Roman Abramovich and the £80k price tag for future Barnsley midfielder Cameron McGeehan

The first transfer fee paid for the services of Cameron McGeehan was £80,000.

Ready for the challenge: Barnsley's Cameron McGeehan. Picture: Scott Merrylees

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Hands off star striker, say Barnsley

Not much in today’s world of tens of millions of pounds being spent on certain individuals, granted, but it is the next statistic that is perhaps a little more eye-opening, and one that underlines the money involved in football at all levels.

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Barnsley's Cameron McGeehan gets the ball under control in a pre-season friendly against Sheffield United last weekend. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

McGeehan was just 10 years old.

Not even in secondary school. Still, no doubt, of an age where he ran home from school, put his boots on and went and kicked a ball about with his mates.

Only those mates were fellow players in the Under-9s team at Fulham.

McGeehan, who grew up in Kingston-upon-Thames, was not just a good footballer, either, he was also adept with a cricket bat in his hand and an oval-shaped rugby ball.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. (Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire)

He was a good student, too, an A-grade pupil by the time he sat his GCSEs a few years later.

But back to 2005, when Fulham’s more illustrious neighbours Chelsea came calling for this bright young talent.

“Roman Abramovich had just taken over at Chelsea and they were recruiting young players for their Under-10s as they were going to try and push them all the way through,” begins McGeehan.

“We had a lot of young players, such as Nathaniel Chalobah (now at Watford), who was with me at Fulham. They signed a few boys from a few different clubs, guys like Lewis Baker from Luton.”

Watford's Nathaniel Chalobah played with Cameron McGeehan for Fulham Under-9s (Picture: PA)

So was McGeehan then, the first signing of an Abramovich reign that transformed Chelsea into European heavyweights?

“I don’t know about that,” he laughs, before adding, “I’m sure I was the first person he looked at when he took over.”

In all seriousness, a fee of £80,000 for the services of a 10-year-old boy seems a bit of an overpayment, even for Abramovich. At that level, it is considered compensation for the work the selling club has put in.

To Chelsea, it is peanuts, but still a considerable amount to invest in someone yet to go through puberty.

To the mind of an impressionable adolescent, it could be a dangerous burden to shoulder.

Fortunately for McGeehan, his parents were wise to the path it could lead down.

“My dad knew about it, but he didn’t tell me too much about it,” says McGeehan.

“The money had no bearing on me. My mum and dad didn’t get anything, I didn’t get anything, it was purely to do with the amount of training I’d done at Fulham, so the money was to cover me.

“It wasn’t relevant to me.”

McGeehan spent six years in the Chelsea system before his release in 2011. He was picked up by Norwich and scored two goals against his former club in the FA Youth Cup final of 2013, before the boy who had spent so long coming through systems, finally began to emerge.

Two clubs and four loan spells later, the now 24-year-old McGeehan finds himself at Barnsley – ironically for not much more than the 80k he cost 12 years earlier – as the attacking threat from midfield of a side freshly arrived in the Championship.

By a quirk of fate, his second attempt to make it as a second-tier footballer comes today against the team with whom it all began.

“I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Fulham,” he says. “I was there when I was nine, they were the first academy I signed for.

“They’re a good team and it’s a nice part of the country. I live near there.”

Nostalgia aside, today is an important day for Barnsley, and an important season for the club and their blonde-haired maestro.

The 2018-19 campaign was a revelation under the stewardship of Daniel Stendel, the unknown German who came to Oakwell with a high-intensity game-plan, saw his side go the entire home campaign unbeaten as they won promotion from League One.

They have an element of the unknown about them in the coming season as well.

The departures of central defenders Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock – the platform on which their promotion campaign was forged – may have weakened them in the eyes of observers, but 10 new players have been added to a squad still on a high from the success of last season.

“We’re going into a new season where not many of our rivals know much about us and that can work well for us. We can surprise a few teams,” says McGeehan of a club tipped to go straight back down.

“We’ve got a lot of new players, but still a bulk of the squad that were here last season. Not many people, outside of the club, will expect much from us.

“All that stuff about favourites to go down is rubbish. How can a bookmaker know how good a team is going to be? It’s irrelevent. We know how strong we are, how good we can be.”

That confidence – echoed across the clubs as the new season dawns today with optimism rife – is born out of the manner in which Barnsley went about their business last season.

From the opening-day thrashing of Oxford United, Stendel’s men rarely looked back as they raced to promotion at the expense of bigger clubs with better resources like Portsmouth and Sunderland.

“We’ll play exactly the same way that got us here and brought us the success of last season,” adds McGeehan.

“Teams might go into a division and sit back and try to nick a goal, but that’s not how we’re going to play. We’re going to be on the front foot, we’re going to go at teams, especially here at Oakwell.

“It was a fortress for us last time and we’ve got to make sure we can keep that going. The fans really got behind us and, hopefully, they can do that again.”

“At every level, in every division, once you step up you find the standard is just a little bit better in every area.

“It might take a little bit of time to get used to the pace and the intensity of it but that’s how we played last season.

“It’s one of the main mantras of our game, to play at that intensity.

“We’re young, we’re hungry, it’s a powerful group and that’s what we’re going to take to the division.”

From his own perspective, the new season is an opportunity for McGeehan to build on his burgeoning reputation.

He scored six goals in 44 apearances last term, and has already stated this summer that his aim is to contribute more goals.

But for a young man whose childhood was spent learning from the best, he is not afraid to use the experience to absorb as much as he can.

“I hope I can learn plenty from playing against top players,” says McGeehan, who played for Northern Ireland at junior level but wants to keep his options open internationally.

“I’m still young so I’m learning all the time.

“It’s a massive season for me. I got about 10 games the last time I was in the Championship with Barnsley (two seasons ago).

“So, firstly, it’s trying to play as many games as possible. We’ve got a good team and I think we can surprise a few people, and I want to be a central part of that.

“It’s a big test for us all, but if we can beat Fulham it will send a statement out to other teams.”