Twenty one – a number five smaller than the tally of league wins Stendel collected last season as he led the Reds to their highest ever points tally and their first unbeaten home campaign for more than half a century.
Twenty one – just one more than the 20-match undefeated run in league games between December of last year and April of this, which was one short of a club record and helped to secure second place in League One.
Twenty one – the club record number of clean sheets the Reds kept last season, as they conceded the fewest EFL goals, before the key defensive players left.
Twenty one – the average age of the ten new outfield players brought in to replace the four promotion stars ripped out of the spine of the side which played some of the best football Oakwell has seen for decades.
Most of what happened between the 5-1 thrashing at Preston North End on Saturday and the announcement of Stendel’s exit will never be made public, but the lack of thanks in that statement for the man who did so much for the club is shocking. It is hard to imagine, given the way he conducted himself in the last 16 months, Stendel doing anything behind the scenes which deserved such a cold goodbye. It feels like a totally wrong final line of a wonderful story.
The statement came straight from the board and there may be further comments.
The statement last year that confirmed the exit of Paul Heckingbottom, who is unlikely to be held in the same regard as Stendel by many fans as he went to hated rivals Leeds United, read: ‘The club want to place on record their thanks and best wishes to Paul.’
There were no such kind words to Stendel, much to the fury of the majority of Barnsley fans who expect better behaviour from their club, as well as condemnation from supporters of other clubs and football-watchers around the country.
The statement read: “Barnsley Football Club confirms that it has separated from Daniel Stendel with immediate effect. Adam Murray has been appointed caretaker manager.”
The most interesting of the 21 words was ‘separated’. That brings to mind a divorce of two parents and, if you imagine the fans as the children of the family, it is pretty clear that their sympathies would currently lie more with Stendel than the board and owners.
Stendel returned to his regular haunt of the Garrison bar in the town centre on Wednesday for a poignant farewell with supporters, which contrasted starkly with the seemingly emotionless actions of those above him at the club.
From the outside, six points from 11 games at the start of a season might be grounds for a sacking in the ruthless modern world football. There are also the ten-game winless run and Saturday’s terrible performance.
But, given what Stendel has had to work with this season, he is seen as a casualty of poor planning by the board and their refusal to budge from a youth-first transfer policy which has had success previously but needed altering to cope with the demands of the Championship.
What makes Stendel’s exit so frustrating is how well the club did to get him in the first place. It was a case of ‘Daniel who?’ when he was unexpectedly announced in June last year, more than 12 months after his last job with Hannover 96.
The recruitment department and board had taken a risk by bringing in another unknown foreigner after the relegation under Jose Morais, but it paid off spectacularly as Stendel transformed the mood in the dressing room and the stands as he unified the club.
Stendel’s English, which allowed him to only splutter a few broken sentences in his first Oakwell press conference and rely on his coaches’ translation, was very good by the end of the season and his no-nonsense but humorous approach to interviews won over journalists and supporters.
He endeared himself further to fans with how he handled the collapse of volunteer Steve Croft in September last year as well as the tragic death of fan Jeffrey Wroe last week, while throwing his support and enthusiasm behind all the club’s charitable causes.
Every kick, tackle and goal of last season’s glory and this season’s misery seemed to be lived on the animated face or hyperactive touchline demeanour of the much-loved German. For this club, he left his family, travelled to a new country, learned a language and nearly lost some teeth.
He lived in the town centre, and mixed with the people of Barnsley from his first weeks when he watched the World Cup at the Garrison bar, first in a Germany shirt then an England one.
The good will that produced was multiplied once the football started. The Reds followed up their 4-0 win over Oxford United on the opening day of last season with four-goal thrashings of Rochdale, Peterborough, Notts County, AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham.
Stendel took a squad well-suited to his high-pressing style and turned them into a fantastic unit that churned out results but also thrilled the fans with sensational football. The moves for Brad Potts’ strike against Charlton Athletic on December 29 last year and Kieffer Moore’s goal against Bradford City two weeks later were among the best seen at Oakwell for decades – possibly ever.
Under Stendel, Jacob Brown went from being a goalless loanee at League Two relegation side Chesterfield to one of the most exciting young attacking prospects Barnsley have had for years. The head coach also turned around the previously disappointing Oakwell careers of Moore, Ethan Pinnock, Cameron McGeehan and, in particular, Alex Mowatt who had also been loaned out and who the board were keen to sell before Stendel transformed him into the Reds’ best player.
After their unbeaten run ended at Burton Albion in April and they fell out of the top two, Barnsley showed great resilience to win the next four matches which guaranteed second place with a game at Bristol Rovers to spare.
As Stendel was being flipped into the air at the Memorial Ground clutching the promotion trophy and drenched in champagne by his players in front of fans who had come to idolise him, it was impossible to imagine that he would leave just five months later with the Reds second bottom in the Championship.
Co-owner Paul Conway said after promotion that the majority of the squad would be kept together but more than a third of the regular starting 11 left. Their replacements, although talented, are painfully young and inexperienced so, with the oldest players aged 24 in most games, Stendel was asked to compete in one of the most gruelling leagues in the world with a squad who are simply not ready yet.
He spent the last weeks of the summer transfer window asking for players with more experience but they did not arrive and he eventually banned that word in the changing room while he was clearly annoyed by the regular questions about age in press conferences.
His young side began the Championship superbly with a 1-0 win over promotion favourites Fulham, but that proved the anomaly as the next ten games brought three points.
The weakness of the squad was compounded by regular injuries to key players, with Stendel having to go to Wigan – a side they realistically could have beaten – with eight out of his first 11 out.
If Stendel said he was disappointed with the five points picked up from six games before the first international break, there was no need to ask him how he felt about the one collected from five games before the second. Until Saturday, it had been just tiny moments or small sections of games which let them down.
There were the last seven minutes against Leeds United, Nottingham Forest’s only shot on goal, the ten minutes before half-time at home to Derby County, and the missed chances after taking the lead against Brentford. There seemed to be a general sense of improvement in the performances but there is only so long that can continue without points being won.
The Reds resembled a plucky boxer going toe to toe with superior opponents and competing well but losing very narrow, sometimes controversial, decisions which sucked away their morale and energy before eventually they were easily floored.
For Barnsley, that came in the 5-1 pummelling at Preston after which Stendel said he would sit down with the board this week and discuss the need for more experienced new signings. But three days later he was gone.
Results had been very poor but he had been asked to work miracles by a board who did not give him the tools he needed to compete in the Championship then added the final insult of that statement.
Twenty one – a points tally the Reds may be lucky to get unless their next appointment brings in a coach who can heal the players’ wounds and somehow get more out of them than Stendel.