Michael Wood on Next / Questions / Knowledge

With far too few games left in the season David Hopkin wandered off into mid-distance and Bradford City started looking for a new manager.

Since the transfer window emerged in football around ten years ago new managers have become a panacea. Where as once in the days of low success supporters would have called for a “Big Signing” would now they ask for a “New Manager”. Changing managers has become the de facto response because it is one of the only responses.

That Hopkin also subscribed to that view is odd but largely because we assume that the manager is the grown up in the room and when he behaves like one of his charges and exits our view on football becomes confused.

And so the vacancy at Valley Parade is obvious. Less obvious is the remit of the job.

Bus

Aggressively obnoxious football manager Steve Evans is a big man but despite that few would compare him to an actual bus. I am going to.

Steve Evans is to the Bradford City job what this large Red Bus is to politics. He is a promise made by a group of people about another group of people where the one cannot assure the other’s compliance.

For the past few years Evans has hovered over the City job with the understanding that were he given the role he would smash backsides until the players were, well, better and would win more.

This is a persistent meme in football supporters which originates at some point in the 1970s when the Gentleman managers of Bill Nic and Shankley gave way to the new breed of Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson who saw physical and verbal aggression as tools at their disposal. Those days are gone, a point underlined to all but the more borish by the more congenial style of Gareth Southgate’s approach in the run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Nevertheless it is the more borish who perpetuate the meme and so it is pervasive.

I am wary about Faustian arrangements that suggest that one can realise a desire if only one will sell a tiny part of the soul precisely because they are Faustian.

Remit

The next Bradford City manager’s remit should not be to avoid relegation to League Two it should be to have an excellent team on the field in August 2020.

The squad which David Hopkin has left at Valley Parade, which was passed him him by a transfer committee that took over from a manager who had very little interest in building a squad in the long term is not only badly unbalanced but it is poorly prioritised.

Unbalanced in that it is festooned with attacking players which comes from poor prioritisation away from defending and, especially, defending by being able to win the ball back. There is nothing attacking about not having the ball.

It would be easy to blame this on the members of the transfer committee but the problem goes deeper. Football has forgotten this basic of the game with low rent tiki-takas and would be Sarriballers selling lower league chairmen on the idea that they will be the next Marcelo Bielsa. Occasionally they go to a club and are successful, most they are not.

Even managers think managers should leave clubs if success is not quick. The first generation of players who saw a fast turnaround of gaffers has now begun to manage. We shake our heads today but Hopkin’s time at the club as a player started when he was sounded out by Paul Jewell, played under Chris Hutchings, was injured for Stuart McCall and left under Jim Jefferies. He only played 11 games.

Hopkin, like many of his peers, has had a football career where management is entirely in the short term.

Long

To say “Bradford City need a manager who…”, and prescribe a set of features, needlessly complicates matters. All clubs need to employ people who have a stable approach to managing the resources generated.

Such a phrase goes well beyond the borders on the tedious but almost all the successful clubs in the Football League have this as a core value. In an environment where even the people who are doing the long term thinking expect to not be able to carry that thinking out there seems to be a benefit in creating an environment where all thinking is long term.

Want

At Barnsley away – because I am what is known as a “funny bugger” – when the first crack appeared in Hopkin’s revival I turned to a friend and quietly sung “We want our Edin back.”

No one feels the loss of Rahic but the loss of the things he talked about – about long term development of the team and about creating an identity around Valley Parade – are significant. Rahic’s failed to instill the values he and Stefan Rupp talked about bringing to the club but no values have replaced them.

It is not that Bradford City need a manager to have and be given time, it is that Bradford City need a manager to bring knowledge.

Question

The failure of Rahic was his inability to infuse his belief in others. Despite a turnover of staff on and off the field allow him to craft an environment he wanted no one but Rahic seemed to buy into Rahicism.

Bradford City – being Julian Rhodes and Stefan Rupp – should not pretend that they know how to make a successful football club and if they do you should not believe them.

The question the manager needs to be asked if they are being interviewed for the role is not how will they keep City in the division – those Yorkshire Puddings are already in the over, only time will tell if they will rise – but rather what City will look like in August 2020 or 2024 or 2029, and how we will get to that point.

Rhodes and Rupp need someone with domain knowledge on how to construct a successful club and they need that knowledge more than they need six wins between now and May.