Written for Pure Fitbaw by Matt Goodwin
“If he’s any good, why haven’t Celtic or Rangers signed him?”, I’ve got to be honest, that was my response when we brought Liam Lindsay to South Yorkshire last summer. I’m not afraid to hold my hands up when it comes to being wrong, certainly when it means a player is doing well for my team. It’s quite a cynical response but I couldn’t be more pleased that he seems to have slipped through the net of the Glasgow giants, for now at least.
The Reds have strong ties with players from north of the border. According to my Dad there was only one player who played for Barnsley back in the early 80s and was of royalty, too: ‘King Ronnie Glavin’. Going further back, the likes of Johnny Steele (player and then manager for 624 games), Johnny McCann, Johnny Kelly and George Kerr (who scored a penalty with a backheel for the Reserves in the 60s) went on to weave their magic into the red fabric of Barnsley. In more recent times, Jim O’Brien’s graft, passion and ludicrous ‘wiggle’ celebration cemented that Barnsley-Scottish connection even more after joining from Motherwell in 2010.
It seemed we’d unearthed another gem via our statistical approach to recruitment in Stevie Mallan when he arrived from St Mirren last year. Unlike Lindsay, Mallan had represented Scotland at under-21 level; naturally it appeared he had the pedigree to become another hit and his signing caused more optimism than that of Lindsay, but in reality he was outshone by the immense defender. Granted, they’re different players in different positions, but the central-defender made 44 appearances under three Head Coaches (including one caretaker) – the most out of any player throughout a dismal season and would collect the coveted ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ award from his colleagues despite relegation from the Championship. Relegation was confirmed on the final day of the season, during which our Barnsley-born boss and former player Paul Heckingbottom departed for Yorkshire rivals, Leeds United, before being replaced by José Mourinho’s ‘mate’, José Morais.
I firmly believe relegation could have been avoided had Oli McBurnie, another successful Scot, and his goals arrived when they should have last August (not January when he eventually arrived) after his loan move from Swansea collapsed in bizarre circumstances.
Lindsay was certainly one of the best players last season, but there’s definitely room for improvement and, at just 22-years-old, that isn’t a criticism. What has really impressed me is his timing for tackles. He is a real ball-winner, both on the deck and in the air, but it’s when the ball’s at his feet and he has time that he can get better. It’s this reason he very much reminds me of a former player in Marc Roberts; another raw central defender with all the physical attributes you’re brave enough to shake a stick at, but whose distribution to begin with was a tad wayward at times. Like Roberts – who came from non-league Halifax on a free in 2015, won promotion and was sold to Birmingham City for a few million quid – he seems a real winner and has that potential. He will improve as he gets more experience, certainly in League One, where the strikers he looks to thwart are more seasoned and workmanlike than classy and clinical. That gives me real hope that, should he play his part in Barnsley’s return to the second tier of English football (where the club have spent more seasons, 75, than any other), he will do so as a much better player.
Whilst last season was nothing short of disastrous for Barnsley, Lindsay was certainly one of the shining lights with his consistency and commitment. He could well form a formidable central-defensive partnership with Ethan Pinnock or Adam Jackson under new Head Coach, Daniel Stendel. There’s even a slim possibility he could become an ‘Oakwell centurion’ by the end of the new campaign should he steer clear of injury and even though he doesn’t seem the type to take a penalty with a backheel, there’s nothing to stop him joining Messrs Glavin, Kelly and Kerr in Barnsley folklore, if we can keep hold of him, that is.