Barnsley: Is profit more important than league progress to Reds?

Marc Roberts
Marc Roberts

Barnsley fans will be scratching their heads after the news captain Marc Roberts has been sold before a ball has even been kicked this season.

Talk surrounding the towering centre-back’s future was finally put to bed as he signed a five-year deal with Championship rivals Birmingham City on Saturday.

The fee is believed to be in the region of £3.5 million, with add-ons, for a player who the club got for free from non-league outfit Halifax Town two years ago.

However, it is not the first time the Reds faithful have seen one of their biggest stars walk through the exit door at Oakwell.

From Jacob Butterfield to John Stones to Roberts, the club have always sold their best players and have garnered the reputation for being a selling club.

Head coach Paul Heckingbottom has dismissed those claims recently, but the proof is in the pudding.

Sam Winnall joined Sheffield Wednesday

Sam Winnall joined Sheffield Wednesday

Roberts is just the latest high-profile exit from Oakwell. In the past year, Alfie Mawson, Sam Winnall, Conor Hourihane and James Bree have also been sold.

The club did show resolve back in January as they knocked back bids for Roberts and Marley Watkins, who has since joined Norwich City on a free transfer, but they had to after losing Winnall, Hourihane and Bree.

Heckingbottom’s charges were within touching distance of a play-off spot before those three left and they significantly fell away thereafter.

A 14th-place finish was very respectable for their first season back in the second tier, but it was definitely a case of what could have been.

In recent years Jason Shackell, Stones and Mason Holgate are others who have been sold.

The Reds even sold wing wizard Adam Hammill to Wolves, before getting him back as a free agent four years later.

Heckingbottom has spoken about his desire to build a squad and to work with the same group of players for a significant period of time.

He has been frank about the fact he would be judged only on his ability to “plug gaps” if the club kept letting their best players go.

Does it show a lack of ambition to constantly sell your top stars? It could be something that causes problems between Heckingbottom and the powers that be at the club down the line.

Undeniably, the business model has worked wonders, developing players and selling them on, but does that hamper the manager’s ability to find the winning formula?

You just have to look at the price for Roberts, the £5m Mawson brought in and the £7m-plus sell-on fee from Stones’ move from Everton to Manchester City to realise how fruitful it has been for Barnsley.

New chief executive Gauthier Ganaye says money from Roberts’ sale will go back into rebuilding the squad. That’s what fans want to see, but it has not always been the case at Oakwell.

With Mawson’s departure and Stones’ sell-on fee last summer, it was expected the club would spend big on their return to the Championship, but it did not materialise.

Are Barnsley content to plod along in the Championship for the next few years and turn a tidy profit as and when they can?

Meanwhile, left-back Zeki Fryers has joined the Reds on a free transfer after giving up the chance to stay at Crystal Palace and winger Lloyd Isgrove has signed a three-year deal after leaving Southampton.

Isgrove endeared himself to the club’s fans while on loan during the 2015/16 League One campaign as he played a part in their dual Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and play-off success.

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