January 2014

The January transfer window is typically seen as more of a burden than a benefit for football clubs, with many top managers calling to scrap the January window, or the system overall, allowing year-round activity in the transfer market. The majority of activity traditionally takes place right at the death, and ‘panic-buys’ certainly form a large part of the drama that surrounds Sky Sports News at the end of the month. But the Oakwell boss, Danny Wilson has wasted no time in trying to fish out bargains on football’s proverbial shop floor, and has made no reservations in getting rid of our own ‘unwanted stock’. But has Wilson got the best deals possible for the Reds, and what do his current transfer policy, and acquisitions say about the future of Barnsley FC? Were our previous two managers wrong all along in their policy? Or did it just need some simple tweaking?

So lets start with the outs so far. Scott Wiseman and Chris Dagnall were the first out of the Oakwell doors, with Jim McNulty and David Perkins following suit on Friday, having all joined Preston North End, Leyton Orient, Bury, and Blackpool respectively. The majority have left on free transfers, and therefore have freed up space on the wage bill for Wilson to manoeuvre in the market. Perhaps the departures of McNulty and Dagnall, who have both spent time away from Oakwell on loans this season, come less a surprise than Wiseman and Perkins, who have both been stalwarts in the side for more than two-and-a-half years. It feels that the appetite for change is certainly there.

But was it right for them to go? I would argue that in McNulty’s case, we should have never allowed him to sign another contract, and one has to seriously question the board’s ratification of such, especially when the likes of Marlon Harewood and Stephen Foster were released - 2 players that I feel were ageing, yes, but were vital figures in the dressing room, who would be quite satisfied with playing their part when called upon. Though McNulty wore the armband (albeit mostly in pre-season) during his Oakwell tenure, it was clear that he couldn’t command the same respect of the players that these two players could. Of course a value for money might have come into this, though given that Foster retired this season, and that Harewood has since moved on from his next club Bristol, to Hartlepool, you would expect that these veterans might have took hefty pay cuts, where a much younger Jim McNulty might not. A very speculative argument of course, but one that I feel requires a bit of a deeper analysis into our previous 2 managers.

A classic criticism during the tenure of Hill and his ‘apprentice’ Flitcroft, was in their tendency to sign players they were familiar with, particularly those that in some form, had some history with Rochdale, however readers who follow the (highly recommended) West Stand Bogs Fanzine’s Twitter might have seen the link to the duo’s agents’ which perhaps shows just how pronounced the relationships between some of our players (as well as former target players) and the management were. Given Jason Puncheon’s allegations towards Neil Warnock earlier this week, that Warnock would give players large match bonuses and would then expect them to be paid to him to include them in the team, it got me thinking that something much deeper could have been afoot at Oakwell.

Straight off the bat, I should explain that I am merely speculating here as to what could have been going on, and am not making any allegations towards Hill or Flitcroft, two gentleman that I met on a couple of occasions and had immense respect for. However, one has to wonder, given Puncheon’s allegations and the pronounced link between some of the players and the duo, whether they gained financially from any of the transfers at Oakwell? Or was it simply a case of the players and the duo being friends, and therefore choosing the same agent upon one another’s recommendation? Given the first possible scenario, this could have had damaging implications for players unconnected to the agency, and perhaps suggest why the likes of Bobby Hassell weren’t picked (though I reiterate it is mere speculation). Something possibly more true to the mark, is the notion of ‘feeling threatened’ by veteran squad members, with information leaked out of Oakwell suggesting that Keith Hill once asked Hassell if he was after his job. Such a fear could suggest why Hassell was left out by both Hill and Flitcroft, and why the ‘bigger characters’ in Harewood and Foster were released - if Flitcroft felt a threat to his rule of the dressing room. But I digress, the point I was trying to make was that whatever decision was taken to keep McNulty on in the first place, it could have rooted deeper than mere favouritism.

Moving on to the departures of Perkins and Wiseman then, I feel that these players, and to some extent Dagnall typified Hill’s original experiment, which was unravelled before them, in my opinion. The initial idea was to ‘layer’ the squad, as fans will be aware, and to mix some of our upcoming youth players, with more talented players from Championship and Premiership clubs, as well as players to develop from the lower leagues, who would ‘do the dirty work’. Though Wiseman was perhaps unpopular given that he unseated ‘The King’ in Bobby Hassell, Perkins proved very popular in his first two seasons, tidying up in front of the back four, pressing players, and then playing simple passes to more skilful players such as Butterfield, Mellis and Drinkwater - just a few of the names we’ve had in our time. On top of our ‘hard-working’ midfield, we had Ricardo Vaz Te to add a bit of flair to our game, as well as Craig Davies, a player that was up and coming from the lower leagues, and someone that we were looking to profit from later.

I doubt that many could argue that in the first 6 months of Hill’s tenure, this formula worked a treat, and was more enjoyable to watch than the football under Robins, which used players that would have bankrupt us if we’d have continued to use them. Here we were enjoying our football, getting the results on the pitch and even heading towards profit. In that January window, I feel that the activity at board level then, has probably ruined this club ever since - given the lack of investment in Hill at that time, who lost his three best players in Butterfield, Vaz Te and Drinkwater. Instead of investing, the hierarchy ordered Hill to cut the budget again, despite the fact that we were very nearly making profit as it was.

From then, the model was destined to fall apart, as our managers were tasked with mixing the lower league players with Premier League has-beens such as Tonge and Cotterill who hadn’t played football in months, and who had little care for the plight of ‘Little Old Barnsley’. It was a theme that was to continue right into the next season, with our most talented player in John Stones having come from the academy, and arguably very much ‘dropping on’ for the board, who didn’t perceive the need to invest given that we had quite a lot of talent at our disposal. Since the sale of Stones, and then Golbourne at the start of this season, we haven’t had a player of note, and have mostly had to rely on League 1 or 2 players. Whilst you could argue that such players are perfectly good mixed in and amongst ‘quality’ such as Mellis and McCourt - the performances of these two haven’t been sufficient to carry the team forward, therefore the whole experiment falls down, and we are left with a squad incapable of competing in the Championship.

It is perhaps for this reason that I feel somewhat sad we’ve seen Perkins and Wiseman go, as I feel that both improved in their time at Oakwell, did their part and then passed to players who were then capable of doing damage to the opposition, and were arguably crucial to our play. However this season it has just not worked out in that way, and we have changed the model too much to reflect a large quantity of players rather than a good quality of player. We obviously aren’t made of money as a club, but it was precisely for this reason that I felt that Hill’s initial model was worthwhile - it mixed a nucleus of hard grafting players to develop with the bits of quality we could afford. We focussed on style of play, an identity, and this worked around these players’ shortcomings, and ultimately produced a decent end product at first - however the removal of such quality meant that all came tumbling down.

So how will the signings of Brek Shea, Liam Lawrence and Ryan McLaughlin shape our new transfer policy? Given Danny’s backing of the likes of Tom Kennedy and Stephen Dawson, I would argue that he is trying to do much the same as what his predecessors did, but merely focus on a smaller squad with the best quality players we can afford, mixed with a few League 1 and 2 players capable of doing a job. Perhaps where he will differ, is in where he gets these players from, although the trial of former Sheffield United and Swindon defender Lescinel Jean-Francois might suggest otherwise!

For me, Danny’s current dealings have been the right ones for the club, and have certainly added some quality to the squad and perhaps trimmed some of the fat. I would argue that any player at Oakwell should be allowed to leave if his head isn’t in it, to allow others to come in. I feel that in the cases of Wiseman and Perkins, they perhaps needed a fresh challenge, and therefore were allowed to leave for this very reason.

I guess all that remains for me to say is that I feel that Danny Wilson’s arrival has come at the right time, and that we must support his decisions. What is a key part for me within this is, that, especially in summer should he stay, it is inevitable that we will sign players from League 1 and 2, but we as Barnsley fans must not turn our nose up at them, nor moan that Mr Cryne doesn’t invest - as provided that they are backed up with bits of quality, they can prove to develop into players that can do a job for us at this level, should we stay here. Sure, everyone can have a doubt about a player, but what do we gain in being on a player’s back from the first mistake? Give them a chance, accept that they are only human, and be proud that they’ve chosen our club.

I feel that I’ve covered a lot of ground there, so if there’s anything anyone would like me to clarify - or if you want to simply debate my position then please leave a comment below, or tweet me @MichaelRoach55 - I want to hear your opinions! Also don’t forget to follow @OnThePontyEnd on Twitter and on the Facebook Page, and please don’t hesitate to share this post! Thanks for reading.