Barnsley’s Toby Sibbick sprinting into the spotlight

WHEN he was in his early teens, Toby Sibbick was a sprinter of some repute and represented his county of Middlesex in the 100 metres.

Risng star: Toby Sibbick holds off Chiedozie Ogbene. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The values of endurance and fortitude – qualities that you usually associate with a successful middle or long-distance runner rather than a speedster – have served him infinitely better at Barnsley.

Amid the many engaging personal tales at Oakwell in the past year, Sibbick’s rise to prominence is one of the most noteworthy and admirable.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Part of a Reds line-up who performed with distinction to reach the Championship play-offs in the 2020-21 season – having been just a few minutes away from relegation at the end of the previous campaign – the Londoner has plenty to feel proud about.

Praised: Valerien Ismael. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

It has certainly been some story.

This time last season, Sibbick was an outsider looking in.

Having seen a loan spell at Hearts curtailed early when the Scottish Premier League season was suspended in mid-March of 2020, he also had to cope with a bout of glandular fever before returning to Oakwell.

While his team-mates played out the final third of last season in high summer, Sibbick trained away from the first team to build up his fitness.

Jettisoned early on in the reign of Gerhard Struber, the former AFC Wimbledon player was then farmed out for another loan spell to one of the Reds’ sister clubs, KV Ostende, at the start of 20-21 only to suffer more frustration when he failed to feature for the Belgian Pro League outfit.

Thankfully, salvation was at hand when he returned to Yorkshire in December. Struber had departed and Valerien Ismael was in charge.

The Frenchman liked what he saw of Sibbick, who joined the club in the summer of 2019, and provided reassurance. The rest is history, ever since the right-sided defender was restored to the Reds’ starting line-up in January.

Sibbick, who turned 22 recently, told The Yorkshire Post: “Muz (Adam Murray) and the gaffer have spoken to me quite a lot.

“When I came back, the gaffer spoke to me about what he wanted to do and what I could bring to the team with my quality and he gave me that trust and extra belief in myself that I could go out and do things for him. I think I have repaid that so far.

“When I have spoken to people, I have always mentioned him (Ismael) as well in giving me that extra belief and confidence to do things for him and everyone in that changing room would run through a brick wall for him as we have seen before.

“He gave us that extra belief when we were on that winning streak that we could achieve something special.”

On what happened before under Struber, who famously brought Sibbick off at half-time on his first match in charge at Blackburn in November, 2019 –and featured just one more time under the Austrian – the defender remains philosophical.

Football is a game of opinions. A manager can like you; a manager cannot like you,” he commented. “As a player, you have got to keep your head down and work hard and keep giving your all, so that if an injury happens, for example, you are ready to step in and gain the gaffer’s trust again.

“I just felt that when I was not playing out there (in Belgium) that I had to keep a positive mind or you can get down and upset about things.

“As soon as I got told I could come back to Barnsley and I started training again, that just gave me an upbeat lift. I wanted to do really well when I came back.

“We are all a young group and that helps us as well.”

Sibbick has not looked back from the moment he was restored to the starting line-up for the FA Cup tie against Tranmere, with 2021 having been as benevolent as 2020 was hard.

International recognition may even arrive further down the line as well, with the Feltham-raised player, whose mother is from Uganda, having been contacted by officials of the East African nation with a view to potentially representing them at international level.

Sibbick continued: “The national team coach has messaged me before when he knew what my situation was and I have spoken to him. But there are lots of documents to go through and it is a long process. Nothing has been set yet but it is something to look at, definitely.”

For someone who clocked 11.2 seconds for the 100m when he was 14, Sibbick’s athletics potential was there for all to see.

But it was football which stole his heart and given the impressive strides he has made under Ismael, his career is on an upward trajectory once more.

“When I was in secondary school, I used to do a lot of district running – 100 and 200 metres.

“I think I was the quickest in my borough. My mum wanted me to push it from the side as well. But football was my main focus, really. I used to do a bit of training and stuff, but I think sprinting sort of faded away.”