Written by Ian Hope @halftimepiesite
After the debacle at Preston North End on Saturday, I could have written this piece as per usual within 24 hours of the final whistle. Yet on this occasion I decided to let the dust settle, think things over and then write this piece on just who is to blame for the current situation at Oakwell? The board, manager or players?
Typically though a couple of days in football is a long time and here I type and our manager, Daniel Stendel has been sacked. No one saw that coming nor wanted that to happen either.
Firstly, I will put it out there that Stendel was sacked and sacked for not conforming to the party line. The board are determined not to bring in the much needed experienced players to the club and never will. Young players are the way forward in their eyes and the board were constantly irritated by Stendel`s interviews where he reiterates his desire to recruit experience. Therefore putting him into direct conflict with the board and Paul Conway. The final straw came after the Preston defeat and Stendel again stating he wanted to recruit experienced players in January even if on loan.
I could have written a piece on Stendel and what he brought to Barnsley but I will cover that at the end as a thank you to him. For now though, yes it may seem an obvious answer but who is to blame for the disastrous start to life in the Championship? Please bear with me as this is a longer piece than usual but deserves to be so.
It has been well documented the Paul Conway quote now of “best transfer window ever”. Yet that quote is clearly going to haunt Conway forever. Why? We all know that life back in the Championship was going to be tough. It is an unforgiving league with several clubs recently relegated from the Premier League with big budgets and Premier League squads (Fulham for instance). Then there are clubs like Forest who harbour ambitions of promotion and can boast ex-premier league players who have tonnes of championship experience like Michael Dawson and Ben Watson. The list can go on. League One is tough but it is ultimately the 3rd tier of English football and you can get away with individual errors and missing a few chances in front of goal, but not in the Championship.
Last season Conway and Stendel did an interview with Tykes TV which was a great move. An interesting insight into how the board were thinking and operating, building a side around Stendel and his way of pressing, attacking football. It was a decent way of reaching out to the supporters where many other boards do not bother. Ideas around the match day experience and fanzone were all positives at a time when there was a lot to be positive about at Oakwell. So surely now is as good a time as any to repeat that interview when things have flipped upside down? Take the rough with the smooth and speak to the fans again, don`t hold your breath eh?
This season`s Q&A did give supporters an insight into the recruitment philosophy at Barnsley and where the owners see the club going in the near future. Whilst is it sensible not to become another Bury or Bolton Wanderers and spend money the club just does not have, it is worrying how tight the purse strings are held tight with a reluctance to even entertain a 30 something player with bags of experience due to the wage demands and agents fees. Surely, someone like Alan Hutton who is currently without a club would not have broken the bank for a 1 year deal? The current side is crying out for an experienced quality full back, please tell me he wont cost the earth?
We heard that the established players that left in Davies, Pinnock, Lindsay and Moore wanted to go despite the clubs best efforts, but do we really believe that now? It is criminal how the club allowed three of the back five leave who had kept so many clean sheets last season. OK maybe Davies wanted one last payday, but we all know had Pinnock and Lindsay stayed there is no way the side would have shipped so many goals this season. Halme and Andersen have been horrendous this season, but I will discuss the in-comings shortly.
All it required was two or three experienced players with bags of Championship experience throughout the spine of the side to help the likes of McGeehan, Mowatt and the William full backs. It is not rocket science.
Gary Neville only recently said that when the Class of 92 broke into the Manchester United side, they had help and support from the likes of Bruce, Pallister, Robson, Hughes and McClair. Yes Fergie blooded his fledglings but he didn’t throw them to the lions like Barnsley have, they were brought in over a couple of seasons with a mixture of real experience at their side.
People can argue that the players who left have not exactly set the world alight in the Championship, rarely getting games. However, had they stayed in this squad their impact would have been a positive one. Yes Kieffer Moore hasn’t found the net yet at Wigan but this season Woodrow has been so isolated up front, yet last season the pair forged a great partnership not just in goals but in their overall play. Woodrow is crying out for support up top now. Again poor decision making to let these players leave, but we suspect it all came down to money at the end of the day and herein lies the problem.
Still on the subject of experience take a look at Preston. A regular Championship side (like Barnsley), with similar crowds to the reds yet look at their side. It is littered with experience in the likes of Paul Gallagher, Alan Browne, Josh Harrop, Daniel Johnson and David Nugent. Then they recruit the likes of Brad Potts and Ben Pearson to add a bit more of a youthful look about them. It works, but stripping the side back and playing a side with the average age of around 22 doesn’t work.
Another example is Blackburn Rovers. Relegated to League One a couple of years back, their manager Tony Mowbray made sure the side had experience with the likes of Danny Graham, Charlie Mulgrew and Corey Evans. They added younger players like Bradley Dack and Alan Armstrong and won automatic promotion. Then back in the Championship they easily made mid table. The right mix works and surely the board should have looked to these clubs as a bench mark rather than spreadsheets showing “data”.
Whilst I firmly place the blame at the door of the board, I do recognise that Stendel could and should have tried to change his style somewhat in this league. High pressing all out attack football is wonderful to see but in the Championship when you have Leeds, Forest, Brentford, Derby and Preston on the bounce you need to find a different way to go away from home and secure a battling point.
Whilst I admired the performance at Forest, giving it a right go in truth with a bit better finishing Forest could have put the game to bed sooner. Too often recently against Brentford and Derby, the team have been unpicked on the counter and that is down to losing the ball high up the pitch and too few players back to defend. It is a minor criticism I know but a valid one. Far too often, the team have been so naive in their approach and been picked off.
Recently speaking to a lifelong reds fan, John Newsome he summed it up well when he said the definition of madness is to continue to do the same and expect different. Maybe Stendel could have tried to change it up a bit but I suspect that quote is probably true of the board in their blinkered view of recruiting youth and expecting it to work.
In reality Stendel is the least to blame. Individual players have made some huge and repeated errors costing the side dear. Both Williams players have repeatedly been caught out, Andersen had a shocker against Derby as did Halme against Preston. Not to mention Sibbick at Preston for the fifth goal. Maybe it is harsh to blame these young lads, but we are now in October and they have been playing and training together long enough to start to build partnerships.
Stendel himself stated individual errors are costing the team. Each game has seen someone in the defence have a howler, apart from the Fulham game where the whole side were colossal. Some players are not good enough for this division and some are still finding their feet. Again that is the shortsightedness of the board to expect miracles from the young group.
Gone is last seasons chant of “Just like watching Brazil” with it being more men versus boys in games. Schoolboy defending in the second tier of English football.
So my feelings are now well known. Some players need to pull their socks up and quick but the board cannot continue down this road of youth and expect miracles in an unforgiving league.
Finally, I want to save the last word for Daniel Stendel. Words cannot describe the admiration I and especially my 13 year old lad have for you. To come into a country without a great knowledge of the language. Knowing nothing of the league, the town, the football club yet you threw yourself into the role from the off.
Integrating with the people in bars watching the World Cup in an England shirt. The infectious way you manage on the touchline put Jurgen Klopp to shame. The way you interact with fans at Oakwell and at places like Wimbledon last season was a joy to watch. The way you hugged your players, who clearly would walk over hot coals for you. Despite the tough times this season, those players gave everything and you never lost the dressing room.
Watching you celebrate with the players in the towns bars upon winning promotion made you one of their own. The football was a joy to watch. Yes it can be easy supporting a club when they are winning but it wasn’t just about results. The style of football was second to none. Going unbeaten at home all season, automatic promotion when all the pundits predicted Portsmouth and Sunderland would go up instead. Almost pipping Luton to the title, a side who were so dominant in the league. It was a breath of fresh air.
When you were assaulted by Joey Barton (allegedly before I get sued) everyone rallied around and supported you such was the feeling for you. Whatever has gone on with the board, despite the poor results this season, it is such a shock to see you go. Today is a sad day, the wrong decision has been made. I and many others would agree that had the board listened to you and recruited wiser, you would have steered the reds to safety this season.
“Don`t be sad its over, just be glad it happened”.