DURING the summer transfer window of 2023, Barnsley brought 13 first team players in and eight were either sold or loaned out.
That makes it the busiest summer since the frantic 2017 window when more than 15 went in each direction, months before Patrick Cryne sold the club to the group led by Paul Conway and Chien Lee.
It has been a chaotic introduction to life as a coach in English football for Neill Collins who clearly dislikes the transfer window, the constant questions about it and the uncertainty it has cast over his opening seven weeks in the role.
But now he knows the players he will be dealing with until January without that distraction.
CENTRE-BACK LEAST PROVEN AREA OF SQUAD
It is a squad which looks competitive at this level in most areas – extremely good in some – with the biggest question mark over central defence.
Liam Kitching’s last-minute sale to Coventry City following the earlier sale of Mads Andersen to Luton Town and Bobby Thomas also joining Coventry after his Reds loan, meant they have lost all of the back three which took them to Wembley in May.
They have seven centre-backs – if you include Jordan Williams who has been used there recently and the injured Robbie Cundy – fighting for three positions. But, of the other five, none has played more than seven League One games or higher in England.
The Reds have still managed to keep two successive clean sheets and there are certainly some talented players.
Williams is now captain and the experienced leader of the backline despite not turning 24 until next month. His presence in the back three as a natural wing-back has pros and cons as he is able to break games open with wonderful runs out of defence but can be often beaten in the air by targetmen.
Some games may require three towering centre-backs such as Kacper Lopata and Jack Shepherd, both 22, who joined from non-league football. They have each looked good so far, certainly more impressive than Mael de Gevigney who, although it is too early to write him off, has been struggling to transition from the French lower leagues.
Conor McCarthy is back after nearly a year with injury while both he and Jamie McCart have reasonable experience from the SPL.
McCarthy, McCart and de Gevigney all got valuable minutes in the midweek cup win.
The Reds need to protect their impressive goalkeeper Liam Roberts more as he has currently made 24 saves in six games compared to the 37 made by Brad Collins in his 26 games last season. But that is not just down the back three, it is the structure of the side in open play and also from set pieces – areas they now have some time to work on with no league games for two weeks.
Are they lacking a more experienced, proven player in the back line? Time will tell.
REDS LOOK STRONG IN MIDFIELD AND UP FRONT
If the defence can hold firm, then the Reds should have a major chance of finishing in the top six again given their strength in all the other areas.
Up front, the arrivals of Sam Cosgrove and John McAtee means they now have four senior strikers with different qualities plus young talents Aiden Marsh and Fabio Jalo who are pushing for more gametime.
Wing-back options have also been strengthened, with midweek scorer Owen Dodgson.
In midfield, they have Callum Styles and the fit-again Josh Benson ready to push Adam Phillips and Herbie Kane in the more attacking roles while Jon Russell has stood in well for Luca Connell who is slowly recovering from illness. That is some serious quality and depth for this level.
Styles – who was left out of the squad in Cheltenham on Saturday by Collins after a move away did not materialise and is with Hungary until next week – must channel his serious talent in the right way now he knows he will be at Oakwell until at least January. You could not accuse him of a lack of effort in his previous games – he would not play if that was the case – but he has been nowhere near his best in a division in which he should excel.
UP TO BOSS TO FIND RIGHT 11 IN DEEP SQUAD
One of Collins’ main issues now will be keeping everyone happy and, even more importantly, finding the right combination from all of those players to consistently win games.
With two first teamers at least for every position when all are fit, the strength in depth and competition for places is as good as it has been for years at Oakwell.
It is now up to those players to prove there is quality as well as quantity.
New leaders also need to emerge with big presences leaving such as Kitching, Andersen and James Norwood.
PLENTY OF MONEY BROUGHT IN THIS SUMMER
Barnsley have brought in many millions this summer through the sales of Andersen and Kitching, plus windfalls for Jacob Brown’s move to Luton and John Stones winning the Champions League.
The Reds have signed some players with decent League One experience, and even a smattering in the Championship, but five of the new signings came from clubs now in non-league and one from the French third tier, with the club putting major faith in their data-driven recruitment strategy.
The full amount brought in has not been spent on incoming transfers but chairman Neerav Parekh has insisted it will be reinvested on wages and new contracts while pointing out that fees for outgoing players do not always come in in one lump sum.
‘It costs a lot of money to run a football club’ is the repeated message, with the Reds bringing in about £8million less per year than when in the Championship plus still paying exorbitant contracts agreed by previous chairman Paul Conway.
With Kitching’s sale coming late and somewhat unexpectedly, the Reds should have money left over to spend in January on a key signing or signings that boost the promotion push.
Until then, they must make sure they grow as a group and prove they are once again among the better squads in League One.
The board have injected £10million of their own money over the last year and expect a return on their investment in at least the form of another promotion battle.
It remains to be seen if they have the squad for that but the signs are, overall, positive.