Barnsley v QPR - Reds and new coach Valerien Ismael already on the same page
The Reds brought a translator from Essex for Ismael’s first press conference but he was rarely needed and the message was that he is firmly in touch with his new club’s way of thinking.
Coaches come and go at Oakwell – a bit too often – but the style of play remains.
The 45-year-old will not have to radically change anything before tonight’s Championship visit of Queens Park Rangers – just as well, having only taken two training sessions.
“Intensity, mentality, vertical game – be prepared to sacrifice because this way of playing football is tough,” is how Ismael explains his style, from the Germanic school followed by Daniel Stendel and Gerhard Struber.
Ismael might be born in France, but in a part of the country which has regularly changed hands with neighbouring Germany. The former Bayern Munich centre-back converses with his translator in German. Communication is, says Dominic Frieser, an important skill of his.
Ismael began his coaching career working alongside immediate predecessor Struber at Hannover (the latter coaching the second team, the former the under-19s) and last season in the Austrian Bundesliga. Ismael led LASK to their best start to a season but lost his job when their title hopes were ended by a coronavirus protocol breach which saw them docked six points.
“I believe in this way of football and it’s very important for me that the club does,” he says. “In my first contact with (Barnsley chief executive) Dane Murphy I had this feeling.
“Gerhard Struber did a very good job and saved the club (from relegation) in the last second of the last game last season but now we want to make the next step. I want to put my mentality onto the team. We want to be safe this season but earlier.
“I want to see players not happy with a draw or even a win, we want to win the next game.”
Having joined Barnsley from LASK in the summer, Frieser only had good things to say to his team-mates about the new boss.
“I’m 100 per cent happy,” said the forward. “Last season I think we won 35 out of 45 games. He’s a really good coach.
“At first (after Struber’s departure) I was thinking ‘Oh s***!’ But Adam (Murray)’s done really well (as caretaker manager). He picked me and I scored my first goal under him (against Stoke City). Then when I heard Valerien was coming I was happy.
“They (Struber and Ismael) both want to press and play fast forward. With Valerien we’ll play a 3-4-3 with wingers. I think that will be easier (for me).
“I played last season under Valerien on the right wing or the left wing and I know (the job). When I came here I was a No 9 with really big defenders behind me. My strength is to go behind.”
Having been at Millwall for Saturday’s 1-1 draw and watched plenty of videos, Ismael is pleased his first game comes so soon.
“I have to speak with the players to get a feeling for their capabilities,” he says. “The spirit is very good and they want to do this. (But) I need the game to see where we are.”
He will lean heavily on Murray – “he knows the club, knows the players and I can ask him everything” – and the only other coaching change sees Joseph Laumann replace Wolfgang Luisser.
Barnsley have not won since their dramatic stoppage-time victory at Brentford to stay in the Championship last season but Ismael knows how hectic English football is having briefly played for Crystal Palace in 1998 and points to the number of matches left as reason not to panic.
“I feel it like it was yesterday,” he says. “It’s not a new environment for me. “It was London, a lot of traffic, a lot of games – Vinnie Jones, I remember this guy! I was maybe too young but it was good.
“We have a lot of games so we have to be calm. It (the fixture list) is a challenge but I experienced it last season (after lockdown), so you have to control how you train. I told the players on Sunday they have to not only work with their bodies but with their heads. When I explain things I want them to understand quickly.
“It’s a very good atmosphere. The spirit is very good, very professional. Everybody is open to making changes”
Frieser and Ismael both mention the physical demands on players, which is why Barnsley might shy away from signing a free agent striker.
“I want to have the feeling a guy is 100 per cent ready for my philosophy, not that he needs six to eight weeks to be fit,” says Ismael.
As for who will be fit this evening, he rates Cauley Woodrow and Jordan Williams “50-50” after both pulled out of Saturday’s game less than ten minutes before kick-off.
Last six games: Barnsley City DDDLDL; Queens Park Rangers DLDDDL.
Referee: A Davies (Hampshire)
Last time: Barnsley 5 Queens Park Rangers 3, December 14, 2019, Championship.
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