It’s never easy losing a manager, especially when they have taken you to the brink of promotion, but Barnsley fans appear to be looking at the positives when it comes to life without Valérien Ismaël.
The Tykes missed-out on a place at Wembley last season after being beaten by Swansea in the Championship play-offs and if they are to go one better this time around they will have to do it under the guidance of new boss Markus Schopp.
So what are the hopes and expectations this season at Oakwell? Charlie Gregory spoke to Breathe Barnsley to gauge the mood ahead of their opening game against Cardiff City on Saturday.
Last season was a great campaign for Barnsley, with you only narrowly missing out on promotion. How fondly will you look back on that season?
“It was a very enjoyable season for the fans. The only downside was that we weren’t there to witness it. We defied many odds and had an incredible campaign, narrowly missing out on a play-off final.”
The club seems to be on a real upward trajectory – what would you say has been the secret behind your success?
“Our squad is young and are slowly but surely gelling and progressing as a team. They’ve learnt from their mistakes and are now much stronger and the whole squad is more well-rounded.”
You’ve had a bit of a setback in losing Valerian Ismael to West Brom – how big of a loss is that to the club? What did he get right while at Oakwell?
“Losing Ismaël was painful. It was inevitable that after our success, teams were bound to be interested in our manager. Crystal Palace were interested and then Watford, but when West Brom came calling, unfortunately Valérien’s head was turned.
“As a manager, he was never pleased and was always looking to improve. Even if we won 4-0 he would still pick out areas we needed to improve and things we got wrong. This attitude got us to the play-offs because the whole team was invested in his style of play and mindset.”
Alex Mowatt has departed too – how do you reflect on pre-season and your transfer activity so far?
“We expected to lose Alex this summer. He was a great servant for us and captained us well. He worked well under Ismaël and was no doubt determined to stay with him.
“In terms of our transfer business so far, I’ve been fairly impressed. Josh Benson seems a bright starlet and someone who is destined for the top tier in the future. Hopefully he can fill the big boots of Alex Mowatt and have a good season.
“We’ve also signed two Belgian strikers, Obbi Oulare and Aaron Leya Iseka. These are impressive signings, and a lot are expected of the two lads. I still think we’re in need of a couple more signings, most notably in the LB/LWB position.”
There’s been some exciting young talent coming through the door – what does that say about the ambition/project at the club?
“The signings we’ve made so far are exciting, and hopefully it means we’re still aiming to achieve the heights of last season. You can never underestimate Barnsley and I truly believe we will remain a tough opponent for any team in the Championship.”
In terms of Ismael’s replacement, have you been impressed with Schopp so far? Is it a case of building on Ismael’s foundations?
“It’s hard to judge Markus at this point. I think we’ll have a much better idea of how he is as a manager when we’re several games into the season.
“Like almost every head coach we appoint, his name was unfamiliar to most of us but we will back him and take him in as one of our own.
“Hopefully, he can be a strong successor to Valérien Ismaël, but similar to Josh Benson replacing Alex Mowatt, Markus Schopp has some unbelievably big boots to fill.”
So what are the hopes and expectations this season at Oakwell? Do you think you can go one step further?
“There is a lot of quality in the league this season, and it will be tough. I’m not sure anyone is expecting us to reach the play-offs again but you never know.
“Stranger things have happened in football. Barnsley have always been the underdogs and this is a title we relish. We prefer to go unnoticed, without the expectation of achieving something special.”
Your season gets underway away at Cardiff this weekend, What are you expecting from the trip?
“I’m hoping we can start the season strongly and bring home three points.
“However, with that being said, Cardiff aren’t an easy team to beat. Their star man and ex-Barnsley player Kieffer Moore is a fantastic player and is always tricky to defend against.
“I’ll back us to begin with a win but I wouldn’t be surprised if we struggle to break Cardiff down.”
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