Barnsley settle on winning recruitment formula to maintain their steady progress

BARNSLEY’S lofty league position may be drawing admiring glances from their Championship rivals, but it is not why those in the corridors of power at many clubs are truly envious.

HOTSHOT: Barnsley's Callum Brittain. Picture: Tony Johnson

The Reds’ recruitment policy – increasingly held up as an example to follow in their purchasing of young players for a relatively modest outlay – definitely is. Especially in these fiscally-challenged times where clubs want bang for their buck.

Many hanker for the secret, given Barnsley’s outstanding success in signing a number of rising stars such as Callum Styles, Callum Brittain, Mads Andersen and Toby Sibbick and those at the slightly ‘older’ end at 25 in the form of Michal Helik and Carlton Morris.

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The ‘secret’ is not exactly rocket science.

Barnsley's Michal Helik with an overhead kick during the Sky Bet Championship match at Ashton Gate, Bristol. Picture: Steven Paston/PA.

Like countless clubs, Barnsley utilise various video-based data systems and statistic-based tools to gain information about scores of players at home and abroad such as Wyscout and Prozone. They are hardly alone.

Crucially, their unique selling point is that the young players who they almost exclusively recruit – often from the English lower-divisions or away from Europe’s major leagues – not only fit into a prescribed style of play, but will get a chance straightaway. That is what sets them apart.

Barnsley chief executive officer Dane Murphy told The Yorkshire Post: “That is the draw. A lot of young players rising through the ranks will maybe look at a bigger club and say: ‘that’s the dream.’

“By looking at Barnsley, they can say: ‘Well, if I go to Barnsley, I can play in the Championship right away, why wouldn’t I do that’. That’s part of the attraction.”

Barnsley manager Valerien Ismael is currently benefitting from the Oakwell recuitment policy. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA

It has certainly worked for the likes of Brittain, brought in from MK Dons in October, Helik – who joined from Polish outfit Cravocia in the autumn – and Morris, signed from Norwich in January.

There are other examples as well with many signings monitored not just for the past six months, but much longer.

Murphy added: “Carlton is a good example of a guy who has been on the list since I arrived in 2019. We were always trying to figure out a way and thinking what was the best time and approach. We were able to get him in the last window as we knew his deal was running up at Norwich.

“In the last few windows, we have had a running list of players in each position. There are some who come up in a window and in the last six or 12 months, they may have done really well.

Dane Murphy, chief executive of Barnsley. Picture supplied by Barnsley FC

“But generally, we have a list of guys who we continue to watch and try to find and it is a case of thinking at what point will there be an appetite for a transfer to take place. Will this player want to come and does he fit in now?

“We are always adding to the list, but our pre-planning in our recruitment is well in advance of when we get into the windows. As we showed in January, we had two deals done before the window even started so that on day one, they could come in.

“There are always adjustments to be made, but we think as a small club on a small budget that we have to be prepared or else we cannot swim with the big boys.”

Barnsley’s recruitment team in the words of Murphy is ‘not overly robust.’ Director James Cryne, who oversees recruitment, has three people in his data analytics team. Bryan Young is the only scout who is contracted to the club, while Murphy – with a background in recruitment in the US – works alongside them all.

“There are so many different technological advancements that we can use to figure out data points,” Murphy continued.

“But we have our own system built out by James and his group to hit factors in game play that we know will fit into our approach and the way we want to play.

“We use video systems like Wyscout and Hudl to make sure we have the numbers. We don’t have people in different countries and legions of scouts around the globe, but have a system that covers all the ground that we possibly can and we are very efficient.”

The fact that Barnsley sign players for a specific style of high-paced gegenpressing – and shrewdly only recruit head coaches whose footballing ethos fits into that – means that signings must all hit certain markers.

They do not – for want of a better phrase – ‘take a punt’.

There may be the odd deviation such as when signing an experienced option at the back in Michael Sollbauer last year and the loan capture of Matty James, but thinking is joined up.

Murphy said: “We try to recruit at a certain age or in and around it so that if they have a few good seasons and continue to grow and come into their prime, we are able to add to that success and the players can only rise with us.

“We have a system of play implemented over the past three seasons and there are certain elements of data when you watch a player on the field that you can think: ‘that can fit into the gegenpressing and high pressing.’

“We want players who get as many attacks in as possible and cover in for players behind. There are a lot of boxes that need to be checked.”

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