Poya Asbaghi brings leadership and tactical nous to Barnsley FC

Barnsley chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad has appointed Poya Asbaghi with a brief to bring “clear leadership and tactical philosophy” after a muddled start to the Championship season.

Poya Asbaghi head coach for IFK Goteborg before moving to Barnsley. (Picture: Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
Poya Asbaghi head coach for IFK Goteborg before moving to Barnsley. (Picture: Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

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Previous head coach Markus Schopp was sacked at the start of the month after one win in his 16 matches in charge, and seven straight defeats at the end of his spell. But more than that, public comments by the likes of Callum Brittain and Devante Cole appeared to point to a lack of dressing-room confidence in a leader who tried to create a style that was somewhere between the ultra-direct approach of Valerien Ismael and the possession-based style of his predecessor Gerhard Struber, and ended up getting lost somewhere in the middle.

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Asbaghi and his assistant Ferran Sibila do not officially start their new jobs until Monday, so Joseph Laumann will have a third match as caretaker coach at Fulham’s Craven Cottage on Saturday.

Poya Asbaghi brings leadership and tactical nous to Barnsley (Picture: Getty Images)

Asbaghi was interviewed for the job when it went to Struber in November 2019 but since then he has gone on to win the Svenska Cupen with Gothenburg, with Sibila alongside him, then have a successful spell as Swedish Under-21 coach.

“Both are good people, talented coaches with a clear leadership and tactical philosophy,” said El-Ahmad.

“Poya was on the radar back in 2019 and as we went through our recruitment process it became clear to all parties that Poya and Ferran can take Barnsley FC forward.

“We would like to thank Jo Laumann and the first-team coaching staff for their continued hard work and professionalism over the past few weeks during what has been a transitional period for the club.”

In contrast to his recent predecessors at Oakwell, Asbaghi tends to favour working with a back four. His teams tend to attack with plenty of width, and he has a reputation for developing young players which will be important for a club whose recruitment strategy revolves around them.

Barnsley’s last four coaching recruits have joined from either Austria or Germany but a change of chief executive in the summer has brought a change of emphasis and a new contacts book, so it is no surprise the country’s first Swedish chief executive has turned to his homeland for a solution.

El-Ahmad is part of a very young feel at Oakwell and 36-year-old Asbaghi and his 33-year-old assistant are no exception.

Asbaghi is Iranian but his family fled to Sweden to avoid political persecution when he was one and like Spaniard Sibila, his whole coaching career has been in the Scandinavian country.

Despite his youth, Asbaghi has been on his coaching path for seven years, when he began as assistant manager at Swedish third-division side Dalkurd FF before stepping up to the top job two years later and leading them into the second tier for the first time.

He impressed enough to earn a move to Gefle IF in 2017 and after steering them away from relegation, to Gothenburg the following year, winning Sweden’s main domestic cup competition with a 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Malmo.

The next campaign started badly, and in September 2020 he was sacked after two wins and 11 draws in 18 league games. Sibila briefly succeeded him as caretaker manager but has been out of work since handing over the reins.

From there Asbaghi joined the Swedish international set-up, winning six out of 10 games with the Under-21s. His involvement delayed an appointment Barnsley had initially hoped to make the previous weekend.

News had leaked out by the time of his final game, Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat in the Republic of Ireland. The stoppage-time goal which decided the game was not enough to knock them off the top of their European Championship qualifying group.

“I have had a fantastic year with fantastic colleagues and fantastic players who feel difficult to leave,” said Asbaghi. “At the same time, this challenge is something that does not come twice in life and that I have to accept.”

A further nine-point deduction for Derby County means Barnsley are effectively in a battle to avoid being one of two other sides relegated from this season’s Championship.

The Reds are four points from safety having dropped below Hull City after losing at home to Grant McCann’s side in their last game before the November international break.