Barnsley way?You have to be kidding
MANCHESTER United’s titlewinning side of 1996 famously disproved the old adage that you can’t win anything with kids.
At least that’s the myth. In reality, the quote that made such a mug of Alan Hansen generally holds true.
It just so happened that the kids in question were David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt - a freakish crop of exceptional players who would form the bulwark of England’s national side for a generation.
In the quarter of a century since their emergence no other club has come close to producing a one-off batch of that calibre.
Even then, the impact of Fergie’s Fledglings is routinely embellished. United’s best players that season were topscorer Eric Cantona and goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, both in their 30s by the time the campaign ended.
Roy Keane was into his sixth top-flight season. Even including the 20-year-old Neville, a back four containing Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin had a combined age of 115.
Since the Premier League started in 1993, the average age of the champions’ starting line-up is 26.7 years. United’s was only marginally less at 25.
Hansen, then, was only slightly wrong. What he should have said was: ‘You can’t win anything with kids unless a) they are uniquely talented and b) they are surrounded by seasoned campaigners.’
Remove A and B and what you are left with is Barnsley, who were relegated to League One last weekend. Of the Tykes’ 12 permanent signings last summer, only one player had previous Championship experience – and Zeki Fryers’ 13 games on loan could hardly be described as a wealth. They came from from St Mirren, from Partick Thistle, from Dijon, Rennes and Forest Green Rovers. Not a single one was aged over 25.
And it wasn’t like the dressing room was greying at the temples. Paul Heckingbottom regularly fielded the youngest starting XI in the Championship last term and, this season, the Tykes are responsible for nine of the ten youngest line-ups in the division.
Oakwell? More like play school. And Barnsley have certainly been taught a lesson – on and off the pitch.
From a pre-season massacre at Rotherham to the final-day submission at Derby, it has been quite literally men against boys. Cameron McGeehan and Ethan Pinnock are
talented lads, but were learning on the job. And whilst Gary Neville could lean on Bruce and Pallister, Pinnock was partnered by Liam Lindsay, a man two years his junior who’d only ever played in the SPL. It was like scouts leading cubs on an expedition up Everest.
Yes, Barnsley had budget constraints. But so did Millwall, a club with a similar wage bill. They finished eighth.
The difference being that Neil Harris retained a core of wily veterans like Steve Morison, bought seasoned players like George Saville and even signed an out-of-shape Tim Cahill just to manage his dressing room.
Millwall built a side to stay in the Championship. Barnsley tried to be cute, gambling on survival whilst hoping to nurture saleable assets. This ‘buy low, sell high’ strategy is the stated aim of owner Paul Chien, who counts Billy Beane amongst his consultants. In moderation, it is a noble aim. But rough gems are rarely polished in losing sides and can hardly be nurtured if there is nobody to offer advice. If Barnsley’s own version of Moneyball is to work, not every signing can be seen as an investment for the future. Because you can’t win anything with kids, and you certainly can’t stay in the Championship with a team full of them.