Inefficient / Attitude / Passing

The Team

Colin Doyle | Daniel Devine, Romain Vincelot, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Meredith | Mark Marshall, Josh Cullen, Timothée Dieng, Nicky Law | Billy Clarke, Jordy Hiwula-Mayifuila | Vincent Rabiega

Nothing useless can be truly beautiful – William Morris

Long after the final whistle of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic came the revelation that City have scored without reply in the closing stages of the game then the Bantams would have been top of League One.

Bolton Wanderers – under former City boss Phil Parkinson – drew on his return to another former haunt Charlton Athletic and Scunthorpe United lost at a Port Vale side who have carried on whatever promise they showed on the first day of the season to nestle forth in the five o’clock league table.

For the want of a goal the Bantams were thwarted on an afternoon which was more interesting than it was exhilarating.

The Stuart McCall brand Bradford City are a strange team to watch as they find their feet. For sure they are possessed of some determination having gone behind to an early Peter Clarke goal when the former Huddersfield Town skipper targeted Daniel Devine at a set piece and beat the youngster in the air.

Devine typified the team in shrugging off anything like a set-back and carrying on the afternoon. Following Tony McMahon’s injury Devine switched to right back where aside from avoiding crossing the ball he looked for all the world like a seasoned veteran of the utility man variety.

So determination and no little craft in that as a team the role of the midfield – and one could make an argument that City played six, perhaps eight, players in midfield against Oldham Athletic – is fetishised beyond what seems necessary or useful.

The ball was caressed around the field with élan and possession was retained for long periods of time. When the equaliser came – a Billy Clarke penalty – it seemed to come because that possession had wandered into the box as it continued a scenic tour around Valley Parade. Ousmane Fane – excellent in holding midfield for the visitors – pulled down Josh Cullen in a moment of undue rashness and the game was level.

It is easy to laud this new Bradford City for the contrast that it presents with the five years that came before it. The term hoofball is banded about freely to describe Parkinson’s City as if one could sum up an entire approach in a single word.

Alt

There is something to be said for looking at Oldham vs Bradford City through the eyes of Phil Parkinson. Imagine one of those away trips that took an hour to get over the Pennines to watch Parkinson’s City take an early lead. Imagine watching Rory McArdle and Reece Burke swamp a tricky little centre forward, deny him possession, and snuff him out as Clarke and Cameron Burgess did to Jordy Hiwula.

Imagine watching a wide midfielder capable of laser guided shots gradually minimised through the game. He troubles the goalkeeper from long range on occasion but that is more acceptable than cutting through the defence.

Imagine the satisfaction that would have come watching their Billy Clarke withdraw from pressing the forward to hunt deeper for the ball in increasing frustration. Imagine how one would phrase the summation of the game to anyone asking. “Yes they had possession but they just passed it around midfield and never really broke us down.”

There is much talk about how with a different centre forward for Bradford City – and City have fielded five already this season with Vincent Rabiega making his debut off the bench today – would score goals and this could be true but thinking back on the game with Oldham Athletic one struggles to recall a plethora of chances missed.

Billy Clarke and Jordy Hiwula can both be accused of having missed the sort of chances one would expect them to score but saying that leaves twenty of the twenty two shots on goal in an impressive statistic unaccounted for.

I would suggest that against Oldham Athletic as with Coventry City most of the chances are of the half, or not clear cut, variety. That (around) twenty two chances that create just (about) two moments where one might expect the striker to score suggest the problem is not in finishing chances but in creating better ones.

Which returns to the question of the creators and where they are failing to convert the possession into chances with the implied understanding that possession is not equal to chances. Clarke and Mark Marshall – who faded into anonymity after a good opening – are chiefly accused here but creation is a shared aim which is not being served at the moment.

Addressing that – and with Paul Anderson ready to leave the club this week there is scope to address it – is the prime concern and bringing in a forward secondary.

It could be that there is a forward out there who can make the runs and command the space in a way that allows for more possession to be converted into chances which could then be converted into goals. It could be that a new creator is able to do that. There could be a solution found in the current squad which – after all – is not second in the League One table for no reason.

How that is addressed is something Stuart McCall has time to work on and may not need to work on at all. That City are inefficient is less important than that the are successful and they are successful at the moment.

However as the collective at Valley Parade congratulate themselves for being less like they were under Parkinson it is worth remembering that there was more to the last five years than just how the ball arrived into the final third of the pitch.

Away

Away games such as Oldham Athletic enjoyed today – where a great passing team passed itself out and Parkinson’s City went back to Bradford with something – were a part of the success of those teams. Stuart McCall has transformed City into a team of would be promotion passers from the team that frustrated would be promotion passers.

That frustration was not a function of the style of play but rather of the team’s attitude and that attitude was about grinding out results through a kind of bravery which centred around a managed risk on the field.

Watching Bradford City pass the ball around a lot but create a little it remains to be seen if City have that bravery within them bursting to get out or if the side pass that retains the ball is a soft option. It is that part of the Parkinson attitude – not signing players – which will define if City are promoted this season or if they are another of the pretty teams who populate the middle of League One.

Welcome / Willkommen

As far as first words go Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp had chosen well. They had bought Bradford City – they explained – because of the supporters.

In their opening statement Bradford City’s new chairman Rahic – who will run the club while Rupp funds from Germany – spoke about how “(he and Rupp) have seen the way the club and fans interact and the model of affordable football is very important to us… having witnessed games here at the stadium we know how passionate the fans are.”

Rahic made the right noises and continued “I met with Phil (Parkinson) this morning and we had a very encouraging discussion about the future.”

And with that a good deal of worry over the future of the City manager was assuaged although one would wonder what the new chairman and football’s fifth longest serving manager will have talked about. One assumes that Parkinson, planning for this summer’s recruitment, will have sought to have an assurance that he would not be replaced (By Uwe Rösler or anybody else) understanding the importance that that assurance would have when signing players. Chief Executive as well as chairman one imagines Rahic will involve himself in that recruitment handling contracts as his predecessors used to take turns in doing and will have given Parkinson and indication as to what sort of budget he will have.

It is perhaps this working relationship between Parkinson and Rahic which will define the manager’s future at the club. I have been convinced for sometime that recruitment in football is a full time job – or at least two part time ones – and that it is not something that can be left solely to the manager. I am also convinced that there is nothing as disruptive to a club that a structure that means that the manager ends up with players he does not want.

The Newcastle United experience where Graeme Carr recruits players for one of many managers to use is typical of the system in that it has both failed to bring a successful team and failed to find that many impressive players. Newcastle’s policies though are based on Olympique Lyonnais’s approach which – in the days before Paris SG’s oil wealth – saw them win the league eight times in a row under four different two year managers.

It is a give that a transfer policy that – and pardon the Wired speak – crowd-sources the transfer targets while not forcing those targets on a manager seems an model to pursue. Many opinions on a player have to be better than one man’s thoughts but one man’s thoughts – the manager’s – have to be conclusive. Lyon – it is said – based their model on the relationship between Brian Clough who would yes or no Peter Taylor’s ideas on players to sign, and on how the Anfield boot room of old would decide the merits of a player that Bill Shankly suggested.

Last season eleven new permanent signings were made at Valley Parade and none cemented a place the first team. As Parkinson approaches the busiest time for recruitment Edin Rahic’s first priority must be to ask how he can help the manager with this systemic failure at the club.

Nevertheless so far Rahic and Rupp’s investment in City – be it buying or funding the club – is one of many mysteries which will no doubt become clearer in time. Rupp sold a business for €150m but with the club noting that expectations in the short term should be managed – nearly always synonymous with scaled down – then we wait to see what the next few days, weeks, and months bring.

However a smile, some nice words about the fans and a thumbs up for Phil Parkinson is a good first day.

I have in my hand a piece of paper…

…or rather a collection of a pieces of paper stapled together in the top left corner. It was passed to me by Archie Christie – it has his first name under the staple – as part of the day we spent with him as an illustration of the work that get done at City.

I’m not going to tell you what is in the papers for reasons which will become clear, dear reader, but I can tell you what it says on the front. Under a large Bantams’ Badge reads the words “Bradford City Match Assessment” and under that – written in pen (although this is a photocopy) read the names “Macclesfield T” and “Northampton T”.

The date reads “17th of September” which was – according to the inscriptions – a dry and windy day.

For years, decades, I’ve heard about football clubs who “do their homework” on the opposition, who “have them watched” and for the first time I have the information (or a part of it) which Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin will be looking over to plan City’s team.

It is a coincidence that paper I got was between is City’s next two opponents but probably not that scout Nigel Brown who authored the document – it carries his name – took in the match. Nigel Brown and Archie Christie talked about arriving at City and finding a filing cabinet marked scouting reports which had sub-divisions for each league and each letter in that league but absolutely nothing in them. If someone had been doing the homework at Bradford City before Christie and Brown then the dog had almost certainly eaten it.

It struck me in the weeks after embedding with him that Christie’s role at the club split down three lines none of which were having that much attention paid to them before his arrival. The first and most obvious was the player recruitment and development side which is an all encompassing one taking in watching players as well as the activities with the Development Squad. Then, most celebrated, is his deal making as seen in George Green’s move to Everton. Potentially Green’s move is the largest transfer between the fourth tier and the top tier of English football ever. Finally there is the homework side and preparing information for the first team’s manager.

Christie started the operation from an empty cabinet and was taking in a game at Halifax Town when he bumped into Brown – Brown told us that most Scouts know each other – and Christie invited him to come in and help with the network. The pair of them assembled a team of around a half dozen scouts up and down the country. There is a private scouting network which clubs can subscribe to which provides information on any team for a fee which might account for where Peter Taylor was getting his information on visiting teams but Brown is sceptical about the merits of that. It struck me that if the aim of scouting teams is to find weaknesses then a report that is freely purchased by anyone will detail faults that a manager would be a fool not to fix. Christie and Brown’s scouting – if it contains a note on how a team can be got at – is known only to City.

The scouts (including Christie and Brown) go watch League Two games, non-league games, reserve games and fill in the type of form which sits in front of me today. The approach is detailed. Reserve games are important in case of suspensions forcing a change to the starting eleven while non-league games (and higher reserve games) allow information about players who may end up being recruited by the opposition. Christie tells a story of Dagenham being undone by a player who had not featured in the first team but cropped up on a Tuesday night on the south coast to frustrate the Daggers.

There was an obvious question about what Christie’s scouting network had thought about the City teams he had faced. Christie did not say anything against anyone who had stalked the halls of Valley Parade before him but the impression I got was that at Dagenham City’s team under Stuart McCall was considered to be nice to look at but soft in the centre and easy to get at, easy to beat. I loved watching Stuart’s side’s play expansive football but I’d have to agree with that analysis.

The empty cabinet is an interesting idea but we know that in the past managers at City have talked about watching clubs – Stuart McCall’s post-game interviews would often include a reference to having seen the team before – but the image remains. John Hendrie once talked about how City would often see unknown faces around the training ground who turned out to be the opposition scouts finding out the team for Saturday.

So one assumes that there must have been paper in this cabinet at some point, files on teams and players filled by McCall (who took a scouting role for Norwich after he left City), Colin Todd or whoever, but the open space tells a story of its own.

That story involves the recruitment of a scouting network to watch teams 70% of which are based in the South. It involves a network of contacts built up who fulfil Brown demanding criteria. Brown worked with Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn Rovers having a hand in the signing of Alan Shearer for £3.5m and the sale of him for “£16.75m” (which is not the figure widely circulated, but the one Brown told us) after “getting the best years out of him.” After working with Dalglish – “He never watched games, loved his videos” – Brown moved onto Wigan Athletic as Dave Whelan started building his tier three club built to compete at the top level from the ground up. Brown is the sort of man you hope a scout is, quietly spoken but deeply knowledgeable and with a steel in his eye for a player. While Christie believes that desire is the thing to look for in a player Brown wants acceleration over five yards. The two are a great combination – Christie calls Brown “Nigel Green” and Brown smiles back. “I can’t do the negotiations like Archie can” he went on to say.

The scouts who Brown and Christie got to join City were tasked with watching City too – the City they watched being the one which Mark Lawn commented on last week – and gave their opinions. Perhaps these informed Lawn’s comments and Parkinson’s changes since he took over. Certainly there were recurrent themes in the reports which Christie and Brown got back and it seems to me that those have been addressed, or have been attempted to be addressed.

The aim of the opposition scouting networking is to provide the manager with everything he could want. It is then up to the manager and his coaching staff to decide how much notice he wants to take of that information. Not all managers are interested but what I have in front of me makes fascinating reading and I could see no reason why a manager would not welcome this with arms open. The Damned Utd (not an historical source but a cracking read) has Brian Clough refuse to look at Don’s Dodgy Dossiers on the opposition, real life tells us he had Peter Taylor watching every inch of opponents.

Without showing the report it is hard to illustrate what it has in it but the circulated version of a report on Newcastle United written by Andre Villas-Boas when he was scout at Chelsea offers similar (although City use numbers and not pictures of shirts) and is indicative of the level of research which goes into preparing for a game.

There is no Bradford City Official Secrets Act (aside from Christie tell us not to go showing the report around, it has not left my office physically or virtually since) but I think it is best if what we know about them stays under wraps for now but I recall watching City over the past thirty years and seeing the odd event that would have been captured in this document and would not have poised a problem. The Paul Merson/Benito Carbone short corner that unlocked City in the Premier League, the wall of tiny Wigan players who created themselves in front of City’s wall at a free kick in the late eighties only to break off and leave many bemused and little else, Peter Jackson and Chris Branston’s antics from a corner at the McAlpine in the mid part of the decade.

Simple things like the fact that a number three might play in central midfield and not left back to more technical and detailed lore. The experience of watching City play Northampton Town at Valley Parade will, for me, come with a crib sheet and I wonder how that will change the way I see the game. When he was Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan was fond of appearing on Match of the Day saying how he and his players had worked all week on doing one thing and – for reasons of their own – the players had decided to do something else. I wonder if I will see the same.

Northampton Town arrive at Valley Parade on the back of a 3-0 defeat by Port Vale which saw questions asked but in generally rude form. They are seventeenth in the table.

City go into the game on the back of a disappointing result at Hereford United and have before them a familiar set of criticisms. Matt Duke is criticised because he could have been better positioned for the goals that Hereford scored (or so it is said) although the best position is always “in the way” and “not in the way” seldom has any merits. Duke’s single clean sheet was last time out at Valley Parade against Torquay United.

Luke Oliver and Marcel Seip are expected to retain the central defensive positions although Steve Williams is returning to the reckoning. Liam Moore and Robbie Threlfall will be full backs although looking at the report I might be… No, best not.

Michael Flynn’s two game suspension sees him sit out the match and allows Adam Reed and Richie Jones to take the middle positions with Kyel Reid wide left. Phil Parkinson could be tempted to drop Jamie Devitt to wide right, recall Mark Stewart for that position or give Chris Mitchell his place in the side back. City have missed Mitchell’s delivery in recent weeks. David Syers’ injury and Flynn’s suspension open the possibility of Scott Brown getting a place on the bench.

Craig Fagan is starting to be cemented into the forward line up in James Hanson’s absence though injury. Hanson may return and take a place in the starting line up although if he is not fit Parkinson may continue with his policy of having a man lead the line and another feeding off him and deploy Devitt or Stewart behind Fagan. All link men – the position in question – are judged by a standard of Peter Beardsley and Stewart seems most able to find space and move the ball on then make for an attacking position but Devitt’s game could be tweaked to do the same.

Such talk is the talk of scribbles on paper though – attacking diagrams done on beer mats – and football is played on grass and not paper. Some pieces of paper, however, certainly are worth a read before the boot sets foot on turf.

The simple game?

Who was it said “Football is a simple game complicated by fools?” Never were truer words spoken.

Right now fans are debating whether we need this manager or that manager and they’re beginn ing to talk about relegation.

In an era of 3 points for a win and only one for a draw, the simple fact is that teams that win more games are more successful. Simple.

What does it take to win games – just score one more goal than the opposition. it doesn’t matter whether the game ends 1-0 or 6-5, the result is still 3 points gained.

Therein lies the problem. the same one pretty much for the last ten seasons. however many goals City concede we just don’t score enough. successive managers have all failed to solve this problem.
No lesser person than the late Sir Bobby Robson, when discussing striking partnerships said “If you have a striker who gets you 1 in 2 or better partnered by another who gets you 1 in 3 or better you won’t go far wrong.”

I look at the strikers on City’s books and I see the same problem as in previous seasons. While James Hanson might be the 1 in 3 man alongside another effective striker. The simple fact is inescapable. The rest are pretty poor.

Gareth Evans was brought in as a striker but if he’d cut the mustard he wouldn’t have been moved out wide. He suffers from the “Andy Cooke syndrome” He works really hard but doesn’t score many goals. Speight is pretty much the same.

I’ve never subscribed to the Plan B that says it doesn’t matter if one striker doesn’t score goals, the other players can make up for that.

What that really says is that if one player isn’t really doing his job. A striker not scoring goals, then the midfielders have to do more than their job. Score more goals to make up for his failings. Goals from midfielders should be the icing on the cake. added pressure shouldn’t be put on players like Syers due to the failings of Evans, Speight et al.

Lesser clubs than ours find 2 worthwhile strikers. It’s not impossible at this level but, until some City manager manages to work the oracle for us and produce a team with 2 worthwhile strikers at the same time then we’re going to continue to struggle.

The football culture, Keith Alexander and Rotherham United

Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive – Brian Clough

Search Facebook on Wednesday afternoon and you would find the group We Hate Keith Alexander

Football did not come to a sobering halt with the news of the death at 53 of Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander and perhaps did not even skip a beat but rolled on to watching England beat Egypt with the players wearing black armbands and Clive Tyldesley waxing lyrical about a man who’s team one doubts he could place on a map.

The booing of John Terry went on regardless, clubs like Farsley Celtic – the very type of low level club that as a player and manager Alexander served so diligently – continued to struggle to keep going, the people at the “We Hate…” group carried on swearing and being obnoxious. For all the shock and sadness of the death of an iconoclast manager football did not miss a beat, and that is a shame.

Alexander is lauded in death, but hardly appreciated. Tyldesley called him the type of man who is so important to football at the lower levels but is part of the very machine that tries to grind out that level of the game. Alexander’s death is shocking, but his work in life was no doubt sadly frustrating.

A man who gave his life to a the levels of game which seems prepared to allow that level to wither and die. Hardly an appreciation.

Gareth Evans will show appreciation. Evans credits Alexander with helping turn his career around at Macclesfield following his release from Manchester United and indeed it is over a tackle by Evans that the “We Hate…” group emerged.

The group – started by those lovely Notts County supporters – is hardly unique indeed the very discussion of football seems to be conducted by a not insignificant section of fans in this kind of hateful, disturbing way. A search for “Stuart McCall” turns up groups like “stuart mccall’s a ****” and “I HAT (sic) BRADFORD CITY AND STUART MCCALL BUMS DAVID WETHERALL” alongside calls for the former City boss to be given the job of Prime Minister.

Why is it that a section of football is so ready to communicate in such hateful terms? Mark Lawn considers this so much of a problem on Bradford City’s official message board that he wants to take steps against it by removing the anonymity of that site although the Facebook experience suggests that that will not be a total remedy.

Indeed as tributes were pouring in about Alexander some England fans at Wembley were booing and jeering John Terry who has been the subject of shocking abuse as football continues the culture that allows abuse to sit alongside criticism as if the two are natural bedfellows, leading to a suggestion that the one will bleed into the other.

BfB was asked to not criticise Mark Lawn and – when the joint chairman’s car was vandalised after the Accrington Stanley game – there was a suggestion that (what I consider to be very valid) criticism by one person becomes abuse by another that becomes violence.

This week a reader asked that the site not “fall into the trap of criticising Taylor after two weeks” following a news story about Scott Neilson going out on loan while Gavin Grant comes in and in a welcome and friendly exchange I details how Taylor will be criticised when he does things that people do not like – such as bringing in too many loan players, a continued bugbear of mine – and praised when he does things that people consider right such as switching back to 442 or retaining Wayne Jacobs.

No one need create a “We Hate Peter Taylor Group” because of it and no one has to vandalise a car.

Football culture has a continued problem with the inability to separate criticism from abuse and perhaps if we want to pay tribute to the memory of Keith Alexander we might look at how servants of the game such as he are regularly the subject of abuse which is as disturbing when he was alive as it is now he has passed on and see what we can do to change that.

Should the FA want to pay tribute to Alexander they might also look at the state of lower league football and the finances that sees Sheffield Wednesday – no one’s idea of a small fry club – the latest team to be talking about administration. The gold rush of the Premier League seems to be coming to an end and the clubs involved seem to have frittered away that wealth and perhaps there needs to be redress in show the money is distributed that would give managers like Alexander more of an even hand. A wider discussion for another time.

The abuse of managers and the struggles of club’s to stay in business comes to the fore when Bradford City face a team managed by Ronnie Moore. Moore had wanted City to be thrown out of football for going into administration but has since, no doubt, revised a view that would have seen his current club Rotherham United bounced out of the game.

I think Moore’s view was out of touch, unsympathetic and needlessly harsh but I understand the frustrations he had in trying to sign players and being outbid by the Bantams and feel that football could have learnt from that. Indeed City were out-offered by The Millers for Paul Shaw,Pablo Mills and – later – Nicky Law Jnr which suggests that even the smaller points Moore made have been ignored.

Rotherham are smarting from a 4-0 defeat at Rochdale in the week and have slipped to fifth from the lofty position Mark Robbins took the club to at the start of the season. The Miller’s Don Valley Stadium has seen only seven wins this season – two or three fewer than their promotion rivals – and seems to be as unwelcoming for the “home” support as it is for the visitors. The place is bitterly cold and the pitch not good for playing football on.

Not that that will stop Peter Taylor’s strong men at the front with the Bantams playing an increasingly air based game. Mark McCammon – who turned down Rotherham to join City – and James Hanson can expect the ball to come direct and to look for wide men Gareth Evans and Luke O’Brien for lay-offs to allow for delivery. Goals from under five passes are the order of the day, especially on pitches like the Don Valley.

Scott Neilson’s loan move to Cambridge United is a strange one. His replacement – Gavin Grant, who made a debut at Aldershot and was himself subject to abuse from his new supporters – is a non-contract player and should he wish can leave Bradford City whenever he wants. Neilson cannot return to the club for a month regardless and one has to wonder why the experience that is given from playing for the Bantams should be given to Grant and not to Neilson.

Peter Taylor wants Neilson to get some first team games but leaves him out of our first team. As a player he is obviously capable and has shown us such. The instability the club has been put into is underlined by the idea that one of the squad could simply wander away at the drop of a hat.

Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock both had chances to get an equaliser against Aldershot in the week and were unlucky not to do so. The pair can point back to the 4-2 defeat at Valley Parade earlier this season as proof that they have been able to boss a midfield against the Millers – goals scored from wherever you want, or offside, are not proof of a good midfield – and should prepare for battle. For all Nicky Law’s abilities “getting stuck in” was not one of them.

At the back Luke Oliver – all six foot seven of him – is expected to make a debut in the place of Matthew Clarke with Steve Williams retaining his place. Robbie Threlfall and Simon Ramsden continue in front of Matt Glennon.

Responsibility for the poor performance ends with the players

Seven days less two hours stand between the end of the Barnet game and the start of the Notts County match on Saturday that gives the Bantams the first chance to put right what so obviously went wrong on at Underhill and that week will feel like an eternity.

As far as defeats go the 4-1 reversal to a team who were struggling to stay above clubs that started with a handicap reads as damningly as it could for City’s promotion hopes although such reversals are not without precedent in good times for the Bantams. The 4-0 defeat at Coventry City’s Highfield Road in 1999/2000 hardly seemed to precede the last day escape in beating Liverpool nor did the comprehensive 3-0 defeat at home to QPR in 1998 seem to suggest that the Bantams would be playing Premiership football next season.

Nevertheless both came to pass and both with in large part down to Paul Jewell’s ability to create momentum in his teams while being able to approach games as individual and discreet events with no connection needed and no propensity to drag a bad result from one to the other. That, more than anything, is Jewell’s greatest asset as a manager and one which Stuart McCall will hope to emulate as the Bantams – well placed and we twelve games to go in League Two this year – must bury this result as deep as can be.

However in burying Barnet the players cannot be allowed to let it slip from memory. It is an object less in the hardest truth in football to maintain in these days where the media revels in telling us that wins should be assumed for some clubs.

Liverpool’s goal on Sunday – according to the BBC – “saved their blushes” against Manchester City as if the Reds need only to turn up to Anfield and the game would be won giving no credit to the opposition. Very few – perhaps only one – games played in a decades of football seasons can be considered forgone conclusions and Bradford City’s trip to Barnet was not one of them.

Players need to focus on the idea that every game must be won before it can be won. The two points dropped by Manchester United since Christmas are not Liverpool throwing a title away but rather a relentless surge from the Red Devils. Bradford City’s three wins on the spin were not the result of being paired with three clubs that were de facto worse than us – Grimsby Town, Gillingham and Wycombe are bottom, middle and top – but the result of a team reacting to the defeat at Bury and looking to do things properly, to win every game by winning the battles within the game.

Every game has to be won.

Which is in the reckoning what City failed to do and the accusation at the players doors is that they thought they could win just by turning up and any player who is not itching to put that right, who’s week in training is not all about putting that right, who is not laying in bed on a evening how they can put it right need to turn up on Saturday to try put it right.

The week should be a long time. It is a long time with a defeat like this hanging in the mind but not the air. McCall must minimise and move on. Take the lesson from the game that every minute of a game, every game of a season, needs to be battled in and that the players cannot turn up and win or worse, stand waiting for someone else in claret and amber to take the responsibility for the performance.

Once the squad is assembled and has been drilled and proved that it can play – and City are only two games gone from beating the team that dominated League Two – then the manager and coaching staff play a significant role in preparing the team mentally but ultimately no manager tells a player to put in an insipid performance, to hide from the ball, to be reactive rather than proactive in making things happen on the field.

It is easy to forget that – indeed there is much debate on it – after a week of perpetrations the manager has little control over the players once they are on the field. Kevin Keegan believed in that, it tormented Brian Clough, and on Match of the Day after a Coventry City home defeat Gordon Strachan famously intoned

We spend all week telling the players what to do and they nod their heads and tell me they have heard me but on the weekend they go and do that!

The retention and extension of Stuart McCall at Bradford City was much talked about at the end of last week and surely McCall spent days preparing his side for Barnet in the way that had seen other victories this season. Someone at City is accused of boosting the home side with the news that Rhys Evans was not fully fit but could play anyway recalling Sir Bobby Robson’s famous tunnel comment at the Cameroon to the England squad –

This lot can’t play.

Having been selected and proven in previous games as a team of quality who can perform as a team the players need to take responsibility for their own performances and the vast majority of them on Saturday would not be able to say that they did as much to win the Barnet game as they did that against Wycombe Wanderers on the Saturday before and that – not Stuart McCall or Rhys Evans or the much discussed Press Officer at Valley Parade – is why we lost.

The players have seven days to think about that.

Where now for Paul Jewell?

It all fit so well.

Paul Jewell would return to glory at Brian Clough’s first Championship club and the comparisons between the two strikers who retired early and inspired smaller teams to great things would be further cemented. Jewell’s exit came amid chants for his job from the Pride Park South Stand, admissions of contrition from the chairman Adam Pearson and Burton Albion – home of the actual successor to Clough – rising towards the Football League. Both East Midlands clubs are looking at the same manager.

Jewell has left Chris Hutchings in charge – again – and has suffered a significant dent in his reputation having taking on the Pride Park job with a remit not to keep the Rams in the Premiership but to launch a return the season after. The fact that he made such a poor fist of even attempting to stay in the top flight was put down to the players, the failure for a replaced squad to start a promotion campaign falls on Jewell – at least in the eyes of most.

Damning for Jewell were Pearson’s words on his exit – that he was a manager with a proven track record of getting teams out of the Championship – which risk ghettoising the former City and Wigan boss into the Neil Warnock position where he is trusted to get you to the big leagues but no further.

It is unlikely his next role will be at a club higher than the role he has just left leaving him looking at his record – something of a 2:4 with City and the Latics as successes and Sheffield Wednesday and Derby as failures – and hoping that if he is to be considered a promotion expert his next role does not tip the odds against him.

The former City boss is stuck between the limits of being a promotion specialist and the hardship of maintaining a positive role in modern football – even after keeping Wigan in the Premiership the grumbles had started at the Latics who wanted the club “moving to the next level”

Jewell’s next level seems frustratingly out of reach.

Winning at dominoes

Brian Clough once said that despite the crap talked by people who didn’t know how to win a game of dominoes, it was players who lost football matches. Kevin Keegan – for his messianic effect – said there was little he could do once the players have gone over the white line.

Both Clough and Keegan made good on what, at the time, seemed limited resources by the application of effort. Both played for England. When Joe Colbeck – one of City’s brighter players today – was 12 the Bournemouth number 8 was smashing in a goal to put England on the way to a 2-0 win over Colombia. Anderton got the first and the second was scored by David Beckham who usurped the oft injured Anderton for country. Beckham went one way and Anderton’s career took him to this sunny afternoon at Valley Parade with a team relegated and relegation prospects because of financial problems.

City’s support today was in good voice and backed the team fully but today the Bantams’ players lost the game. Collectively the level of effort was not high enough to win this game.

City started slowly, facing a visiting side who dropped Anderton into a shielding role in front of the back four and played with only Jeff Goulding up front. The Bantams’ midfield stood off Anderton and the always excellent Sammy Igoe all afternoon allowing the pair to pick out runners and use pace to break. Danny Hollands got the first goal of the afternoon doing just that.

Which is not to say that the Bantams played bad football – some of the passing moves were impressive and edged on opening up the visitors with Paul McLaren picking up the runs of Michael Boulding – but edging is not opening and the commitment that was seen in last week’s second half was lacking.

Nevertheless a second half riposte seemed to be on the cards when Anderton missed a pass and then was not strong enough to keep Colbeck away allowing the young City winger to power through and fire home.

The second half saw more of the same 90% football that the first had and while the likes of Colbeck, Daley and Boulding motored the bit extra – that commitment that sees a player take full responibility rather than waiting for others to create – never materialised.  Paul Arnison – who limped off in the first half – was missed on the right when Colbeck came inside hunting for the ball and everything seemed out of sorts with McLaren and Graeme Lee both being replaced during second half which were lost when Goulding all too easily converted Hollands’ cross which came from another swift counter-attack.

Jason Pearce added a third from a corner at the end and the visitors enjoyed a comprehensive away win with City’s reply being a Boulding shot that pinged off the bar and not a massive effort save Barry Conlon’s second half cameo which saw him put not one foot wrong.

Which is not to say that the players were bathed in shame or are to be jeered until one’s throat is sore, just that every football match has to be won no matter who the opposition is and today they did not do enough to win this game. Manager speak for this is “they let themselves down”.

Perhaps they did or perhaps they were just bested. Jimmy Quinn sent his side out with a plan for sure but they also had hearts full and Anderton typified that spirit. God knows why he is playing – he surely does not have to financially nor can one imagine the blast from the middle of League One to the foot of League Two were part of his plan but he seemed to simply enjoyed passing the ball, making himself available and generally playing a good game of footie. The enjoyment, the zest, the desire to play well was lacking for the Bantams. Too many City players today thought the game was won in the dressing room and so it was lost on the field.

Little more to say then save talk of another Referee Mr David Webb who used two rule books – one in which Omar Daley is booked for diving but Lee Bradbury is not and Paul McLaren gets a yellow for a clumsy tackle but Anderton escapes a warning – and a hope that next week’s trip to Shrewsbury who could knock the Bantams out of the top three tomorrow afternoon sees more application.

Managing failure

Without much doubt Bradford City have had a season of failure.

From top to bottom with the exceptions of the increasingly effective department run by Peter Etherington and David Bosomworth’s efforts which have seen the growing numbers of young players breaking into the squad the standards that have been set at VP have not been reached.

All things are relative of course. Julian Rhodes said at the start of the season when a bid for Dean Windass was rejected that one does not achieve the aim of the club – promotion – by allowing the best players to leave and under those terms the Bantams have failed. Perspective on all things though. Should they be relegated Milton Keynes Dons have failed, Rotherham United have failed, Walsall have failed. We have not succeeded.

Semantics aside though in the summer the word around VP will be how can we make sure that next season is better than last and the word failure will be used in relation to Colin Todd, to the team of players, to his signings, to the lack of leadership from the club, the falling gates and on and on.

Things that have failed – relatively failed – and things which are to be put right.

The pressing question is how will the Bantams higher echelons try to put these things right. The pressing question is how will the Bantams manage failure?

Conventional wisdom – as typified by the Sir Alan Sugar “You’re fired!” shout – is that the way to manage failure is to get a P45 out and write on it the name of whichever poor sap happens to have the job of managing the team.

It would insult your intelligence, dear reader who has seen six managers in as many years, to suggest that this is a course of action which is proven to work but it would also not be out of the question for the board to look at Colin Todd’s record and the signings he has made and conclude that so far in his City career has been so average.

Todd’s record at City to date is the picture of average being almost equally split between wins draws and defeats. Played 97 games – won 32, drew 32, lost 33. Todd’s record is better than Phil Parkinson’s at Colchester was at this stage of his career with the now high flying Essex side and obviously the potential for the same pattern which the Parkinson has enjoyed this season exists.

In fact there is nothing to suggest that Todd will improve next season. His signings are hit and miss – for every Marc Bridge-Wilkinson we have a Bobby Petta – and his approach to the game is built on the tried and tested rather than the outlandish and risky but potentially successful. Todd is a manager who does not look at runs of wins but sees a home and away pairing of games as the chance to get four points.

Todd is not going to change. Some subscribe to his management philosophy, others do not but few would deny that continuity of employment for any manager is more likely to bring success than does rapid change. For what it is worth in the poker game of football management I say stick because I tire of the disappointment of the twist.

Replacing Colin Todd is a valid way forward but only a handful – probably less than a handful – of candidates suggest themselves as being able to guarantee to have anything to offer that Todd does not. Sacking him in the name of “anyone is better than this” is the kind of thinking that has laid the club low and more than any other decision in a club the choice of manager is about managing the levels of failure.

Because ultimately failure is the natural state of the vast majority of football clubs the world over. Every season 70 of 92 professional clubs in England fail in some way – not getting promotions or winning anything – and I would suggest the fact that they respond to that failure not by emulating those who are successful but rather by breaking with ways they are similar to the Manchester Uniteds of this world. You never have a manager for ten years if you sack them after 18 months.

Which is not to suggest that failure and success are entirely a product of a sum which includes the time served by a manager but that the tendency in football to view anything other than success as a significant failure which requires revolution at a club hampers most clubs efforts causing them to lose focus on what is being done well and what is done poorly. A manager is sacked and takes with him a back room team many of who may have been doing good work. A club does poorly and the good people within it leave with the bad. The streets of football are full of babies sitting in the thrown out bathwater.

Failure is the way of things in football and with it comes re-evaluation. The late, great Brian Clough used to say that when a manager was sacked the chairman who appointed him should go with him and while Clough’s comments are rough around the edges they have a truth to them. The manager’s performance – ergo the team’s performance – are so yoked into the general structure of the club from chairman down that one struggles to think of occasions where great success on the field was achieved in run down surroundings of it (or vice versa).

When failure – or poor performance if you will – is the case then there is cause for re-evaluation at all levels. Few would say that Bradford City have a perfect set up which Colin Todd is frittering away. Most City fans would want to emulate the progress of Charlton Athletic from small club to Premiership regular and that progress was built on a slow process of measured improvement season in, season out.

So on the agenda at the post-season review meetings many, many arms of Bradford City will be called to account and in the most cases the decisions to be made will be about how to improve things rather than to assess that something is in such a terminal state it must be done away with. Even the official message board – which has as many who loathe it as are devoted to it – undergoes improvement processes with the appointment of moderators. The way to manage failure is to plan improvement. If the commercial staff are not making enough then they are supported and maintained and plans for performance improvements are produced which take into account the failures of the past. The ability to learn from mistakes has been key to human development since the guy realised that he had to cut the edges off his square wheel.

Which leads back to the players and Colin Todd and the mistakes – the failures – which have been made in signing players and deploying them. The mistakes in tactics, selection and all the other things that have made this an average season. We really do not need another manager spending six months working out that Dean Windass is big and strong but is not best played as a target man?

In terms of the season “Average” is used advisably. We are mid-table flirting with the bottom half of the top and the top half of the bottom not because we have done badly or well but because we have been very average. The majority of the squad could not claim to have anything more than an average season. The derided Darren Holloway has had a few duff moments but put in mostly solid games – if you think that Holloway is a bad player then you never saw Darren Morgan or Tom Steele play – while never being that impressive. Holloway is a perfect example of the average and the inconstant which has been Bradford City’s season and illustrates the problems City face. His contract is up in the summer and if we replace him he lose the understanding that he has built with the rest of the squad – admittedly this is a poor part of Holloway’s game – and the assurance of what level of performance he offers. His replacement could be much better than him but seriously how often has this occurred at City? How many clubs these days are giving away players who are good enough to come straight into a League One team and impress enough to drive a promotion campaign in their first season?

A decision must be made over if the average that City have fallen into represents the mid-point of a terminal decline or not and on that basis the failures are managed – lessons learned, mistakes recognised not to be repeated – and the club moves forward.

Football has a business side to for sure but is more about the playing and contrary to what everyone with an opinion will say it is not all money but business planning and practices can inform the way the playing side works and in this case should be. The club should be looking to make changes in the areas that offer the most benefit and those benefits need to be nailed down before a replacement is made and not assumed as a product of the replacement process.

If/When Todd is on his way out of Bradford City we need a managed process to replace him that guarantees an improvement of the position. Until we learn that lesson we are not going to be managing failure, we are going to be bringing it about.

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