ON TUESDAY afternoon, new Barnsley FC chairman Neerav Parekh sat between new board member Jean Cryne and chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad to outline their vision of the club.
The press conference – which also featured the other new board member Julie Anne Quay via a video call – took place in Patrick’s Lounge, in the corner of Oakwell’s East Stand which is named after former owner and Jean’s late husband Patrick Cryne.
It was the first time Barnsley’s board, or at least most of them, had spoken publicly together in four and a half years since Patrick sold the club in late 2017.
Since then, there had been very little communication from previous co-chairmen Paul Conway and Chien Lee who have been ousted from the board in recent weeks.
The new board certainly gave the impression of a group of people with the club’s best interests at heart and a plan to improve performances on the pitch as well as relationships with the fans, while they appeared to be very united in their vision for the club.
The Cryne family are liked by the majority of supporters while Parekh so far appears to have bought into and understood the club far more than his predecessors Conway and Lee.
He is knowledgeable about the Reds and football in general but also has the enthusiasm of a supporter.
They have invited fans to judge them by their actions and the next weeks, months and years will show whether this was just another press conference full of empty promises or the start of a successful new era.
This was never a takeover by a totally new group of people who would completely alter the club’s budget and strategies.
All of the new board members have been involved with the club for years.
However, the balance of power has certainly shifted away from Lee and Conway, who were voted off the board last month but still own 39 per cent of the club between them.
It is now in the hands of new chairman Parekh, the Cryne family – who make up a third of the board as well as a fifth of the ownership – and Quay who has been a silent investor for four years but is now actively involved.
The Reds are still a club who should, based on finances alone, bounce from the top half of the third tier to the lower end of the second – while having to sell their best players as they have for decades.
The majority of fans are used to that and can cope with it, even if relegation does sting every time and of course they dream of another tilt at the top flight.
For the most part, the Oakwell faithful just want a stable club whose existence and ownership they are not constantly worried about.
So the removal of the deeply divisive characters Lee and, in particular, Conway from any decision-making role is a major plus for most fans.
Some have purchased season tickets purely based on the loss of power of the duo who had become a toxic presence at the club, even if they were very rarely actually present.
They considered groundsharing with another club, became embroiled in a court case with their fellow owners and have other teams across Europe who are also performing very badly.
Then you have Conway’s disastrous stints as chief executive, when he hijacked the club’s usual data-led approach and made poor decisions which, in the case of last summer, was a major factor in the relegation.
The new board have promised to communicate much better and engage with fans and the community.
There has been refreshing honesty such as the admission that the likes of Luton Town just spent their budget better than Barnsley rather than the myth that the Reds cannot afford experienced players.
Paul Conway was clearly someone who was detrimental to the club in numerous ways.
Although other staff, coaches and players were also at fault for the relegation, the impact of his disastrous spell as acting chief executive last summer may be felt for a long time – both financially and mentally.
Barnsley are scrabbling to clear debts and get back into the Championship at a time when, due to the ludicrous past spending by second tier clubs then Covid-19, a well-run outsider could upset the odds and compete for the top flight.
By framing the relegation and the poor recruitment of players and head coaches as purely interference from Conway – even if true – it heaps a lot of pressure on the new board to get things right.
The pressure will go particularly on new chairman Parekh – who has repeated ‘there is a target on my back’ – chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad, who is about to start his first full season in the role, and also James Cryne whose data-led recruitment has received a lot of praise.
We may never know exactly who – Conway or the recruitment department or the then head coach – wanted which player over the last several years.
But it seems safe to say that the majority of those recruited using Cryne’s system have been successful.
Data-led recruitment is used by the majority of clubs, at least to some extent, so the Reds are not reinventing the wheel. With many players in many divisions in Europe no longer accessible due to post-Brexit employment laws, they will have to fight against a host of other clubs for the best talent in the lower divisions of England and Scotland.
But the Reds believe they have a system which gives them an edge in the market.
The board believe that by returning to the ‘spreadsheet’ – James Cryne’s analytical recruitment policy – and blending more experience with the youthful team, they will be back on track to compete on the pitch.
That is certainly the right approach, and will be music to many fans’ ears, but will it be possible this window?
They have a £7-8million deficit to clear, mainly by selling players who have just delivered a catastrophic season, in a market still recovering from the ravages of Covid-19 to clubs who know the Reds need to sell.
Are they really going to receive multi-million fees for two or three of them to make up that shortfall then keep the rest and have some change left for signings?
Only time will tell, while the board have said they are willing to inject more of their own money later in the summer.
In the worst case scenario, they may have to accept smaller bids than they would ideally like for players who almost got them to the Premier League last year with limited money to replace them.
But Parekh has said that, if they can afford to, they would rather let players run down their contracts than sell for a cut price. Having any of Cauley Woodrow, Carlton Morris, Callum Styles, Michal Helik, Mads Andersen, Brad Collins and Callum Brittain in League One would be a huge bonus – if they are back to their best and fully committed.
The board will have to work some magic in the next few months to balance the books and immediately put a team on the pitch that is equipped to compete for promotion. Several loan deals are likely and it could go down to the final hours of the window again.
It is not impossible, but patience may be required by the fanbase until this board can show their true potential.