Struber was made head coach of Austrian Bundesliga outfit Wolfsberger AC last year, having previously coached lower league Liefering as well as the youth teams of Red Bull Salzburg.
In four months at Wolfsberger, he masterminded a 4-0 win at German giants Borussia Monchengladbach in the Europa League and saw his side face AS Roma, before he was identified by Barnsley’s data-driven scouting system and tempted to Oakwell in November.
The last-placed Reds were on a 16-game winless run, five points from safety, and the fanbase was split over the sacking of previous head coach Daniel Stendel. But, with the self-named ‘Struber style’ of play, the new man collected 40 points from 30 games, the 12th best in that time, and almost halved the number of goals conceded.
Goalkeeper Jack Walton said: “When he came in, the team was quite low on confidence. We are very young and it was taking time for all the new signings to knit together. “He believed in us straight away, which lifted our confidence.”
Defender Jordan Williams added: “The style of play changed, we were a lot more solid defensively. We started to keep clean sheets then we knew we could win. I know my job on and off the pitch all the time now. He’s always backing me and encouraging me.”
Midfielder Luke Thomas said: “He has had a massive impact on every player. Tactically he is so intelligent and he has been amazing at getting our motivation up for all the games.”
Luke Dopson, Barnsley’s sports scientist, has been working very closely with Struber. He said: “Like a lot of European coaches, his philosophy is that most of the players’ fitness is achieved through playing football in training. He is very interested in making sure that the sessions are set up not only to prepare the players technically and tactically but also physically. He is very interested in the GPS numbers and gets the players to wear GPS vests every day. We marry up what he wants with how we are used to working in England and what these players can tolerate.”
Struber strengthened his squad with the January arrivals of Michael Sollbauer, Kilian Ludewig and Marcel Ritzmaier – all of whom he had worked with in Austria.
It was a long road to safety as the gap contracted to a point in January but grew to nine just a few weeks later before a run of wins of Fulham, Middlesbrough and Hull City chopped it down for three only for defeats to Reading and Cardiff City to leave them seven points adrift on March 7.
That was when the football season was suspended for more than three months due to the coronavirus crisis. After spending time back in Salzburg with his family, Struber oversaw a 15-point haul from nine games after the re-start which was the seventh most in the division and enough to keep them up despite 311 days in the drop zone.
That was following last-minute winners against both Nottingham Forest and Brentford, who they beat on the final day to deny the Bees a place in the Premier League for the first time. Struber achieved all of that success while developing young talent as he gave EFL debuts to Elliot Simoes, Clarke Oduor, Romal Palmer and Matty Wolfe.
Palmer said: “We always believed, and that comes from the manager. Even when we didn’t get the results we wanted, he had 100 per cent belief and that came through to the players. I have got no bad words to say about him. He’s a quality person and a top manager, he’s very tactical and understands what each player needs. I can only be grateful to him for giving me my debut.”
Wolfe added: “He’s brilliant, he’s like one of the lads. He has a great understanding of every player and his emotion and passion for the game are top notch. He speaks to us all a lot and, if you train well, you will play.”
Callum Styles, who made his first four starts for Barnsley under Struber and has recently earned a new contract, said: “He’s always working really closely with all of us and we know exactly what we need to do. He’s a bit of a father figure.”