Analysis of Barnsley's new head coach appointment, with information from experts in Swedish football
POYA Asbaghi is due to arrive at Oakwell on Monday after a lifelong journey from Iran, where he had to flee as a baby, and Sweden where he made his name as one of the most progressive young coaches during a rapid rise.
The 36-year-old was in charge of Sweden under 21s in a European Championship qualifier in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland on Tuesday when the news broke that he would be joining the Reds.
Having been interviewed for the Oakwell job in 2019, it is another case of the club returning to a candidate they have admired for years from their pool of managers who fit their style and budget. They did the same with his predecessors Markus Schopp and Valerien Ismael, who belong at totally opposite ends of the spectrum not just in terms of footballing philosophy but success with Barnsley.
Asbaghi is Barnsley’s fifth head coach in just over two years and 12th since 2011.
His predecessor Markus Schopp lasted 16 games, Valerien Ismael 44, Gerhard Struber 43, Daniel Stendel 66 and Jose Morais 15.
Looking at the six appointments the current owners have made since buying the club in 2017 – all of whom have been from overseas – Morais and Schopp have the lowest points-per-game records of any bosses in the club’s history but Stendel, Struber and especially Ismael were successful to differing extents.
To some extent, this is a ‘free swing’ for Asbaghi – who will increase his profile and experience no matter what happens – but it is not the same for the club.
Having clearly got an appointment wrong with Schopp, continuing to stick to their guns and bring in another manager with no experience of English football is of course a risk but it shows the Reds’ commitment to their philosophy.
Some fans called for a British ‘firefighter’ style manager to get them out their current plight, second-bottom in the Championship.
But it was always likely that they would back their club strategy of looking for overseas managers who, if successful, give the team an edge and style of play that many English coaches cannot.
It is a crucial decision, not just because another flop after Schopp would almost certainly condemn the Reds to a second relegation into League One under these owners, but because it would add to the simmering discontent in much of the fanbase due to the dramatic fall from last season’s heroics and various off-field issues.
Time for cool heads then and Oakwell now has a Swede as head coach, as well chief executive. Both Asbaghi and CEO Khaled El-Almad began their lives elsewhere, in Iran and Lebanon respectively, then had to leave as children for reasons of political persecution or war before their families settled in Sweden.
With David Wernerssen the club secretary, there is now a growing contingent from the Scandinavian nation at Oakwell – although Asbaghi was linked to the Reds well before the others arrived.
Asbaghi is one of the rising stars of Swedish coaching, having won the Swedish Cup last year with IFK Gothenburg, one of the nation’s most famous and successful clubs.
Joel Tivemo, from the Gothenburg Post, said: “He is seen as one of the most promising coaching talents in Sweden.
“Since he took over the under 21 national team, they have impressed a lot during the qualification campaign, scoring freely as well as playing an impressive offensive game.
“He is a progressive coach, wanting to dominate the game with the ball, and a quick, possession-based approach.
“Although I would say that he is very flexible depending on the players in the squad and the opponents in a specific game.
“He was most successful when his IFK team pressed high and aggressive, and made quick counter-attacks after winning the ball.
“A lot of the players emphasised the way he improved them during his spell in IFK, and the amount of players the club sold abroad during his seasons there underlines his ability to make players better.”
Lee Roden, a British journalist working in Sweden, said: “Poya is generally seen as a progressive coach by Swedish standards but maybe too progressive for the big club he moved to (Gothenburg) who expect coaches to bring results directly.
“He’s one of those guys who looks great on paper but I’m not sure he has everything to put his ideas in practice.
“He has a lot of things I like and think are encouraging but hasn’t really crystallised them in an environment where he was under more scrutiny.”