Barnsley would have given David Flitcroft a new contract as manager even if he had failed in his attempt to secure their Championship status.
The 39-year-old orchestrated one of the greatest escapes in Barnsley’s history to stave off the threat of demotion to League One and has been rewarded with a 12-month rolling contract.
The Reds only ensured their survival in the final minutes of a pulsating Championship season, with a 2-2 draw at Huddersfield Town last Saturday.
But such was the job Flitcroft did in galvanising Barnsley that the board had already decided he was the man they would have tasked with trying to earn an instant return to the second tier had the Reds lost their fight against the drop.
“People were panicking, but we’d already spoken to Dave before the end of the season,” said Barnsley director Don Rowing, after signing the manager yesterday despite reported interest from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“At that time, though, all Dave wanted to do was focus on the job at hand – avoiding relegation.
“But he knew he would get the job irrespective of what happened.
“So we are very pleased and we were confident he would take the job.”
It is all a far cry from four and a half months ago when Flitcroft took the reins in the wake of the dismissal of Keith Hill following defeat to Blackburn on December 29.
Barnsley seemed as good as down at that stage, having dropped into the bottom three after a run of one win in 15 league games.
They had 21 points and 21 games to save themselves.
In a very public pursuit of a high-profile replacement for Hill, Barnsley were turned down by former Doncaster manager Sean O’Driscoll and Inverness Caledonian Thistle chief Terry Butcher.
All the while Flitcroft was working on a game-to-game basis, and at one stage arrived at the club to say goodbye to his players.
But, after an opening defeat to relegation rivals Peterborough, Flitcroft oversaw an FA Cup win over Burnley and then a memorable triumph over Leeds United at Oakwell on January 12 that left the board with little option, but to give him the job until the end of the season.
Thirty-one points and a run to the FA Cup quarter-final later, Flitcroft had pulled off a remarkable feat.
Asked if the 39-year-old had taken the board by surprise, Rowing said: “I suppose he has.
“We thought at the the start of the year we were down.
“We were rock bottom and it needed quite a run to get clear.
“David has earned the right to take us forward.”
The challenge now for Flitcroft, his assistant Micky Mellon, technical coach Martin Scott and backroom staff – who have all agreed similar deals – is to build on this season’s creditable achievement.
Having prospered in adversity, it will be interesting now to see how Flitcroft fares.
Barnsley have finished fourth bottom for the last two Championship seasons, but the club do not want to continue tempting fate.
Rowing said: “We have got to get away from thinking fourth bottom is acceptable and look towards the top six, rather than the bottom three.”
Discussions will be held in the coming days regarding next season’s budget, although at present it is unlikely that Flitcroft
will have any more money than his predecessors have had before him.
Patrick Cryne, the owner, has long maintained he will sell the club to the right buyer and is understood to have been in discussions with an interested party for some time, though no news on any developments is imminent.
It is not thought that the transfer budget – which again will be one of the lowest in the division – was what held up the process of Flitcroft signing his new contract. Nor is it the interest from managerless Wolves.
Flitcroft was offered the deal at the start of the week, but only signed after getting assurances about certain things he wanted in place. One of those was the retention of lieutenants Mellon and Scott, as well as Guy Proctor, the club’s strength and conditioning coach. All three have been instrumental in Barnsley’s survival and men Flitcroft regularly references when speaking to the media.
The other was more of a logistical compromise the board had to meet.
The former Chester, Rochdale and Bury midfielder generated a real togetherness in the squad in his four months in charge, with regular trips away together helping create a seige mentality.
They regularly stayed in hotels before matches, even home games, and trained at places like the new England training complex in Burton to keep things fresh.
Flitcroft is a firm believer in getting things right off the pitch, from the strength of the academy – which is a source of great pride at Oakwell – to the players’ preparation, and Barnsley have met those demands.
Now he has the assurance of a new contract, the task is to build on this season’s great escape.