Manager signing troubled players on cheap
31 August ~ Barnsley does not necessarily spring to mind when you think of the Moneyball ethos, but Keith Hill continues to identify plenty of value for money in the transfer market. Since joining the club in June 2011, he has found a niche as something of a social worker for footballers who appear to have lost their way. The policy may be hit and miss but the risk is calculated and the potential benefits are considerable. Ricardo Vaz Tê has become the poster boy for this policy. Having shown glimpses of his potential at Bolton, he ultimately failed to make the grade.
Following unsuccessful spells at Panionios and Hibernian he signed a one-year deal with Barnsley last summer. He was a revelation, scoring a goal every other game in the first half of the season including a hat-trick against Leeds United on New Year’s Eve. The following day, it was reported that he had rejected the offer of a new deal and he departed for West Ham before the end of the January transfer window.
Vaz Tê formed a formidable partnership with Craig Davies, who joined Barnsley aged 25 having already played for ten different clubs. Blessed with undoubted talent, Davies had both international experience with Wales and disciplinary problems. Hill has managed to harness his ability and, having scored eight goals in successive games last season, Davies has become the focal point of the Tykes attack.
The success of Vaz Tê and Davies appears to have encouraged Hill to remain loyal to his principles, while aiming higher in terms of the calibre of his acquisitions. This season’s star turn is Mido. The well-travelled, temperamental Egyptian is still only 29 but has played very little football in recent seasons. Hill will have his work cut out to get him fit and firing again. He will miss the first three months of the season after suffering a serious hamstring injury during a pre-season friendly warm up.
Barnsley’s other summer recruits include Marlon Harewood and Jacob Mellis, who both spent time at the club on loan last season. Harewood recently went to the Chinese second division in search of regular football while Mellis, a talented Chelsea youngster, was sacked for letting off smoke grenades at their training ground last season. Kelvin Etuhu will also hope to put a turbulent year behind him, having been imprisoned for assault before being relegated with Portsmouth.
Having seen ten managers in as many years, Barnsley will welcome a second season of Hill patrolling the touchline in his trademark country squire attire. However, only Portsmouth going into administration spared them relegation last season. Barnsley finished in their lowest position since returning to the second tier in 2006, with only 13 wins and ten home defeats. Greater strength in depth this season should help them to improve on that.
Hill will be aiming to replicate the year-on-year improvement he masterminded at Rochdale. Appointed in December 2006, he took the club from the bottom three to a ninth-place finish in League Two. They made the play-offs in the next two seasons before going up automatically the following year. Rochdale finished ninth in Hill's solitary season in League One, their highest league finish for over 40 years, before he moved to Barnsley last summer.
The task is still maintaining Barnsley’s Championship status with limited resources – Hill's predecessor Mark Robins left after complaining about the budget. Barnsley are practically debt free and were one of only two clubs in the division to make a profit last year. With average attendances of around 10,000, that is no mean feat. Hill’s policy of bringing in emerging talent from the lower leagues and struggling former prospects is smart and sensible. If he continues to transform the fortunes of down on their luck footballers, Hill’s stock is sure to increase in line with the potential risk and reward of his transfer policy. Scott Johnson