CENTRE-BACK is the ‘number one area’ Barnsley want to recruit in during next month’s transfer window while it is ‘extremely unlikely’ that star players such as Devante Cole will be sold – says chairman Neerav Parekh.

Last season’s regular back three Liam Kitching, Bobby Thomas and Mads Andersen all left in the summer, leaving centre-back as arguably the weakest area of the squad.

The transfer window will open on January 1 and could be vital for the promotion credentials of the Reds who are currently seventh in League One.

Parekh told the Chronicle: “Centre-back is absolutely the number one area we want to recruit in.

“Up front and midfield we are fairly strong and, if there are departures, there will be replacements.

“But defence is definitely somewhere we need to strengthen.”

Barnsley sold captain Kitching to Coventry City on the final day of the summer transfer window for £4million.

Will that money be available to spend in January?

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Parekh told the Chronicle: “It’s not even close to being that simple.

“The reason we got the fees we got for Kitching and Mads Andersen is because we allowed lengthy payment terms.

“In terms of the actual cash that has come in it’s probably less than £1.5million. We will get more money in subsequent years but it’s not like there is a huge pot of money to spend in January just because we sold this player.

“There is some money. Depending on the (league) position in January, the board can make more available.

“But we don’t want to gamble everything on promotion and, if it doesn’t work out, we’re in trouble again.

“We need to cut our cloth accordingly to be sustainable.

“Then again, if we have player sales it all goes into the pot to spend.”

Top-scorer Cole and captain Jordan Williams’ contracts expire at the end of the season, among others, and there has been some interest in them in previous transfer windows.

Parekh said: “I have learned from the last fans’ forum (when he said Kitching would not be sold) and I will never say never.

“Silly money came in for Liam Kitching and, if it is the same this time, we will sell. But I don’t anticipate that happening. It is extremely unlikely.”

On Cole and Williams’ contract situation, Parekh told the Chronicle: “We made offers to both of them.

“They have rejected the initial offers but we’re still talking to them.

“Hopefully we get something agreed but, if not, they are out of contract in the summer and we’ll move on.”

He added: “January hopefully won’t be that busy. The next summer will be busy because there are a number of players out of contract. A quiet January is probably the best kind of January.”

Midfielder Callum Styles is another who could be of interest after helping Hungary to Euro 2024, but there is a release clause in his contract which is thought to be more than £2million.

Parekh told the Chronicle: “We think Callum is a very good player.

“We see him staying at Barnsley at least until the end of the season.

“If an offer comes that hits the release clause, it’s out of our hands.

“If it is below the release clause, we will make that decision with the recruitment team and Neill (Collins, head coach) and look at what that money can buy us in January as well.”

National media have reported that several Premier League clubs are interested in teenager Fabio Jalo for whom a bid from Italian top flight club Lecce was knocked back in the summer.

Parekh said: “We are talking to Fabio Jalo about a new contract. We see his future at Barnsley. We think he will get most gametime here and we think he’s a future star. He’s shown it in the under 19s for Portugal. He’s shown it for the under 21s at Barnsley. It’s time for him to break into the first team.”

Defender Jamie McCart and goalkeeper Liam Roberts are both on loan to the Reds but there has been speculation that their parent clubs Rotherham and Middlesbrough could recall them due to injuries.

Parekh told the Chronicle: “I think they will both be here all season.

“McCart I am fairly certain about.

“I think both clubs have to agree for him to go back.

“Roberts is a little different but we’re talking to him and Middlesbrough.

“If he leaves, we will replace him.”

Centre-back Conor McCarthy has not played in the league for more than 14 months following an ACL knee injury and, although he has been available since September, has only appeared in the EFL Trophy.

The 25-year-old Irishman, who is halfway through a three-year contract, was left out of the squad for the trophy game at Blackpool on Tuesday and played for the under 21s instead.

Asked if McCarthy could leave in January, Collins told the Chronicle: “That will be a conversation between myself and Conor. His attitude is fantastic, he’s trained really hard.

“But I can only pick 18 players in the squad and I think other players are ahead of him right now.

“But football can change very quickly and not a lot needs to happen for Conor to get a chance.

“First of all we think about what is best for Barnsley but a very close second is how we help and develop a player.

“If it comes to January and it still doesn’t look like he will get an opportunity here and he wants to explore something, we will discuss it.”