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Interviews

AN UPDATE FROM PAUL CONWAY

27 August 2021

Our Co-Chairman met a selection of journalists and representatives of various supporter groups and answered questions on a number of current topics.

AN INTRODUCTION

"I just wanted to start by thanking all of you for being here, and by thanking all of our fans for your amazing support, particularly over the last 20 months. It's been hard for Barnsley, it's been hard for everybody. 

"But, through your support, we've been able to get through this challenging period even stronger. We're in a situation where we've been able to keep all of our starting players who are under contract. We've been able to sign four players already to long-term, permanent deals. 

"Without your backing we wouldn't be in this position. We feel we have strengthened as a club and are even more competitive within the Championship."

ON RECRUITMENT

"We really need players who want to play for Barnsley, who want to be at our club. And during the process this summer of looking to strengthen our squad, we've had some really interesting situations. 

"We reached agreements with three different Premier League clubs for three players we felt would be ideal for us in terms of their talent. One of these players told us we'd need to pay him 40% more to play for Barnsley. That was a short conversation. The second one basically told us he didn't agree with our style of play, that we'd need to change that if he was to come. Again, a very short conversation.

"The third one is the funniest one. We had a signed transfer agreement, we'd agreed personal terms, we'd done the medical and the player was scheduled to do his media pieces before signing the contract. And then the player just drove away! We were like, 'where did he go?' and he'd just left the club and got in his car and left!

"But that's probably a good thing, because it shows he wasn't the right player for our football club. The most important part of any transfer, is knowing the player is happy to be here and play for Barnsley. But they also need to fit into our wage scale, because we are one of only two clubs in the division who balances its budget. And of course, they have to be reasonable transfer fees. 

"So the four players we've signed at this point, they all wanted to be here. Josh Benson moved down from the Premier League. That's a good sign for us in terms of the confidence shown in our club and what we are trying to achieve here. Aaron (Leya Iseka) and Obbi (Oularé) have taken reductions in their salaries to be here! They want to play for Barnsley."

VISA ISSUES

"There's some mis-information out there around the visa issues, so let me clear that up. We've signed two players with a GBE. That's a governing body endorsement. That guarantees them a visa. But we've been caught up in a failing system, where post-Brexit, there's no standard policy, on how quickly that visa is issued. It's absolutely ridiculous. 

"We don't speak up that much as a board, but we do when there are topics that are ridiculous, or make no sense. We will speak out and go public with our thoughts. 

"And Obbi, I really feel for him. The home office told him to go back to Belgium and he'd get his visa, then he'll be ready to train with the squad and then play for Barnsley. And 18 days later, he just got it today!

"Football in the UK is an important industry, we are big tax payers, and so to have this random process where we don't have best practices so that it's clear that once you've submitted everything, you'll get your visa in one day, five days, or whatever, it's a complete joke. 

"We sent a few of our young academy players to Denmark and they got their visa within a day!

"But Obbi has his visa now and he's on his way back to Barnsley and we think Aaron will get his within the next week. But the frustrating thing is seeing Man Utd and Chelsea signing a foreign player and then within three or four days they're in the squad. This is just not right. 

"And because we intend to continue to recruit internationally, we will be working to make this situation better for everybody. That's what we're speaking about here. We'll continue to be very vocal on this because there has to be change, there has to be standard procedure."

OAKWELL STADIUM

"We have attempted to purchase the grounds. The club has attempted in the last year, through our investor group to put millions into escrow to buy the grounds. But we can't get clear, clean title on it. So we've given up on that. 

"We've gone to five insurers, and can't get title on it. It's like if you were renting your house, but then decided you wanted to purchase it but couldn't get insurance on it, you're not going to do it. It's complicated, but at the end of the day we haven't been successful.

"We are custodians of Barnsley Football Club. It would make no financial sense for us to buy the ground without clean title on it, and spend millions upgrading it, without that insurance. You wouldn't do it with a house, never mind a football stadium. We've abandoned that.

"So the club are tenants here. 

"But we've gone to the town and outlined the improvements that we felt were necessary, improvements that we would have done if the grounds were owned by the club. 

"Rehabilitating the West Stand, building an all-year-round sports and social bar, better hospitality facilities. This is important - not just for the club - for the community of Barnsley. We should be the centre of town. This club is the town. 

"And so we are working on that, but there's still no resolution on it. 

"The goal is obviously to stay here. But as you all know, there needs to be some investment, some capital improvement here. We have to modernise the facilities. It would also make us a more competitive club in the Championship."

ACCESS ISSUES

"Again, this is one of the reasons we wanted to purchase the grounds, and that was better control of issues that are now coming to the fore. 

"For every £50,000 or £100,000 we lose through loss of ticket sales, that's money that could have gone towards a new player, or towards a contract extension. But we are hamstrung by things out of our control. 

"We are tenants, so we don't have that control. 

"We are working through a few kinks in terms of the access, and other issues - there's obviously a nationwide problem when it comes to casual labour because of COVID's impact and of course with Brexit. But we are working through these issues and the plan is definitely to get the FanZone and other matchday events back up and running.

"We can only ask for patience on things like that whilst understanding our hands are tied with certain issues."

GROUNDSHARING

"The goal is to be here long-term. The goal is to extend our lease. But if we could get caught in a situation where we couldn't even host a match here, we have to look at other short-term alternatives. 

"That is not the goal here, but again, as custodians of the club we have to be able to have a place that's going to get a license to operate. 

"We are working with the town on a proposal, but we are not there yet. But we will continue across this season to work together on it and get things resolved."

ON DEPARTURES

"We are creating a machine here. As part of growing like we are in the Championship, we need to be a machine, both on and off the pitch. And so when we try to attract talent, both on and off the pitch, we know that there is a decent chance that at some stage, talent will leave. 

"But as long as we have the machine continuing, with good young players, people ready to step in, we'll be okay. And it's the same when it comes to coaches, and also our executives. 

"And so Valérien (Ismaël) left, he did a great job here. But part of the way we attract such people, is by giving them an exit clause. That also helps the relationship. Because they're driven and ambitious. So things are never uncomfortable. If they want to go elsewhere, they know, and other clubs know, there's the clause, that's the fee. 

"With success, you become attractive. And that's what's happened here. Other clubs see what we are doing and want a piece of that. So they start trying to recruit all parts of our organisation. It's completely natural and is a sign that we are running things extremely well here. 

"But it's about the machine. We replace these parts. But the parts alone don't make the machine what it is."

THE AMBITION THIS SEASON

"There's no demand or target placed on Markus (Schopp). But we want to build and continue to develop as a strong and competitive club in the Championship. That's why we've strengthened the squad with four permanent guys already on long-term contracts.

"We've got a battle-tested young squad who are only going to get better and better, and we've retained every regular starting player under contract. That's a clear sign of what we are trying to do here. It's something our fans should be proud of, and shows the progress we have made over the last few years. 

"But we have to be practical about it. 

"We balance our budget. But we have clubs coming down from the Premier League with wage bills that are seven, eight, nine times the size of ours. So over the course of a 46-game season, to overcome that is hard. But we are trying to work our way up. The quality and value in our squad is getting much better, you can see that. 

"We have the youngest team in England. We should be proud of that!

"But we all know that in this country, the governance isn't great and the enforcement of rules isn't good enough. So this is what we are up against. But that doesn't mean we can't compete, as we showed last season.

"We run things in a different way, we are creative and again, I think we should all be proud of that."

KHALED EL-AHMAD

"We are excited to have him on board, and he'll be at the club and working from September 6. 

"When we are looking at bringing people in, we look at certain other organisations and how they do things, and these are clubs who use best practice. And trust me, there aren't many out there. But the Red Bull group are one of them. And when we were talking with them about certain things in the summer, they recommended him to us. 

"Then as we met him through the process, we saw immediately in him the things we wanted. He has skills that we need to improve on as a club. Part of that is his success in recruiting players, part of it is his strength in the academy side and then part of it is his experience from a commercial standpoint. 

"He's great, we're excited to have him with us, but he also got caught up in the visa issues which is just ludicrous, but he will be in place on September 6 once he's tied up his work with City Group."

THE FUTURE

"As long as we are welcome here, and we are able to make improvements, we want to be here. But things change, and I'll give you the Nice example. 

"So, when at Nice the club got into the Champions League for the first time in its history. But that next season, when we told the fans that we'd still be balancing the budget, they complained and suggested running up tens of millions in losses, to keep chasing the Champions League. We weren't going to do that. 

"So it quickly became 'get these investors out'. Yet the club has done worse since we left. 

"And so we want to be in a town like this where the people want us here. But if one day we're told '**** off', then maybe that'd be the time to say 'my goodness', and look at things differently.

"My 13-year-old daughter was here with me in the summer and she was dividing our 'fan mail' into three separate piles. She told me, "there are three categories, one is full of really nice questions and suggestions, the other one is people asking for free stuff and the third one is people saying get out of town!"

"We won't always get everything right, but I think we're trying to do right by the club and its fans."

ON COMMUNICATION

"We are always open to ideas and suggestions. I think we communicate better than most other clubs with our supporters. But we have great staff here with a real affinity for the club and the town, so we don't want to micro-manage people.

"Our staff know what they're doing. So we let them do their thing. 

"I'll be attending on Saturday and I'm looking forward to watching Markus and the team."


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