After weeks of uncertainty and debate, Rovers have finally secured their first signing of the Jon Dahl Tomasson-era, by securing the services of Barnsley full-back, Callum Brittain. The 24-year-old penned a four-year-deal at Ewood Park until 2026, departing the Tykes for a reported £1.5m fee.
Brittain, who plied his trade at MK Dons prior to making the switch to South Yorkshire, had impressed many managers and fans alike during his spell at Barnsley and was a vital cog in the Red’s surprise playoff finish towards the end of 2020-21. Despite being a standout cog in a disappointing Barnsley side who succumbed to relegation back to League One at the end of 2021-22, Rovers have moved to secure the attacking full-back’s signature and get the ball rolling in terms of incomings in East Lancashire.
After progressing through MK Dons’ youth system, Brittain signed professional terms with the then-League Two side, 47 days after turning 18 before being shipped out to the top-tier of Icelandic football in an attempt to fast-track the right-sided defender into first-team football, during the summer months, following the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, with MK Dons aiming to have the then-18-year-old ready for the 2016-17 campaign. Thróttur Reykjavík were Brittain’s destination, as he spent May, June and July 2016 in the deep-end, playing all 90 minutes in nine of a possible 14 league and cup games during the opening weeks of the Icelandic top division. Although Thróttur finished bottom of the league months after Brittain’s departure, the Bedford-born defender was hailed for his Man-of-the-Match performance on his debut in the Icelandic FA Cup and other subsequent solid displays at such a tender age.
Upon his return to England, he played a handful of games – eight in all competitions – in the second-half of 2016-17, before breaking into the Dons’ first-team in 2017-18. Despite being on the bench in his side’s 4-1 loss at Ewood Park in late August, 19-year-old Brittain would go onto feature in 33 games in all competitions, notching twice in League One against Oxford United and Wigan Athletic, as a high turnover of managers saw inconsistency breed throughout the club, as they were relegated to League Two at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. Despite a poor season for the club, Brittain’s individual displays were commended as he was awarded with the club’s Young Player of the Season Award, despite relegation.
2018-19 was more prosperous for the Dons and for Brittain as, under the guidance of Paul Tisdale, MK Dons earnt promotion back to League One at the first attempt. Brittain, now cemented as a first-teamer was deployed both, as a full-back and as a wing-back and managed to provide quality at both ends of the field, as despite finishing 3rd and earning automation promotion, MK Dons finished with the fourth best defensive record in the division, as Brittain kept 13 clean-sheets and provided one goal and four assists from the 37 games he played in, in all competitions. The following campaign was much of the same from Brittain, as MK Dons readjusted themselves back to life in the Third Tier, with the wing-back again playing 37 games in all competitions – and notching a goal in a 2-1 win over Lincoln City – whilst also playing 90 minutes in a home defeat to Liverpool in the EFL Cup Third Round. Despite a change in manager in early November, which saw Paul Tisdale replaced by Russell Martin, before the Third Tier was curtailed after 35 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with MK Dons settling into 18th position.
After renewing his Dons deal for another two years in August 2020, Brittain only played seven games for Russell Martin’s side – four in League One, two in the EFL Trophy and one in the EFL Cup – and notched two assists before being sold to Barnsley in October after the Tykes met the League One side’s release clause and offered performance related bonuses. After swapping Buckinghamshire for Yorkshire, Brittain joined then-managerless Barnsley after Gerhard Struber – who had departed six days before Brittain’s arrival – was snapped up by MLS side, New York Red Bulls. After Struber’s replacement Valérien Ismaël came in, the Frenchman came into South Yorkshire and adopted a high-pressing, wing-back system that Brittain thrived in, as to the surprise of many, Barnsley shocked the division by overturning a poor start to the crowdless 2020-21 season, to finishing in 5th place and securing a spot in the post-season playoffs. The Red’s miraculous run to the playoffs saw Brittain have his most productive season, making 45 appearances in all competitions – including the playoffs – and notching five assists.
The 2021-22 season just gone was arguably Brittain’s most underwhelming season as a professional, as despite finishing the campaign with three assists from 37 games in all competitions, he was unable to help Barnsley from finishing at the foot of the table in a tumultuous campaign, which saw Valérien Ismaël leave during pre-season which led to two managerial changes throughout the campaign, as Markus Schopp replaced the Frenchman prior to the start of the season, before the Austrian was then replaced in November, by Poya Asbaghi, who himself was sacked in April after the Tykes’ relegation was mathematically confirmed.
Alongside his domestic exploits, Brittain has had exposure in an England shirt. In 2017, he was called-up for the under-20s for their Elite League games, where England finished runners-up to Germany in the inaugural competition. In a squad that featured the likes of Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, past and present Rovers, Connor Mahoney, Ayneley Pears and Tayo Edun, as well as Leicester City’s Harvey Barnes, among others, Brittain played in five of the seven games, notching three assists, including one in his only full game, which was a 5-1 demolition of Italy in the young Lions’ opening game.
Although last campaign proved tough for Brittain, his time at MK Dons and particularly his first season at Barnsley, confirmed that he was capable of playing in the Championship at a high level if he was deployed under some stability. Furthermore, as mentioned, the fact he thrived the most in Ismaël’s pressing play, would offer encouragement for Rovers under Jon Dahl Tomasson who are looking to adopt a very similar style.