New Barnsley owners out to replicate Nice success

Press conference to introduce the new owners of Barnsley FC. Joint chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee. Picture Scott Merrylees
Press conference to introduce the new owners of Barnsley FC. Joint chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee. Picture Scott Merrylees
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FOLLOWING the addition of Barnsley to a sporting portfolio which also includes French Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice, a touch of entente cordiale was unmistakable in the utterances of the Reds’ new majority shareholders at their Oakwell unveiling.

Some 18 months after being appointed alongside fellow consortium members at Nice, new Reds co-chairmen Chien Lee and Paul Conway swapped the Côte d’Azur for South Yorkshire for their opening address – and if they can replicate the success of their time in the south of France thus far, then Reds supporters will not be complaining.

Across the Channel, Nice were the undoubted surprise packages of the 2016-17 season en route to an outstanding third place finish which saw them qualify for the third round of the Champions League.

Any sort of replication and Oakwell followers may just be dreaming of a sentimental Premier League return. Although this is for another day.

And amid all the hype and hullballoo at the club’s takeover by Lee’s NewCity Capital, a private investment company operating in hospitality, consumer retail, sport and property and Conway’s Pacific Media Group, there was a nagging feeling of slight worry among some fans.

Namely that Barnsley, 20th in the Championship, could become a feeder club to Nice, sixth in the French top-flight.

It was a fear felt by followers of Watford back in 2012 after the takeover by the Pozzo family, who also owned Serie A outfit Udinese and Spanish side Granada.

Conway allayed that fear yesterday, but did add the caveat that a ‘sharing of resources’ when circumstances dictate – potentially opening the door to Nice squad players furthering their footballing education in England – could be a possibility.

He said: “Any investment we do is our own independent investment. But we will look for sharing of resources when they make sense.

“(But) all the decisions made here at Barnsley will be made for the long-term benefit of Barnsley.”

On the potential of NewCity Capital and the Pacific Media Group actively pursuing further interest in other football clubs across the globe, Conway commented: “We are just looking for interesting opportunities where we think we can add value.

“This is a really unique, special opportunity with unique people and the reason we are here is because of that.

“Similar to what we have done in Nice, you would expect us to bring in some of our resources and other partners to compliment the club and expand the resources of Barnsley.

“It was a very similar situation with Barnsley where it was a team with a good tradition, passionate fanbase and great coach that just needs a little bit of help on the commercial side and internationalisation of the club.

“At Nice, we dramatically improved the revenue of the club in the first year and with that, we complimented the squad, built a brand new training facility and academy and built the fan experience. So more fans are coming and having a good time and the performance improved.”

Echoing this, Lee added: “We are long-term investors. We will try to make Barnsley more international with our resources and network to do similar things as at Nice.

“But we want to make sure the club is a local one and we want to keep the local culture. Like the club belongs to the people of Nice, we will work with the local people and council to make this happen here.”

Such sentiments are ones which are likely to be music to the ears of those of a Reds persuasion, with the new owners very open backing and investing of faith in one of Barnsley’s ‘own’ in head coach Paul Heckingbottom being just as welcome.

Heckingbottom is in discussions regarding a new deal which could be concluded shortly, with his new bosses having been impressed by his commitment, aptitude, passion and results, which they feel can be built upon with added resources – perhaps alluding to an increased support staff.

Conway said: “We are a big fan of Paul and he’s a big reason we are here. It is a unique story, a local manager at his local club. You do not see that much these days. It is very exciting and passionate.

“We cannot determine results on the pitch, but we can bring resources.”

Over the years, Patrick Cryne was slavish in his devotion to being a proper custodian for his club and while the new owners have no lifelong emotional attachment to the Reds, they have pledged to honour that same duty of care.

“It has been part of Patrick’s life’s work,” said Conway. “He saved and rebuilt the club, which has achieved great accomplishments beyond its means. We are here because of Patrick and James (Cryne) and the whole club that has been built over the past 14 years,

“We are long-term investors, but the club is the fans and the town.”