Doug O’Kane looks at some of the key issues for the Reds with four days left in the transfer window
BARNSLEY’S Championship season is only four games old but already we’ve seen the joyous return of most fans, a last-minute penalty save, a 2-0 lead lost and two summer signings’ debuts delayed due to work permit complications.
It seems likely to be another memorable and incident-packed campaign for the Oakwell club.
Some slight fan frustration is understandable as, just months after the Reds finished fifth in the Championship and promised to make minor tweaks to the squad in order to repeat or better that, they now seem to be in a transitional phase in terms of playing style and personnel on and off the pitch.
They lost a head coach, chief executive and captain within weeks and, although replacements have arrived or will arrive soon, the squad looks much thinner than last season.
That is partly due to unlucky injuries to key men but also because two signings are not yet available due to Visa problems.
Markus Schopp is the latest head coach to repeatedly call for more experience to be brought into his squad, while he is attempting to change the team’s style of play from very direct last season to a more passing approach.
It worked magnificently in the first half at QPR but not many teams will pass out from the back like the Hoops did and allow the Reds so much space, while the second half shows Schopp’s side have not yet mastered the art of closing out Championship wins.
But, in the bigger picture, the Reds still have the vast majority of their most successful squad in two decades that was two wins from the Premier League.
The success over the last 18 months has surely earned some patience from the terraces.
They have lost some key players, such as Alex Mowatt whose experience in the middle they are still trying to fully replace, but new signings such as Josh Benson have shown huge promise while others should strengthen the squad when they are available.
Despite some disappointments, especially in the last two games, Barnsley have collected more points after four matches than in their previous three Championship campaigns.
After the near miracles of the last two seasons, it would be extremely foolish to rule out another excellent campaign for the Reds, but there are clearly problems to sort out.
Here are some of the key issues:
SORTING OUT FRUSTRATING VISA ISSUES TO WIDEN FRONT OPTIONS
THE START to the Reds’ careers of Obbi Oulare and Aaron Leya Iseka has been far from ideal.
Issues surrounding Visas and work permits have delayed their debuts, although they are both thought to be not fully match fit – at least in part due to them not training with the rest of the squad in recent weeks.
Some fans have expressed dismay that the Reds would sign two players who are not available for the first month of the season, at least, as well as the communication out of the club which saw the delay be put down purely to fitness problems until the Visa issue came to light late last week.
With chief executive Khaled Al-Ahmad not yet officially working for the club, and owner Paul Conway balancing a more hands-on role with interest in several other clubs, the Reds cannot afford to make the same mistakes as in previous spells without a CEO in 2013 and 2019.
Visiting QPR, near where Only Fools And Horses was set, without Oulare and Iseka triggered an image of Barnsley’s board members at nearby Shepherd’s Bush market being sold two Belgian strikers by Del Boy Trotter only to discover they were not eligible.
But Conway has put all the blame on the Home Office, saying they favour bigger clubs and that the situation is 'a joke' and 'amateur hour.' He claims both players were approved to play under post Brexit rules weeks ago.
Oulare now has his Visa, but not fit enough to play tomorrow, with Iseka’s expected to arrive next week.
If they end up playing 35 or more games and contributing to a positive season for the Reds, then this delay will fade from the memory.
But the frustration is understandable as, coupled with Carlton Morris’ unfortunate injury, the Belgians’ unavailability has left the Reds low on strikers – particularly those with a history of scoring goals.
Cauley Woodrow should be expected to reach double figures for a fourth successive season, and Dominik Frieser looks like he could join him after netting twice in the first four games with excellent finishes. Clarke Oduor is a wonderful talent who impressed at QPR but may get bypassed and bullied against more physical sides and has only scored once so far in his career.
Devante Cole signed with a record of one goal every five games in League One, Victor Adeboyejo has three goals in his last 82 league matches, while George Miller has netted once in his last 39 and Cameron Thompson is waiting for his league debut. But many of those players have been and will be asked to play in wider roles rather than up front, while the Reds have a good record of bringing in players with average goals records and making them a success in the Championship. Iseka has been a regular in the French top flight while Oulare should provide the physicality that the Reds have lacked up front.
So far, the four summer signings have made two league starts between them – both for the impressive Josh Benson.
LEFT WING-BACK AND MIDFIELDER
AFTER signing Josh Benson, Obbi Oulare and Aaron Leya Iseka all in the same week in late July, the Reds have not brought anyone in for the last month.
They are chasing a left wing-back and an experienced central midfielder.
Left-back Ben Williams, according to Markus Schopp, cannot yet play two games a week and has been left out of the last two. Callum Styles has been preferred there – despite hoping to play in the middle this season – and impressed on Saturday, before being criticised by Schopp for ‘naivety’.
Barnsley’s central midfielders, Styles, Benson – who is pictured, left – Romal Palmer and Herbie Kane, are extremely talented but they are all still eligible for the under 23s team and a slightly older, maybe more tough-tackling, option would be helpful. Someone equivalent to Matty James from last season is unlikely to be available within their budget.
The Reds are not keen on loans but may be willing to make an exception if it helps them get the right players in the next week, although they would prefer a permanent signing.
KEEPING ALL STAR PLAYERS FOR 1ST SUMMER IN A DECADE
BARNSLEY are days way from not selling a star player in a summer transfer window for the first time in a decade but what would happen if a club offered about £5million over this weekend?
That is unlikely to happen, given the lack of big-spending this window due to Covid-19, but it is not impossible as we have seen over the years that situations develop very quickly in the final days or even hours before the deadline.
It would present a dilemma as the Reds’ strategy is to sell players for large profit now and then but the departure of someone like Michal Helik or Callum Styles would likely be a crippling blow.
Last year, they sold Jacob Brown, in 2019 Kieffer Moore, Liam Lindsay and Ethan Pinnock, 2018 Tom Bradshaw, 2017 Marc Roberts, 2016 Alfie Mawson, 2015 Mason Holgate, 2014 Chris O’Grady, 2013 Scott Golbourne and 2012 Jacob Butterfield.
They have had one windfall this summer with Valerien Ismael’s compensation and want to receive much more for their best players than in previous years.