Issue Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn discuss a new deal and a lasting legacy

As told by Jason Mckeown

The end to another English football season is approaching, and it promises to be a very exciting period.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are battling fiercely for the Premier League title, the race for the final Champions League is as un-tedious as it’s ever been, the battle to stay in the top flight is thrilling. In the Football League, the fights for automatic promotion, the play offs and to avoid relegation are still largely wide open. With the conclusions of the Champions League and FA Cup and the lottery of the play offs to look forward to, many fantastic stories are waiting to be written ahead of a World Cup summer.

The English football season is set for an exciting conclusion, but few people beyond Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore are still oblivious to its long term problems. Debts continue to rise throughout the leagues, many supporters are waking up and protesting at the way their club is being run.

Manchester United may celebrate a fourth successive league title in a few weeks, but the heavy debts are going to remain a burden long after the problem of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson becomes a headache. As well as a season of great entertainment in the Premier League, it was also the first time a current member, Portsmouth, has fallen into administration. Points deductions are now par for the cause in any Football League campaign and it’s a question of who – rather than if anyone – will follow Southend and Crystal Palace’s woes next season.

The UK recession has so far largely unaffected the football industry, but the signs suggest it could be the next victim. In a period where the top clubs have been able to generate billions of pounds, it seems criminal there is so little to show for it with almost all of it been thrown on players’ wages. Despite so many clubs badly hurt by over-ambition, others continue to believe it’s clever to live the dream.

Away from the excitement elsewhere, Bradford City’s season is understatedly coming to a forgettable conclusion and the focus is already shifting to the next one. Manager Peter Taylor’s contract talks appear to be progressing positively, and it now seems a formality that he will become the permanent Bantams manager. Yet the sticking points to solve are apparently not weekly wages or the size of the transfer budget, but the facilities to prepare.

Joint Chairmen Mark Lawn has revealed the club is in talks about renting new training facilities in order to meet the demands of Taylor, an unusual and unexpected occurrence from a man who it might have been considered wouldn’t be too concerned with the long-term interests of the club. Yet Taylor is prioritising a problem so many others have either not been allowed to address, or not been bothered about.

As I understand the training situation, and please correct me if wrong, City’s players are currently required to drive to Valley Parade for training, where they use the changing rooms to get ready before having to drive to and from Appleby Bridge in their training gear. It seems a somewhat amateurish way for a professional football club to operate, yet this arrangement dates back before even the Premier League years.

Some players from that time, notably Stan Collymore and Lee Sharpe, have used their autobiographies to bemoan these facilities when they were at the club, and it seems incredible City were spending big money bringing such exotic names as Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu, and expecting them to train in this way. Sharpe claimed the squad of the time labelled our beloved club “the Dog and Duck” for being so poorly-run.

And the subsequent managers have made do too. Perhaps Stuart McCall, a player who got used to these facilities, considered it unimportant towards building the club when he took over, and was too inexperienced to question such matters. Colin Todd took over in 2004 with the club in dire straits, so stood no chance of arguing for better facilities. It’s unknown if the likes of Bryan Robson, Nicky Law and Jim Jefferies found it frustrating, or even cared.

But Taylor does, and so would appear to be happy with resources diverted away from signing players in order to develop a better workplace. With his trial having gone well and with City in a position where they need him more than he needs the club, Taylor is perhaps in the strongest of bargaining positions of any manager in modern times. He can make such demands, and the club is willing to meet them. It’s a long way from the situation McCall found himself in a year ago, where a promotion failure led to his coaching staff having to take a 20% pay cut and the playing budget slashed by a third.

Taylor is in a position to do more in his time as manager than just battle for a promotion; his methodical approach has the potential to leave a lasting legacy off the field, which his successors can also benefit from. It also has the potential to attract later criticism – a couple of early season home defeats next year, and expect message board users to be ridiculing the wasting of money on training facilities that are “making no difference”, which could have been used to sign a couple more players. Few of us will ever see the new training ground, only the fruits of hours of labour during the week on a Saturday afternoon.

Compare Taylor’s potential promotion challenge with McCall’s attempt last season – and if Taylor’s McLaren doesn’t work out he probably won’t have the spare money to sign a Dean Furman and Nicky Law on loan instead. It’s a long term approach, not putting all the eggs into a playing budget basket; long-term is usually only tolerated by City fans if the progress is visible on the field.

Put it another way – Taylor has not made next season promotion or bust, but expectations elsewhere may not quite fall the same way. 

And as Lawn excitedly talks about the new training facilities, he has also revealed he and the Rhodes family will be investing more money into the club for next season. It’s been a difficult period for Lawn, with a huge amount of criticism aimed at him in the light of how McCall’s exit was managed, but he has shown broad shoulders to largely accept it without going to war. City remain fortunate to have Lawn and the Rhodeses willing to fund the club, but the question of the terms of this additional investment is worth pondering.

Most investors expect a return, particularly in football. Is this new investment adding to the loans which the two parties have already provided to the club, or is it money that they don’t expect to recuperate? They certainly have every right to get it back, but if so when? Would it be due back in a year or two? Or is it just added to the tab to be returned at a later point?

For the reality of these loans is they are debts City will one day repay, and though it’s not on the same scale as almost every Premier League club at the moment, another round of strong criticism towards either Rhodes or Lawn could push patience to the limit and cause those debts to be more hurriedly demanded back. City have plenty of other bills to pay, which appears to discourage potential other investors. So the Bantams need Lawn and Rhodes, but they also need to be self-sufficient in their development.

The 2008-09 promotion bid was a gamble that failed, and City had to cut their cloth accordingly this season which has led to steps been taken backwards on the pitch and the challenge of getting out of this division seemingly more difficult than ever. Increased investment next season can also be considered a gamble, and it’s to be hoped lessons are learned so it doesn’t cause subsequent difficulties if it fails.

Away from the excitement of an English football season coming to a conclusion, City are quietly drawing up plans towards being involved in a nerve-wracking end to the next one. Taylor is charged with getting it right on the field, the Chairmen are providing him the tools off it. It all looks sensible, so long as it’s not based on the kind of madness that has taken hold elsewhere.