Last summer, the Reds sold last season’s promotion stars Liam Lindsay, Ethan Pinnock and Kieffer Moore while they recruited ten new outfield players, only one of whom was older than 23 while they had one Championship start between them. Conway, the club’s American co-owner and Murphy’s boss, said that it was the most successful window in the club’s history, in terms of incoming signings.
Murphy told the Chronicle: “I don’t think it was a mistake to say that. I believe it was an all-ecompassing comment. We had three players going out who were vital to the team but brought in a significant amount of money which allowed us to bring in a large swath of players who we believe will be successful going forward. I can completely understand the fans’ frustration with results this season, and that comment is an easy thing to point to.
"Paul’s intent was to galvanise and excite our fanbase and make sure they get behind these players. I think that, in his heart of hearts, he still believes they can be the most successful group that has come in. We just have to wait and see on some of it. I don’t think there was any malicious intent in that comment, at all, but I do understand the fans being frustrated by this season and they can trace it back to something like that.”
Asked if errors were made in summer recruitment, Murphy said: “It’s still very early to call anything a mistake. We have guidelines in our recruitment. We were successful, I believe, with the money we brought in for the three that went out – three of our highest ever sales. Then we brought in a group of 12 or so players within the budget that we thought would push the club on. In the short-term immediacy, there have been ups and downs which of course there were always going to be with a young squad in the Championship. But it’s still unclear what that group will contribute to the club in the future.”
Murphy was asked to respond to the opinion that the signing of one or two more experienced players or keeping at least one of the departed promotion stars would have made a crucial difference. He said: “I can’t stand on a mountain top and dispute that but I also can’t say that is 100 per cent right. It’s all hindsight. Who knows? The three players we sold were important players but each of them wanted to leave, we were gaining a return in value that we thought we could use to grow the club.”
Barnsley tend to only sign players aged 25 or younger but brought in Michael Sollbauer, a 29-year-old centre-back, in the January transfer window. Murphy said: “The core of the philosophy will remain, but we are always looking to improve and tweak. This is an idea that is not followed by a lot of clubs. We are trying to be sustainable while competing against clubs who are spending four or five or even ten times what we are spending. If there are ways to overstep our guidelines to ensure success on the pitch, we will do that at times like we did in January.”
Murphy insisted all the money made from promotion and player sales has been invested back into the club. He said: “We brought in a high volume of players in the summer, then we had to bring in Gerhard (Struber, the head coach appointed in November) who was under contract then we brought in three more players in January. Those costs add up.
"Another thing that gets forgotten is that the transfer payments for the three we sold in the summer all come in in tiers so you can’t spend it all straight away.”
Angry chants towards the board have been heard in the stands this season, notably in the 2-2 home draw with Bristol City in November. Murphy said: “I don’t have any complaints with the way the fans have supported our players on the field. They have been unbelievable. They still show up even when things are going really bad. If there are some comments directed towards the board or recruitment or myself, they are well within their rights to do that. They are paying their hard-earned money to watch this club and, if they are frustrated, they have the freedom to voice that and I have no problem with that.”
One of the main criticisms by fans this season has been a lack of regular communication from boardroom to the terraces, including the 21-word statement after the sacking of previous head coach Daniel Stendel in October. Conway has since said that Stendel was trying to engineer a move to a Championship rival. Murphy confirmed the legal process of Stendel’s exit is still ongoing.
Murphy said: “There hasn’t been a lot of communication and a lot of that falls on me. It’s something I definitely have to get better at. There have been some issues which have been difficult to speak about because I like to speak my mind and I wouldn’t have been able to do that. But silence isn’t the right route. I need to step up and tell the fans what is going on more.
“There were some circumstances around Daniel’s departure which made it difficult to communicate exactly what had happened. We have tried to do so as sensitively and professionally as possible. We definitely haven’t done a perfect job but I don’t think there was a perfect job we could have done, considering the circumstances.”
Centre-back Bambo Diaby is currently suspended by the club while the FA investigates an alleged failed drugs test. Murphy was unable to say when the Spaniard might return to play, adding: “Bambo Diaby is such an important person in the locker room and someone who people gravitate towards. It’s tough to see him go through something like this and something he feels really bad about, with the situation and the timing. At first, he was devastated but he’s a strong kid and he’s intelligent so he can work his way through things. He has handled it like a professional.
“It also hurts us in terms of numbers and ability and squad depth. When we were playing well and our defence was strong, it was because Bambo was leading the lines. He would have helped a lot in the last phase of the season.
“We are fully behind Bambo and we are helping him liaise with the EFL and the FA to help him follow all procedures so that we can get him back on the field as soon as possible. The investigation is still playing itself out.”
Since Conway and Chien Lee’s consortium bought the club in 2017, the Reds have signed several Austrian players including Christoph Knasmullner in 2018, Sami Radlinger and Patrick Schmidt in 2019 and Struber’s former players Sollbauer and Marcel Ritzmaier in the January transfer window. Murphy said: “There is good value there, with talented players and coaches who all want to come to England. But also there is an easy connection after we brought Gerhard in. The three players we signed in January had options at bigger clubs but wanted to come here because they knew Gerhard. It’s less about ‘we’re going to mine Austria’ and more ‘this is an avenue we are going down right now.’ We understand that having a core of young English players is very important and we will always look at players throughout the country who are an undervalued asset who we can be successful with.”
Murphy insists the ultimate target for the owners is to promote Barnsley to the Premier League for the second time in their history. He said: “In a perfect world, we would have been in the Championship the last three seasons, but it’s not a perfect world and with any new philosophy and approach there are ebbs and flows. The goal of the club is to remain a fixture in the Championship, then work ourselves up the table. The ultimate goal of Paul and Chien and Neerav (Parekh, investor) or whoever you ask, is to fight for promotion to the Premier League at some point. They will look you in the eyes and tell you that. They won’t do it by chucking everything they have at it, it’s a step-by-step process.”
Murphy is due to attend a Barnsley Supporters’ Trust event at Oakwell from 7pm on Tuesday. It is an open meeting so all fans are welcome. It is due to take place in the Legends Suite and doors open at 6.15pm.