Opportunity knocks for Barnsley to reward loyal fans with repeat promotion push - Leon Wobschall

WHEN it comes to providing value for money across the Championship, no-one is quite in Barnsley’s league.

As one observer wrote this week, big-spending Stoke City, in their last set of accounts for the 2019-20 financial year, lost £86m and finished 15th in the league table, ‘improving’ to 14th in 20-21.

By comparison, Barnsley lost £280,000 in their ‘nearly relegation’ season of 19-20. In the last campaign, they ended up in fifth.

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The likes of Stoke – they are by no means alone at second-tier level – will surely have problems going forward.

Barnsley could reward their loyal fans by not being a selling club again this summer. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

By contrast, Barnsley live within their means and adopt a sensible approach. It is admirable, especially in these times.

But after a remarkable season which surpassed all expectations, the justifiable fear among many supporters is that the Reds – traditionally a selling club – will be the victims of their own success.

There are some clubs still in receipt of parachute payments in particular who may well look at some of Barnsley’s stars and back themselves to prize them away.

It has happened before, with many also able to offer far more in terms of weekly wages.

Valerien Ismael consoles his players at full-time after losing at Swansea City in the playoff semi-finals. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

As Valerien Ismael put it after last Saturday’s play-off exit against Swansea City, success makes players even more ‘sexy.’

And also head coaches and managers by definition.

Perhaps the bigger worry is that Ismael himself, taking a well-earned break after his outstanding feats in taking Barnsley to the play-offs, will be enticed away.

No details have been made public, but Ismael is likely to have a release clause that can be activated if a fee is triggered by another club to speak to him.

SHOULD HE STAY OR SHOULD HE GO? Alex Mowatt could be on his through the exit door at Barnsley this summer. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Ultimately, it is part of the reason why clubs like Barnsley can attract the calibre of coaches such as him in the first place.

For his part, Ismael is clearly ambitious, but he will also be waiting to see the extent of the club’s enterprise in terms of holding onto their leading players, who were all retained in the winter window. As it stands, Barnsley – and not just because of on-pitch matters where their progress has arrived at a rate of knots under Ismael – find themselves in a strong position and it is one that should not be wasted at the altar of instant cash.

The seemingly default position of selling at the first sign of a half-decent seven-figure offer should not apply.

It does not have to be this way.

HARD-FOUGHT: Callum Brittain and Jamal Lowe chase the ball at the Liberty Stadium in the playoff semi-final second leg. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Aside from captain Alex Mowatt – whose deal expires shortly and may well move on with his age, at 26, meaning that his next contract is the one that can make him for life – Barnsley’s other big-hitters are under contract until June 2023 which should give the club a sound bargaining position.

They include Mads Andersen, Michal Helik and Cauley Woodrow, with the club also having the option of triggering a further year on the deals of Callum Styles and Callum Brittain.

Should any be sold, it should be on Barnsley’s terms and purely because they have been tabled with a significant big-money amount they could not refuse.

It remains to be seen how many clubs have the ability to do that with the Covid crisis forcing those without the benefit of parachute payments to tighten their belts.

While ambition would be shown in keeping key players, it also applies to new signings.

The big spin-off from the Reds memorable campaign is surely that the club – one that provides a clear first-team pathway to up-and-coming players – will be even more attractive to young talents across the EFL and in other markets.

They should be able to compete for a better calibre of player.

Players coming to Barnsley will get a chance quicker than they would at other clubs.

It is the Reds’ unique selling point. And this is a team that has now proved they can compete at the sharp end of the Championship.

As Woodrow said last week, it is a team ‘in a good place’ and one who ‘can have another go’ ideally.

Should Barnsley keep the vast majority of their side and not be seduced by quick cash, there’s no reason why they cannot build on this season’s encouragement.

Loyal fans, who have backed the club with season-ticket sales during the Covid crisis, deserve that.

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