Once again, Reds' Chief Executive Officer met with members of the press this week to talk through a number of subjects.
ON FANS RETURNING
“It’s good that there is momentum and movement towards getting fans back into stadia. As I’ve said myself and as we’ve tried to relay to our supporters on numerous occasions, Barnsley Football Club has taken all the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for that eventuality of fans returning to Oakwell.
“Within the confines of all the protocols, a lot of work has been going on from the start of the season to get our club ready. It was a key aim of ours, to make sure Oakwell is fit to welcome back our supporters when the time comes.
“So from a safety and logistical standpoint, a lot of work has been done, and we’ll be good to go as soon as we get the green light. It’s frustrating that we’re in tier three and will be sitting on our hands so to speak, in this initial phase, but we are prepared and we’ve already outlined our plans to supporters regards the guidance.
“I know they’ve suggested another look at things a little further down the line, I think they’ve got the 16th of December as a marker. So maybe we’ll get more positive news then so we can get our fans back with us ASAP.
“Of course, I understand the claims about sporting integrity. That we go away and we face a team who have fans there, but they come to Oakwell and we’ve no fans. I get that, and it’s probably not fair. It’s not a level playing field.
“But we have to start somewhere.
“There is no barometer for the world we are living in right now. And if we complain about fairness, and then nobody has fans in, then it’s never getting off the ground is it?
“So we have to make that first step. And I’m happy, and most are I feel, that the government is finally allowing fans back into stadia around the country. We have to get the ball rolling. The sooner the process starts, the sooner we get our supporters back here at Oakwell to watch the Reds again.
“This isn’t a financial thing for us. Having our fans with us is about getting our community back. Our fanbase here with us, side by side again, and getting one day back to the norm of seeing Oakwell rocking and hopefully enjoying the kind of results we’ve been seeing this season. Because as good as it is to be playing football, it still feels a little hollow without them with us.”
ON THE WELLBEING OF FANS
“We’ve tried as a club throughout the pandemic to reach out and be there for our fanbase. Whether that was the calls to our older fans right back during the first lockdown, or the calls we are still making and taking right now in the front office.
“We have a hotline, and whether that’s players, members of the coaching staff, our front office staff, the board, we’ve all tried to reach out where possible but we have a big support base, so we can’t get to everyone, and we know this whole period has been so taxing on people mentally.
“But from a national perspective, from an authority or government standpoint, not enough is made of this huge issue in the world right now. Not enough is being done. It’s mentioned, it gets talked about a little bit, but there hasn’t been anything put forward that clearly helps us as a sport, to tackle this problem.
“Without our supporters, there is no sport.
“How are we as an industry helping to make sure our supporters are OK? I myself do not feel that enough has been done on a macroscale. We’ve done so much as a club with the resources that we have, to help tackle this issue in our town and community, but I wish there was more forthcoming on a national scale so that we can help support those who are going through a difficult time.”
ON FINANCIAL IMPACT OF COVID-19
“It has been very difficult, it remains difficult. But we have taken financial steps in every department of the club to make sure that we remain financially viable.
“The idea that everyone is going to be fine and be bailed out by either the government or the Premier League, it’s just not going to happen. I don’t think that’s going to come in my own estimation.
“So we’ve had to show a little pragmatism and we’ve made sacrifices as a club. But there has been a ton of sacrifices since this pandemic started and we are confident that we can push through.
“As a football club, we feel we’ve been able to shed some water and we’re able to stay afloat. But others are not so lucky.
“League’s One and Two have been great and tried to stay with us and stay strong, and make clear that it’s all 72 EFL clubs that need support, but at some point soon I fear that may break. But for us, we’ve been able to make smart decisions in the front office and work together to find solutions so that in the long-term we remain sustainable.”
ON VALÉRIEN ISMAËL
“He’s done an incredible job in the short time in post so far, galvanising the group but tweaking the tactics a little bit. He’s got us moving in the right direction and we’ve been playing well over the last few weeks.
“It’s testament to him as a person really. He’s no fuss, no nonsense. Whilst he’s also very assured of himself and what he’s trying to do here, he’s able with his personality to make sure the group of players feel comfortable.
“The atmosphere is very strong right now.”
ON THE JANUARY WINDOW
“For us as a club, it doesn’t make any sense to sell our best players right now.
“I think it will be a strange market again, so I don’t see that much activity generally. We feel like we’ve a very good group of players here at the moment. We retained the core of last season’s squad, players who were maybe lacking experience and took time to gel last year, they are now much improved with that development in them and so we’d like to see how far we can go with this squad.
“There is interest in a few of our players. These aren’t bids right now, they’re more like feelers. And at this point, it makes no sense for us to even engage in any of those talks because we feel comfortable. We are happy with our group and feel that if we can strengthen in a couple of areas, we can really make a push in the second half of the season.
“We will always be looking to add and improve, but one of the best pieces of business we got done was tying Cauley Woodrow down to a new contract. I’m sure most would agree that he’s one of the best strikers in the Championship. There are a lot of clubs in this division who’d like Cauley in their club. But we got him to stay and so we have one of the best forwards in the division already here.
“In terms of Alex Mowatt, I don’t really have much of an update on that. With the crazy schedule and the team playing well right now, we don’t want to be in a back and forth about that. There is mutual respect in the negotiations, both sides are evaluating the situation, it’s ongoing.
“But of course, Alex is our captain, he plays every game and he’s a real leader for our team so we obviously hope we can get something done with him. I’d be foolish to promise or state something for definite, but I have a good feeling on it. He’s a great kid with a great agent and he’s part of something here that is going in the right direction. So I’ve a feeling we can get it done.
“On Matty James, he’s played every game for us and played extremely well. He’s a huge boon in the locker room and on the field. He has an air about him, and not just because he’s a great player, and he’s played at the highest level, so he has that stature, it’s also because of him as a guy and he oozes this confidence and ability to galvanise and push this group.
“I’ve spoken to Matty and his representative and he’s enjoying his time here. And in January it will basically be up to Leicester City and what they want to do with him to see if we can try and get him for the back half of the season.”
ON MARIO BALOTELLI
“Mario had played for our owners in Nice. So there was a relationship there that has lasted with Mario, his agent and our ownership group and so there was a mutual interest.
“And so I had a good conversation with his representative but it never really went much further than that. Mario has so many options on the table and he’s still evaluating what’s next and what’s best for him and his career.
“So he said right now wouldn’t be the best time, and so after discussing the parameters of what would make this happen, we agreed that yeah, it’s probably not the best time to do it.”
ON BREXIT AND ITS IMPACT ON THE TRANSFER MARKET
“You’d be painting over the truth if you were to say we were any closer to knowing what the rules are going to be and how it will affect football.
“We’ve had calls, there have been discussions and people have shared what they’d be OK with. But we haven’t received much back regards what is actually going to happen. And with it right around the corner, and a transfer window round that same corner, for that to be the case, it’s a bit scary.
“We are about to go into a period where player trading is vital to some clubs. And we are not sure what’s going to be asked of us, what is going to be mandated.
“If EU players are seen like every other player, where they’ve to have played a percentage of games for their national team to get a work visa, then that would be extremely detrimental to the sport.
“Right from the Premier League all the way down the pyramid.
“I don’t see how that helps anyone. And hopefully that doesn’t happen, but we are in wait and see mode I’m afraid.”