frank’s name has been dragged into Tottenham’s managerial tombola. Pinnock, as ever, remains unfazed about the possibility of either leaving Brentford.
“If you see the results we’ve been getting, it’s only natural. Unless you’re at one of the top five or six clubs in the world, players are always going to eventually move on if they’re doing well. I don’t worry about it.”