Barnsley v Middlesbrough: Romal Palmer reveals how Valerien Ismael has turned Reds around

YOU do not have to spend long in Valerien Ismael’s company to leap to conclusions about the personality that has dragged Barnsley from the Championship relegation to the play-offs.

It is all true according to Reds midfielder Romal Palmer.

“He’s very intense, very straight-forward and driven,” he says. “He knows how he wants to play. The mentality is a huge factor since he came in. It was noticed straight away.

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“After some of the team talks I feel like I can conquer the world.”

Driving force: Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

The most consistent thing about Ismael is his hunger for consistency. The factor that has cost Middlesbrough a chance of promotion is the biggest force they will face at Oakwell today.

Ask Ismael why Palmer took until January to impose himself on a team he is now a mainstay of – starting the last 13 matches, only one of them lost – and the answer is predictable.

“The first step for him was to play with consistency,” he says. “You could see his quality but he’d play two or three times then another injury and two or three weeks out, all the time the same.

“We knew it was important for Romal to get consistency in his performances and now he’s made the next step. Now he needs to lift his performances to the next level. He has the perfect example in Alex Mowatt (yesterday named Championship player of the month). He has to play 90 minutes every three days.”

Big personality: Barnsley's Romal Palmer (left) says boss Valerien Ismael has stamped his identity all over the club. Picture: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire.

Has to.

“For other players that’s a doddle but with the past I’ve had it’s been quite tough for me,” acknowledges Palmer. “I did manage the one 90 minutes (Bristol City away) but I need to do it more.

“I’ve been able to understand my body a bit more – sleep, diet, it’s all pretty good at the minute”

Ismael has imposed his will on this team, winless when he only took over in late October.

Derby date: Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

“I’m very impressed with the commitment in every game,” he says. “The Championship is a very difficult league with the names of the teams, the quality, the number of games and this season especially with covid you have a busy schedule with some crazy moments but we’ve done everything to do the job well.”

His own relentless drive is, the former Bayern Munich centre-back says, innate.

“When I started to play football I was not one of the best players but I made (up) the difference with my mentality,” he explains. “I had to give more than others.

“When you play for a club like Bayern Munich you learn what it means to be No 1 and to stay at that level and win with consistency. I started as a manager with the mentality always to win but it’s not just about you. I’m responsible for all the performances of the players and the staff.

“The top teams, the top managers have the same mindset – stay hungry, don’t be satisfied, try to raise the bar all the time and if you lose the game try to bounce back quickly.

“The guys learned very, very quickly, what it means to play at that level, to stay at that level and for their development it’s really given them a big mindset.”

The make up of his unheralded squad has helped too.

“It’s maybe been an advantage to have a young team, the recovery has maybe been quicker,” he argues. “But on the other side we’ve made a lot of mistakes. The schedule is not a problem for us any more until the end of the season, we can deal with it.”

They are, says Palmer, a band of brothers.

“You’re working hard but you’re working hard for your mate alongside you,” he says. “If I’m on the field with someone that will run an extra mile for me then I’ll do the same for them.”

How former Barnsley winger Neil Warnock would love such consistency from Middlesbrough, whose longest winning run this season is three, and has only happened once.

With Sam Morsy and Anfernee Dijksteel out for the season, Dael Fry two weeks away and Marcus Tavernier three, Warnock has written off the play-offs and gives the impression he is eager to get the campaign over so he can set to on reshaping his squad.

At Barnsley, fifth in the table, it could scarcely be any different.

“We play a game and straight away we’re looking forward to the next game to get out there, work and get the points,” says Palmer.

Ismael would not stand for anything else.

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