BARNSLEY’S uplifting start to the League One season may be attention grabbing, but head-turning matters of a contrasting sort greeted Gauthier Ganaye a few months ago.
After what amounted to a baptism of fire at Oakwell in the previous close season following his arrival in June 2017, it promised to be another long and hot summer for the Reds chief executive, who became the youngest CEO in the Football League when he first came to the club, at the age of 29.
Following the ill-fated 79-day tenure of Jose Morais, which abruptly ended in his sacking after the Reds’ relegation at the end of last season, the pressure to get the next appointment right was intense.
If that was not enough on his plate, Ganaye has also revealed to The Yorkshire Post that he had to contend with a host of unsettled players getting in touch following ‘head-turning’ interest from Championship clubs in the first half of the summer.
Commendably, the Frenchman and the Reds hierarchy held firm in their desire to keep their leading players – with the fact that last season’s key arrivals were under contract beyond next summer also being significant.
But those very same players still needed reassurance when they reconvened for pre-season training at the start of July under new head coach Daniel Stendel.
Critically, the enlightened training-ground regime of the German and his coaching staff has enabled them to invest their faith in both him and the club.
So much so that summer has ended with Barnsley in the top three of League One, still boasting an unbeaten league record and possessing a playing identity and style that fans, management – and more importantly, players – have bought into and embraced.
Crucially, it has also ended with the core of last season’s squad still largely intact.
Ganaye said: “It is not a secret to say that most had their heads somewhere else at the end of the (2017-18) season.
It was hard to keep everybody and not easy and at times, we had conflicts with some. But that is part of the job.Gauthier Ganaye
“It was hard to keep everybody and not easy and at times, we had conflicts with some. But that is part of the job.
“I do not think I have turned down as many offers before, if I am honest.
“There was a bit less (interest) at the end (August) because people knew we had been firm before. Some (clubs) were trying their luck. But earlier, there were a lot and to be fair, it was not easy for us straight after relegation.
“It was really tough to try and lift the mentality and positivity. The appointment of Daniel was out of the blue – with a foreign manager again. A lot of people were a bit scared.
“We said that we really wanted to start from the style of play and now I think people understand what we wanted to do a little bit better and can identify with that style. We are very happy with the way Daniel is working and the way the players are following him.
“It was difficult for those players, especially. But then they could see what we are trying to achieve with Daniel this season in terms of the style and they like working with him.
“The players are happy to be together and understand that they are a really good side in this league. They also saw that we were keeping players and felt that we would be competitive this season.”
For Barnsley, the benefits of continuity as opposed to change are unquestionably underpinning their solid, stable start to the season which has been as smooth as last term’s opening was fraught.
Last summer, the Reds’ number of new recruits was well into the double-figures mark and it showed on the pitch. Building a settled and consistent side proved onerous and it was a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy.’
The decision of those in the corridors of powers at Oakwell to hold onto what they already had in terms of squad options as opposed to instigating more major upheaval again was a wise move – the fruits of which are now arriving.
Explaining the change of tack at Barnsley, whose two major arrivals in the summer window were Kenny Dougall and Cauley Woodrow – with the only key departure being Tom Bradshaw, who expressed a desire to leave due to personal reasons – Ganaye explained: “We felt it was important to keep hold of our leading players.
“Even though last year was disappointing, they have worked together for one year and know each other. We knew we could build on that.
“You can do as many reports as you want and watch new players for 10 months or whatever and do all the background checks you want. But there is always a uncertainty as you do not know how quickly he will settle in and fit with the other players and style. If you have a player already there, you know what you have.
“We felt we needed a little advantage at the start of the season as we did not need (new) players to settle in. We needed to start well and if we can keep this dynamic for the rest of the season, I think we will do well.”