Issue Neilson’s exit leaves clubs counting the costs

As told by Michael Wood

Scott Neilson exited Bradford City on Tuesday to join Crawley Town less than a year after Stuart McCall recruited the winger to replace Joe Colbeck. A change of manager has see fortunes flourish for many but not for Neilson who after a loan at Cambridge United the assurances from Peter Taylor that he had a future at Valley Parade turned out not to have a future at Valley Parade.

Colbeck himself left not long after to join Dave Penney at Oldham Athletic but has since himself moved on to Hereford United after – not at all coincidentally – a change of manager at The Latics saw Paul Dickov installed and the winger who was City’s player of the season two years fall from favour.

Neilson cost Crawley an undisclosed amount, City paid some money for him, Colbeck cost some money when he went to and from Oldham. The moves went across three divisions in which players like Lee Hughes and Graeme Lee go around free while clubs like York City and Rotherham United want millions of pounds for centreforwards. This kind of low fee move that is rare at this level of football seems common at least on the Bradford City right wing.

That anomaly aside the two transfers represent an Escherism. Colbeck was great for City and this was put down to the confidence boost of Dave Penney’s involvement via a loan at Darlington but his “failure” at Oldham would suggest that Penney’s coaching was not the panacea it could be painted.

Stuart McCall coached Colbeck into a position where Penney bought him for a division above and where Sven Goran Erikkson was interested in signing Neilson but few would suggest that Peter Taylor’s calling time on Neilson’s time at City is down to the former England gaffer making him a “worse” player. Indeed Taylor is credited as a better coach than the other two.

Has Colbeck become a worse player in the year that he left City? Has Neilson? They have both been considered “good” enough at times but now are moved on. My years watching the rise and fall of footballers tells me not to trust the idea that footballers can be “good” or “bad” or at least the idea that those things can change in the space of months. They play well or they play poorly, there is nothing else.

All of which represents a mess of ideas rather than a set of data to draw a conclusion from but the money that has changed hands for both players – and for the four manager who have been in charge of them – points to an extraordinary cost of doing business in football.

Doubt not the judgement of either Taylor or Dickov or the motivations of their actions they have decided – for whatever reason – to move players on who previous managers have considered to be members of the squad but do so at expense to the club. The cost of whatever Dickov is played when recruited by Oldham Athletic is already augmented by the price of paying Dave Penney to leave and added to that are the costs of changing Penney’s squad. Colbeck cost £85,000 to sign, had to be paid and then was let go for much less all in the space of a year.

This extraordinary cost is replicated at almost every club which changes a manager and considering that the average club keeps a gaffer for eighteen months every other year a club can expect to have these sort of expenditure on the balance sheet. Trying to run a stable business in those conditions is impossible but the huge increase in administrations and financial problems in the last ten years has not seen a move towards retaining managers as a way of financial stability. Far from it.

As the number of clubs in financial trouble has increased the frequency of managerial changes has too with the costs that that involves. The financial stability that is talked about from the boardrooms of clubs is undermined by the actions of those who say it then fire the manager and let his replacement overhaul the squad.

Bradford City, mercifully, have avoided much of this in the last change of manager with McCall negotiating a lessened pay-off and Taylor retaining much of Stuart’s squad and so Scott Neilson’s exit and the costs that apply to it are rare in the medium term for the club if common in the long term. That is down to a good appointment in Taylor but there is a worry of the manager having only nine months left on his current deal and this unnecessary expenditure reoccurring.

All of which continues to point to the need for clubs to prize stability a point especially worth mentioning in the days following Peter Taylor walking down the tunnel at Valley Parade with his winning team booed.

Four months into his time at Bradford City the board should not have had to come out in support of their manager – indeed they did not – but as Neilson exits and City take a hit in the pocket it would make sense if the club affirmed a desire to plot a stable path forward under Peter Taylor.

Alas since January 2008 when Mark Lawn stated the club had had enough of short term thinking City have ended up with a manager contracted until the end of the year and worries over what happens at the end of that term if the next manager is not the sort to do as Taylor has and take on what he inherited.