Written by Ian Hope @halftimepiesite
Now the January transfer window has slammed shut I thought it would be a good time to look back not just on the last month but back to mid November 2019 when Austrian Gerhard Struber walked through the doors at Oakwell and into the Barnsley hot seat. Almost three months and 16 games into the job of attempting to keep the Tykes in the Championship, I thought it would be a good time to review what Struber is doing at Oakwell.
Firstly I think I speak for a lot of reds fans when I say how gutted I was to see Daniel Stendel lose his job at Barnsley. Stendel made one hell of an impression on the football club, the town and its people with his enthusiasm, energy and the way his team played entertaining football last season to secure promotion to the second tier of English football. However looking back with hindsight the team couldn’t go on playing like they did under Stendel in the Championship. Having said that Stendel was dealt a bad set of cards by the board in their approach to transfer business. Selling off the better and experienced players replacing them with young lads who had little or no experience of playing at this level against many sides who boast Premier League players or at least a raft of experienced Championship players. The board are responsible for the team being in this mess, full stop. Time they say is a healer and I will still look fondly on Stendels time at the club, but nothing stands still in football and now we have a new manager to get behind at Oakwell. So what do we make of Gerhard Strubers brief time in charge?
Starting with the positives, Struber appeared to be like a breath of fresh air. He arrived in the midst of supporter uproar aimed primarily at the board not only for the sacking of Stendel, but the way they appeared to drag their feet in appointing his replacement. Then there was the awful statement the club put out announcing Stendels departure that did not even thank the German for his time at the club not to mention the complete lack of communication from the club to its supporters during the search for a new manager something co-chairman Paul Conway admitted was a mistake.
To come to a new country, new league and to a club busy infighting, bottom of the league and turn that negativity around in the stands and the dressing room was no small achievement. I know all is far from rosy at Oakwell but the unbeaten run after the last minute defeat to Cardiff City which saw the Tykes beat QPR and Millwall as well as draw with West Brom and Swansea with some last minute goals scored and improved player performances that showed the team was buying into the managers ways was encouraging.
You can point to the way the side played in many games like at home to Hull, QPR & West Brom as well as the win at Millwall and performances at Swansea, home to Huddersfield and the defeat at Bristol City which shows how Struber has gotten the players onside and they appear to be buying into his positivity and style of play using the midfield diamond. From a side that couldn’t buy a point, suddenly most sides had to work very hard to get anything out of a game against the Tykes.
It has been encouraging to hear the managers press conferences. There is always a positive message being sent out. Prior to the Bristol City game, a ground the Tykes never win on, Struber was talking up his sides chances of going to Ashton Gate and having a go at City. In fact, had the players had their scoring boots on Barnsley would have come away with all three points that day such were the chances made against a tough opponent on their own ground.
Apart from the positivity in his voice, Struber settled on utilising Aapo Halme at the base of the diamond sitting in front of the back four. I had stated here previously that Halme is much better suited to this position than in the defence as he does things with simplicity turning defence into attack quickly. He reads the game well in the base of the diamond and has grown into this role.
Whilst the fullback positions have been problematic and still are, Struber eventually settled on the partnership of Oduor and Jordan Williams which are probably the better two fullbacks at the club. Both give you the energy to attack and Oduor is the better of the dead ball specialists at the club certainly at corner kicks. Struber has realised he needs strength and depth in this area and signed Kilian Ludewig to add much needed depth.
The central defensive partnership of Bambo Diaby and Mads Andersen has been the main reason for the Tykes struggles this season. Both are liabilities and make several errors per game that end up being costly. Struber has had to persevere with these two until the January window and made it very clear that the club needed one maybe two new central defenders. Struber again went back to who he knows and can trust signing defender Michael Sollbauer a 29 year old former captain under Struber at Wolfsberger AC in Austria.
Struber signed Marcel Ritzmaier, a 26 year old midfielder who he worked with previously. The manager clearly knows what the side needs and has gone to who he knows and trusts to do the job in hand. To convince this board to sign players over 24 years old and dare to sign “experience” is no mean feet as his predecessor was fired for constantly referring to experience.
Struber has shown his toughness in his team selection and substitutions which make the players know what is expected of them. Putting faith in 16 year old Aiden Marsh giving him a place on the bench in the victory over QPR showed if you knuckle down and are good enough, you will get a chance. A nod to the more established players that they needed to pull their finger out and the manager isn’t scared of blooding a youth player.
Struber has shown balls to drag Mike Bahre off early in a couple of games if he wasn’t playing well enough. To be bold and change things before the game is out of reach shows a steely determination which the supporters like.
Under Struber the likes of Conor Chaplain, Jacob Bown, Aapo Halme and Clarke Oduor have settled in and been performing. Chaplain and Brown have been superb.
Struber made it clear he wanted to trim the size of the squad and work with a smaller group of players. Instead of selling off the crown jewels in Mowatt and Woodrow, Struber has talked those players up and identified the likes of Sibbick, Wilks, McGeehan and Green as not yet up to the standard required to play at this level. I think the majority of supporters would agree that those those players needed to move on which shows how quickly Struber worked his squad out.
However there are always two sides to every story. For all the positives about the diamond system, many sides have worked this new look Barnsley system out and Struber has been reluctant to change the system when in games it isn’t working. The four defeats on the spin at Bristol, Portsmouth, Charlton and home to Preston were crippling to the confidence of the supporters and the players. Finally in the second half at Charlton, Struber made changes bringing Elliot Simoes on and changing the shape which improved the performance even if not the result.
Some supporters argue that Struber has isolated some more experienced players in Pinillos, Cavare and loaned out the wrong players ones who could have a positive impact on the side. Many are undecided on Jordan Williams being picked ahead of Cavare.
Confidence is hugely important in football. There was bucket loads of confidence running through everyone after the 2-1 home win over Huddersfield with the Tykes only 1 point from safety. What a difference almost a month makes with some poor defeats coupled with fellow relegation candidates picking up wins has widened the gap to safety back to 7 points.
Whilst there is a long and hard road ahead for Barnsley to stay in this division, I have seen plenty so far to know the Tykes will not go down without a fight but ultimately the squad lacks the Championship quality and that is something that should be laid firmly at the door of the board.
Not signing an experienced central defender who knows the Championship inside out maybe terminal for the Tykes. Whether that decision can be attributed to Struber is unclear but more likely be the boards reluctance to pay the going rate for such a player.
Struber has shown once already that he can turn the results around. After losing three of his first four games, the results picked up with December being a good month for the Tykes. However, the season has been like a game of snakes and ladders with two steps forward and three steps back. After a good December came a wretched January. Once again Struber has to find a way of turning the results around if Barnsley have any chance of staying up this season.
But the question remains, Is Struber the right man for Barnsley?
Image courtesy of Football League World