Gerhard Struber left it late very late but ultimately achieved the job he was brought into do at Barnsley football club, to save the Tykes from relegation. Because of this and more I believe the Austrian deserves another season in charge at Oakwell.
The reason for this article is having read numerous threads on the Barnsley bulletin boards where there are very mixed views on Struber since speculation emerged that Watford were interested in interviewing him for their manager vacancy. Some supporters would like him to stay, others are really non committal on the idea and wouldn’t bother if he left South Yorkshire.
Personally if Struber did take the Watford job he would most likely be made financially for life but judging by the way Watford treat their managers his reputation would be damaged once his inevitable sacking was confirmed by Halloween. One could look to Heckingbottom and his ill fated move to Leeds. Yes he probably earned more in that short time to make him financially secure but ever since where has his managerial career gone? Hardly from strength to strength.
So I thought I would detail my thoughts on Gerhard Struber and why I would like to see him lead Barnsley into battle in the forthcoming season come September.
At several times since Strubers arrival in November Barnsley have been almost cut adrift staring up at the league some 9 points adrift of safety.
Leaking goals for fun, having a go at teams and winning plaudits for being plucky but winning too few points to climb up the table it looked almost impossible to see anything other than League One football next season at Oakwell.
Struber changed the system to a 442 diamond dropping striker Cauley Woodrow into a deeper role where he saw more of the ball. There were tweaks to the system with Aapo Halme impressively sitting at the bottom of the diamond then playmaker Alex Mowatt sitting in that “quarterback” role dictating play. Sometimes the diamond worked well like in Strubers first game at Blackburn when Barnsley played some good attacking football only for the same old individual defensive errors to cost them one if not all 3 points that day. Other times, teams worked Strubers system out and and out muscled the Tykes. Two games against Stoke where Barnsley were out muscled and easily beaten and a home defeat to Cardiff spring to mind.
In time Struber changed the formation to 3 at the back with a more attacking formation. After lockdown this ultimately saved the reds. Apart from a poor performance at Stoke, Barnsley picked up 15 points out of a possible 27 and regularly created 20 chances per game. Had the strikers been more clinical at Luton, Leeds and at home to Wigan and Millwall then the great escape would have arrived sooner and not in the dying minutes of the final game of the season.
It was clear for all to see back in the Autumn and Winter of 2019 that the defence had to be tightened up. No team can survive having to score 3 or 4 goals per game just to win points.
During lockdown Struber clearly worked on the defence individually and collectively with the likes of Mads Andersen going from putting in comical performances to man of the match ones.
After a poor end to January 2020 with the Tykes conceding 3 goals at home to Preston, 4 away at Portsmouth in the FA Cup and 2 away at relegation strugglers Charlton, Barnsley only conceded more than one goal in a game on 3 occasions between February and July (Stoke, Reading away & Cardiff at home). Decent stats considering during that period the Tykes visited Fulham, Leeds, Brentford all in the top 4 of the division.
All Barnsley fans know of the “best transfer window ever” last summer and the deficiencies in that statement by the board and the window. Whilst supporters love seeing young players develop and realise their potential you cannot beat some experience within a side to help those young lads out especially in a league like the Championship. I’ve written about this consistently throughout the season. The club can be proud when television commentators mention that the average age of the side that won at Brentford was only 22 but the transfer policy ultimately nearly cost the club their championship standing.
Where Daniel Stendel failed to changed the mind of the board and buy experience in the summer transfer window of 2019, Struber succeeded in the January window of 2020 when the club bought Michael Sollbauer.
Sollbauers introduction clearly settled the side, helped the likes of Andersen and he was one of the main reasons the side stopped leaking so many silly goals. Listening to the excellent Danny Higginbotham in commentary highlight Sollbauers performances in games at Leeds and Brentford makes you realise the impact the Austrian made on the side. Leon Wobschall in the Yorkshire Post also wrote well of Sollbauer and his influence within the side. Such praise doesn’t come easy in a league full of internationals and ex-premier league players. Struber must be credited for changing the mindset of the board who are so set on data driven recruitment and sell on fees.
There are some negatives to Struber. He has been rightly critised for making substitutions too late in games. He has clearly had his favourites in the squad in Ritzmaier and leaving out Clarke Oduor who is a fantastic full back oh and scored the goal that kept the Tykes up!
Many didn’t like the 442 diamond with Woodrow in a deeper role and whilst I would prefer Woodrow up top, there were games where he saw more of the ball and linked up superbly with the forward line. I watched at Ewood Park and Craven Cottage this plan work to perfection. No opposition player could pick Woodrow up dropping deep, working with Mowatt and spraying the ball about the field. Yes I accept there were games it didn’t work but Struber saw something in Woodrow as a leader and a player who could dictate the game better than shoved up top alone with little service.
Having defied all the odds in keeping the Tykes up last season, developing some players and for his sheer drive in my book Gerhard Struber deserves a summer transfer window and another crack at Championship football with Barnsley.
Looking at the sides promoted from League One to the Championship in Rotherham, Coventry and Wycombe you feel that those sides will find it difficult to survive next season, all promoted sides do. Add the usual suspects down fighting at the bottom of the league in Birmingham, Luton, etc there is no reason why Barnsley cannot aim for mid table security. A lot depends on who leaves and who is recruited but from a “glass half full” mentality under Struber with his form since taking over why can’t the Tykes finish comfortably in the Chpionship next season? Many of the players would benefit from last seasons experience and under the nurture of Struber they can grow even more.
There are many variables to this of course. I may be completely embarrassed when Struber ups and leaves along with Woodrow and Mowatt (clubs best players) but why not feel optimistic?
We all know the board will not go out and appoint a Neil Warnock type manager. One who makes strong demands of his board and proves himself at the top of the game. The board will more than likely move for another unknown name from Europe who buys into their system but at least in Struber there is a mix of Stendels love for the club and has the ear of the board in terms of mixing youth and experience.
Personally I hope Gerhard Struber is still in the home dugout next season at Oakwell.
Headline image courtesy of the Yorkshire Post