Barnsley FC adamant they will not change course over transfer policy

IT was against hardened, been-around-the-block Championship operators such as Cardiff City where the risky nature of Barnsley’s recruitment strategy was laid bare.

Barnsley's Cauley Woodrow celebrates (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

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Head coach Gerhard Struber made no bones about the importance of the game, labelling it as an ‘A-level examination’ – having seen enough of this division since November to know these are the ones which reveal a lot.

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His comment was nothing to do with the footballing excellence of Cardiff either, but everything to do with their organisation, physicality, mentality and degree in the streetwise arts of second-tier life which sides usually require to survive at this level.

Barnsley CEO Dane Murphy: Explained club's position.

It is a division which is about finding a way. It is about winning games when you do not play particularly well that matters.

The Cardiff team who started the game at Oakwell and went on to triumph 2-0 had an average age of 27.27 and stacks of miles on the Championship clock.

By contrast, the average age of the Barnsley side was just 23, with little substantive experience of the second-tier aside from Alex Mowatt and Cauley Woodrow.

There will be times before the end of the season – as there have been already in 2019-20 – when Barnsley’s high-energy gegenpressing style led by its young, dynamic core will secure points. Whether it is enough to keep their divisional status is a moot point.

Should Barnsley go down, the finger will be firmly pointed at the club’s recruitment policy as the chief reason by supporters.

But the club model of buying young, up-and-coming players with potential sell-on value down the line is firmly established and it is one which the club will not deviate from – give or take the odd exception or ‘special circumstance’ as chief executive officer Dane Murphy puts it.

That was the thinking in letting Struber sign two senior players – albeit from the Austrian Bundesliga – in midfielder Marcel Ritzmaier, 26, and defender Michael Sollbauer, 29 – in January.

Yet it will mark no significant departure in transfer strategy.

Murphy told The Yorkshire Post: “The philosophy is what it is and we have guidelines in our model. Are they hardline guidelines? No – they are soft. If the circumstances come where we have to step outside our parameters, we will do so as we showed in January.

“This is a long-term approach to keep the club self-sustaining and financially responsible. We will not move out in a way that would damage that criteria. But there are special circumstances in which we will abandon and find ways to make sure that the club is as successful on the field as possible.

“We actually have a thought-out plan in what we are trying to do. There are going to be roadblocks. Is it always going to work out and be fool-proof? No, it is not.”

Should Sollbauer and Ritzmaier play their part in Barnsley achieving their cherished aims of survival, then the stick that Reds supporters are metaphorically using to beat the club hierarchy with will be briefly put down.

Murphy is the first to admit that January was a tough month, but points out that the retaining of their ‘core group’ such as Mowatt, Woodrow and Jacob Brown – players who could have moved on if Barnsley had intimated to rival clubs they were willing to sell for the right price – was not insignificant.

The Reds CEO continued: “From a fan’s perspective, it is tough to always know the ins and outs of what is going on.

“January was a very trying and interesting month for us. We had a lot of interest in some of our players and we all made the decision before we got to January that our core group, who are doing well and garnering interest, would stay together as we are going to do whatever we could possibly do to stay in the Championship.

“To that end, we knew we had to add and bolster the backline and solidify the midfield. But there were circumstances that made that tough – the position we were in and prices being driven up on us as we were a Championship team. It is a tough time to get things done.

“You could say in January with the guys we brought in that they were familiar with Gerhard or in the Red Bull (Salzburg) system.

“They had better opportunities to be quite frank, but they were willing to take the risk to play with us.”

Murphy admits that the Reds were also stymied by their inability to get the high-earning trio of Dimitri Cavare, Dani Pinillos and Mamadou Thiam off their books.

“We had a group whom we felt were on high wages and taking up a fair amount of the budget who were not contributing week in, week out,” he continued.

“It was only fair to them to try and get them on the field somewhere where they could continue their careers and perform at a high level.

“We ended up getting Cavare to Sion (in February). Thiam had a few teams who were interested and nothing really materialised in the end and it was tough. Dani had a couple of interested clubs, but nothing got over the line.”