Manager / von Neumann / Advantage

A small group of scientists asked a larger group of scientists who would best represent the intelligence of human kind and, with as much of a consensus of scientists every give, the answer was John von Neumann.

American-Hungarian von Neumann was a polymathic figure in science and his contribution to the fields he touched – which were many – were significant. His work on Quantum theory will shape Mathematics for the next 100 years, his work on The Manhattan Project shaped the history of the 20th century, and his work on Game Theory should shape the selection of the next Bradford City manager with his minimax theorem is our case in point.

In my limited way I will summarise it thus: When making a decision in any game theoretic situation a player will consider all options and select the one which minimises the maximum loss. Which is to say – in this instance – that when selecting a football manager players (in this case chairmen) will make the selection of the person who should things go wrong will go least wrong.

It is hard not to see this in action with Bradford City chairman Edin Rahic’s previous two selections. Neither Stuart McCall or Simon Grayson are bad managers and – and this is important – neither could be accused of being poor managers. If McCall were relegated there are some who would have defended him and Simon Grayson did do badly and is defended.  Both were acceptable appointments though and within the remit of what a League One club is expected to do.

This remit is discussed in the work of a slightly less intelligent but significantly more famous Mathematician John Nash.  The main thrust of Nash’s work was that game theoretic situations relied on the participants knowing the range of acceptable and common moves to them, and anticipating the range of acceptable and common moves available to the other players.

The Nash equilibrium also comes into play when considering the game theory of manager selection. There is an idea that the management of football club’s is a settled matter and a decision has been made on how it is done, and that any variation on that is to do it wrong, which means that football is in something like a Nash equilibrium.

Pardew

Except selecting a football manager is not a Nash equilibrium. The role that a manager does changes often. As recently as the 1990s managers used to sell in ground advertising. The Head Coach that Bradford City are looking for would expect that to be done by someone else no doubt, and would find that scouting is done by another person, and one does not have to agree with this breakdown of work that to accept that the role of manager changes.

And should the role change then the demands of the role changes and so does it’s remit as does the profile of a person who would do it well. von Neumann’s minimax theorem is the way which football deals with this.

The desire of chairmen when making the selection of a manager is to make the choice which is least likely to be a very bad choice which very often is the best available of the group of football managers looking for a job at any given time who have experience at the level you are at.

I am not even a tenth as smart as John von Neumann but I feel certain that he, as I, would call this The Alan Pardew Effect.

Unfair

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp have a list of League One’s Alan Pardews ahead of them and von Neumann theorem would tell them to pick a name from that list. No one person the list will give them an advantage over any other but, at the same time, no one will give them a significant disadvantage. If there are managers who can be found lower down the leagues but who are in effect passing through to find them requires someone to break out of minimax and risk an outcome which does not minimise maximum losses.

So, for example, were the 29 year old Bolton Wanderers player Stephen Darby be offered the role of player manager at Bradford City – and he seems like a qualified man for that role – there is a risk that Darby will manifest zero abilities in the role and the club will loose a dozen games before sacking another club legend. However Darby would seem to have all the indicators that a player can show that he will be a good manager and should he be an Eddie Howe the decision to give him the job will pay far better dividends than appointing any of the League One Pardews.

Two things allow Bradford City to follow this find of approach. Few people seem to expect much of the next management appointment and there is a small but verbal section of fans think that the club is going to be relegated to League Two next season although the chairmen believe that the manager should over-perform and – by definition – expecting one of the League One Pardews to do this is against logic.

Credulity

In selecting a new Bradford City manager Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp a continuum of choice. At the one end they can pick from the list of what we might unflattering call League One Pardews and hope for an uncharacteristic over-performance knowing that an under-performance would not damage the club in a way which is beyond repair. At the other end of the scale is as far away from that list as is possible while still appointing someone who is a credible football manager with the stretch in credulity being the commensurate amount as is justified by the abilities of the target, should such a target be identified.

Which brings us to Nick Cushing.

Cushing is probably not going to be considered by any Football League club this season yet he won the Women’s Super League with Manchester City last season. He is, of course, in possession of an obscene level of resources at Manchester City but his reputation as a coach is very good. He is 33 years old and contracted to Manchester City WFC for sometime but that deal hardly seems necessary. Even the FA seem to believe that you need no ability as a manager at all to manage Women’s football.

If may, or many not, think that women’s football and men’s are non overlapping magisteria and you could believe that were a club like Bradford City to appoint Cushing they could be getting a superb manager or you could think they could get someone who has no relevant experience at all but my point would be that if the club are attempting to get someone who is disproportionately better than the standard of League One they need to find a candidate who has those qualities but is undervalued.

As well as appoint Cushing a club like City could look – and one doubts they would – at Mark Sampson who has experience taking England to a World Cup Final or, should they wish to annoy all the right people, Hope Powell. The level of experience on offer is not going to be matched by someone who got sacked by Scunthorpe Town, unless all that experience is irrelevant.

Instinct

The marketplace for football managers overvalues many irrelevant or partially irrelevant characteristics – such as one’s ability to play the game, or one’s connection to a club – leaving a significant inefficiency that can be exploited. As Arsene Wenger retires is it difficult to recall how hostile the English game was to the idea of overseas managers but Arsenal found they could replaced the entirely unimpressive Bruce Rioch with the Imperious Wenger because Wenger’s Frenchness saw him undervalued by English clubs who were hitherto happy to move around the same talent pool.

Wenger is probably the most celebrated example of a club getting a significant competitive advantage from recruitment. The Frenchman changed the way that footballers behaved at Arsenal, and his legacy is that every other team in the game duplicated the professional, thoughtful, tactical approach and a good number overtook him. This was able to happen because Wenger was undervalued in the marketplace and not just be the xenophobic. His extremely limited career counted against him in his home country as did his demeanor. Famously he was said to resemble a Professor more than a football manager. By ignoring all these points Arsenal were able to create disproportionate benefits.

To find a competitive advantage from recruitment Rahic and Rupp have to identify such areas of value negativity in the market and exploit them. That is exactly what the chairmen of Bradford City should be doing right now.

Come / Grayson / Go

Simon Grayson came and went from Bradford City so quickly that one might excuse him making few friends.

The manager was hired after Stuart McCall was sacked – and no one liked that – with a brief of turning around a slump which saw McCall’s team go from inconsistent play-off contenders to very consistent team heading for a middle of the league finish which would be finalised in May 2018.

Grayson failed in this. He failed for many reasons.

The squad had been split following one of the more serious disciplinary issues that a dressing room can face in January which McCall was ill-placed – and perhaps ill-equiped – to to counter. McCall was everyone’s friend but you cannot be everyone’s friend when sides have been taken.

The manager who can claim to have been promoted four times from League One seemed have enough of a grasp of a game to see what was going wrong both with that squad and during games and some of the time he could do something about that but not often enough to make a difference.

The chairman Edin Rahic had the finger pointed at him as the reason for Grayson’s failure. He has not paid Charlie Wyke a bonus that Wyke was due in the haste when Wyke had wanted it, or so we were told, and because of that Wyke and his fellow squad mates had effectively stopped playing.

How that story reflects worse on Rahic than Wyke I do not know but Rahic has become persona non grata at Valley Parade. He is autocratic they say, and he interferes. The same was said about Geoffrey Richmond of course and one suspects that Rahic would enjoy the same regard were the club to have the same success. Everything in football is seen though a lens of results on the field.

So the squad that was in the play-offs for eighteen months under Stuart McCall went to scoring a third of a point a game and Simon Grayson was on hand to say why.

It was not good enough.

Budget

A bad workman, the adage says, blames his tools. Grayson blamed McCall’s tools but – sensibly given the fact that Our Stuart was able to do far better with them than Their Simon – not because they were poorly assembled but because they were not costly enough.

A club like Bradford City – Grayson said – needs to put is resources into the First Team. One assumes that Simon said that to Edin, and Edin said to Simon that he and Stefan Rupp have a plan to develop young players, and to turnaround Academy released players and the two parties did not meet, or perhaps meet again.

The offer to the manager of Bradford City seems to be that you will get a budget to spend on the first team squad of between £2m and £2.25m and access to – and the obligation to work with – a development set up which one might guess costs the better part of £500,000 to support. That is money paying for squads with coaches who are paid to bring those squads on, who develop those players.

You get Tyrell Robinson, Reece Staunton, Josef Hefele, and George Skyes-Kenworthy and you get at least a half a dozen other players to consider. If you are a football manager you might find that attractive – raw talent and all – or you might also think that you’d rather that money is spent a contract for a senior professional or two.

If it is the latter then you would probably not be the man for Bradford City. And not just today.

Unpleasing

If there is not something that strikes you as unpleasant about the above sentences there should be.

Simon Grayson could not get the same performances out of the team that Stuart McCall could and, because of that, he wanted the dozen or so coaches at the club to be put out of work and the kids that they are coaching to be told to find a new club.

That is what focusing all your budget on the first team is. It is closing down anything that is not the first team. It happened under Phil Parkinson when the Reserve Team closed down and the path from promising youngster to first team member for Oli McBurnie was a broken path.

If you can imagine a Bradford City in the 1980s that did not bother with Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, or Greg Abbott then you can do what I cannot. A football club without the optimism that comes with player development is not really a football club I recognise. It is an artificial thing, a constructed thing, and gives up something too precious to be lost.

Simon Grayson wants to go down that route, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp do not, and so it seems like a good thing that there has been a parting of the ways.

Nahki / Armstrong

And so the rumours continued.

Greg Abbott announced that Bradford City were interested in signing Adam Armstrong from Newcastle United while The Times are reporting that Armstrong’s parent club are now interested in Nahki Wells who, should he move to St James’ Park, would trigger a percentage clause in the transfer deal that took Wells from Bradford City to Huddersfield Town and give Bradford City the cash to spend on a striker.

The breathlessness of the above is indicative of a change in football over my eighteen years writing this website.

It used to be that football supporters lived for the football matches. Now the matches are a frequently ignored data point in the continuing narrative of squad gathering. Hull City’s victory in the first two games of the Premier League season is a quirk in the story of a team with too few players.

Bradford City beat Coventry City, Milton Keynes Dons and Peterborough United in eight days but this has not stopped the conversation around the club being entirely about who should be brought into – or moved out of – the squad.

Improving the squad may or may not be something that is needed this season – that would be a retroactive judgement made in May 2017 and speculation before that – but it is hard to imagine what football supporters would do in August if they were not talking about squad gathering.

Football supporting is now Pokemon Go with young men filling in for Pikachu.

Two

Nevertheless there are two things to note about the current cycle of rumour around Adam Armstrong arriving on loan from Newcastle United.

Notice how it is Chief Scout Greg Abbott and not Manager Stuart McCall who is talking about Armstrong. In fact it is Abbott who leads much of the conversation about recruitment to the club.

This in itself is in keeping with Abbott’s remit at Valley Parade and no bad thing but it is as stark a contrast with Bradford City up to the Summer of 2016 as one could see.

When Archie Christie had Abbott’s role he was geographically abused for having taken too high profile a role in transfer dealings and taking control away from the flailing Peter Jackson.

It is almost impossible to imagine Phil Parkinson’s Chief Scout Tim Breaker fronting a discussion on a target as Abbott does. In fact the first time most City fans heard Breaker’s name was in the revelation that he had left the club with Parkinson to join Bolton.

Abbott’s increased profile is a good thing. For football clubs to get better at transfers there needs to be a group-think approach to recruitment. Too often deals are done by managers to best serve the aims of that manager rather than the club.

The £250,000 that Phil Parkinson was able to reuse from the deal that took Oliver McBurnie to Swansea City was reused in the manager’s budget that season but as McBurnie starts to impress in Wales it is worth wondering if the long term aims of the club have been best served in that deal. I’m not the only one to have worried that after Parkinson, Lawn and Rhodes there is little left behind at Valley Parade.

Transfer group think is not popular in the English game – Liverpool’s transfer committee is seen as a problem – where any control taken from the manager is seen as a bad thing inherently.

my years of football have convinced me of it.

So Abbott speaking for the club is a change but and so it what Abbott is saying.

Should Armstrong join City on loan – perhaps as a result of Wells joining Newcastle United and freeing up the younger forward to move on – then City will be able to play Armstrong and Jordy Hiwula up front. Obviously this are two loan players.

City’s bid for Matt Green and the reported – or perhaps that is hopeful – interest in Adam le Fondre suggest that the alternative to a young loan signing not is an older permanent deal.

Which is a contrast to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s stated aims when the new owners arrived.

Much was made of the fact that City could find value in signing released players from Premier League Academy football, turning their careers around, and developing them. That was how Bradford City would scale from being a League One club to being a club able to get into – and stay in – The Championship.

Hiwula or Armstrong or Josh Cullen might play well for City but the value for that will go elsewhere. City might get promoted because of their contributions but – we are told – when they are gone City will not have a Championship quality team.

Which suggests that either the plan has changed – let us hope not – or the plan was never there – let us very hope not – or that City are caught up in the Pokemon Go of squad gathering as much as the supporters are and that a deep breath would be best for all.

What are we trying to achieve and is signing Armstrong the way to achieve it?

On the day that Wells was to join to Newcastle United then City will be richer than they were. How is that money to be spent? Is it a scatter-signing for a player in August 2016? If it is how is it going to work better than when Stuart McCall scrambled for signings in his first spell as manager when the budget fluctuated wildly?

Which returns us to the central question of 2016 which is how are City without Parkinson, Mark Lawn, and Julian Rhodes going to be better? Indeed are they going to get better? There is no reason to assume an era of success will be followed by another and every reason to assume it will not be.

Is The Rahic Development Plan still being followed? Is it being followed by everyone at the club? If it does then it would make more sense rather than bringing in Armstrong to find a promising teenage striker we own or can own – such as Reece Webb-Foster – and give him the development time.

And while doing that take any money that comes from a resale of Nakhi Wells and use it to fund infrastructural additions which will make the club able to stand up in the Championship.

Club / Preview

It will become obvious, dear reader, how little new Bradford City owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp are like former Bradford City owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes and how that difference is going to change the club over the coming years.

It was noticeable when talking on Radio Leeds that City’s James Mason told a story about how Stuart McCall – when he was approached for the City job in 2007 – was told by Julian Rhodes that had he not accepted the role then the club may fold. Indeed we might recall that the weekend after McCall’s final game Rhodes was faced with the same existential question over the club.

As Lawn and Rhodes recede into City’s history – where they will enjoy a luxurious place no doubt – one can expect lips like Mason’s to continue to loosen and the stories to tell themselves. When they do Bradford City will have moved on.

And moved on with Rahic and Rupp who are starting to generate warmth amongst City fans. Rahic took to a flat cap in Wednesday night and impressed people. His plan is to prepare a club for The Championship and allow football osmosis have its effect.

Having kept the season ticket prices “low” – of in German terms “high” – there was a move towards lower match day prices to £20. One wonders how far into a German model the pair will go and one assumes not to giving 50%+1 of the club away to supporters.

Rahic and Rupp’s changes to the club are glacial. There is much talk about improving the infrastructure around the club which had been previously underfunded with what seemed to be an effort from previous manager Phil Parkinson ensuring that as much of the budget was spent on the first team as it could be. It was noticeable that the new Bolton Wanderers manager has noted that he was not wandering around his new place of work in awe of the facilities he now had at his disposal.

A stark contrast to Benito Carbone’s statement that when he arrived at Bradford City he could find “Nothing that resembled a football club.”

City’s trusty facilities in Apperley Bridge have been subject to improvements but one wonders how much of Rahic and Rupp’s planning might include a move away to somewhere bigger, better, and more well suited. Peter Taylor had agreed a move to Weetwood in Leeds and Geoffrey Richmond was keen to build new facilities at the top of the M606.

City’s scouting structures have never been especially well stocked but in Greg Abbott Rahic and Rupp – and Stuart McCall – have appointed the highest profile person in that position the club have ever had signalling an increase in importance of the role. Forget Abbott as a former player City have never had a former manager in the role.

The importance of Abbott will become more obvious in time but from Rahic’s statements it seems that something of a transfer committee – or at least a transfer group think – has been build up where manager, chairman and Chief Scout get heads around a table to discuss not only the current transfer hunt but the plans for the future.

Assuming that Abbott’s future is not tied directly to McCall’s this gives City a possibility of institutional retained knowledge. Also it summons up the image of Parkinson and his Chief Scout Tim Breaker sitting down with Mark Lawn to talk over – rather than tell – which players they should be signing.

When do these changes manifest themselves? Slowly, one suspects, but in a determined way the fabric of the club around Bradford City is going to be different from this point on and different in a way which builds into place structures which have long been needed.

Unfamiliar / Preview

Matthew Kilgallon joined Bradford City on a one year deal from Blackburn Rovers bringing a level of excitement to some supporters at the end of a summer where things at Bradford City fell apart and were put back together again.

The usefulness of Kilgallon’s recruitment will be seen in time. He and Nathaniel Knight-Percival joi in the central defensive position and Nathan Clarke and Rory McArdle remain. This gives Stuart McCall’s Bradford City three or four – depending on your view on Clarke – strong choices to start in the middle of the defence.

At the other end of the pitch things are different and attacking options are thin on the ground. McCall arrived in June to find James Hanson still at the club he had left five years ago but one could argue that Hanson and his colleagues players in attacking positions: Mark Marshall, Paul Anderson, Billy Clarke; need improvements on last season’s performances to be significant.

Teams score goals, not players and while four of those mentioned above could be more creative than converting – the flick down from McArdle’s diagonal ball is an act of creation – none could be said to have created enough.

Tony McMahon’s withdrawal to right back form the right wing – where he spent a season under Phil Parkinson – is a curious move from McCall exactly because it removes the one player in the Bradford City team who excelled in creation last season.

Drop

His name dropped into the preview it is worth acknowledging that Phil Parkinson is going to have more of of an impact on Bradford City 2016/2017 than Stuart McCall will. Parkinson – who of course exited for Bolton Wanderers in June – built as much of a monolith as football allows a manager to create in the modern game at Valley Parade.

Parkinson took his backroom team with him to Bolton and his backroom team – it is reported – took everything they had worked on with them. Once again – just as with the situation a few months prior to Parkinson’s arrival at Valley Parade – the file cabinets that contained scout reports were empty and the structures around a football club were scant.

And it is this way because Parkinson wanted it this way. The former Bradford City manager had had experiences sharing out the power at a football club previously – most notability at Hull City – and found it wanting. Parkinson fought a hard fight against unspecified directors with unspecified roles to make sure that he had some control in every aspect of the footballing side of Valley Parade and he won those fights.

There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop young players and so Stuart McCall arrived to find no young players with first team experience. There was no pressure on Parkinson to create a squad which was sustainable from one season to the next. There was no pressure on Parkinson to develop a squad with resale value until new owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp arrived at the club and – within a few weeks – Parkinson was gone.

Rahic and Rupp arrived to replace Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes as Bradford City owners and began to talk about a future in which the squad was shaped around recycling the waste product of Premier League academies.

That last statement sounds needlessly dismissive and should not. If one looks at the example of The Chelsea Academy of the last fifteen years one can only think of a single player – John Terry – who was not waste. Millions are spent on players who are discarded for not reaching and elite standard but are able to be turned around and made into useful footballers.

A production line of turnaround players is as close to a business model as the game at lower levels has ever had and one which Rahic and Rupp believe they can benefit from. Clearly the club they bought was an ill fit to achieve that.

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes freely admitted that they could see no other way of the club going forward than someone arriving and injecting more money and, as the ultimate result of that paucity of thinking, they were prepared to give Parkinson total control of all football matters.

Which is not to say that Parkinson should not have enjoyed carte blanche to do any or all these things as he sees fit. Parkinson’s methods showed constant year-on-year improvement and perhaps would have continued to do so but without the manager ceding some control they would not have aligned with the owners.

Parkinson used many short term contracts, and Parkinson used many loan signings, and Parkinson was not entirely interested in developing young players, and if the club are now interested in long term permanent signings of young players then it starts from a negative position.

Which is a long way of saying that the 2016/17 season – the first post-Parkinson season – is defined by the decision taken by Rhodes and Lawn to allow Parkinson to be the entire centre of the footballing side of Bradford City. There was no institutional retention of knowledge – the scouting cupboard was bare – and that is the result of choices made before June 2016, not after.

Five

Phil Parkinson’s final finish for Bradford City was fifth in League One and it is that which – rightly or wrongly – Stuart McCall will be measured against in the next twelve months as will Parkinson at Bolton Wanderers.

Both measurements could be unfair. For Parkinson his record of first season success is thin and the Trotters would be better to be prepared to wait.

For McCall he is a manager who started late and without structures which are necessary. McCall has not walked into a Southampton where the manager is an appendage to a well run system. He is at a club which – both rightly and wrongly – allowed itself to be defined by its manager and who has now gone.

There is much work to do to replace Parkinson and while Rahic has an idea of the shape that he would like the club to take in the long term there is no reason at all to believe that any of the work ahead of McCall, Chief Scout Greg Abbott, James Mason or Edin Rahic can be achieved without any negative effect on performance.

That Bradford City that finished fifth last season is gone and progress must now be judged anew.

These are unfamiliar times.

McCall / Recall

And so it was that Stuart McCall returned to Bradford City.

McCall – manager from 2007-2010, player from 1981-1988 and from 1998-2002 – has agreed in principal to replace Phil Parkinson at Valley Parade will see the former captain leave his current role as a coach at Scotland and return to full time management for the first time since he left Rangers in 2015. McCall also enjoyed success at Motherwell in the SPL.

His credentials at Bradford City are above reproach. For many he defined the club and his exit as manager was a painful chapter in the club’s history.

However his time as manager continues to divide supporters, as does his return. While McCall offers something of a safe place for Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp – the club legend is always a popular figure – there will be a sense that having not been able to achieve promotion previously McCall is tried, and tested, and failed.

Whatever one’s thoughts behind that it seems that McCall was able to impress the German owners of Bradford City in a way that the other candidates – including supposed preferred choice Uwe Rösler – was not. His experiences as a player are impressive, and his presence in the Scotland set up adds to his knowledge. One wonders how McCall has changed as a manager since he left City, and how much that has played into Rahic and Rupp’s decision making.

McCall is expected to be formally announced as Bradford City manager before the week is out. There is also speculation that the incoming manager has started a recruitment drive at the club. Maybe his list of preferred targets and Rahic’s belief in who the club should be signing correlate.

When Stuart McCall arrived at Bradford City he was a club legend and while he was criticised (by me, although that was often ignored) there was this was tempered in a way it was not for his successor Peter Taylor. One doubts that on his return the Scot will have any illusions that his reputation is still stainless, or that it will not stain.

In full knowledge of how much easier it is to talk about football rather than do it, to coach players rather than take the responsibility of the big chair, to be a hallowed and separate club legend rather than get dirt under the fingernails to try improve things Stuart McCall return as Bradford City manager.

In my opinion that speaks much to the character the man.

Welcome one and all to the fourth, and different, coming.

Tedious / Multiplication

At some point in the future football supporters are going to realise that they know more about football than the media that make money out of them.

Today this can be seen in serious terms in Marseilles following violence around the England vs Russia Euro 2016 game. The initial attempts to write stories about “the English disease” seem to have struggled against social media showing events as they occur.

Perhaps the best way to sum this situation up is that the media which took 25 years to tell you the truth about what happened to football fans at Hillsborough are trying to tell you the truth about what happened in Marseilles last night.

More light is the story this morning that Bradford City – which is to say Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp – have decided that Neil Redfearn is the choice for the vacant manager’s seat at Valley Paarde. The Daily Star reported this. That is the Daily Star that reported “I saw the killer smoke bomb” in 1985. Keep it light, Michael.

What are the chances that after a month in England Rahic has decided that the ineffectual former Leeds and Rotherham manager is not only a choice, but the choice, for the new managers role? I’d suggest that Rahic and Rupp might not even know the man’s name. How many twice sacked 2. Bundesliga managers do you know?

The Daily Star’s report is not even good rumourmongering. They have – one suspects – looked at the fact that Redfearn has no job and added to the fact that he once played for the club and probably not noticed the change in ownership. Perhaps Redfearn’s people want to remind all and anyone reading that he is available and some writer owed them a favour.

It is no more educated a report that all the reports linking Phil Parkinson to Reading were, and almost certainly no more accurate.

It is guesswork. And not even inspired guesswork.

Yet we, as football supporters, lend these fumbled in the intellectual dark a level of interest that they ill deserve. Because it is “int’ paper” we think it must have some truth to it. The media understand this and act accordingly taking our money as they do.

And it is easy to say that this is no problem at all. “It is just a bit of fun” but these people earn money by leeching of the interests of football fans and inserting themselves between clubs and supporters.

If we, as football supporters, decide we can do it all better ourselves (which I think we can, and that when this website was it is 25,000 a day pomp, we did – see comment below) we could cut out the people who make money by making things up and have the clubs talk directly to us.

Which, along with some honesty, would be a welcome change in how football works.

Untruth / Misinformation

If you are anything like me you probably spent a good deal of yesterday being lied to.

At 12:00 Phil Parkinson was due at a press conference where he would become Bolton Wanderers manager. He was late and the reason that was given by Bolton was that the new manager was stuck in traffic.

Of course he was not. Some two and a half hours later when Parkinson did take the the stage it was not the result of a traffic jam it was – as Bradford City’s official statement would later all but say – because the paperwork around the deal (which, lest we forget, is the deal and everything before is negotiation) had not been completed.

It is a white lie of course – stuck in traffic – and hardly anything to be especially upset about. Only it comes at the end of a week where where almost everything that seemed to come out of the Bolton Wanderers camp was – being kind – misinformation.

At the end of their negotiations with Parkinson the man himself would confirm that the club had made a contract through his agent some weeks ago. Once he had said that a lot of what had emerged out of Bolton in the last few weeks started to look like, at best, misinformation.

But one might be understanding to a need to not show one’s hand in negotiations was there really a need to lie about traffic conditions on the M62?

They have also told Parkinson that their debts are not what everyone says they are and that they will be able to sign players because their transfer embargo will be lifted soon. Very well, believe that too.

The Hunt

One should not single out Bolton Wanderers as especially egregious offender in this. They figure recently but are far from alone in seeing lying to football supporters – be they those who follow your club or not – a matter of course.

So much of the talk that comes out of football is colourful misinformation and most of this is considered to be fairly harmless. Teams overplay their chances, talk up their atmosphere, and do all those other things which sit comfortably on the side of “public relations” rather than lying.

And of course clubs deal in a marketplace where there is a negative result of allowing rivals to know you business dealings. This is obviously true in some cases. One recalls Bradford City flying Stephen Hunt from Ireland only to be told when he landed at Yeadon that Hunt had been contracted by, and would be signing for, Reading.

Even with the cover of secrecy that clubs protect their business dealings with Hunt was swiped away from City. It is impossible to say how many deals would be scuppered if there was no secrecy involved but then again it is also impossible to say how many would go along exactly as they do now.

All football club’s business dealings are treated as if secrecy is sacrosanct and the price of that secrecy is a practised dishonesty with supporters which I would suggest is unhealthy.

Unless one considers one’s self a consumer of a club’s football product then one probably sees immediately the problem that emerges when the community around a football club becomes used to the heart of that community habitually lying.

Look at any club forum on any discussion and there will be a theme running through that whatever the official line is, it is dishonest.

The football clubs that sit in the middle of our communities are thought of as having the ethics of politicians – and not the good ones – and for good reason. As the “stuck in traffic” suggests being dishonest with the community they are in is as natural as breathing for them.

Does it have to be this way?

Trouser

What would happen if a club decided that – as a core principal – that openness with the stakeholders in the community and transparency was the foremost concern.

In such a situation unless there was a critical reason to keep something secret it would be public. If a player wants to be paid £5,500 a week to play for the club then that would be known. If the club makes an offer for a player – in or out – then that would be known.

That someone might gazump a bid for a player is an obvious concern but players (and specifically player’s agents) are happy to tell our rivals who are interested that they had better make a move quick because money is on the table. At the moment what we have is not secret dealings, it is just secret from us.

Imagine if as soon as Bolton Wanderers made an approach for Parkinson, or Huddersfield Town made one for Nahki Wells, the information and amounts offered were available to all to read. Would the business of Bradford City have been significantly disadvantaged by this?

And while one could understand that a number of people would be upset by a searchlight being shined in all corners of a club’s business – George Graham would never have been able to trouser £425,000 in such a situation for example – the benefits could outweigh those concerns.

What those benefits are are, I’d suggest, that a fully informed community is better able to make judgements. Judgements on how the team should be performing, on how the business is performing, on almost every aspect of the club.

And better judgements make for a better community. #chairgate shows what a good community can be. If you are happy with, and see nothing other than, being a consumer of the Bradford City football product this will mean nothing to you.

History

That club’s are run with such secrecy comes from the origin as factory clubs owned by the bosses and watched working classes. When clubs moved to being privately owned the bosses became businessmen who held the same regard for the spectator as the paternal boss did for his employees. They were to be told what they needed to know and little more.

Now football clubs are part of an industry arm of capitalism they treasure secrecy as the source of a competitive advantage and Manchester United would no more reveal their plans any more than Apple would show you the next iPhone. In that they will leak it when it suits them.

Of course coming from the land of EV and 50%+1 this would be alien talk to Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp. With the exception of three German football clubs are owned by the members and while the expectation is not total transparency from elected boards down the level of openness that Rahic will have experienced at Stuttgart is probably unheard of in modern English football.

Ultimately this subject rests on how one likes to be addressed. Football club treat supporters like children to be protected from the bad, told only what is good for them, and expected to behave as they are instructed.

I do not have that constitution and that cuts against my grain.

This week has been a good week for Bolton Wanderers but – were a Trotters fan – I would not appreciate being spoken to in such a low tone of voice.

Selection / Manager

First this then what? While the history of BfB remains unwritten if I were to follow our friends at A Post in doing so there would be a large chunk of that about the process of recruiting managers.

Because while Bradford City have not had to appoint a replacement manager for some five years in the five years before the practice was becoming so common as to have started to be tedious.

The transition from Peter Jackson to Parkinson was something of a disorganised fumble with the candidates being interviewed not understanding the remit of the role they were applying for. Colin Cooper is believed to have told Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes that were he to get the job he would sack Chief Scout Archie Christie and Rhodes reply – as reported by Christie – was that Christie’s input on the manager would weigh heavily on the process.

At the time Rhodes and Lawn had wanted John Still the then Dagenham and Redbridge manager (who is now manager of Dagenham and Redbridge again) to take the position but were turned towards Parkinson as a better option.

Jackson’s appointment was a Sunday afternoon nonsense where it seemed that the club had decided that as a former player Jackson could skip an interview process for who would replace Peter Taylor and go straight to the manager’s chair,

Jackson had been working in a care home when he got the call to become a football manager once more. In my view he was barely adequate in his performance and the problems of his appointment were those of his departure. No matter how Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp go about recruiting the new manager for Bradford City one doubts it can be worse than that period of the club’s history.

Peter Taylor had been an outstanding appointment to replace Stuart McCall bringing to the table a seniority which McCall lacked and a proven track record of success. Taylor’s time at the club is rightly not fondly remembered but it is his professionalism rather than the lack of material which stopped him from sticking a few boots in on the way out.

The Shane Duff fish story speaks volumes.

Taylor’s appointment is perhaps the model that Rahic and Rupp – and any other chairman looking – would best follow when looking for a new manager. Selecting a candidate who had achieved success is important but much more important are multiple successes across different situations.

This adaptability is probably what attracted Bolton to Parkinson. Parkinson has worked on a budget at City at first, and at Colchester United, and he has shown an ability to take on big occasions at Chelsea, Arsenal et al.

There is an element of confirmation bias in Parkinson’s appointment.

The news that Chief Scout Tim Breacker is leaving with Parkinson comes as music to the ears as the club badly need to readdress that area. Parkinson’s recruitment was becoming an problem at Bradford City. Of the players he was happy with Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and Kyel Reid were all picked up a long time ago and if there was a faultline between Rahic and Parkinson along the idea of recruitment then one would struggle to suggest that the manager should have been allowed to carry on doing things the same way.

Likewise following the defeat to Millwall I expressed a concern that Parkinson had created a kind of Oakland Athletics in League One (The Oakland A’s being the subject of the book Moneyball) which was able win in the grind of week to week football but were found wanting at the sharp end of the season.

That concern was just that – a minor concern, rather than a fully stated question – and of course is denied by memories of Aston Villa away and Stamford Bridge but while the strength of Parkinson was his team’s ability to grind out results and sneak 1-0 wins that was a weakness when overplayed.

One should never be critical the the days of milk and honey ended but Millwall game illustrates this concern. In one of the forty five minute periods – the first – the Londoners dominated City and in the others the Bantams were arguably the better team but did not repair the damage done.

Perhaps more significantly to the concern is that in those three forty-five minute periods that followed Parkinson’s side did not seem as if it could repair the damage of being 3-1 down. Keeping game’s tight and nicking goals works over a longer period, less so in a two legged tie.

But would overplays this at one’s peril. Parkinson was an exceptional Bradford City manager and as Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp look for his replacement they must hope to keep the best of Parkinson.

Parkinson’s teams were seldom out of games. Rarely were the side over a goal down and always did it look capable of getting something out of an encounter. One of the more compelling reasons to follow Parkinson’s City on the road was the fullness of the ninety minutes of football. Never being out of a game was a watchword of the previous manager, and hopefully will be one of the next.

This was in no small part down to the spirit Parkinson’s side had which was second to none seen at Valley Parade. One could write books about how the players aided each other through bad moments that stopped bad games and probably still not understand exactly how that team spirit worked. Suffice to say whatever it is needs to remain, as to Stephen Darby and Rory McArdle the chief proponents of it.

Finally Parkinson’s pragmatism needs to be a factor in the new manager especially when confronted with the stated iconoclasm of Rahic and Rupp who have a clear idea of how they want the Bantams to play (“High pressing, exciting”) but may have to accept as Parkinson had that tactics are created to suit players and situations. Parkinson’s final season at City was defensive by necessity. The new manager, whomsoever he may be, should hope to make sure that he understands this.

Anatomy / Rumour

Phil Parkinson is not joining Bolton Wanderers as manager and – and I say this as a seasoned watcher of rumours – it seems that he was never joining Bolton Wanderers as manager so why was so much mental energy wasted on thinking that he would?

A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes – Mark Twain

On the surface Parkinson – a man born near Bolton but long since used to moving where his career dictates – is a decent fit for the remit of bringing a once Premier League club back to its former glories. Indeed that is the job he is doing now at Bradford City where one could argue he has hit something of a ceiling having had a few years in the same division. The logic is rough but from it one can get two and another two and sum something like five.

As a rumour it does not want for credibility. It seems like something that could happen regardless of if it will happen which is why somebody made it up.

And let us make no mistake, dear reader, rumours are not spontaneous. Someone somewhere makes them up and circulates them. Every manager move, every player suggestion, every report in the local paper, every whisper on a website is made up by somebody to serve some agenda.

Let us deal with the most easy first. Some people make up rumours and put them online for kicks. I’m going to do it now: City are signing Lionel Messi. You do not believe it because it has no credibility. For obvious reasons.

Change Messi to Bastian Schweinsteiger then credibility is still stretched but with the connection that he is German and Bradford City are owned by the German pair of Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp then the credibility grows. Albeit by the most tiny increments.

Change Bastian Schweinsteiger to Nick Proschwitz and without having any reason to do it we have a real enough sounding rumour. If Simon Parker is short of useful work to do (Heaven forbid) then I’m sure he can make 400 words out of “Internet theorists talking crazy talk about these Proschwitz rumour” by the Thursday copy deadline.

Creditability

Outside of mischief making the rumour in football is a useful tool in negotiations and publicity. So useful that it seems that there are swathes of the football media for whom speculation has replaced reporting or investigation as a modus operandi. Repeating rumours has become what the back pages of newspaper are for.

Take, for example, the recent coup d’état at Manchester United where the appointment of Jose Mourinho when it happened was almost ignored whereas the rumours that it would happen – which came minutes after the end of the FA Cup final – were given blanket news coverage.

Those reports were not the same inspired piece of journalistic guesswork. They were rumours seeded by someone (or perhaps someone’s agent) in what seems to be a protracted negotiation around Old Trafford.

Almost all rumours that have any creditability are the same.

Obvious

If you read that Proschwitz is likely to sign for Bradford City then someone is behind the rumour (well, I am behind that one, and you just saw me make it up above) be it Proschwitz and his representatives trying to promote his name and try get him a move to any club, or perhaps trying to get him an improved deal at his current club by making him seem wanted.

Or it is nothing to do with Proschwitz and it is someone at Bradford City (again, it is not) trying to put pressure on Jamie Proctor to sign a new contract on the understanding that if he does not then someone else is waiting in the wings to take his deal.

Or it is Bradford City showing an obvious hand to Proschwitz to say to him that he is wanted, or testing the reaction to his signing, or to indicate to anyone interested that they are in the market for a striker, or to suggest that they are in the market to appease these fans, or it is the club releasing information that has happened in a way that best serves their aims.

A rumour could be any of those things but the one thing you can be certain of is that it will not be the result of investigative journalism uncovering information and sharing it with you.

Proposition

One could trace the rumour linking Phil Parkinson to Bolton Wanderers back to source if one wanted to. My guess would be that it originated from someone near to the appointment process for the next manager at The Trotters who was looking to put pressure on the other people being interviewed but that is only speculation on my part.

It could have easily been a show from Phil Parkinson’s side to underline the support he has amongst fans who expressed horror at the prospect of his moving over the Pennines.

Without knowing who is behind the rumour – which was, let me remind you, a fiction – it is impossible to say what purpose it was created to serve.

There is a story in football about the free transfer bound senior pro listed on the off chance on March deadline day and snapped up for £250,000 “and not a penny more”. The art of negotiation is in making the other party feel that the market more favours your side. The rumour in football is another way of achieving that.

The rumour (if it works) engages the emotion of supporters and so we are being used as a bargaining point in someone else’s negotiation whether it suits our ends or does not. The football media is a willing accomplice in this but let us not kid ourselves that it is not our clicks, eyes, and interest that make that viable. We like to think that enshrined as consumers of the football industry product we are King and Queens, and are always right as is the customer’s mantra.

As football supporters we need to demand that our media (including BfB) deal more in talking about facts (and what results from those facts) and less about fanciful propositions, reacting to what has not happened and repeating what someone else said.

Until we do that we will carry on being pawns.

Wandering / Parkinson

If Phil Parkinson is going to Bolton Wanderers – and at the moment it seems that he is not – then Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp would be confronted by the perennial problems of Bradford City which dominated their predecessors tenure.

How does a football club give the manager total control while retaining institutional knowledge of how to bring success?

If Parkinson and his team were to leave, and it seems that he will not, then what at Bradford City is there to carry on the good work he has done? There is no Director of Football, no powerful Chief Scout, no Youth set-up turning out talent, no facilities that guarantee quality. It seems that the whole of the footballing side of Bradford City is Phil Parkinson.

Which is no bad thing.

Parkinson is the start and end of the football side of Bradford City because – one suspects – he wants it that way. His experience sharing power in a structure at Hull City that worked out very poorly. The club is shaped the way Parkinson wants it and that is probably why Parkinson is not looking to leave Valley Parade any time soon.

The manager as “club builder” is a massively out of fashion thing in football at the moment. Even the word “manager” is often not used to describe the man who picks the team who is often described as a “Head Coach” or “Chief Person Selection Architect” or similar. The structures to support the man who picks the team have long since bled over the lines that a person like Bill Shankly or Sir Alex Ferguson would have considered the remit of the manager.

And this may be no bad thing – too often clubs give a former player with no business, scouting, or planning experience the final say on everything at the club and a remit of a few months to start to show progress. Sharing the responsibility around a football club is a very good idea from the club’s point of view. The manager does not always agree.

Take, for example, the story of Rafa Benitez at Newcastle United. People all over Europe are scratching their heads as to why the Spaniard would go from The Champions League and Real Madrid to Tyneside and the Championship in the space of twelve months. The answer seems to lay in the responsibility Benitez has been promised by Newcastle United. He has been told he will have the final say on everything. That he can have the club builder at a club which (considering Leicester City are reigning champions) has genuine potential in European football.

No club of the size of Newcastle United in the rest of Europe wants a club builder manager. The offer is too tempting to refuse. Benitez could turn it down and find a club who want him to pick the team and sit on a transfer committee – and that might be a club that wins a league – but to control everything is to be the sole author of any success.

One assume that the same offers come into Parkinson – albeit under the radar – and are met with a response that unless control is near total then the City boss will stay where he is. Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri is praised for how little of the set up he found at Not Filbert Street he changed. Winning the Premier League is massively impressive but it is a shared success.

Any success Parkinson has – and a promotion and a cup final is pretty impressive – he is the sole author of. The difficulties Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes had – and Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic now face – is how best to support Parkinson’s efforts without bleeding over the lines of his responsibilities.

Player / Season

If you look back through the list of people who have won Time magazine Man of the Year you see some curious names: Stalin, Hilter, Kissinger. Time Magazine’s award is not a prize for the best or most worthy, nor is it an indication of the most agreed with, it is a statement on how that person captures the year gone by.

So it is in that spirit where I dismiss talk of Reece Burke as City’s player of the season and champion Kyel Reid.

Reid, more than anyone, signals the fulcrum point of 2015/2016 and the two Bradford City City’s that played in it. Brought in to replace the injured and floundering Paul Anderson Reid’s return from Preston North End signalled an acknowledgement from Phil Parkinson that something was going rotten in his Denmark.

Reid’s performances have continued the theme that Reid’s performances do. Some superb runs, some curious slaloms. Some controlled shots, some high wide handsomes. He plays with a smile and if his play does not make you then you are the worse for it. Watching a winger charge at a full back is one of football’s most glorious sights and Reid’s passion for that has taken me to the edge of my seat many times.

More than that though Reid was Parkinson’s man. A winger who borders on the flamboyant it is easy to exclude from one’s thoughts Parkinson having signed Reid three times in his career, including on his first day at Bradford City in 2011. The trust between manager and player is key here. As Parkinson watched his team ship goals he bright in an attacking player who he knew he could trust in defensive positions. As his team lacked character he brought in a player who he knew the shape for the dressing room. Reid fit in in 2015 because Reid fit in in 2011, and in 2010 at Charlton Athletic, because teams always need players with the character of Reid.

The turnaround in City’s season was not about mazy runs or pinpoint crosses it was about a solid defence and a strong character and the return of Kyel Reid – along with Tony McMahon’s move onto the right hand side of midfield – cemented that. One might want the best from Paul Anderson/Mark Marshall last year and next but Parkinson needs them to build a rapport with their full back. Reid seldom gets credit for his defensive positioning – and sometimes he is maligned for it as a kind of holdover from the days of Omar Daley – but his connection to James Meredith in the defensive third of the field stops crosses.

After Kyel Reid’s return City won seventy points from thirty six games. That 1.94 points a game compares to champions Wigan’s 1.89 points per game over 46 matches. The importance of knowing the character of a player before bringing him to the club is a lesson taught time and time again and comparing the failing Mark Marshall to Reid teaches it once more.

Reid might not have a contract at Bradford City next season. He is another player waiting for the retained list and perhaps worrying about how much investment Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic will invest for other talent. But the example of Reid this season should inform next. Recruitment is not about something more that technical gifts. It is about reliability and character and if the players who come in at August 2016 do not have that then I’d hope Kyel Reid is sitting by his phone.

Recent Posts