Issue #93 James Hanson’s exit to Millwall highlights the benefit of managerial stability

As told by Michael Wood

At time of writing Millwall seem to want James Hanson more than James Hanson wants Millwall but rumours in football has a habit of becoming true in football and while it is an unwelcome thought for many, if not most, that City’s modern day icon might end up playing for another club it is a thought that is increasingly crystallised in the mind.

For the sake of argument, and for this article, let us assume that Hanson is heading South and ask ourselves why Bradford City would be in a situation where a popular player is being allowed to join a rival club for a not substantial sum of money,

It is said that Hanson will cost Millwall £500,000 some of which will go to Guiseley as a sell on payment leaving the Bantams with, well, not that much. I’ve said before that I believe Bradford City’s board allow themselves to do bad deals and shall not labour the point.

Suffice to say that Hanson is not going to Millwall because a deal that was too good to turn down came on, nor is he going because he needs to change clubs, nor after the successes of last season could anyone say with a straight face that the club needed the money.

Why Millwall want Hanson

It is not that hard to see what would attract Millwall manager Neil Harris – himself a burly centre forward – to Hanson. Over two games in the FA Cup last season the City striker bullied the Lions until the were kittens.

One could almost say that it was the pinnacle of Hanson at City if it were not for Aston Villa and his leaving of Ron Vlaar in his dust which reminds us – and perhaps suggests to Harris – that Hanson is not the one dimensional player that some have accused him off. Indeed one recalls Keith Hill saying of City’s patterns of play after the Bantams best Rochdale 2-0 at Spotland that had he had James Hanson in his team then he would play like City do too.

Such talk underestimates Hanson in my opinion – and seemingly in Harris’ too – and I would point to his rangy finish against Burton Albion amongst his many successes with ball at feet but I, Hill, Phil Parkinson and probably Neil Harris at Millwall know that having Hanson in your team urges you to play in a certain way.

Seemingly Harris wants Millwall to play like that in League One next season and Phil Parkinson does not want Bradford City to.

Why Phil Parkinson does not

2014/2015 is remembered as a vintage year for Bradford City – Chelsea and all that – but a quick reality check recalls a season in which Phil Parkinson tried and failed to change the club’s style of play which saw a low at half time against Halifax Town in which it seemed unlikely that the Bantams boss would remain the Bantams boss.

Parkinson hit the reset button on his City side which struggled to try play with a playmaker rather than with supply from the flanks and were in danger of going out of the FA Cup in the first round. Filipe Morais became an effective force on the right hand side and fits better in a three when following Halifax and a return to confidence the playmaker returned.

It had its moments but eventually failed to push for promotion largely because of the problems with injury to Andrew Davies. In brute mathematical terms the playmaker formation did not produce enough goals to make up for those which which went in when Davies was not present and Christopher Routis was.

Parkinson had tried to change his forward players using Billy Clarke behind James Hanson and Jon Stead on occasion, and Billy Knott behind Hanson/Stead and Clarke on others. The change seemed to be more tinkering than fixing the problem the the number of goals (by which I mean chances to score goals) was suffering because the supply came in the same way to the same players and from the same areas.

To make a playmaker formation work this season when it did not last a more fundamental change is needed and that change seems to be in moving Hanson on. Already the club have tried – and failed – to sign Andy Williams as a replacement.

This is where I part company with Parkinson in my thinking. I believe that Hanson has the capacity to be the forward that Parkinson is looking for. The one in three man to go with a one in two man and I base that opinion on having seen a good chunk of the 225 games James Hanson has played for Bradford City.

But there’s the rub.

The problem with stability

If you watch Bradford City home and many away games you may – in the past five or six seasons – have seen James Hanson play around two hundred times. You’ll have seen him play well, and seen him pay badly. You’ll have seen him at Wembley in June and at Torquay in December. You’ll have an educated view on James Hanson.

José Mourinho has probably seen James Hanson play once.

So who knows James Hanson better? You or José? Modesty aside logic forces you to answer the former.

This is – in embryo – the argument for stability in football management which used to be the province of this website and the main point of discussion between supporters. A reason why it is bad to change manager is that a new manager has no experience of the players in his charge.

The majority of the time a new manager arrives at a club and on the strength of a few weeks of training and a couple of games making a number of value judgements on players which necessarily have to be less informed than they should be.

Being hypothetical again imagine Phil Parkinson had joined Sheffield United and we were now starting the Stuart Gray era at Valley Parade. How could Gray make an informed decision about a player he may never have seen kick a ball? And probably had never met?

The answer, in practise, is that a manager like Gray cannot do that and do rather than looking for what they need within the ranks of a club a new manager brings in “his own people” at the club’s expense and allows squads to be broken up without them getting a chance to show their qualities.

But this is not the case with Phil Parkinson and James Hanson.

Parkinson has probably seen as much of Hanson playing at anyone needs to – certainly more than Neil Harris has – and he has worked with Hanson day in day out for years. He knows James Hanson well enough that he can make as qualified, as educated a judgement on a player has any manager at Valley Parade in my memory has.

It will make me sad if Parkinson thinks that the future of Bradford City does not include someone with the heart, and the usefulness, of James Hanson and I might wonder how much the manager wants to force a style of play and at what cost he will go to do that but I could never accuse him of doing these things rashly, or without everything he needs to make a judgement call.

Which is the benefit of managerial stability. Assuming Parkinson is making the decisions around Hanson – and is not under financial pressure to make them – then one is forced to see those decision in a long term context. Parkinson has tried to make what he wants to do work with a squad that included James Hanson, and now he believes he needs to try it with a different squad.

Putting a manager into a position in which he can make this sort of nuanced, fine decision to improve squads rather than the constant overhauls which used to mark the club’s summers is exactly where we want the club to be.

But I’m still hoping that we might get their with Big Jim Hanson up front.