Issue For once, the fitness question has a different answer

As told by Jason Mckeown

Readers of long-time Bradford City fan John Watmough’s outstanding Counsel and Criticism column for the City Gent will be only too aware of the number of occasions a new Bantams manager has complained about the fitness of the players. And, as the players returned for pre-season today, at improved training facilities, latest manager Peter Jackson has taken his turn in bemoaning  the condition of the squad he inherited.

So often has the Telegraph & Argus relayed such sentiments from City gaffers that one can’t resist feeling as weary and cynical as John when reading them. If every new manager really had gone onto improve the players’ fitness when they arrived, City should be putting people forward for the Olympics. It comes across as a cheap shot, a chance to talk down the past and propose that behind-the-scenes training exercises they have instigated – which we’d otherwise never notice the fruits of – will make a positive difference.

Though Jackson has at least has gone further than some of his predecessors in his plan to address the supposed problem – with the appointment of Nick Allamby as fitness coach. Allamby, former head of fitness at Middlesbrough where he worked with City assistant manager Colin Cooper, will help the players through pre-season and then two days a week once the campaign gets underway. His arrival is the latest dot in a more joined-up thinking strategy that seems to involve finding experts and letting them run their own areas of the club, rather than the manager controlling and taking responsibility for all.

After all, what does a football manager know about fitness? As a player they would have been required to follow exercises set out by their club’s coaching staff and their own focus would have been on building and maintaining their own. When undertaking the necessary coaching badges that all managers have to complete these days, learning about fitness and how to build it in players would have undoubtedly figured on the courses. But that hardly makes them an expert in an area that almost every City manager seems to take pleasure in deriding their predecessor for.

At lower league level and City in particular, fitness experts are rare if ever used. When taking over as caretaker manager in 2007 David Wetherall did employ the outside help of Sports Scientist Ed Baranowski to improve the players’ fitness levels, but the results of Wetherall’s attempts to implement a high tempo playing style were poor. With managers before and after, the fitness side of matters has apparently been down to the manager and coaching staff to implement. There’s probably little wrong with this if all of City’s rivals are doing the same; but in a league where the tiniest of percentages can make a huge difference, Jackson and Cooper’s move to bring in Allamby could make a tangible difference.

Allamby’s arrival follows Archie Christie’s appointment as Chief Scout, with his very own budget to work with and objectives to achieve. And suddenly Bradford City’s future does not quite seem solely the responsibility of the manager, but a number of different experts working towards a universal goal. A well qualified person to pick the first team on a Saturday, a specialist scout to unearth hidden gem players that can form part of that selection, and a skilled fitness coach to ensure each and every player is at their physical peak. Other key figures at the club such as Peter Horne will also have a big role.

Perhaps most encouraging of all is that it is difficult to place the credit for this developing off-the-field strategy on one person. Cooper has brought in Allamby with Jackson’s approval, while it appears Christie’s arrival is more the work of the joint Chairmen Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes. There is apparently some like-minded thinking in Lawn, Rhodes and Jackson’s vision for next season, and hopefully with it will be a better chance of achieving those goals.

A year ago it seemed Peter Taylor was the only person with a plan, with Lawn and Rhodes bending over backwards to help put it into action. Taylor’s superb track record meant this was understandable, but the fact he didn’t see out his one-year contract left the club struggling for direction when he departed. Perhaps the pair have learned from this experience and are consciously doing things different now instead of devoting almost every penny to signing players – the new training facilities, after all, were their initiative.

This time around, it can be argued the buck for failure won’t rest solely with the manager. Those who have access to the bigger picture will be able to look at every area and assess where it might be falling down. That way the long-term planning doesn’t need to end when the manager departs.

Wishful thinking maybe, but if and when Jackson is relieved of his duties in the dugout it would be nice not to have to read other staff being placed on gardening leave and for everything to be torn up yet again.