MICHAEL Duff admits Barnsley’s squad is ‘probably a little bit light’, and they are looking at free agents, but insists he ‘believes in the group.’
On transfer deadline day on Thursday of last week, the Reds signed right-back Tom Edwards on loan from Stoke City and midfielder Adam Phillips permanently from Burnley, while selling Michal Helik to Huddersfield Town and loaning out Callum Styles, who also signed a new contract, to Millwall.
The Reds had been hoping to sign at least one striker and a left wing-back but could not bring any in, with players in both positions understood to have been at Oakwell yet the paperwork was not thought to be completed in time.
Barnsley – who won 2-0 at local rivals Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday – are now considering signing free agents, having had left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill training with them.
Duff told the Chronicle: “If there are players out there we think are worth it, we will look at them. We’re not in a position to turn our nose up at anybody. We didn’t get a couple we wanted in. But we won’t bring bodies for the sake of it.
“The group has proved they can be competitive. Is it a little bit light? Probably. But we have an under 23s team for a reason, we might have to dip them in and expose them.”
Ormonde-Ottewill, 26, is a former Arsenal youngster who played for Swindon between 2015 and 2017 then spent five years in the Dutch second tier before leaving Excelsior this summer and had a trial with Championship Reading.
Nicky Cadden is the only senior left wing-back at the club but he is currently injured. Jordan Williams or Liam Kitching – who started there on Saturday – could also play there if needed.
Duff said: “He (Ormonde-Ottewill) was in Monday, Tuesday but not Thursday because he’s having talks with another club. I am not sure where both parties are on that one. But he’s someone we’re aware of and he has good pedigree.”
Duff wanted to bring in ‘one or two’ strikers before the deadline but is happy to work with his current forwards, with Devante Cole, Jack Aitchison and James Norwood netting in the last two games.
“A lot of people have written the group off. Sometimes you look at what you haven’t got. I look at what we have got which is good players. I thought we needed a couple but that’s not because I don’t believe in the group. It’s an opportunity for someone to step and say ‘the shirt’s mine’. Saturday was perfect with two strikers scoring. Their attitude has been great, they have had dips but also flashes of good stuff. We will just keep working and trying to improve.”
Duff also had suggested the Reds may sign more experience, after bringing in 31-year-old Norwood. He joked: “I could have signed a 35-year-old, I could have got Pato (assistant Martin Paterson) fit.”
He added: “We didn’t think the right ones were out there. It wasn’t a case of ‘you’re allowed James Norwood but no more.’ Conor Hourihane was one we tried to do but we couldn’t. Sometimes we don’t want them, sometimes they don’t want us. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit.
“Players in the squad are stepping up and acting as leaders.”
Styles extended his stay at Oakwell for a further year until 2025 but was also loaned to Championship club Millwall.
Reds sources insist there is no buy clause as part of the loan. Styles had played 128 games for the Reds, including every league match this season until last week, while there had been speculation all summer over a multi-million move for the Hungary international.
Duff said: “I can see the business sense in it. To be fair to Callum, he played nearly every minute. I don’t think he was at the levels he can hit because he’s got a lot going on in his life. But he kept playing, he got an opportunity and, financially for him, it was a great opportunity.
“He can play at a higher level, he can keep his international career going – it ticks a lot of boxes for him. And the club protect their asset, they have a better chance of getting the money they want for him if he has a good season in the Championship than in League One.”
Centre-back Helik, like Styles, was part of the team that reached the Championship play-offs in 2020/21 and made his debut for Poland while a Reds player. He had not played this season due to injury. Duff said: “Micha was difficult one because he’s got an opportunity to play at a World Cup. There aren’t a lot of human elements in football. But when I was having conversations with him and he’s saying ‘I don’t think other clubs are going to meet Barnsley’s valuation, it is going to cost me a World Cup opportunity’, I felt a bit stuck. There was the player’s point, the club’s point and I was in the middle. But the valuation was hit and hopefully it works for all parties.
“He has been in to say goodbye (on Thursday) and he’s brought some doughnuts for the staff so I like him even more now. I said ‘I hope you get to the World Cup now, otherwise I want another box of doughnuts.’”
Barnsley loaned out Clarke Oduor to League Two Hartlepool United.
The 23-year-old has played 57 games for the Reds but has rarely been a regular starter, often used as a left wing-back despite growing up as an attacking midfielder. He is out of contract next year.
Duff said: “Clarke is a funny one because he’s a really really good footballer but he needs to find out what he’s best at. He does brilliant things but not often enough there is a cross, goal or assist at the end. Hopefully he will have a run of games and show everyone what he can do. There is absolutely no doubt he’s a talented player. It’s only a loan so we will see what happens afterwards.”
Younger players could be loaned out to non-league clubs to get gametime.
Winger Tomas Kalinauskas has joined National League South club Havant and Waterlooville for the rest of the season.
The likes of Jasper Moon, Jason Sraha and Joe Ackroyd have not played in the league this season.
There is no summer transfer window for the National League so players could leave any time until March.