Good player, bad player

Nathan Doyle’s accent to the top of football predicted by many during his four months at Valley Parade could not have gone much further off track than it did yesterday. Released from Hull City and then signed by Barnsley where he spends most of his time on the bench. Yesterday Doyle and two other men were pulled over while driving in Derby which resulted in three men being arrested for possession of a Class A substance.

The future for Doyle is difficult to appreciate – footballers like Mark Bosnich, Roman Bednar and Shane Nicholson have played after public abuse of cocaine – but the fact that his projected career did not match his actual career is a lesson for all when it comes to gradating and valuing footballers.

We hang onto words like “good player”, “bad player” and “not good enough” but which would be categorise Doyle as simply on the basis of his playing career? He was “good player” when he left Bradford City, “not good enough” when he was at Hull City and probably considered “bad player” now yet one doubts his abilities have changed. If anything having played with Premier League players at Hull for two years he has probably learnt much.

His motivations, on the other hand, are no doubt different. Leaving Bradford City after being picked by Colin Todd from the stiffs at Derby Doyle seemed to relish every game and no doubt he was spirited enough when he arrived at the KC Stadium but a year or two of reserve football, the infamous on pitch telling off and a few changes of manager later and Nathan Doyle is where he is now.

From a playing point of view Nathan Doyle is far from alone. Football is peopled with players who kicked up a storm when they were young and spend the next few years trying to get back to where they were predicted to be going. Robbie Threlfall – wowing all with his youth team performances for Liverpool a few years ago – is a current example of this in the City team but scanning down the squads of most teams turns up many a player who was subject to “The Boys A Bit Special” articles a few years before.

There are no “good players” or “bad players”. Players play well, or they play poorly. That is all.

Motivation changes, colleagues change, situations change but the idea that Threlfall kicks a ball worse than he did two years ago or that Doyle so forgotten how to control a ball is a little silly. The more anyone does anything the better they get at it. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers creates a rule of thumb that the one things that unites World Class performers is not a genetic quirk or an enlarged part of the brain but that all have put in 10,000 hour of practice.

For all the talk of “God given” talent David Beckham got good at free kicks by kicking a ball at a traffic cone on the park until after it had gone dark. Physical changes might rob a player of his skills – broken legs that do not heal and all – but just like you never forget how to swim a player never forgets how to play.

In the event of a player like Lee Hendrie – coming back from years of injury – then perhaps one can suggest that a player has lost the ability to access his skills. Hendrie might not be able to get up and down the pitch like he used to but he knows what to do, and how to do it, if his body will let him.

Motivation changes and managers try to control the mind-set of players as Peter Taylor has done and one can imagine that for a player like Doyle going up the leagues but into the reserves, or a player like Hendrie used to checking into the training facilities of Aston Villa and now avoiding dog poo on Apperley Bridge, retaining the mind set that brought you to prominence is hard.

The French side Olympique Lyonnais – masters of the transfer market – identified a different problem in motivation in that they looked at the performance of players signed after winning World Cups, Champions Leagues or European Championships and noted a dip which they put down to motivation. Such players are not hungry for success any more – they are successful – and their performance suffers as a result. It is probably not going a problem that is going to apply to City any time soon but it explains why Fernando Torres and Stephane Guivarch did not set the Premier League alight on return with a World Cup winners medals.

Following Lyon offers a set of rules for the transfer market that are tried and tested as the French side won their domestic league from 2001-2008. Lyon were one of the first clubs to seriously engaging in “settling” which is often lampooned as “telling spoilt rich footballers how to get to Tescos” but they have found is a way to protect their investment. They sign – pretty much – only French and Brazilian players because they know they can settle them. From Bruno Rodriguez to Billy Topp, Juanjo to Jorge Cadete City have a string of players who would not have been signed under the Lyon guidelines.

Another of Lyon’s maxims of the market revolves around the notion that players are not the subject to wild fluctuations in ability and – having accepted that – any problems they do have can be solved and the player can be returned to form.

“Buy broken players, and fix them” is the summation and it would apply to Doyle right now. Pick him up, straighten him out and get him back on track and then you have the player who left for Hull City. If Barnsley decide they have had enough of him then from a purely footballing point of view it would make sense for any club to sign him although as City saw after signing Jake Speight the ethics of the broken player are a different thing indeed.

Jim Jefferies and a cyclic revisionism

For eight years former Bradford City Premiership boss Jim Jefferies has been in charge at Kilmarnock before his – and of course his number two Billy Brown’s – exit early today in a storm of reports about directors talking to captains about tactics following a summer of arguing with the board about offering a job to the one time City midfelder Gary Locke a job.

Jefferies – who was overlooked for the Scotland job despite strong favour in some sections of the country – had a decent record at Rugby Park taking them to numerous top six finishes but never getting close to the top two. Not dissimilar to his record with Hearts before he arrived at Valley Parade to replace Chris Hutchings in 2000.

Hutchings had struggled to win points with most talented team assembled in Bradford City’s history in the top flight that season and Jefferies – on arrival – was trumpeted as one of the top ten coaches in the UK. On his second day he had rubbed chairman Geoffrey Richmond up the wrong way with the head honcho deciding after 48 hour that he was not able to work with the new man and a look back at the Bantams shows that the club had been in a slide caused by Richmond’s six weeks of madness.

Isn’t it time we looked back at what we perceive as a failure for Jim Jefferies and re-evaluate his time at Bradford City? Like Hell it is.

Jefferies arrived at Valley Parade proudly waving a white flag above his head saying that relegation – with over half the season left – was a near certainty and Richmond’s instinct to sack the Scot on his second day in the job was spot on (What would have been the worst that happened had he done so? Jefferies and Brown could have been added to the list of creditors?)

Not content with waving that white flag Jefferies proceeded to cherry pick a few players from the first team – the likes of Benito Carbone and Stan Collymore – and give them a few months in the reserves no doubt to encourage them out of the door for the wage bill but effectively making his relegation prediction more likely.

Jefferies attitude to the Bradford City dressing room seemed to read good spirit and strength as disruption and a divide of his power and set about slicing it in half. Out went club legend Peter Beagrie Рwoefully minimised with his swansong being a later dance around defender at home to Coventry City showing what the Bantams were missing Рand in came the likes of Eoin Jess and the aforementioned Locke. Kevin Kyle Рthe captain who had seen the fall out at Killie Рwas linked to City during this time and after a year in the job the manager brought in the ineffectual Juan Jos̩ Carricondo. Jim Jefferies called the players by their nicknames РJuanjo, Lockey, erm, Jessie Рbut only those players he has brought into Valley Parade.

Thus Jefferies is summed up. A manager who made the critical error of judgement that a player who could turn a few tricks for Hearts in the SPL could replace one for one a player who could do the same in the Premiership. In the annals of Bradford City not enough is spoken of the waste of time, effort and money which was paying Juanjo after having Benito Carbone in the second eleven.

Chris Hutchings suffered injures to David Wetherall and Andrew O’Brien and lost Lee Mills to alcohol problems but while Hutchings struggled to keep his players in the squad Jefferies frittered them away on what in retrospect seemed to be one man’s experiment to discover what anyone could have told him before he started: that an average player in Scottish top flight football is a long way inferior to his counterpart in the English top flight.

The most irritating thing about Jefferies – who once again leaves a club complaining about interference from above as if his time at Valley Parade should not have warned chairmen about giving him a free hand – is that Wigan Athletic kindly provided a second take on the Paul Jewell leaves and is replaced by a short time by Hutchings story and their ended happily under Steve Bruce who came not with the Jefferies surrender but with spirit and fight that kept them in the top flight.

I would not have considered Bruce one of the top ten managers in the country before then, his achievements at Wigan probably changed my mind on that.

One is tempted to ask how different would Bradford – City and the City – be had that appointment been made differently. Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle were reported to be talked to and Prof Rhodes confirmed that Berti Vogts has applied for the job but instead – and with a flourish from the media who sang his praises dubbing him one of the best managers in the country – we got Jim Jefferies, and shafted.

However if the appointment was a mistake then that mistake was compounded and doubled by Jefferies attitude at the club. What was good at the club – and administration came as a result of overspending but relegation did not – was broken. We went into the season watching Peter Beagrie watching Eoin Jess but having haemorrhaged the biggest gold rush in the club’s history in the process and while others can take some blame for that the wages and free transfers given to players ousted from the club simply cause the manager didn’t like their faces was a not insignificant factor.

The football Jefferies side’s played was not entertaining and often characterless – massively so in comparison to the teams Paul Jewell had played six months before – and the celebrated coach flitted from a 433 to a 442 bringing back players he had cast away only moths before as if to confirm that his experiments had failed. It was football management as a tepid passionless process in which our club was the subject of experimental and non-committal whims. He left and not long after there were pieces that we are still picking up now. It would be wrong and foolish to blame him for all of these but he certainly did nothing to help and plenty to hinder.

Put simply Jim Jefferies could not have cared less Bradford City or Bradford City supporters and his level of attention to the club following his departure – none – speaks volumes.

Revisionism comes often in football and is cyclic. What was the solution to yesterdays woes is often brought back as tomorrow’s solution to today’s problems and tonight Jim Jefferies and Burnley were mentioned in the same breath.

One hopes that Burnley can learn the lessons from our mistakes, one hopes that we can learn too.

Billy, Willy, Beni and Juanjo

Stuart McCall tells us not to get too excited at the prospect of Willy Topp coming to Bradford City – like his insistence that the Chilean be called Billy not Willy one can expect his words to fall on deaf ears.

Topp is expected to feature on the bench for the League Two game with Rotherham United – the very typification of a dour would be derby game – and for the time he cools his heels to the second he strikes in anger in claret and amber the thoughts of all will be on this latests great white hope.

Topp follows a path along the decline of this club that started with Benito Carbone who promised the abilities that club needed – in the case of Topp and Staurt McCall’s Bradford City those abilities are obviously needed – but for a multitude of reasons were not delivered upon. Topp would do well to follow Carbone’s example – the little Italian gave his all for City every game – rather than the path of Juanjo.

For Topp and Juanjo – Jim Jefferies perfect playmaker – are aligned. Both come into teams that lack inspiration and both are looked on to turn around the fortunes of the club. Such big aspirations on small shoulders Topp – like Juanjo – cannot make a team no matter how well he plays.

And it is oft forgot that for every wretched performance the Spaniard put in his offered moments of impressiveness – his debut winning goal springs to mind – that showed that when he wanted to, he could.

Had he wanted to for Nicky Law then Juanjo could have changed the path of Bradford City. Law’s meat and spuds variety of football was always going to isolate the tricky former Hearts man but more dedication could have seen him win over supporters and managers and – assuming his flashes could be turned into performances – provide the excitement that was lacking from that City team.

Topp comes into the same situation. City are trundling along and one can imagine that the 12,000 on the trundle are waiting for something to make noise about, something to get excited about. Topp – regardless of McCall’s insistence – carries that weight.

One hopes he carries it well, or at least better than others have.

Recent Posts