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‘Very underwhelming’ – This key figure at Barnsley is proving his doubters wrong at Oakwell

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This article is part of Football League World’s ‘Rewind’ series, this content strand is where we rewind back to a particular moment at a club, assess the initial reaction from the fans, and then proceed to evaluate and reflect on whether fans were right to react in that way…

Thanks to the untimely late demise of Wigan Athletic in the 2019-20 campaign, Barnsley produced a miraculous recovery on the final day of the season to stay in the Championship, with Gerhard Struber being the mastermind.

The Austrian had replaced Daniel Stendel – the man who had taken the Tykes back to the second tier – earlier in the season and was a relative unknown in the UK, but was known on the continent for taking Wolfsberger into the Europa League.

He clearly had some management skills as shown with the ‘great escape’, but Barnsley fans probably wouldn’t have thought a few months later he would be crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Struber was taken away from Oakwell by New York Red Bulls, and he left the club in the relegation zone after just four games.

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The Barnsley hierarchy took a couple of weeks to replace him, but they settled on Valerien Ismael – a two-time Bundesliga winner as a player who at the age of 45 had already managed in Germany, Austria and Greece.

Initial reaction to the appointment was definitely mixed – but he was soon proving Tykes fans wrong.

Ismael used the same kind of tactics and system that Struber had implemented at Oakwell, meaning that there was no real change-over period – the only alteration there was were the results.

Barnsley hadn’t won in four games before Struber’s departure, but they never looked back since Ismael walked through the door on October 23 and they haven’t been in the relegation zone since.

Since his first official game in charge against QPR, Ismael has guided Barnsley to 11 wins in 21 games, which is a quite brilliant record for a novice manager in England and with an unfancied team in terms of bookmaker odds.

An FA Cup run as well has only given Barnsley and Ismael more recognition, as they pushed Chelsea all the way last week in their Fifth Round encounter in South Yorkshire, only going down to a Tammy Abrahaim tap-in – but it was the Tykes’ high-pressing style that won all the plaudits.

It’s thanks to Ismael’s methods that Barnsley have been able to pull out these results, and his belief of the young squad at his disposal is getting results.

As of now, Barnsley sit in 12th position – seven points off the play-off – and that isn’t an insurmountable figure to claw back.

It would be a remarkable achievement for Ismael to even finish in the top half, let alone closer to the top six, and he’s certainly proving those initial doubters very, very wrong.


25 years old, UCLan Sports Journalism graduate, Preston North End fan

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: ‘Very underwhelming’ – This key figure at Barnsley is proving his doubters wrong at Oakwell

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