Analysis of Markus Schopp's tenure as Barnsley head coach, following his departure after a seventh successive defeat
Markus Schopp was a decent man but, ultimately, a very poor appointment for Barnsley FC.
There won’t be many, if any, people who met Schopp who disliked him and, from his press conferences and general demeanour, he came across as a good person who dealt with regular questions about his future with humility.
But he was unquestionably failing at his job.
The players have to take some responsibility for dropping below last season's standards but Schopp's tactics, man management and a lack of a clear identity were massive problems.
You cannot take a side that reached the play-offs last season to second bottom after a third of the next season, four points clearly of safety and on one of the worst runs in their history but expect to keep your job in the high-stakes world of professional football.
Schopp was in charge for 125 days, just a week less than it look Valerien Ismael to move the Reds – with a very similar squad – from fourth-bottom to sixth.
He was on Barnsley's longest winless run ever under one manager of head coach, losing seven in a row and winning just one of 15 games. Although the performance in the 2-1 defeat at Bristol City on Saturday was one of the best under him, overall the displays did not warrant more points than the eight achieved from 15 matches. Schopp’s Reds badly struggled to put a consistently good 90 minutes together, often looking lost in spells of the game when the opposition ran riot, while the attack was mostly toothless and they conceded increasingly regular and basic goals.
There are deeper questions than just his performance. The club's decision to abandon Ismael’s direct style, which took them to the play-offs, in favour of a possession-based approach clearly has been a poor one while many would argue that, if the board wanted to sack Schopp, they could have done it a month earlier after the home loss to Millwall – when the fans and players expressed dissent – and left themselves less ground to make up.
This team has more than enough quality to stay up, but the appointment of a new coach will clearly define the season. The exit of a boss who was clearly not rated by the majority of fans, and seemingly some players, should provide a lift in the mood around Oakwell, at least at first, going into two huge matches against bottom side Derby on Wednesday and third-bottom Hull on Saturday before a two-week international break. They will have fresh impetus and a slightly different approach – albeit from a caretaker in Joe Laumann who was part of Schopp’s set up and has never been in charge of a senior team before.
Schopp can return to his family in Austria with, presumably, his bank balance increased but his reputation diminished. Sometimes appointments simply do not work and there is no reason not to wish him well with the rest of his career.
SOME EXCUSES FOR SCHOPP, BUT NOT ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN THIS START TO SEASON
Schopp was dealt a bad hand, in many ways, but played it badly.
Ismael was a tough act to follow after last season’s extraordinary fifth-placed finish but the majority of fans were not expecting the same again, just something better than a slide straight back into the constant relegation battles that last season seemed, briefly, to consign to the history books.
He was unlucky with injuries. Any side would struggle without their equivalent of Mads Andersen in defence, Josh Benson in midfield and Carlton Morris up front for the vast majority of the season so far. A series of other players were in and out of the treatment room, meaning the team constantly had to change – something Schopp mentioned in nearly every interview.
The club’s recruitment in the summer was also an issue, with no chief executive in place during most of the window. Schopp spent much of the transfer window asking for a more experienced central midfielder to, at least partially, replace former captain Alex Mowatt.
Instead the Reds signed 21-year-old loanee Claudio Gomes on deadline day who had never played a senior game and, although clearly talented, has been exposed as naive in several games including on Saturday when he lost the ball for a goal.
They signed two Belgian forwards who were not available for the first six matches due to visa issues and, although Aaron Leya Iseka is now making a big impact with goals in the last two matches, Obbi Oulare has only played 15 minutes due to injury and now illness – meaning they do have not targetman striker.
Bayern Munich loanee Remy Vita did not play at all under Schopp – despite them being very low on natural left wing-backs – while Devante Cole, recruited under the previous coach and chief executive, was also sidelined until October. It remains to be seen how those players fare under a new manager but their lack of gametime suggests an absence of joined-up thinking between the coach and those recruiting players which was not the case at all last season.
Schopp saw a series of backroom staff leave while he was not able to bring in any other coaches to work alongside him. The Reds tried to recruit two, but one could not be released by his club and the other was not eligible under the post-Brexit employment rules.
Having trusted lieutenants is vital for a new coach, particularly one arriving in English football for the first time and attempting to change a team’s style and philosophy.
Although he never complained about that, Schopp did look an increasingly isolated figure on the touchline.
However, he is not the only manager to arrive on his own. Danny Wilson did not bring any assistants with him for his second spell – at least for the first four months – and, although he too was ultimately unsuccessful, there was nowhere near the dramatic drop-off in results such as under Schopp.
Ismael arrived with Laumann just over a year ago, after only meeting on a few coaching courses, and Laumann has admitted they soon discovered that their coaching philosophies did not really match. Ismael was still incredibly successful.
Those are all scraps in a patchwork quilt of reasons and excuses that is not large enough to cover the huge chasm between the team’s performances and results last season and this.
NO CLARITY, IDENTITY OR INSPIRATION
Schopp regularly played players out of position, did not change from the 3-4-3 formation despite it early not working for him – it was Ismael’s favoured system, not his – and appeared slow to react when opposition coaches made key chances in games which ultimately cost the Reds points.
He infuriated many of the supporters by never going over to clap them after matches, again heading straight down the tunnel on Saturday rather than walking over to the 400-odd fans who had made the nearly 200-mile journey to Bristol despite the horrific recent results. He never seemed to have total command of the dressing room.
While there was obviously not a full-on mutiny against him and the players never downed tools – you could see that by the committed and, in many ways, impressive effort at Ashton Gate – clearly Schopp struggled to inspire and fully get his ideas across to the squad.
Some of the comments in public were deeply worrying and extremely rare.
Callum Brittain said a month ago that they did work not on attacking plans in training then Devante Cole suggested the partial comeback against Sheffield United last week was due to the players not the coach.
Several others hinted that they hadn’t been given clear instructions on what was expected of their roles. That is deeply worrying heading into the fourth month of Schopp’s reign and, unlike the previous two managers, with a full pre-season behind him.
While the likes of Cauley Woodrow on Thursday and Mads Andersen on Saturday said the squad was fully behind Schopp, they were not exactly ringing endorsements – short responses that seemed more out of professionalism and kindness than a genuine belief in the manager.
While previous coaches have arrived with an absolutely clear sense of their philosophy and how they want to play, Schopp never seemed to have an obvious identity as a coach – other than a vague notion of playing passing football which, for the most part, did work especially in an attacking sense.
Far from a motivational speaker, his answers in press conferences were very wordy but often avoided the question, told us little and repeated the same points. The team then often went out and played like that – unsure, boring and lacking clarity.
It simply wasn’t working and a change had to be made.