Barnsley’s Hassell prepares to take on a new challenge

Bobby Hassell Celebrating

Football has been a roller-coaster ride for Barnsley FC’s academy manager, Bobby Hassell, since he made his Football League debut at the tender age of 16.

It was a whirlwind introduction, as the Mansfield teenager found himself up against two Dutch players (Pierre van Hooijdonk and Bryan Roy) who could give international opponents the run-around on their day.

Hassell was only thrown in after five of the Stags’ centre-halves were injured, but came through his challenging baptism with the commitment and self-belief which came to characterise his career.

Having lost one play-off final with Mansfield, he went on to win promotion with Barnsley FC via a nail-biting penalty shoot-out against Swansea.“I know a lot of people who never quite made it, and there’s always an element of ‘right place at the right time’, but I never had fear about match-days,” admits Hassell.“There will always be games when you’re outside your comfort zone, and there’ll be tough times, but if you want to be an elite athlete over a long period, you always have to keep learning about what you need to do to improve.”

He clocked up a decade of service to Barnsley, ending just one shy of 300 league appearances – missing that landmark only due to injury setbacks – and after a season in India’s I-League, returned to Oakwell, initially to head its academy’s recruitment team, in Dec 2015.

Now, encouraged and supported by the club, Hassell is looking to add new skills to his CV, for the benefit of his beloved Tykes, via a two-year MSc in Sporting Directorship, run by Visionary Sport Investment in partnership with the Centre for Sports Business.“The course was recommended by a close friend, Michael Johnson. I’d already realised that my academy role required different skills to the ones I’d acquired from football, especially on the business side, and Michael said many of

the things I’d learn would be revolutionary,” he recalls.“To be honest, I was a little sceptical at first. Then, after I’d completed the psychometric testing before the course, and saw everything the results said about what made me tick, I realised that 95% was spot-on, and I was convinced.“I’m really looking forward to meeting my peers from other sports, and it’ll also be great to get insights into their different cultures and the different sporting environments, in which they succeeded.

”Obviously, I haven’t been in full-time education for 20 years, but I’m looking forward to the academic elements, and if I struggle at first, so be it. I’ll take the comments on board, and learn from them and I’ll improve.”

Hassell has, of course, already experienced sport amid a very different culture and environment, having joined Bharat FC as it made its debut at the highest level in Indian football.

“I had a brilliant time. I played and was also assistant manager under Stuart Watkiss. I still speak to some of the players there and the agent who offered me the chance to go. Yes, the dedication, even among some of the coaches, wasn’t what we’re used to here, but it was a great experience.”Barnsley has long had a respected youth set-up, reflected in its Category Two status, but Hassell accepts that the most talented of his 110 youngsters will ultimately move on, as did Everton’s John Stones and Mason Holgate, and Aston Villa’s James Bree before them.

“It is commonly accepted that clubs with lower budgets than their counterparts will see the departure of their most talented players. However, this creates opportunities for others, as I found when at Mansfield,” he says.”It’s about helping them become better players, and encouraging other youngsters and their parents to realise that with hard work and commitment, this is a great place to start a career in the professional game.”

VSI Cofounder Tony Faulkner has seen academies grow since he first worked for Manchester City as a Physio, Faulkner say “Academies in football are akin to running a business. Many academies employ 50,60 full time staff with many more part-time staff. If you’re the academy manager it goes way beyond dealing with young footballers and coaching, you have to be able to develop and grow into an executive role where you understand the business and can lead and manage your people to deliver. We are seeing a number of academy managers from Football and other sports applying for our programme. The challenge is to always improve, to always get better and this is what was evident in Bobby when he applied to join the Programme.

For more information on the VSI MSc in Sports Directorship contact:

0845 45 99 765