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Barnsley takeover has great potential


Outgoing Barnsley owner Patrick Cryne is terminally ill with bowel cancer and does not expect to see the end of the season.  His poignant programme notes for Tuesday's Carabao Cup tie (actually written by his wife Jean) justifiably attracted widespread and sympathetic attention on the internet and my thoughts go out to him and his family at this time.

At the match against Aston Villa in the 66th minute supporters in all four stands stood with their mobile phones illuminated and sang the name of their 66-year old owner.

He has been keen to find new owners for the club and a takeover by a consortium is imminent.  Negotiations have been taking place since June with a consortium headed by Chinese billionaire Chien Lee and American businessman Paul Conway.  A £20m deal for 98.5 per cent of the club has been agreed which includes the new owners taking on Barnsley's £6m debt.   It will be the first time in Barnsley's history that the club has not been in the hands of a supporter.

Fanzine editor Liam Dyson told The Game, 'What's sad is that the game has moved to a point that a prominent local businessman is no longer able to be the owner of a football club.  But we've got to adapt or are just going to end up dropping.  I just hope we maintain something of what makes us, us.'

Lee bought a 80 per cent stake in French club Nice last summer.   It's seventh time lucky for him as he also attempted to buy Hull City, Reading, Queens Park Rangers, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Brentford. Nice achieved their highest league position since 1976 by finishing third in Ligue One last season and are now competing in the Europa League.

However, the most interesting aspect of the takeover is the involvement of Billy Beane, well known for his revolutionary and often successful approach to player recruitment at Oakland Athletics, admittedly viewed as Minor League baseball minnows.  The way in which he got involved with Barnsley could almost be a sequel to the 2011 film depicting him, Moneyball. In the film he was played by Brad Pitt.

Beane is understood to have been introduced to the group by one of Conway's legal team and expressed an interest in the project because he is a football obsessive who has long wanted to get involved with a club.  His stake is understood to be just under 10 per cent.  As a Wall Street banker, Conway shares Beane's obsession with the power of data and is convinced that it can have greater application in football.

The 23-year old son of Patrick Cryne, James Cryne, is going to keep a 1.5 per cent stake and is expected to take a role in running it once he has completed a masters level degree.  He has been a close follower of Beane since watching Moneyball while he was doing his A levels at the highly rated Manchester Grammar School.

No one should overlook the fact that this takeover is a hard-headed business decision.  The consortium reasonably take the view that this is a distress sale and the club is undervalued at £20m.   Barnsley with a population of just over 91,000 may not be the most commercially attractive location, but Burnley and Huddersfield Town have shown what can be achieved by clubs from smaller northern towns.  The club made a £13m profit in the last financial year.

Barnsley's only major trophy was the FA Cup and they spent one year in the Premier League which they approached in an understandable 'let's have a party' spirit.   They have acquired something of a reputation as a yo yo club between League One and the Championship.

Barnsley have shown a serious interest in data driven approaches to football.   In part this arises from having a bottom six budget in the Championship.  However, it also arises from conviction.  James Cryne has a first class degree in maths from London's highly rated Imperial College.  Whatever the state of the stadium, which does need some refurbishment, the club's IT system is regarded as sophisticated as many in the Premiership.  Oakwell is 50 per cent owned by Barnsley Council, but they may now be bought out.

We live in interesting times in football.   Barnsley's progress under their new owners will be well worth watching closely.