BARNSLEY’S positive summer so far continued this week with the appointment of the highly-rated Michael Duff as head coach.
Following the boardroom changes, which saw the removal of the divisive Paul Conway, the Reds now appear to have hired a talented coach to lead their promotion charge in League One next season.
Chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad said last month the target was to make an appointment by June 13 and that was the exact date that news broke that an agreement had been made to take Duff from Cheltenham Town.
The CEO had been under pressure to bring someone in this week, with full pre-season training beginning on Monday, but he should be given credit for getting the deal done ahead of a summer in which he will have to also work some magic in the transfer window.
Duff’s was the first name to be mentioned in connection to the role and, across about a month of waiting, many supporters seemed to have come to the conclusion he would be a good option – so there was more of a mood of positivity when he was announced than when initially linked.
He certainly seems to tick most of the boxes for the Reds. He is a young, up-and-coming manager but has reasonable experience – taking charge of more than 200 games across four seasons.
He has gained promotion seven times as a player and manager combined, and has experienced nearly everything in English football including two years in the Premier League as a Burnley player. His style of play seems to fit Barnsley’s ‘DNA’ as a high-pressing, all-action team but is built on the solid organisation and well-drilled unity that was badly lacking last season.
He came across as a driven, intelligent and likeable individual in his first press conference.
He is used to working within a recruitment structure rather than controlling all signings as Micky Moore, Cheltenham director of football, took a lot of the responsibility for scouting players and negotiating their contracts.
Duff built a reputation at Cheltenham for developing players on loan from Premier League clubs, such as Watford’s Mattie Pollock last season, which could be very handy as Barnsley are likely to look to loanees more this summer.
Then you have the added bonus that he spent five years as a Cheltenham team-mate of Martin Devaney who will form part of his coaching staff at Oakwell. The new-look set-up seems to be a good blend of fresh impetus and knowledge of the club which, on a bedrock of good coaching and a buy-in from the squad, could lead to success.
Duff ends a run of six successive non-British appointments by Barnsley.
The clamour for an English boss by some fans was over-the-top, and perhaps influenced partly by the failure of Markus Schopp and Poya Asbaghi, who followed the success of Daniel Stendel, Gerhard Struber and Valerien Ismael.
But certainly it can be an advantage to know English football and what it takes to be a success at this level, especially in what is likely to be a less straightforward return mission to the Championship than the one Stendel oversaw in 2018/19.
The Reds are expected to sell several of their better players over the coming weeks but will try to bring in money without badly depleting the squad while also recruiting new players.
Duff will have a role to play in selling his Barnsley project to wantaway players.
The Reds will need to get the majority of decisions right to ensure they have a team that can compete in a division where 80 points was needed last year for the play-offs.
Although the personnel may change over the summer, Duff’s role will be to work hard on the training ground to turn the squad into an effective unit, restore belief and remove the gloom from last season’s horrorshow. He knows Josh Benson from when he was Burnley’s under 23s coach, convincing him to join the Clarets, and the midfielder is the kind of player whose potential will have to be fulfilled in the coming season. The squad is full of youngsters who need an arm round their shoulder and someone to believe in them.
Some patience may be required early on, but Duff has already dragged himself from the eighth tier to the first as a player then overcome adversity as a manager – not winning any of his first nine Cheltenham matches, then losing a 2-0 lead in a play-off semi-final defeat.
It is likely to be an adventure with ups and downs but Duff seems to have many of the tools to be a success at Oakwell.