Earlier this week, it emerged that Modou Barrow is looking to leave Reading this summer, with the club set to accept bids north of £1million for his signature. Those could come from one of four sides in France, while interest remains from Turkey.
The stand-out from this story is less that Barrow wants to head for pastures new - more that he could be doing so for such a small transfer fee. After all, he’s one of the Royals’ key players, having registered 14 goals and 12 assists in 81 matches across his two seasons in Berkshire. In fact, almost 40% of his career appearances have come for Reading.
Add in the fact that he still has two years left on his contract and, despite the current financial constraints that come with Financial Fair Play, Reading should still be in a position to jack up the asking price for the former Swansea City man. For me, a fair valuation on Barrow would be closer to £2-3million, reflecting the length of his contract, ability and age.
In truth, transfer fees are malleable things that reflect the state of the market as much as the quality of the player. In this particular case, having multiple clubs (preferably all stinking rich) seriously interested in acquiring Barrow would be a great way to inflate the winger’s price. We all love a bidding war.
If that does happen then great, Reading can hopefully pocked a few million for Barrow and this article is a complete waste of time. But, assuming it doesn’t happen, we may well have to take just £1million. In that circumstance, Reading would be wrong not to.
First things first, Modou Barrow is a player that doesn’t want to play for Reading. Whether he’s desperate to get out or just has one eye on doing so is practically irrelevant - either way he won’t realistically give 100% for the team.
To be honest, I don’t hugely blame him. He joined the club in the hope of playing regularly and developing under one of the most famous players to have taken up management in the Championship. Despite being a shining light in his first campaign, and doing pretty well in his second, he’s at a club that’s finished 20th in consecutive seasons, is on its third permanent manager during that period, and finds itself under a soft transfer embargo.
He may well have a healthy bromance with Yakou Meite, but swapping Reading for the sunnier climates of France or Turkey is an appealing prospect. Denying him that, when an exit only becomes more inevitable the longer we keep him against his will, leaves us with an unhappy player that could well drag down the morale of his teammates.
We’ve already seen how well shipping out disaffected players can work for improving the team as a whole. Letting go of Marc McNulty, David Meyler, Dave Edwards, Vito Mannone and others in January contributed significantly to Championship survival. It’s a trick that may well have to be repeated with Barrow, even if to a lesser extent.
I’m also unsure whether or not Barrow will tactically be the right fit for Reading going forwards. It’s notable that his best run of form last season under Jose Gomes was when the Royals moved to a more counter-attacking style of play towards the end of the season, thereby giving Barrow more space to exploit. His goal at Ipswich Town and assists against Preston North End, Norwich City and Brentford all showed what he can do when allowed to hit teams on the break.
Next season though, I’d very much expect Gomes to go back to his favoured style of possession football. Reading will keep the ball much more than they did towards the end of last season, meaning they’ll need attacking players who can operate in tighter spaces and unlock defences more subtly.
Academy graduates Josh Barrett and Michael Olise, both of whom should get plenty of game time next season, appear to be wingers that are comfortable doing that - drifting into central areas where they can then link up with teammates or go for goal themselves. That style of creative, unorthodox player will be crucial for Reading next season if we’re to turn possession into goals.
However, it’s not a role that plays to Barrow’s strengths. He’s much more comfortable hugging the touchline, isolating a full-back and then beating them for pace. That was most evident in his first season when Jaap Stam tended to keep Barrow quite wide where Barrow could get into those situations. Gomes in contrast seems to prefer his wingers to play much narrower.
As a result, he scored 10 times, registered four assists, and each game took an average of 1.3 shots and 2.2 dribbles while being fouled 1.7 times. Almost all those stats got noticeably worse in his next campaign, going to four goals, six assists, 0.6 shots, one dribble and 1.1 foul.
In short, he was far less productive in the final third in 2018/19 despite only playing six fewer games. To a large extent that’s down to morale, with Barrow and Paul Clement not having the best relationship after their times at Swansea City. But it also comes from tactics, with the conservative Clement never really letting Barrow off the leash and Gomes not getting the most out of the Gambian until a few months into his tenure.
If those tactics aren’t going to be adjusted to fit Barrow’s skill set, then he’s not worth keeping hold of. A transfer fee that scrapes into seven figures might not seem appealing, but it should still be taken.