Championship vultures are hovering over Barnsley again – this time set on highly-regarded forward Jacob Brown.
The quick and direct 22-year-old has been linked this summer with Brentford – who are close to a £28m sale of Olile Watkins to Aston Villa – while Stoke City plus a further couple of rivals have had mentions. A Premier League club is also believed to have been sniffing around.
Brown is valued at around £2m, however, which is not thought to be in Stoke’s bracket this summer due to Financial Fair Play regulations – and Barnsley’s reliance on transfer fees would make any swap deal unexpected.
If any club was thinking of trying to loosen Barnsley’s grip in that regard, a left-back and central midfielder are at the top of Gerhard Struber’s shopping list.
But Brown is undoubtedly one of the division’s rising stars, having broken into the team over the last two years, winning promotion from League One and then staying up by the skin of their teeth. He made 40 appearances last season – contributing nine assists and scoring three.
He can play at centre-forward or on the right wing and has also made fleeting outings at wing-back and on the left.
Stoke have been clear that outgoings are the priority, with Peter Etebo, Badou Ndiaye, Moritz Bauer and Kevin Wimmer the main four that need to leave.
The pressure of EFL rules has meant that Michael O’Neill has so far looked for free agents, bringing in John Obi Mikel, James Chester, Morgan Fox and Steven Fletcher without a fee as he tried to address areas which needed most urgent attention.
“First of all we had to identify areas of the squad that needed strengthening,” said O’Neill. “We’re very restricted due to the rules of Financial Fair Play and the size of the squad that’s in the building at the minute.
“I think that people forget when players go on loan they have to come back and that’s the situation we faced with seven players – two younger players and five who the club spent a lot of money on and were on big contracts.
“All of that type of thing makes it more difficult in the transfer window so we had to be very select. Obviously we’ve not paid a fee for any of the players we’ve brought in and with this being the case we had to make sure they were the right characters as well.
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“We spent a long time with each of the players, outlined where the club could go and where we wanted it to go and whether they felt it was the right opportunity for them. The landscape now is very different for players now financially than what it was pre-Covid.
“We had to make sure we were getting the players in and that they were coming for the right reasons. Having met the four lads there was no doubt they were focused on coming in, they’re all proven players.
“They may not be at the age of 22 and 23 but players of 22 and 23 cost you a lot of money and unfortunately we’re not in a situation where we can spend that at this minute in time.
“It was important to get quality into the building and obviously get players we know that can deal with the level and improve the squad.”
Mikel and Fletcher are both 33 while Chester is 31. Stoke’s key men Danny Batth, Sam Clucas, Joe Allen, James McClean and Sam Vokes are all in at least their late 20s too.
O’Neill is keen to stress there are youngsters in his thinking too – but, although he doesn’t quite quote Alan Hansen, he doesn’t underestimate experience in this division.
Still, if room is created to manoeuvre, further additions would more likely to be more youthful.
He said in an interview with Radio Stoke’s Lee Blakeman: “When I look at the Championship there aren’t that many young players except players who are on loan from Premier League clubs. Often they are very expensive and come with stipulations that they have to play or there are financial penalties for that as well.
“But I think people overlook that there are young players in our squad.
“Tyrese Campbell has played a big part, certainly since January. He’s only 20. Nathan Collins has been around the first team. Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who is pushing to start, is a young player that we signed, Josh Tymon is in the mix as well. Harry Souttar is back in the squad.
“That’s five players aged 21 and under who we would now see as integral to our first team squad and we didn’t have to go looking for them except Tashan.
“I’d also put Jordan Thompson into that in that he’s coming from League One football, stepping up and I think he’s proven that he can handle it.
“When you look at our squad on paper we have a nice blend at this minute in time but certainly now, going into the market, if we are able to go into the market, it would be a younger type of profile we would ideally sign.
“Sometimes those deals are more difficult to do but that’s where our focus will be.”