AS THE dust settles on a January transfer window in which Barnsley were extremely quiet until a frantic final few hours, some obvious questions emerge.
Why did they leave it so late to bring in players when they were clearly in desperate need of reinforcements, depleted in numbers and plummeting further towards League One?
Why, given their inability to control the middle of the pitch for much of the season and the EFL’s lowest goals tally, have they not signed a central midfielder or striker after stating that those were the positions they were looking at?
What has happened to the careful, considered, club-wide approach that led to such a successful January a year ago?
Barnsley have always proudly discussed the meticulous planning they put into their data-led recruitment that allows them to be ready to sign players early in windows. It was the absolute opposite this time as they were scrambling for deals in the final hours, having to break their usual policy of avoiding loan signings to bring a couple in.
Last summer chief executive Dane Murphy said that Barnsley’s excellent 2020/21 season had made them an attractive prospect to high-profile players across the world. His exit soon after, and that of several other key staff as well as a shambolic summer transfer window then poor performances and results, appear to have left them less attractive than ever.
They really needed signings in the first week or two of the window to bolster the squad and indicate to fans that efforts were being made to arrest the slide. Instead, two arrived on the final day after Barnsley had lost three more matches, surrendering nine precious points, with the position more hopeless.
There were 743 hours in the window and, after 739 of them the Reds had not signed anyone. Amine Bassi was announced at 7.30pm on Monday’s deadline day then the paperwork for Watford’s Domingos Quina was submitted just before the 11pm deadline and approved on Tuesday morning.
Both of the new signings have barely played this season, with just three league starts between them. That does not suggest that they are immediately ready to go into the team on a regular basis in this busy Championship schedule, with Bassi’s debut delayed due to a wait for his visa.
Both are attacking midfielders who can also play wide. Those seem like recruits for the 4-2-3-1 system the Reds had used before switching to 3-5-2 against Bournemouth and looking a lot better.
Bassi and Quina may help to improve the Reds’ goal threat but the other burning issue has been central midfield where a group of talented but painfully young and inexperienced players have badly struggled for consistency.
Barnsley were close to bringing in a 28-year-old central midfielder with hundreds of games under his belt, including in the Championship and Premier League, but the deal fell through. That happens in transfer windows, and it is often a tough time of the season to bring in players, but ideally they should not have left it so late and had plans B, C, D, E and F ready.
Perhaps they feel that, after Matty Wolfe’s impressive full debut on Saturday, he could solve their problems. It is possible that the academy product will continue to put in impressive displays in every match, but most 21-year-olds in their first season at Championship level, with no real experience around them, are hit and miss.
That has been the case for Claudio Gomes and the slightly older Romal Palmer and Josh Benson. Those players have often been poor but they have also been totally hung out to dry by the club. From last summer, they needed someone older and more experienced alongside them, even if it was impossible to replace captain fantastic Alex Mowatt.
The rhetoric from the club has been that experience costs too much and a midfielder with ten good seasons in the Championship under their belt would demand more money in wages than the Reds can afford.
But clubs with similar budgets to Barnsley such as Luton, Coventry and Blackpool have a much better mix of youth and experience in their midfields – and are well above them in the table.
Peterborough, who join Barnsley in the bottom three, signed an international defensive midfielder this window who is older than all the Reds’ midfielders.
Lots of decisions have been surprising such as the continual refusal to sign a left-back permanently, the moving on of players like Dominik Frieser who seemed to still have something to offer the club in difficult circumstances, keeping Herbie Kane on loan at Oxford and turning promising midfielder Will Hondermarck into a defender.
The loan out of the hapless Obbi Oulare will be a relief to many but it is also a reminder of how poor the summer transfer window was.
Chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad was not in his role last summer but will have the chance to explain the January window in upcoming interviews, having already alluded to financial considerations. He will probably, and fairly, point out that this is a third successive January window in which the Reds did not sell any of their regular first team players, having rejected bids.
If they go down they are surely going to have to sell players in the summer to make up for the £7million they will lose through relegation, plus possibly further losses from an expected large reduction in season ticket sales. Many of Michal Helik, Mads Andersen, Cauley Woodrow, Callum Styles, Callum Brittain, Brad Collins and Carlton Morris could be sold – although their valuations may have gone down after this season.
So what is next for the Reds?
Palmer and Victor Adeboyejo are both out of contract at the end of the season.
Barnsley have an option to convert Remy Vita’s loan into a permanent deal, and to extend the currently injured Aapo Halme’s contract for a further year.
Luke Thomas, Jack Aitchison and Kane have all enjoyed success to different degrees out on loan.
It is getting close to the point – especially if they lose to Cardiff tonight – where they must be starting to look at who will come with them on their rebuilding journey in League One next season.