Barnsley FC: Why Asbaghi and Woodrow relationship is key to Tykes’ survival

THE relationship between Valerien Ismael and Alex Mowatt – head coach and captain – was right at the epicentre of Barnsley’s astounding story of 2020-21.

Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt celebrates the team's win with manager Valerien Ismael at Bournemouth last year. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Barnsley captain Alex Mowatt celebrates the team's win with manager Valerien Ismael at Bournemouth last year. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Some of the images were iconic. A post-match picture of Ismael grabbing hold of his on-pitch leader in manic delight after an outstanding win at Bournemouth was perhaps the most famous.

As an individual not overly prone to emotion and usually the epitome of cool, it was a revealing shot of Ismael in particular. The pair are now continuing their ‘bromance’ at West Brom.

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If Barnsley are to make a success – for entirely different reasons – of the current season, the connection between Poya Asbaghi and Cauley Woodrow is likely to be front and centre.

Cauley Woodrow and Poya Asbaghi. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It is a relationship which is only in its early stages, but levels of trust have been built quickly.

Woodrow’s comments about the ‘fickle’ nature of some fans at his recent lack of goals as opposed to his overall record since joining the club may have arrested the attention after last weekend’s game with Huddersfield Town.

But maybe just as significant were his utterances about what Asbaghi has already brought to Barnsley.

The term ‘identity’ was a striking one as was his comment about the Swedish-Iranian being exactly what the club needed.

It was an emphatic show of support in him and was not prompted either.

For his part, Asbaghi has been impressed by the smartness of Woodrow in terms of his footballing savvy and adaptability. Should they find a way for the striker to hit the goals trail again, then Barnsley might be onto something again at long last.

Asbaghi said: “For me, the important thing is the players react positively on the training pitch and in the games.

“It is how they speak on the training ground and the theory room going out onto the training pitch and taking directives.

“Cauley has been really good at adapting and a really smart player. If you talk to him in the theory room and out in training, he can translate that in a really good way.

“Not only that, he is good at helping others understand and making them better.”

Woodrow, much like Mowatt, is not a tub-thumping leader in the traditional sense of a captain. He prefers deeds to words and while no-one can doubt his work ethic, he will be hurting at his recent goal drought.

When you are wearing the captain’s armband and are not producing in terms of your main job for the side – whether that be scoring goals, keeping out goals or creating chances – it is doubly painful and you can take things home with you.

Woodrow will have his critics for sure, but Asbaghi sees a player who is not hiding. That is something he admires.

“What I have seen of him is a player who takes a lot of responsibility and who wants to take responsibility for a club during a period which has not been good”, the Reds chief continued.

“Whereas some players can hide in these moments, Cauley is not that one. He wants to take part and take responsibility and he wants to help others improve as well. Hopefully, he can keep doing it for the whole season as we need his leadership.”

The last of Woodrow’s three goals this term arrived 11 games ago – a successful penalty against Nottingham Forest.

It has equalled his drought at the end of the 2019-20 ‘Great Escape’ season, so in that respect been here before. It is also worth remembering his goals totals in his three previous campaigns at the club as well – 15, 15 and 19.

Significant spells without goals are part of life for forwards from time to time. The trick for Woodrow – and Asbaghi – lies in getting him into more dangerous central positions consistently with much of his work currently being done away from the box.

As captain, Woodrow is responsible for the team, but his bread and butter is scoring goals. Barnsley’s difficulties in the creative department in 2021-22 mean that he is presently famished.

Sharpening up that offensive side remains Asbaghi’s most pertinent issue. Barnsley’s current total of 14 goals is comfortably the worst in the Championship.

Asbaghi added: “He has scored a lot of goals and if you go out there on the training pitch, you will not find more players who have scored much more goals for Barnsley than Cauley. We know he has the capacity.

“We also know that with all the strikers in the world – when they don’t score for a while – that their confidence can get affected.

“I see this in Lionel Messi right now in the league for PSG (Paris Saint-Germain). He is missing chances he usually does not miss, but we know his qualities. It can happen to even the best.

“So of course, it can happen to our players. It is important for us to keep developing as a team and finding a good structure for our way of attacking and putting our attackers in good positions.

“When we do that enough, the goals will come and things will start happening mentally for our players. It is important we create more chances.”