Poya Asbaghi looking within as Barnsley need leadership at Oakwell

TWO years ago, one of Poya Asbaghi’s predecessors as Barnsley head coach in Gerhard Struber had plenty on his plate to instigate a Championship rescue plan – just as he presently has.

Struber was a passionate and animated individual in his time at Oakwell and while it is early days to make a definitive assessment on the character of Asbaghi, given that he has barely got his feet under the table, the signs are that they possess some similar traits.

A matter of weeks into his time in South Yorkshire, Struber publicly declared – in a message to the Reds hierarchy which was not exactly coded – that the club required an experienced defensive figure to add to their rearguard options in the forthcoming winter transfer window.

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One duly arrived in Michael Sollbauer in January 2020 and the narrative of Barnsley’s season started to change and a Great Escape began to germinate.

Barnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi. Picture: PABarnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi. Picture: PA
Barnsley head coach Poya Asbaghi. Picture: PA

In the here and now, the very same word of ‘experience’ is doing the rounds again. Chiefly surrounding the need – certainly in the eyes of many supporters – to bring in a senior midfield enforcer to help start plugging a gap which has never been filled following the exit of Alex Mowatt.

One potential option in ex-Reds midfielder Jacob Butterfield is training with the club’s Under-23s to boost his fitness levels as he bids to find a new club. As it stands, there is no indication it will be Barnsley, aside from doing him a favour to get fit.

Experience still seems to be the ‘elephant in the room’ for the Reds board.

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When speaking to the press back in late October, chief executive officer Khaled El-Ahmad said that the club would not be bringing in thirty-year-olds due to the lack of value in it.

When pushed, he did suggest that bringing in a senior player might be considered under exceptional circumstances.

But his definition of what constitutes a senior player in most people’s eyes – someone in their late twenties and early thirties – seems to be somewhat different.

It’s a view shared by Asbaghi. He may seem to be similar to Struber in manner, but don’t expect him to go public in any transfer utterances any time soon.

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Asbaghi, set to welcome back Callum Brittain and Aaron Leya Ieska to his squad for tomorrow’s home derby with Huddersfield Town, said: “Normally, when you say experience, it is older players.

“Of course, there is a probability that older players have more experience. But if you have a squad which is young, the perspective of an older player becomes relative.

“So if you are 30 years old and everyone around you is 35, then you are not that old. But if you are in our squad and you are 25 or 26, actually you can become an experienced person.

“So my hope is that within the squad we have and the ages that we already have, that some players can take more leadership than what they would do maybe if they were at another club where the average age is high.”

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January may arrive in less than a month, but Asbaghi has enough to contend with in the here and now to start getting distracted by it. In his shoes, he has a point.

Barnsley, who are effectively nine points adrift of safety with their goal difference, face six league games in the next month.

Should the difference between the second-from-bottom Reds and the side just outside the relegation zone comfortably extend into double-figure territory by the time that Asbaghi’s side leaves the pitch at Nottingham Forest on January 3, then their season may be close to being a lost hope.

The more likely transfer course would then probably surround players leaving. Asbaghi is wise to control what he can.

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He added: “My focus is to develop the team in the best way possible and improve every player as much as I can to prepare the team to beat Huddersfield. I am not even thinking about January.

“I have pretty much to do to get to know the players and present the ideas I want to implement. Right now, if you ask me about January, it is nothing.”

Specifically on whether he will have any input regarding signings that may arrive, he said: “In a football club, it is pretty normal when you look at the squad.

“You have a lot of different people who are responsible for this and usually it is no surprise when they ask their opinions from the coaches. It is normal procedure.”

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Barnsley may have their first point and clean sheet of the Asbaghi era after last week’s draw at Peterborough, but during a frenetic December, they require greater gains.

Six wins arrived by single-goal margins in eight matches in the final month of 2020. It propelled Barnsley from play-off wanabees to firm contenders.

Back in December 2019 under Struber, the Reds managed two wins and three draws in six league outings. That is something that you feel that Asbaghi’s squad need to at least emulate over the next four weeks.

Asbaghi has seen hurt in his players’ eyes, which is no bad thing. Now he needs to see sustained fight where it counts. A derby is a good place to start.

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