NEW Barnsley head coach Gerhard Struber is urging everyone connected with the club to ‘pull together’ as he seeks to mastermind the Reds’ second ‘Great Escape’ from Championship relegation in eight seasons.
The Austrian is the new face in the dug-out at Oakwell after being confirmed as Barnsley’s third successive continental head coach and is entrusted with the demanding brief of steering the club to safety in the remaining 30 league games of 2019-20.
In the process, Struber has swapped challenging for a place at the top end of the Austrian Bundesliga with Wolfsberger AC – currently third in the table – for a survival fight and he insists that he is up for the challenge in his first post away from his homeland.
The 42-year-old – partway through his first season in senior management at Wolfsberger – has signed a Reds contract until 2022 with a further year’s option.
Struber, who will be assisted by an Englishman in former Arsenal coach Matt Rose, who worked at the Gunners academy in Athens, said: “Now is a time for everyone to pull together; the board, the management team, the squad, the wider club, staff and of course our passionate supporters.
“If we can do this together, we can keep this club in this league. I cannot wait to start working for this club and town, and especially to meet you all at the game this weekend.
“I am extremely happy and proud that everything has worked out and I would like to thank the board for giving me this opportunity.
“The last couple of days have been extremely exciting and I am ready for the challenge to do everything we can, to keep this club in the Championship.”
Struber, whose first game in charge is at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, will be seeking to emulate the feats of former boss David Flitcroft, who presided over a stirring and successful against-the-odds battle against the drop in the second half of 2012-13.
Struber takes over a side who are without a win in 16 matches in all competitions since the opening day of the season, a 1-0 victory over Fulham – and are propping up the Championship table.
As it stands, Barnsley are five points behind the side just outside of the relegation positions in Luton Town.
Prior to finalising a deal to bring in Struber, several foreign-based coaches had been linked with the Barnsley position following the departure of Daniel Stendel, including former Schalke and Stuttgart coach Jens Keller and Gothenburg head coach Poya Asbaghi.
Described as a combative midfielder in his playing days and a proponent of a fast-paced ‘gegenpressing’ style of play espoused by Stendel, Struber is a natural fit for Barnsley’s declared profile of harnessing young talent, according to CEO Dane Murphy.
On the appointment of Struber, which arrived 43 days after the departure of Stendel, Murphy commented: “Gerhard is a young coaching talent that any side would be pleased to have.
“The club had pursued him in the past as his tactical approach and track record of developing burgeoning talent appeals to the core philosophies at Barnsley Football Club.
“Gerhard made it quite clear that he believes in our project and has confidence that the club can remain in the Championship under his stewardship, which is the club’s main objective for this season.
“This was a long, arduous process that tested the patience of many working to better the club. In the end, the labour has bore fruit and we are anticipating an enticing brand of football with Gerhard at the helm,” added Murphy.
Struber, who began his career as a youth coach with Red Bull Salzburg and had spells at the helm of his hometown team SV Kuchl and Salzburg’s feeder club Liefering, will take charge of his first home game in the all-Yorkshire encounter with Hull City on Saturday week.
Prior to that, Barnsley face a huge relegation ‘six-pointer’ at rivals Middlesbrough next Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the club have confirmed that Chris Stern, a former assistant to Stendel, has left Oakwell.
Further announcements regarding the club’s backroom set-up will be made in due course as Struber finalises his coaching team.
In a separate development, Hearts have approached ex-Reds chief Stendel about their managerial vacancy, but face a major stumbling block if they want the German coach to succeed Craig Levein.
According to reports in Edinburgh, former Tykes boss Stendel’s severance package is still being negotiated and shows no sign of being finalised quickly, meaning he is unlikely to become a realistic option for Hearts any time soon.
The Tynecastle outfit would need to pay a substantial six-figure sum to get the 45-year-old out of his Barnsley agreement, should they decide to follow up their initial approach through his representatives.
Former Bradford City chief Stuart McCall and ex-Sheffield Wednesday manager Alan Irvine are among others who have spoken with Hearts about the vacant position alongside Neil McCann and Steve Cotterill.
Struber’s pilosophy: Page 20