Big decision needed on Barnsley recruitment plans, says former boss Danny Wilson
The Reds have become something of a yo-yo side in recent seasons, flitting between the Championship and League One at the end of four of the last six campaigns. That could become five out of seven, depending if and how the 2019-20 campaign is concluding.
With 37 of 46 games played, Barnsley were bottom of the Championship when the English season was mothballed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With no certainty about when Government restrictions on social distancing will be removed, when it will be safe for football to resume, or whether there will be promotion and relegation if the Football League are unable to achieve their stated aim of completing the season, it is hard to say what division they will be playing in next season.
But regardless of where they end up, former manager Wilson believes they should rethink their strategy.
While the model of signing or developing young players then selling them on for big profits has served them well financially, it has not been the best approach from a purely footballing perspective.
Barnsley won promotion from League One with an exciting but youthful side under Daniel Stendel last season but rather than strengthen it, they sold key players Kieffer Moore, Adam Davies, Ethan Pinnock and Liam Lindsay and replaced them with signings light on experience.
They have suffered for it, and Stendel paid with his job in October, eventually being replaced by Gerhard Struber.
“The experience of this season could serve those young players well next year if they keep them, but that’s always the conundrum,” said Wilson.
“In terms of the way they’ve been running the club they’ve done very, very well bringing players in and selling them on but it’s not always helped them on the pitch.
“If they do go down – and I’m not saying that’s definitely going to happen – they’ve got to decide what’s best, whether it’s keeping the players together or moving the best ones on. They’ve got a big decision to make in the summer.”
The lack of investment in the team has been a bone of contention among supporters this season, and was something Stendel did not hide his dissatisfaction with when he was still at the club. The choice of Austrian Struber, who made his name as a youth coach in the Red Bull Salzburg system, does not suggest there will a change of course any time soon.
The current crop of young players is light on defensive nous, while high on attacking quality but defenders feature prominently among the recent graduates of the Barnsley academy.
John Stones, Mason Holgate and Chris Morgan all started their career with the South Yorkshire club and it was the Reds who brought Arjan de Zeeuw into English football.
Wilson finished his playing career at Oakwell, moving there from Sheffield Wednesday in 1993, and was in charge for the greatest season in the club’s history, taking them into English football’s top division for the only time.
He had a second period in charge from 2013-15, bookending spells managing both Sheffield clubs, among others.
Wilson likes a lot of what he has seen from his old club this season, with players such as attacking duo Conor Chaplin and Cauley Woodrow showing huge amounts of promise.
He is hoping the season’s suspension has a revitalising effect on the side if and when the campaign is allowed to resume, but thinks what was most needed was more experience to assist the youngsters.
“The Championship is a very tough league and I think from their point of view it’s going to be very hard to stay in it if and when we get playing again,” he commented.
“Breaks in football can work wonders and they’ve been playing some good stuff this season so you can never say never, but it’s going to be difficult for them.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of them this season and I like the way they’ve been playing. They’ve got some very, very good players.
“Maybe what’s been missing is that bit of experience to help them through.”
Struber is one of many anxious to see the Championship season extended and played to a natural conclusion, even though declaring it void would guarantee his club’s place in the 2020-21 competition.