Elite player performance and football clubs doing what they should do

The Elite Player Performance plan which was voted for by the Football League has been called football’s moment when the turkeys voted for Christmas and it seems that all is lost for lower league football as a result.

The Elite Performance plan guarantee’s a club who develops a young player a certain amount should that player leave the club. That figure is lower than most believe it should be, but is in keeping with the growing pressure on football authorities to ensure that the trade in young players is not supported. The figures are on a sliding scale but on the whole they seem designed to ensure that young players are not viewed as assets or commodities.

Which is no surprise. It is nearly two decades since Jean-Marc Bosman started the ball rolling on the idea that football clubs should not be considered the owners of players. The the post-Bosman ruling world clubs retain the services of a player for the length of his contract, and EPPP seems to start to move that towards young players.

That it might not be advantageous, that it might damage clubs, is bad for Bradford City and many of our peers but the move towards EPPP has been coming for over a decade and while the ramifications of it are being played out one can imagine that the smart club is one who is planning for the newly shaped world.

And what is that world? Is there a benefit for a team like Bradford City in developing young players or does EPPP ensure that bringing through the kids is an activity for the Premier League?

Let us take the example of Terry Dixon. A sixteen year old superstar who has had a development blighted by injury while at West Ham United Dixon was being paid multiple thousands of pounds a week at the Hammers, enough to pay for three or four of the Bradford City squad at the time.

Post-injury Dixon arrives at Valley Parade looking to rebuild his career (and by all accounts is doing a great job of that) being paid a fraction of what he was on in London. No way City could have afforded to pay Dixon the 16 year old to develop, every way that City can pay him now to rehabilitate and see if he can press into the first team.

The impact of EPPP would seem to be reflected in Terry Dixon’s example, albeit less extreme. Players who come out of the academies of the Premier League can be caught and turned around. City are not the only club who have realised this but realise it they have. Every year hundreds of players are evicted from the top of football. Filtering and good selection could find players with the right attitude who have been discarded. There is a plethora of refined materials being made available, and the smart clubs are taking those and shaping them into players.

Does EPPP mean that football clubs at Bradford City’s level should stop youth football development and recruitment as Hereford United have done? Most certainly not but – and perhaps this has not been considered at Edgar Street – EPPP should signal a return to football clubs doing what they were established for.

Rather than being about developing footballers football clubs need to be about developing football teams.

It sounds like it should be a given but it is far from it. There is an obsession in the football media and in football in concentrating on the individual rather than the team. Crewe Alexandra are known for a production line of talent but rarely for the achievements of that talent. What division where they in when Danny Murphy played for them? David Platt? Robbie Savage? No one really recalls but they are all known as former Crewe players.

The great success of Dario Gradi at Gresty Road was not in creating players – although he deserves credit for that – but rather building them into teams. The Crewe that were in the second tier were not their because they had produced good players it was because they had a produced a good team.

The aim of football clubs at all levels should be the same. To develop a group of players who perform well in unison. A team that is more the sum of its parts rather than – as has happened at City under Peter Taylor and in Stuart McCall’s second season – one which is less than those parts. That comes from developing players in a way which empathises their collective rather than individual talents.

As such there is a requirement to link the youth team to the first team to ensure a transport of that collectivity up through the club. The world has been talking about David Beckham for the best part of two decades but Beckham was never better than he was when he was a part of the team of Paul Scholes, Gary Neville et al that he had developed alongside.

City are trying to make this transition using the Development Squad that attempts to create a collective unison around a group of players who previously would have just been the old kids or the young professionals. There are other ways to achieve the same – the FA Premier League Youth set up would be another – but they amount to the same idea.

Football clubs which produce football teams, as opposed to football players, and the best at it will be those who benefit the most.

Taylor walks away carrying all the cans

Peter Taylor’s final game as Bradford City manager has just kicked off and after ninety minutes, half time and a couple of stoppage times the 58 year old former England manager walk away from Valley Parade for the final time.

Taylor’s year at Bradford City will be the subject of debate for years to come. Why did the man who gave David Beckham the England captain’s armband flutter the captaincy around no fewer then eight of the Bantams squad? Why was someone who was appointed for his experience found making what seemed to be very basic mistakes so often?

It is damning of Taylor that almost every Bradford City supporter has a list of the mistakes they believe he has made and that often these lists are entirely different. One will complain about his use of loan players producing a gutless team, another about his negative football, a third about his treatment of the players and so on. For a manager who even now as he exits a club in the lower reaches of League Two his CV is still massively impressive and suggestive of a superb manager.

That so many subsets can be made out of the list of mistakes he has made is stunning. Personally I find it easy to ignore the criticism of the manager for making the players wear suits – or indeed the praise for that which now seems very long ago – or for his colourful use of language in the infamous statement on his fortitude against criticism from the terraces. An irony that, in the end he leaves talking about the negativity around him from the supporters and its growing influence. Those bastards did grind him down in the end.

I’d charge him with giving huge responsibility on the field to players who were not ready for that – Tom Ademeyi and David Syers in central midfield against the five of Lincoln is the most obvious example – and as such costing games and taking an unknown chunk out of those player’s confidence. It was – to me – man management at its worse. The management of what you want the man to be, not what he is at the moment, and Taylor carries the can for that.

At 58 and with 26 years of management experience though one can expect Taylor to carry that can and take responsibility for this year. He will write it on his CV alongside his promotions at Hull City and Wycombe Wanderers and admit freely that his methods do not always work, but sometimes they do and that is more than most can say.

And he may mitigate the season with talk of the injury list and the fact he was promised training facilities which did not materialise. One might expect Taylor to feel some justification in that final point. He told the board in May that they needed to address the Apperley Bridge problem in order to create a team which would get promoted. They did not, but still promotion was expected.

So Taylor carries the can for the board of the club who made promises and for whatever reason could not fulfil them. The next manager will no doubt be required to work with what is at the club in terms of facilities and talk of Apperley Bridge not being fit for purpose will be dubbed “an excuse” but nine months ago Bradford City asked a man with five promotion what it would take to make the club upwardly mobile once more and, on hearing the answer, have yet to address the situation.

That is a failure by the club on the whole, and one that Taylor carries the can for as he does the club’s obsession with short term thinking which goes back a decade if not longer.

The belief at the club (in boardroom and in supporters) is that teams can be built in a summer and Taylor carries the can for that assumption which is proved wrong time and time again. Taylor worked with the squad left by Stuart McCall who had three summers and three building jobs to do having inherited a squad of about eight players from David Wetherall’s few months in charge which included the delights of Spencer Weir-Daley, Moses Ashikodi and Xavier Barrau. What price then for the 16 year old who Geoffrey Richmond did not want in five years time because he needed someone on the pitch on Saturday?

Taylor’s contract was set as one three month deal, another for twelve and this was done for very basic financial reasons – it was all the club could afford – but the lesson of the last decade is that without anything to build on the manager is put in a constant cycle of rebuilding.

It is easy to say in retrospect – although one can find many comments at the time worried about the length of Taylor’s contract – but the club should aim to appoint a manager who will be at the club in the long, long term. Someone who can be afforded for five season, not out of price after one, and someone who views the City job as the potential to build the big club they all talk about wanting to manage.

Bradford City are not a towering big club, they are a series of jenga blocks scattered about. The job is building the tower without knocking it over every time you touch it.

As people begin to suggest themselves for the City job: Phil Parkinson, John Hughes, John Coleman, Keith Hill, Alan Knill, Dean Windass and so on; I find myself not really caring what the name on the contract is as much as I care about the number of years.

It is a sad day when any club looks to Newcastle United for advice on how to appoint a manager but Alan Pardew has a five and a half year deal at St James’ Park which says he is staying put (and perhaps being joined by Peter Taylor) and trying to build year on year at that club. We should be doing the same and employing a manager with long term aims that are not tied to short term results.

I want the manager of Bradford City to be in charge of building a club. In charge of making sure there is a through put of young players, in charge of taking the players we have and improving them and getting the best out of them, in charge of making the club better next year than it was last and doing that over the long term rather than simply being about seeing his he can win on Saturday and get promotion at the end of the season. Changing the manager is not as important as changing the manager’s job description.

By the time you read this Taylor will have gone and he will go carrying the can for his own mistakes for sure, but also for any number of assumptions and errors systematically made over the years. Unless there is a reverse in the attitude of the club – including in support as well as the boardroom – then the man who replaces Taylor – unless he gets ludicrously lucky that when he throws the jenga blocks in the air they land as a tower – is just tomorrow’s sacked manager.

Beckham wins the World Cup

It was always though that during his career David Beckham would get his hands on the World Cup and today – as he lobbies delegates who will make the decision on England’s bid to host the 2018 competition of what is a very curious decision process – it seems that he may do.

Not – perhaps – something that will make up for the 2006 German summer where so much came to so little or the broken metatarsal in Japan in 2002 which saw England run out of steam against Brazil but an end to a career which may not have redefined football, but has certainly redefined footballers.

Beckham has been the poster boy for many things – Adidas, Sharpie, the 2018 bid – and all along his career he has been sighted as part of the over paid generation of footballers. Guilty often of little more than having a family and not being the sharpest tool in the box he has – as a player and as a personality – make a mountain out of his mount of talents and is as sinned against often as he is sinning.

His red card against Argentina was hardly the stuff of violent conduct, his early career exit from the England side hampered Steve McLaren’s side far more than it did the former captain’s career. His wife annoys a lot of people and his kids have curious names but he comes over with a certain charm and uses that charm to promote the campaign to host 2018 which we should all be behind.

So at some point tomorrow Beckham’s career might have the glorious conclusion suggested all along but Beckham is but the first of the multi-millionaire player to start the sail into the sunset.

If one assumes a player might have a dozen years playing on the sort of big Premier League contracts that the likes of Frank Lampard, Keiron Dyer, Steven Gerrard have – and we read on BfB about Graeme Tomlinson and how he was advised to and looked after his money – then we may start to see players exiting the game who could have earned the thick end of thirty million pounds.

(£50,000 a week, multiply by 52 weeks a year, multiple by 12 and offset the idea of tax and living expenses against the income from investments)

Once a footballer might use his earnings to buy a pub running it for the next thirty years. Robbie Fowler used the money Leeds threw at him to become one of the biggest landlords in Liverpool offering decent housing at good rents. Few players are as in touch with the community they rose from as Fowler.

There have been the odd player who went to the boardroom – Steve McMahon, Derek Doogan, Jimmy Hill, Ray Ranson – they have done so as parts of consortia but with the levels of money being given to players by clubs that need not always be the case.

At the conclusion of his Liverpool contract Steven Gerrard (who would be 34, I believe) could – if he wanted to – wander over the Mersey to Tranmere and easily buy the club lock, stock and barrel. There would be nothing to stop him signing himself to play in midfield either, or making himself manager. A footballing version of the auteur.

Likewise the likes of Frank Lampard could bankroll any League Two club out of the division (if we judge by Notts County’s example last season) and probably (if we look at Dean Hoyle at Huddersfield) challenge for promotion in the league above.

Football people leaving football with a chunk of money and almost anything to spend it on, it seems inevitable that they will come back to what they know and end up back involved in football. A generation of players who don’t have to take coaching badges and then beg the odd fishmonger from Grimsby for a job at the local club. They can give the fishmonger what he wants and buy the boardroom for himself.

Beckham can cap his career tomorrow but he – and the generation he spearheads – may end up with an impact in the game far beyond the day they last pull on their boots.

The day after the sky fell in

Last week City had to beat Southend United and did not.

The sky did not fall in on Chicken Licken nor did the walls tumble down but the sense of dejection around City fans was palpable. There is a level of disappointment which goes beyond a moaning about the team or the players to just not talking at all. Rather than getting heads together and saying how this formation or that substitution would have sorted out the problems City fans around Bradford and beyond looked blank and shrugged. What is there to do?

Some carried on as normal – one has to be impressed with the tenacity of the people who are still arguing that everything will be right when Stuart McCall leaves the club when the evidence of swapping one manager for another once again illustrates that the manager was never the main of the problem – but even that carrying on seemed to be half hearted. Making the same noises because they are the noises you make.

Peter Taylor made his noises on the BBC’s Football Focus revealing his disappointment in the season so far, using “they” rather than “we” a couple of times and issuing an open invite to David Beckham to come to Valley Parade where he would get a game although one has to worry that with the three man midfield with two wide players up front if Goldenballs would fit into the Bantams line up.

It is that line up which Peter Taylor is being urged to change for the arrival of Port Vale on Saturday. Taylor deployed a World Cup style 4231 but the three given the role of dangerous players were anything but and the result was a massive hole between the midfield and lone striker James Hanson.

James Hanson has come in for some criticism this week – “just a pub player” someone said. People who think like that are wasting their money even coming to Valley Parade just as people who love Pot Noodles and Big Macs are wasting their money going to Noma. Of the reasons to be optimistic about the future of Bradford City Hanson figures highly and if he is fit he would be the first name on my teamsheet.

Hanson came off at half time last week as City’s 4231 faltered and the whispers are that the striker has not been fit all season. Taylor has the option of deploying Gareth Evans or Chib Chilaka as target man to give Hanson the chance to recover but seems to hold last season’s player of the season in high regard and – as I would – would probably play him every week if he could.

Jake Speight has returned to full fitness and liberty and is expected to make a first start for the club as one of three up front with Evans alongside him and Omar Daley dropped to the bench. Speight and Daley both seem to be charged with offering (for want of a better phrase) an x-factor to City’s line up and presently Daley looks some way away from being able to do that. One could speculate all day about why this is – tougher training, return to fitness, form – but the winger has always blown hot and cold and managing him back to heat quickly has been a challenge for City bosses.

Louis Moult is talked up much considering he is a Stoke City played facing Port Vale but after a poor show last week one doubts the loanee will make the side. Since the moment pre-season finished Moult has worn a City shirt well but not shown anything to suggest he is worth a place in the side. He is all promise and prospect but – at present – Taylor needs productivity.

The Moult Hole last week caused an issue for City’s two holding players Tommy Doherty and Lee Bullock – both of whom are expected to start in a three man midfield alongside probably Tom Ademeyi or perhaps David Syers – who ended up having to come forward to try fill the hole. Doherty has started to look impressive in his distribution while Bullock is struggling to get back to last season’s ways.

The defence seems a mixed bag thus far. Robbie Threlfall’s distribution is missed giving him the edge over Luke O’Brien although the latter has put in some good performances. Lewis Hunt is steady to a fault at right back – nothing gets past him really, he does not get past anybody really – but Zesh Rehman hangs on his shoulder looking for a place in the side. Anyone who things that Rehman he been “obviously the worst player at the club for eighteen months” (as was commented this week) is invited to go stand in the Wilderness Garden behind an eight foot fence on a Saturday afternoon.

None of Rehman or Luke Oliver, Shane Duff and Steve Williams have especially been woeful this term and occasionally some have been excellent. In defence popular wisdom has it that Taylor should pick a team and stick to it but one recalls how Paul Jewell would have three names on his back four and float in one of Ashley Westwood, Jon Dreyer or Andrew O’Brien to partner Darren Moore between Steven Wright and Wayne Jacobs seemingly at random although – perhaps – based on the opposition.

Jon McLaughlin, he plays in goal. He blamed himself for the first goal against Southend allowing the ball to get away from in turning possession over to the visitors. He must have been waiting for people to note his mistake, waiting for the treatment that Simon Eastwood got for similar.

As it happened the sky did not fall in.

How clubs lost control of the football kit

Were one to be asked the simple question “What colours to Bradford City wear?” one would answer in no time at all that the Bantams wear claret and amber.

Indeed were one to be asked the same question about almost all the clubs in the league then a similar speedy response spring to mind. Arsenal: Red with white sleeves, Newcastle United: Black and white stripes, Tranmere Rovers: White and blue, QPR: Blue and white “super” hoops; My Dad has a recurrent and utterly unfunny joke about what colour Leeds United Third Reserves sock tops in 1977 were and – at this point – I’d like to ask him to stop it.

Nevertheless despite a F’ther’s hilarity there is a clear connection in our heads between the team and their colours and strips they wear.

Be asked a similar question: “What kit do Bradford City play in?” and one might struggle more before recalling the amber and pinstripe shirt with claret shorts. Expand that question to “What kit did Bradford City wear in August 2006?” and most of us would be left struggling to recall the exact details.

“Claret and amber,” we would say adding “Stripes” with some confidence but further than that we would struggle.

Ten years ago when City were in the Premiership David Mellor’s Football Task Force issued its edictful charter which would describe to clubs a few desirable traits on pricing and inclusionism one of which was the recommendation that clubs change the home kit no more than once every two years. The calls – like ideas on pricing which have pretty much been ignored at every club except this one – fell on deaf ears and this season eighteen of the twenty Premiership clubs have new home kits, sixteen of them having changed them at the start of last season.

I shall sidestep now the talk of the merits of buying a replica shirt and the ethos and culture around it. You might not like them, you might think they look rubbish on the portly frame of a gentleman of advancing years but you will appreciate, dear reader, that others have different views. Indeed you may also add – with some zest and gusto being put behind you from this writer – that no one puts a gun to your head and makes you buy a shirt and that should you be parents of children who will raise Holy Hell until they have a garment purchased then the fault is not in the stars but in yourselves.

Yes to all these things but understand that people do buy them – often in great numbers – and that this represents a significant source of income for many clubs or rather it has previously and – and here is the rub – is a well that is starting to dry up.

Fashion has a hand in this – in the 1990s wearing a football shirt attained a level of approval that it simply does not have any more – but increasingly the machinations of clubs to maximise the income from replica shirt sales has started to have an effect. Every change of shirt weakened the effect of that change. There was a time when the last shirt looked hopelessly out of step – like a guy at a Sex Pistols gig wearing bell bottoms – but as the frequency of change increased so they became less tied to a time or a team and became more a generic bit of club related clothing.

Club shops up and down the land sell rugby shirts and tank tops, scarves and huge jackets in the colours of the team and none of these gain the kind of official stamp that used to be given to the replica shirt and now seems to have slipped. While no one would concern themselves that their scarf had gone out of date – indeed I wear an appropriately coloured AS Roma scarf to City in the cold of the winter – so increasingly people are less and less worried that their replica shirt might not be the latest version.

Does it matter which Arsenal shirt you wear? As long as it is red and has white sleeves it is an Arsenal shirt. If it is blue and white hooped it is QPR. If – as my scarf suggests – it is claret and amber stripes it is Bradford City. These things are in the DNA of football supporters and it is not for a club to alter even if they could.

In trying to have more control over football in the money drenched post-Gazza’s tears years clubs as a whole have found themselves less and less able to exert the authority they claim over supporters. For every attempt to create the pre-game venue fans still call into their favourite haunt for a beer. For every attempt to mobilise a fleet of official travel one sees numerous recognisable cars in a convoy on the motorway to away games. For every change in strip one notices that one starts to see more and more of what people might call classic shirts.

One struggles to think of a way that a club has tried to package up and resell football to its supporters that has not – in the longer term – failed. The sight of David Beckham in the green and gold of Newton Heath joining the Manchester United supporters protests about their club’s owners and their attempts to wring every penny out of their loyalty said much. If even the most famously consumerist and notoriously wide-eyed supporters in the game will not accept being told how they should support their club – and how they should think of their club – then no one will.

Newcastle United could no more tell their supporters that the club no longer wore black and white stripes than they could that they were no longer to make a cult hero of Kevin Keegan or that they should like the person in the number five, not the number nine, shirt. Even if the club were to send the team out in some day glow yellow then St James’ Park would still be peopled with black and white stripes and grim resignation of having to put up with the situation until status quo was restored. Wearing any of the Newcastle United Toffs shirts would be just as correct – if not more – and one could argue that anyone who wore this classic 60s City shirt at VP next year would look more like a Bradford City player than the ten on the field.

The more a club attempts to control what the fans do the less the fans seem to want to do it. Spurs have launched six new kits – three designs, two sponsors – for this season but the result seems to have been that supporters would rather distance themselves from the idea of buying a kit at all. Assuming the “glory” of finishing fourth in the Premier League did not cause a spontaneous ripping off to run bare chested down the street of last years then, they seem to be supposing, it will do for next.

Bradford City though – as with a good number of teams – have differed from the traditional kit with last year’s claret shirt and this year’s amber number and while it is confusing for those watching on TV and can be be a tough hard to get used to the club has not effected any permanent alteration of that DNA of football. In short by changing design so frequently – from wholesale changes to the marks and flashes that appear and disappear at will on kits – clubs have lost the control over the football kit just as they lost control of what supporters call the stadium they play in by changing it too often.

Some clubs manage to effect permanent changes: Leeds United and Tranmere Rovers both moved to wear white to ape Real Madrid, John Bond rebranded to Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic as AC Milan, Bill Shankley gave Liverpool red and not white shorts; but on the whole there are things are immutable despite the efforts of those who offer up alternatives.

Bradford City play at Valley Parade, wear claret and amber striped shirts and think that all the best things in football are summed up by Stuart McCall and even when those things are not true at a given time, they will be again in the longer term.

These things are are weaved into football DNA.

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