West Bromwich Albion’s latest managerial twist could be a major blow to Barnsley.
Albion have reportedly opened talks with Barnsley over head coach Valerien Ismael, with The Telegraph claiming they are ready to meet a £2m release clause.
Ismael had an outstanding first season at Oakwell, leading the club into the play-offs, with a brand of fiercely direct football.
Barnsley chief executive Dane Murphy has also emerged as a leading candidate for the same role at Nottingham Forest, who are planning big changes behind the scenes this summer.
Albion have had weeks struggling to find the right manager and with many claiming owner Guochuan Lai did not want to pay any compensation for Sam Allardyce’s successor.
That led them into negotiations with Chris Wilder, with reports suggesting Lai torpedoed that prospect because Wilder had previously been critical of the Sheffield United owners.
David Wagner then held talks but the German opted against coming to the The Hawthorns to instead take over at Swiss outfit Young Boys.
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And it emerged earlier this week that Michael Appleton wants to stay with League One Lincoln rather than return to his former club.
But Ismael would be a curious appointment for Albion, who have always made a point about their style of play, particularly in comparison to their old friends Stoke City.
They played more long passes and passes into the final third than any other team in the Championship – a tactic that Ismael refers to as ‘vertical football’.
Tony Mowbray, the former West Brom manager, said: “They’re a very direct team, play out of possession football, they press extremely well from the front and the stats would suggest they’re the best at the way they press with the front three. It’s not how I like to play football.”
Wayne Rooney drew 0-0 at Oakwell in March.
He said: “Barnsley don’t play pretty, but their football is effective. I’m not knocking Barnsley in any way. They are a very difficult team to play against.
“We thought that the best way to come into the game tonight was to play Barnsley at their own game. We picked up second balls and third balls and we tried to be direct. I think Barnsley are possibly the most direct team I’ve ever seen.”
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Michael O’Neill lost their with Stoke in February.
He said before the game: “Barnsley, certainly since the new manager came in, have done very, very well. They’ve adapted to the style he wants to play and it’s been very, very effective for them.”
And added afterwards: “We knew coming here what type of game it would be. It was a case of getting to the ball, playing it forward, making life difficult of the opposition, pressing the opposition and I have to say that Barnsley… are very good at how they play.”
Gregor Robertson, the full-back turned Times columnist, put together a summary of opponents’ views.
He wrote: “Yann Valery, the Birmingham City full back, said ‘they don’t play football, they just play long balls,’ which as you might imagine amused Barnsley fans no end.
“Millwall’s Jed Wallace recently told the Not The Top 20 Podcast that he had ‘never played against a team like that at any level of football. The way they play is mental,’ he said.
“Wallace’s manager, Gary Rowett, even referenced John Beck’s notorious Cambridge United team — of which he was a member — in the early Nineties. ‘Good luck to them,’ he added, rather more magnanimously than others.”