Issue Candidate Three: John Still, a manager with proven success in a less desirable style

As told by Jason Mckeown

Had Gordon Gibb’s Family Pension Fund been more obliging when Bradford City approached them in their hour of need, it is entirely plausible that John Still would have been installed as Bantams manager during this summer.

The battle to ultimately succeed Peter Taylor had become a straight fight between Still and Peter Jackson. Having achieved five promotions in an 18-year career as manager – including taking Dagenham & Redbridge into League One in 2010 – Still was a strong candidate who ticked many of the right boxes for Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn. His great skill had been in unearthing hidden talent in non-leagues and selling them on for profit – while the Daggers prospered on the field.

Perhaps City’s Board would have gone on to choose Jackson over Still, but when the Londoner ruled himself out of the reckoning on account of the uncertainty over City’s future at Valley Parade, the options were suddenly reduced.

Five games into this season, would Still be willing to change his mind? As Lawn today revealed that City’s three-person shortlist includes a candidate already managing a club, it appears highly likely the Dagenham boss remains strongly in the Joint Chairmen’s thoughts. The fact his more street-wise side were able to win at Valley Parade less than a week ago may have further strengthened his appeal – particularly as the Board can be confident he would get on well with the other key appointment they made last summer.

As the debate and gossip over Jackson’s shock departure rages on, extremely credible claims that he did not get on with chief scout Archie Christie continue to surface (though it should be noted other equally reliable sources have provided other reasons for Jackson’s departure). It’s speculated bad blood between the pair had influenced Jackson’s team selection, while Christie is said to have been critical of the tactics employed by the first team manager. Christie, of course, rocked up at Valley Parade this summer after moving from Dagenham. It is said he and Still were interviewed for the City job together, presented as a team; and – although Still ruled himself out of the running – Christie was snatched to revamp the scouting network and implement the Development Squad initiative.

Quite who appointed Christie is unclear, with sources close to the club claiming it was Jackson’s decision to select him. Certainly Jackson was responsible for the other coaching staff who were brought in this summer – including Wayne Allison, who has a key role with Christie’s Development Squad. Many of the summer signings were presented as influenced by Christie, but with Jackson having the final decision.

It’s clear that, for the Development Squad idea to work, the first team manager and Christie need to be working closely together. Both have differing goals, but are working for the same cause. Whether Lawn and Rhodes decide to appoint Phil Parkinson, Dean Windass, Still or someone else, the relationship with Christie is going to be a crucial consideration. In this area at least, Still is the frontrunner.

Beyond that, is Still the right man for City? His track record of buying cheap and improving players is one that will be welcomed at Valley Parade with money likely to remain tight for the rest of this season and next. The fact he has proven he can get a club promoted from this league is an achievement that commands great respect. However the success he has delivered didn’t happen over night – and the instability of the City hotseat may prove extremely off-putting.

Still took over Dagenham in April 2004 and in his first two seasons the club finished mid-table, but he was afforded time to get it right. To put that time into perspective, Bryan Robson was City’s manager when Still took over and five gaffers have followed him in and out of the Bantams. Jackson was only offered a one-year contract at City – just like his predecessor Taylor – Still is unlikely to accept such a short-term deal in return for giving up what’s he built.

Then there’s the style of play Still has instilled at Dagenham. While some criticised the direct football employed by Jackson and Taylor, Still takes it to another level. I still recall – with shivers – the physical, long-ball style Still had his side following in a 1-1 draw with City back in December 2008. Other visits to Valley Parade saw similar crude football. Far be it from me to cast an opinion on the reasons behind Dagenham’s relegation from League One last season, but the direct football Still coaches is clearly limited and will only get any club so far.

Still can bring peace and harmony behind the scenes at City; he can coach current players to produce far better than they have offered to date. Yet with the club’s long-term focus firmly in Lawn and Rhodes’ minds – on BBC Radio Leeds today Lawn reiterated the aim vocalised by Christie in the summer that the club aim to be in the Championship in five years – there must be serious doubts over how capable Still would be at fulfilling that journey.