Published on November 24th, 2015 | by Paul Gallagher in Barnsley FC News Meetings With BFC News0
Meeting with Patrick Cryne and Ben Mansford Part 2
On Friday 13th November, members of the BFCST board met with Patrick Cryne and Ben Mansford for full, frank and honest discussions regarding the current plight of Barnsley Football Club. In advance of the meeting we were asked to provide the main questions our members wanted answers or clarity on to ensure we got the most out of the two hours plus we spent with them. These questions focused on current form, recruitment, future plans, and ownership of the club. Patrick kindly provided a written response to these which can be found here. but also spoke in great length and with passion on each question raised.
The below detail is intended to give supporters a more in depth account of the key comments given by Patrick and Ben during the meeting. Whilst the current performances on the pitch are unacceptable, it’s important that we give praise where it’s due to both Patrick and Ben for agreeing to meet us so quickly, and for the time taken to answer our members’ questions. Regardless of personal opinion on current happenings at Oakwell, we’re in a fortunate position versus some of our local rivals with the effort Patrick and Ben put in to liaising with supporters, and trying to communicate regularly through meetings like this one, or one of the fans’ engagement forums.
It is long, but we think that Barnsley Fans would appreciate all the details being shared. Please leave comments or questions at the bottom of the page.
The Blame Game
So Patrick, who’s to blame with the current run of form we now find ourselves in? How can we fix it?
“It is difficult to summarise the situation. Whatever is said is open to being segmented, taken out of context and re-interpreted, but I will do my best. We are not going to shirk the hard questions. I think we are unique in our local teams in terms of accessibility and accountability to fans.”
”When you have a bad run like the one we are experiencing, fans snap to judgement on how things can be fixed or want heads to roll. I understand that completely. We have an objective of continuous improvement, hopefully towards promotion but that is only attainable if you have a sensible plan, stick to it and a bit of luck. Luck in games plays its part, otherwise we would all be able to predict the results of games. Certainly we have not had much luck with injuries or the run of the ball in a number of games. Football is different from business. In business, if you set out a plan and it’s a good plan then you can set out progressively to achieve it. Football is different, you can’t build on things in the same way. Each season you go back to the beginning, nil points. For each season there are three winners and four losers in Division 1. The rest are also-rans who have to start again, if you look at it coldly. Over the longer term you can try to put in place plans to strengthen your playing contingent. But nothing is certain. Look at the situation in football in general. Look at Marcus Evans at Ipswich town, a billionaire, a phenomenally successful business man. He’s an East Anglian and bought Ipswich Town. His objective is to get them into the Premiership. He bought the Championship club 8 years ago or so. He has never got them more than upper mid table in the Championship. Never in that period better than that. He has all the financial resources to be able to do it. He has the business acumen to do it, but he’s never managed to achieve his goal yet. It’s not like an ordinary business. There are other factors at play that you cannot control and others that you just get wrong for the right reasons.”
“Look at Steve Lansdown at Bristol City. Fabulously rich, unquestionably a brilliant business man. He bought Bristol City, his boyhood club. He stated his determination to get them to the Premiership. He’s had Bristol City as long as I’ve been custodian at Barnsley. He got them to a play-off final for the Premiership and then down to league 1 for a while until last season’s promotion. He’s renewed his commitment to take them to the Premiership and they are currently 20th in the Championship.”
Sheffield United are a “big” club. They have Nigel Adkins, a manager our fans would have liked. They have an Arab prince of financial substance and are making their third attempt to escape Division 1.”
“Then you have Blackpool. They got to the Premiership. Who would have credited that? Was it more luck than judgment? I don’t know. But they are now with us in Division 1.”
Our plan includes recruitment of young talent with future value, supplemented with experience to help the youth develop. We have moved to a Cat 2 Academy to try and create a conveyor belt of future talent. We have failed on the recruitment of the more senior players, because the better players have choice and high pay. We got close with a number, but didn’t get them over the line. We have re-doubled our efforts and we try again.
Back to the blame game… Cryne Out?
“That’s the difficulty. The fans when they are hurting they want to throw everything out to make sure they get the person who is to blame. The baby has to go with the bath water sometimes. I know that some fans want Cryne out. I am not resistant to that, but it has to be orderly. Sometimes I want to run out of the car park screaming. I am a manic depressive after all. Yeah. I’d love to go. I am not well in terms of my overall health and I have been through a lot. But we’d be bust in an instant. Most clubs in Division 1 are loss makers and require someone to provide a guarantee of solvency. Sheffield United and Doncaster are in this category and they are not unique. Scunthorpe is in the same category. Being ultimately responsible is a thankless task. I want my life as an ordinary fan back. I will go as soon as practicable. Rest assured, I will not delay a moment longer than necessary”
“Mansford is the best chief exec, or club secretary I’ve had in my time. Without a doubt because he has the relevant legal and other competencies in a football world that is becoming increasingly more regulated. And because he’s got the energy, ambition and work rate of youth. He makes decent judgment calls in tight situations. Why should he have to go? Because he talks too much? Because he communicates to give some people the chance to piecemeal his words?” He is not responsible for results on the field.
Er.. Watkins out?
“Because we’ve never had any success while Watkins has been here is the rationale? That’s the logic isn’t it? Maurice is currently running the British Swimming after it failed to get good results in the Olympics last time. He’s made organisational changes that mean they’ve done better at the world championships recently. He doesn’t pick or coach the swimmers. He renews the organisation to make it better. He reorganized the greyhound racing board which was in total disarray with the betting companies, the course owners and the owners of greyhounds, all arguing. He sorted it. Incredibly difficult as you can imagine. He did the same at the Rugby League. He was on the Board of Manchester United and worked closely with Alex Ferguson and David Gill. Now these are sporting endeavours where he has changed and improved the governance model in these organizations for the better, but we lose 7 games on the bounce and some fans say he has to go. Good governance is imperative in the modern game and Maurice is key to that.
So what is the answer?
“There isn’t an absolute answer. All you can do is keep working and trying do the right things. Many of those things are long term. So we need to ensure the recruitment into our academy is outstanding. It’s not as good as it needs to be at present in order to for us to be a competitive force. That’s why we moved to a Cat 2 academy. We need to recruit young talent into our organisation which we recognise early. Which comes through to our first team early so we can trade them in due course and we need to recruit more experienced players, sensibly, at the right price, where they have a future still rather than being here for their last pay day. That’s sounds like a great plan doesn’t’ it? But can we execute it? Can we beat Sheffield United and Sheffield Wed in the local vicinity to recruitment? We can if we get an organisation in place and make some in roads. Can we spot people that are playing in other divisions and get them in with some development capability? We know that works to some extent because we’ve seen Scowen and Hourihane come in. It’s harder to get the experienced guys in. Those experienced guys have choices. If they are likely to be able to make the difference to us they are likely to have choices. They are likely to be well paid and its’ hard to attract them to come here.”
”All you can do is keep working hard and modify the plan for improvement and keep the components of the plan that are working.”
You talked about millionaires and billionaires but there are clubs in our division doing better than us with much smaller crowds. What are they doing differently?
“What’s happening is, rich men put money in, they don’t have to be billionaires at this level, to sustain it, but you certainly need millions. There are hardly any profitable clubs in League 1, unless they trade players as a policy both successfully and regularly. Rochdale is a good example where they trade people successfully. Peterborough is another. They don’t seem care whether it effects their league position or not. If they need to trade, or want to trade, they trade. Some sides are in to just to trade it would appear. If you get promotion to the Championship you get £5m more revenue. Then you have to recruit more expensive players to try and stay there or better. Peterborough have made more than that by trading players. We could have sold three players when the transfer window was last open, but we decided we were not traders alone, we would like to have the basis for improvement in our team.”
So what do we do? What’s our plan? What’s our formula?
“We have a system, we track players, but scouting is still our main approach. Often we don’t act quickly enough because we are too risk averse and go through the full scouting appraisal approach. We watch and watch and watch. For example, we tracked and found Che Adams from Non-League, but we didn’t move quickly enough and Sheffield United got him. We found Marcus Maddison before Peterborough got him from Non-League, but their owner is a spread-better and moves very quickly. We don’t have that mentality. The winning formula seems to be that you spot a player before the competition does and get the player cheap so that if the bet doesn’t work you can recycle the player back into Non-League without loss.”
Some clubs make a sprint for promotion. Bury seem to be doing that this season. If they don’t get there, it’s going to be difficult for them. How are they funding their sprint? They appear to be borrowing money against their ground to “invest” in players? It’s a gamble, but it is theirs to make.
The problem is, once you are in the Championship you are in a league of Premiership exiles many with parachute money. Increasingly, a billionaire from Thailand or India or Russia or somewhere else is funding them. So the competition once you actually get up there is immense. Parachute money hoarder and foreign billionaires. For “ordinary” clubs, you’ll have to spend the additional £5 million trying to stay in that division unless you have team that can develop with the challenge.”
“So if we are going to move forward we have to develop players and trade players at the right time and get more players to develop. That’s the virtuous circle. There is no other model that will work in my opinion unless we can get our own billionaire.”
”Lee Johnson Will Be My Last Manager”
In the Trust meeting in Redfearn’s Bar this season you said that Lee Johnson would be your last manager and no one asked ‘what does that mean’? so ‘What does that mean’ You also recently posted comments with regards stepping down on your Facebook page. Has something changed? Has Lee got longer than previous managers to get things right?
“I’ve not said anything different from what I said in the Old No 7 or at the Fans’ Forum or Redfearn’s. I am not a body corporate, I’m just a body. Eventually you have to die. There is no succession plan at the moment. James Cryne plays no part in the management of the club and never will, despite claims otherwise. There was a time when I would have liked that to be different, but not now. We need the succession plan.
From my perspective. I had set down in my own mind that I need to move on. I hoped we would not get any kind of managerial crisis in that period and that explains the statement.
”The club has to move to a point of breaking even. If along the route someone wants to come along and say ‘I’ll take that burden from you’, I would be very happy if it ensures the continuance of the club, which was always my objective. If we get it to break even then I will give the club to the fans or whoever comes along.
What is needed is a definitive statement of intent from my part and that will come. This is what we need to get to for a break even situation and here are the potential consequences of that. And to set that out. If I went under the bus tomorrow the club will be in an absolute mess and I can’t have that situation”
Ben added: “To balance the books in the short-term we would have to make some tough decisions and decisions that wouldn’t be popular because this is a big beast to run. As Patrick said, the approach needs to be more orderly.”
“With Lee Johnson, I don’t know if he will still be here in a month. All I know is that for the first time ever, we articulated a full plan of how we were going to manage this football club into the future. We want a manager who coached players primarily so he could help in the direct development of young people into better players. As a candidate, he was the best candidate from those available I would say.”
In the past, the fans have influenced me because I’m a fan at heart. We have fired managers we should have kept and kept managers we should have fired. Before this dreadful run of losses I was deluged with people saying stick with Lee. Now the deluge has the opposite opinion, often from those who said to stick with him.
We’ve recently heard Lee Johnson say we need experienced “blokes” on the pitch but we’ve signed a 19 year on loan from Newcastle, and before that signed Isgrove. Is there a plan to bring in experienced players to show leadership and direction on the pitch?
If we can find the right players we will try to get them in. I think the priority is the no 6 which is why Hugo is here to see if he has got anything left. There is no sentimentality involved. He wanted to come. We will see if he has anything to contribute. If not, so be it. We’ve looked at a number of other candidates, we’ve approached some but they won’t come or the current club won’t let them. Maybe there will be some more when it comes to January when they see that their contract is unfolding in front of them. We don’t want someone who is coming for their last pay day who can’t make a positive difference anymore.
Ben: We know that they’re required. Trust me, if they are out there, even as Patrick says, even at more than unreasonable wages and with Patrick’s support we could afford them but they are just not at the moment.
We said in the past that we weren’t going to rely on loan signings but the first thing we did this season was sign a number of players on loan.
“Most of our loans are with a view to a possible purchase, with exception of the arsenal lad”. If you look at a few of the loans we have currently we have an agreed transfer fee with their club. A sort of try before you buy. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Yes we are still using the loan market, but in a more calculated way than before.”
”We will continue to use the loan market until it is actually removed because a club like ours must do that. Because, sometimes, you don’t want to take on a commitment of a player who is very expensive, but you want his skills to do a job at a particular time.”
We have a head coach now. Why is that Patrick?
”We appointed Lee as head coach as opposed to manager because what we said was he’s a young man, just finished playing football. We should not attach to him the full trappings of “manager” which means more than coaching the first team. It means taking on board the other things a manager does like taking a brief in relation to the academy, taking responsibilities in relation to some things that are done by Ben, like looking after the contracts and contract terms and player welfare outside playing matters. Managers tend to get involved in contract negotiations. We said to Lee tell us who you want and then we’ll do all the paper work. Just focus on being a coach and picking the team and the tactics and the formations. That’s why we gave him that title.”
“Most people are now recruited on the basis that they are primarily coaches or are called head coach. ‘Manager’ is pretty well linked to the UK these days. If you talk about a baseball team, or an American football team, you’re the coach. If you run a modern football team in the USA you will be called the coach because manager has a different context. In England it is changing towards being head coach. Since Lee came from the new generation we thought we’d attach that to him.
I am sure that if you change Lee’s title to ‘Manager’ it won’t be the thing that turns around the results.”
Head of Recruitment
We’ve also got a Head of Recruitment, does this mean that Lee Johnson no longer has the final say when it comes to player recruitment?
Patrick and Ben explained decisions on recruitment and team selection are always with Lee Johnson. There is an EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) mandatory requirement to have a Head of Academy Recruitment. More information of the EPP can be found here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elite_Player_Performance_Plan
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
The recruitment process was discussed and in particular the role of statistical analysis in identification of players.
Patrick explained that he didn’t know any progressive club that isn’t doing statistical analysis as part of their recruitment. Arsenal bought a statistics company rather than buy stuff from them. Patrick explained:
“Many clubs use Instat, which is a subscription service that tells you about every player in every team, how many headers they win, how many tackles won and that kind of stuff. The problem with that is that if everyone subscribes to the same sources, you don’t have competitive advantage in the analysis of players. What we have done is to make sure we track all the players in Divisions 1 and 2, Conference and Conference North and South and their performance. It does not get ahead of traditional scouting and other sources of the football intelligence. It is just there for use if required. Most often it is not. Danny Wilson picked the players and his team, Lee Johnson picks the players and his team. This will always be so while I am custodian.”