A look at the key issues for Barnsley heading into the January transfer window:
KEEPING COLE AND OTHERS COULD BE CRUCIAL FOR PROMOTION PUSH
Barnsley have not sold a regular first team starter in January since Preston North End broke their club record for Brad Potts five years ago. That record may be tested next month.
Devante Cole and Jordan Williams are yet to sign new contracts so could leave for free next summer, unless a bid arrives which tempts the Reds to sell in January.
Chairman Neerav Parekh said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ that they would be sold next month and it is thought a seven-figure offer would be needed for Barnsley to part with their top-scorer or captain.
But we have seen such confident stances change in previous windows when faced with decent bids and pressure from the players or their agents.
Cole would be very difficult to replace as he is on course to net more than 20 goals this season.
Barnsley’s record in the last few windows of buying strikers is poor. Andy Dallas and Oli Shaw were loaned out to Scotland very quickly and have struggled there, Max Watters has been fighting for a place on the bench, and Sam Cosgrove, despite showing signs of improvement, has one freak goal in 14 appearances.
Fabio Jalo is arguably the most exciting fit forward other than Cole but the 18-year-old wunderkind is of interest to top flight clubs. His contract runs until 2025 and the Reds want him to sign another.
Then we have Callum Styles. It would be prestigious, and potentially very lucrative if he does well, for Barnsley to have a player at next summer’s European Championships.
But Styles has continued to drift through Reds games, adding the occasional moments of quality but making nowhere near the impact an international of his quality should be making in the third tier.
He was dropped from the midfield on Saturday for Adam Phillips who played well, as last season’s central three was reunited. Styles came on at left-back after Nicky Cadden’s injury so could get some more gametime in the position where he excelled behind-closed-doors in 2020/21.
Goalkeeper Liam Roberts – who is set to return imminently from a finger injury – is another who could leave if Middlesbrough decide to recall him due to injuries. That would be a huge blow as his saves, along with Cole’s goals, papered over many cracks in the opening months of the season. He would certainly need to be replaced if he leaves and, despite the success of Harry Isted, it is not always easy to find a good goalkeeper in January.
Barnsley will be hoping to keep everyone and have a very quiet January window but it is rarely that simple.
NEW CENTRE-BACK PRIORITY FOR INCOMINGS
There was little doubt from chairman Parekh’s interview with the Chronicle last week that centre-back is the main position Barnsley will be looking to recruit in next month.
Bobby Thomas, Mads Andersen and Liam Kitching as a back three with Luca Connell patrolling in front of them was the foundation on which the Reds built their superb second half of last season.
All three centre-backs left in the summer and Connell has only just returned from illness. It is unsurprising then that the Reds have been much less solid at the back this season where they have struggled for consistency in personnel and performance. After not conceding from open play in five games in September and October, they have let in 17 in their last nine. They surely need at least one centre-back ready to go straight into the side and make an impact in League One like Thomas did last season.
Jamie McCart looks a solid squad player and is an impressive character but more competition on the left of the back three could be vital.
Mael de Gevigney is showing signs that he could be a very astute signing while Kacper Lopata was the best defender before his unfortunate collarbone break from which he has just recovered.
But both have work to do to be consistently stand-out performers.
Jack Shepherd is understandably inconsistent after stepping up five tiers from semi-pro football, and Collins does not seem to want to use Conor McCarthy who is back after a long-term injury but playing for the under 21s. Robbie Cundy has not played all season due to an ongoing injury. Some of them could be loaned or sold next month.
The experiment of playing Jordan Williams at centre-back has not been a success overall, but taking him out of the back three currently would leave them lacking pace.
It is not just the defence that has changed but the whole balance of the team.
In Thomas and Kitching, they had two wide centre-backs who – as well as being competent defenders – could play fine crossfield passes, participate in attacking moves and contribute with goals and assist. McCart, other than a good assist against Horsham, does not have the same dynamism, pace and even defensive consistency of his predecessor on the left Kitching.
Williams can attack out of defence and has pace but is not a natural centre-back so is often beaten in the air by big strikers – leading to chances and goals.
As well as recruiting in defence, the Reds will have an eye on all positions in which they can add quality while preparing to replace anyone who is sold.
NEW-LOOK SET-UP BEHIND THE SCENES NEEDS TO WORK STRAIGHT AWAY
Barnsley will be going into the transfer window with a new team behind the team.
Chief executive Khaled El-Ahmad leaves the club today and will be replaced by two people, with Barnsley employing a director of football for the first time.
Jon Flatman, former chief revenue officer, is acting chief executive while Reds legend Bobby Hassell is interim director of football and one of the candidates for the permanent role which the club would like to fill this month.
Whoever the director of football is, they will play a crucial role in bringing in new signings next month and working with Collins to construct a squad which they hope will challenge for promotion.
Having a new person in that role – whether it is Hassell who has never done such work before, or a new arrival – must be a seamless transition ahead of an important window.
It certainly needs to be better than the previous window. Of the 14 players brought in last summer, only really Liam Roberts has been a truly stand-out signing with Kacper Lopata and John McAtee the next best. All three of them have missed games through injury while only Lopata is a permanent signing. De Gevigney is also now improving rapidly after a rough start.
Others could well come good in the long run but, next month, Barnsley need some immediate quality injected into the squad.
As for El-Ahmad, it is difficult to assess the impact of a chief executive as their role is so widespread. The Swede arrived after the disastrous tenure of Paul Conway as chief executive and, eventually, played a part in improving the atmosphere around the club as well as the performance levels on the pitch. But he communicated with the press and fans less often than most predecessors while he was also in charge for gaffes such as the HEX sponsorship, the closure of the West Stand, and his encouragement of fans to buy season tickets because of ‘exciting news’ which he never got to announce. The record of managerial appointments and player signings under him was mixed.
The job probably was too big for one person and hopefully the rearrangement will bring improvements behind the scenes.
UPCOMING RESULTS COULD DICTATE HOW MUCH IS INVESTED BY OWNERS
Chairman Parekh said there would be more money available from the owners to spend on players in January – depending on the league position.
That suggests that, if Barnsley had a bad Christmas and New Year period and found themselves sinking deep into mid-table while still not performing consistently well, the board would be reluctant to spend as much of the club’s limited available cash on this season’s promotion challenge, instead favouring a rebuild in the summer.
Parekh’s comments did not mean that they won’t look to improve the defence in January or replace anyone who leaves, simply that the funds with which they do so could depend on the realistic chances of promotion in 2024.
There are arguments for and against that position. It would feel like a waste of the talent of players like Luca Connell who are surely eventually going to be sold on, and would create the impression that the Reds are stagnating into an average third tier club. But it would also mean that they start afresh in the summer – which is likely to be very busy as the likes of Cole, Williams, Herbie Kane and Nicky Cadden are out of contract – with some money left over.
The ideal scenario is that Barnsley get on a good run, cement themselves in the top six by January and the board are encouraged to spend a bit more on a key signing if needed.
They should be capable of promotion tilt.