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Daniel Stendel: The German England Fan Bringing Success to Barnsley

Daniel Stendel: The German England Fan Bringing Success to Barnsley

Sunday, 2 December, 2018 - 06:45
Barnsley’s Kieffer Moore celebrates with Brad Potts after scoring in the win at Accrington – part of a seven-game unbeaten run for the League One club. Photograph: Mark Cosgrove/News Images/Rex/Shutterstock
London - Ben Fisher
Among the hundreds watching the World Cup unfold on the big screen at The Garrison in Barnsley last summer was a German wearing an England shirt. Keen to acclimatise to his surroundings after swapping Lower Saxony for south Yorkshire, Daniel Stendel and his coaching staff soaked up the pub atmosphere somewhat incognito. “It was a good start for me,” Stendel says. “Once Germany were out, I wore my England shirt that I bought here. It was a really good experience with the people of Barnsley and everybody gave us lots of good wishes for the new season.”

Oakwell is a long way from Frankfurt an der Oder, where Stendel was born. Until reunification in 1990, the Brandenburg town on the Polish border was in East Germany and the now 44-year-old learned Russian for nine years as a boy. “It was a picture that did not have so much colour,” he says. “It was more grey and black and white, and after the reunification you could travel to any country and buy everything. You could get to know a lot of other people and yeah, it was like going into a very surprising new world. But I cannot say the time before was a bad time. It was a nice childhood, I did not suffer and I have a lot of good memories.”

Stendel signed for Frankfurter FC Viktoria, his local team, before joining Hamburg. Later he joined FC Gütersloh, where he played alongside David Wagner, and then Hannover, where he was teammates with Per Mertesacker and duelled against a Mainz defender by the name of Jürgen Klopp. “I won most of the time,” he says, laughing. At Hannover he took baby steps into management too, working up through the youth teams, before being named head coach at the tail end of the 2015-16 season. The final day of that season brought a trip to Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.

“After the game he told me that with this style, and with this young team, we will have a lot of success in the future and will come back to the Bundesliga,” Stendel says. “It was not so easy, we were already relegated and Bayern were the champions. But we played on the front [foot] and attacked. Bayern had world-class players in the team, but I don’t like to be passive. I said: ‘OK, when we lose, we lose, but I want to try and win.’ In the end we lost 3-1.”

Stendel considers Mertesacker a good friend and consulted him and Thomas Christiansen, another former teammate, before taking the reins at League One Barnsley 14 months after departing Hannover. Mertesacker invited him to Arsenal last December. “I watched training and a game against Liverpool, I also watched a little bit of the academy,” Stendel says.

“I had no job at the time, so it was interesting and a good experience for me to watch Arsène Wenger’s training sessions. It was good to see how much responsibility Per had for both sides. He was the first-team skipper but he was also preparing for his new job as the academy manager. One year on, I’m working here. It’s crazy.”

Stendel has challenged Barnsley’s players to play with a fearlessness that has followed him in his career and those who work with him describe a fun, infectious character. “It doesn’t matter what team we are playing, we play our style, we play forward, active and we want to win the game. I like emotions and I like a lot of team spirit.”

He organised a trip to the Total Ninja obstacle course in Manchester – “I can say I was not the best” – and a go-karting trip and table tennis tournament have helped foster relationships within the squad. The table tennis was won by his captain, the goalkeeper Adam Davies, and impressive centre-back Ethan Pinnock, who was playing for Dulwich Hamlet two years ago. “They play very near together on the pitch and also play very good together at table tennis,” he says, chuckling.

When the hectic Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday schedule relents, Stendel flies to Germany to visit his wife Manga, daughter Gule and son Ben. His assistant coaches, Andreas Winkler and Christopher Stern, a player under Stendel until injury ended his career, often accompany him. Barnsley have done a lot right this season – they were one of the first clubs to offer supporters free sanitary products, and Gauthier Ganaye, the chief executive, reached out to a supporter with depression.

Ganaye’s decision to appoint Stendel after sacking José Morais following relegation seems equally as astute. Such a promising start to the season – Barnsley are in third place, unbeaten in seven matches – means a recess at the pub where the manager spent a chunk of his summer cheering on Gareth Southgate’s side has been nicknamed Stendel Corner.

Stendel acknowledges he has forged a close bond with Barnsley supporters, a coachload of whom traipsed through miles of fields to make their 2-0 win at Accrington Stanley this month after the M65 was closed owing to cows on the road.

“This is an example of the feeling from the people and especially Barnsley supporters, the love they have for the club, not only on home games or on a Saturday,” Stendel says. “You notice this spirit. When you speak with the people of Barnsley they are very proud of their town and their country … I think a little bit more than other people. It’s my opinion, I don’t know about what people think in Lancashire or London, but that’s my impression.”

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