Barns­ley way?You have to be kid­ding

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

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.

Im­pact

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.

Gam­ble

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.

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