Another search for a manager begins

Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes will be used to looking for a new manager and – after three appointments two of which lasted less than a year and a bit – they show no signs of having a grasp of the right criteria to make those appointments.

When Stuart McCall “resigned” from the club the question we asked was what the plan was for the recruitment of his replacement was. A lot of these questions have been answered with the move to new facilities at Woodhouse Grove and the appointment of Archie Christie as Chief Scout and Director of Football Development.

There is a plan at the club which Christie was brought in to implement to develop players for the first team – and to provide more players for the manager with a more extensive scouting network – which aims to take some of the onus of recruitment from the manager and have a retention of knowledge beyond the man in the dug out. Unlike the situation where Peter Taylor left and his backroom staff were sent away with him Jackson having left yesterday the players have familiar faces around them.

It is this type of system which saw an end to Kevin Keegan’s second spell at Newcastle United and – in a way – Alan Curbishley at West Ham but is increasingly common in football. Indeed on Jackson’s last day at Valley Parade Michael Flynn told Radio Leeds that Colin Cooper took the players through their paces while the manager spent the morning on the phone to football managers trying to find a striker on loan. The team and manager lunched and went over the plan for the Barnet game, then resigned.

(It should be noted, and as an aside, that Keegan’s contracted stated that he would have the final say over players brought into the club and when the club’s Director of Football Recruitment Dennis Wise signed Xisco – the issue which Keegan resigned over – Newcastle United were in breach of that contract and while Keegan resigned he later successfully sued the club for constructive dismissal. One wonders what the detail of Jackson’s contract was.)

The manager’s remit is the first team and the requirement is not for an holistic club builder but rather for a game winner, and someone who with coaching and deployment can edge a performance an inch or two better. There is a list of managers who were considered to replace Stuart McCall (now Motherwell): Peter Taylor (now Bahrain), Steve Cotterill (now Portsmouth), Russell Slade (now Leyton Orient), Peter Jackson, Lawrie Sanchez (now Barnet), Jim Magilton (now caretaker assistant manager Shamrock Rovers), Dean Windass (working for BSKYB), John Coleman (still Accrington), Iain Dowie (no club), Martin Allen (now Notts County) and Wayne Jacobs. Six months ago John Hughes (no club) declared an interest in joining City and John Still (still Dagenham) interviewed for the position.

How many of these fulfil the remit which Jackson was being asked to work within? Certainly John Still – the victorious Dagenham manager of last week – would do having worked with Christie before but one has to wonder how much of an appreciation of what skills the next manager needs to have, and how those skills are distinct from those which were required when looking for McCall or Taylor.

Having appointed a big personality in Jackson – and perhaps had personality clashes – Lawn and Rhodes may be tempted to opt to bring in a younger manager who is more malleable, less set in his ways of how to run a club, and able to work within the current structure. They would do well to avoid “Yes” men.

The aim of the club is to have an appointment before next week’s trip to Morecambe which suggests that there is someone in mind – probably someone who has talked to the club six or eighteen months ago – but that Lawn and Rhodes do not have the clarity to bring someone in immediately. Were John Still to be the choice then one imagines a call would be made, a resignation drafted, and the new man revealed on Monday. The fact that there is a week until appointment suggests that there are discussions to be had and a choice to be made. There is a suggestion that three interviews will be held this week. One has to wonder what Lawn and Rhodes think they will hear in those interviews which they had not heard in the last two rounds, and how they will be able to sift the answers to get the right man. We are to assume that Jackson and Taylor were both the most impressive people in interview.

The early runners

The link to John Still – who talked about how he would have joined City were it not for the uncertainty over the future of Valley Parade – is a strong one with the Dagenham manager being in the final two of the club’s thoughts when Jackson was appointed. The club would – not doubt – have to pay Dagenham to free Still from his contract.

Impressive in the last round of interviews was former Hibs and Falkirk manager John Hughes who is out of work at the moment and could come in without any compensation payable. Hughes is a strong candidate for the job but one might expect him to be appointed this morning rather than next week if he is the chosen one.

Former players Peter Beagrie and Dean Windass have their name’s mentioned often in connection with the job. Beagrie has shown no interest in moving into management thus far but Windass has made his desire to take over the club known – Terry Dolan as his assistant – and could fit in as the type of rookie manager who may appeal to the board who have had problems dealing with experienced number ones.

Former Barnsley manager and City man of the 1980s John Hendrie is also an option although one might wonder how many conversations Hendrie has had with Stuart McCall about the board at Bradford City and how that would colour his view of the job were it offered.

City have always been fond a bit of fashionability and so perhaps Jim Magilton – who is working as caretaker assistant at Shamrock Rovers who qualified for the Europa League with this superb strike last night may be an outside bet having talked to the club previously.

Other names work mentioning include Colin Cooper the current caretaker manager and former player and Farsley manager Lee Sinnott. Paul Ince has been mentioned – his promotion with MK Dons would impress the board almost as much as his collection of shiny medals but his track record is patchy.

Finally John Coleman has interested City in the past.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

Would Taylor go into the three lions den?

There is a level of speculation in the summer months of closed season which borders on the curious and the report that Peter Taylor is being touted as potentially a possible addition to the England coaching line up is perhaps as odd as it has got for Bradford City and the football rumour columns for sometime.

Taylor – who managed the national side in Italy – is said to be Italian Fabio Capello’s choice of an English man to add to his coaching set up nestled somewhere between Stuart Pearce and Franco Baldini on the increasingly lengthy technical areas which International sides have.

The report will probably – in time – be filed amongst the things that did not happen as most of these things are although it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the possibility of the Bradford City boss combining his duties at Valley Parade with those at England. Perhaps he would miss the odd match leaving Wayne Jacobs in charge of the Bantams but running both jobs at once would seem feasible.

Taylor was England u21 manager and Hull City boss at the same time and Kevin Keegan managed both Fulham and England at one point. It is hard to imagine many conflicts of interest. Should Wayne Rooney be moaning to some rag like tabloid that he does not think it is fair that he be dropped just because the coach knows new England striker James Hanson from working together at VP then perhaps a problem will have emerged. Failing that aside from divided attention there are few minuses and – as the England coaches probably have an in with a good few players – considerable pluses.

From City’s point of view should a request come for Taylor and a chance be there to work out some sharing agreement then why not. It would also give the Bantams a chance to give Jacobs a bit of on the job manager’s training, something few number twos ever get.

From England’s point of view though appointing Peter Taylor would – from a public relations point of view – be something of a nightmare.

One can almost read the articles now. “What can you say about the FA that – when faced with the post-South Africa malaise of the game – responds by bringing the manager of that well know success story Bradford City into the set up?” The criticism writes itself. “Taylor – an exciting prospect in FA coaching ten years ago – is a step backwards for the national game.”

It might not be true, but since when have the newspaper ever let the truth stand in the way of a viciously judgemental op-ed?

“What can you say about the FA when their idea of discipline is to employ the man who twice gave a job to footballer turned murder Gavin Grant?” These are the lions that devour the English game and while Taylor is a man of some confidence and standing Bradford City could probably do without its chosen one being mauled for the sake of sating the public’s appetite to read attacks on any and everything connected to the national side?

If Taylor is the outstanding man – the man who can make a difference between the choking of South Africa and the glory of qualification – then what a wonderful thing it would be to share him between our nation and our club.

Unless he does make that seismic difference though the men at Wembley would do him – and us – a better service by give Taylor a wide berth.

McCall making the gamble

There was a time when Stuart McCall was talking about leaving Bradford City – but eventually decided to stay – that he was summed by a comment “Always has been a poor man’s Kevin Keegan.”

The comment – a thing by a supporter of another club on someone’s Facebook page – referenced the former Newcastle, Fulham, Manchester City and England manager’s tendency to threaten to exit when things did not go his way although one might look at McCall’s World Cup record and note that if Keegan was as able to poke the ball in in the penalty area in 1982 as Stuart did in 1990 then England would not have been going home from Spain. Stuart McCall is no poor version of anyone.

However if his threat to leave likens him to Keegan somewhat then the connection is fully made by the attitude that his side has shown this season in attacking. Both managers have had the phrase “tactically naive” thrown at them but also the adjectives “exciting” and “thrilling” as four months into the year Stuart McCall’s side seems to set itself the task of out scoring the opposition.

“We have to stop conceding two because we have to score three to win.” said the City manager which recalls Keegan’s adage “I’d rather win 4-3 than 1-0” and both managers – consider Keegan circa ’98 at Newcastle – field teams that defend a man down.

McCall’s side employ a back four with three midfielders working hard in front and two wide strikers staying – on the whole – in forward positions giving a side that defend with seven (Newcastle had a 442 but David Ginola never got back). The merits of this are plentiful – City look very dangerous on the break – but the downside is that when full backs add to wingers and central midfielders in a 442 attacking City unless the likes of Gareth Evans and Scott Neilson are alive enough to follow players back the Bantams are out manned.

It is exciting but it is always going to concede goals and the aim – as Keegan verbalised – is to win 4-3 not 1-0 not that the Magpies tended to do that week in week out but rather – as City did against Chesterfield in the 3-0 win earlier this season – use this attacking slant to get noses ahead early and dispirit the opposition.

McCall’s Bantams circa 2009 have problems with this. Chances and goals can be laboured and teams are left in games despite the Bantams battering. Hereford were beaten 1-0 despite City’s 11 shots on target and the visitors always had a chance of sneaking a draw.

It makes for exciting games but time and time again McCall must hope for a couple of first half goals that take the guts out of the opposition and a dull second half.

The chances of that seem increased by the idea of a return to fitness for Omar Daley – the reserve game at Grimsby on Wednesday may give the Jamaican a first game back although we have tried and failed to pre-empt the winger’s return in the past – and the idea that the player is exactly the sort of player who will turn exciting football in to exciting wins.

The veracity of that claim has yet to be seen but with the Bantams a third of the way into the season and placed just outside the play off zone it seems that in the absence of an entirely unexpected January recruitment spree Daley’s return the gradual improvement that being a team brings to the squad is the only way that the the 12th place Bantams will be higher placed.

The return of Daley seems to be the gamble of the season for Stuart McCall.

Barnsley beat City 2-0 in pre-season showing the sum of the things we already knew

The warmth of the sun and the warm glow of pre-season continued as Barnsley beat Bradford City 2-0 at Valley Parade the visitors being good value for the win which – of course – is utterly meaningless.

Meaningless of course but all we have at this point and from that point of view the defeat gave City and Stuart McCall the same lesson which Burnley and Owen Coyle got when the men from Turf Moor arrived at Valley Parade for the start of pre-season. That any game at any level is lost by mistakes.

Those two mistakes from the Bantams came either side of half time the first being a corner that was allowed to pass in front of Jon McLaughlin in goal and behind the central defensive pairing of Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams and when none of the three claimed it opposition centre half Steve Foster did and the ball nestled into the back of the the goal.

Barnsley’s goal came after a decent first half for City that saw some good work with the forward players Michael Boulding and Peter Thorne combining well with the three forward midfielders Lee Bullock, Chris Brandon and Joe Colbeck with Bullock good all afternoon and Colbeck quiet but disciplined.

Brandon and Boulding combined well working the ball around a returning Darren Moore for Boulding to drag his shot wide. The punishment for allowing a corner to travel across the face of the goal aside a level scoreline at half time would not have been unfair.

Nevertheless Rehman and Williams seemed determined to make sure that that error never reoccurred and next corner both went, both made good contact, both ended on the floor. Rehman wandered off looking groggy to be replaced in the middle by Simon Ramsden who was giving a good account of himself at right back. McCall seems set to have his right back hang back and his left back go forward and Ramsden and Luke O’Brien are his players for that tactic.

Likewise his wide midfielders suit those roles with Colbeck covered and Brandon able to – and willing to – drop back and combine with a full back. All well save the gap at number four that yawns wide open. Grant Smith took the position in the first half and was not able to stamp his authority on the game nor was second half replacement James O’Brien.

The second mistake in the second half ended the Bantams realistic chances of winning when a lose pass from Luke O’Brien (Although it may not have been the left back, the view being spoilt by Stuart McCall blocking my view so James O’Brien or Chris Brandon may have been the man) being picked up in midfield by Jacob Butterfield who put the ball in for Jon Macken – a player Kevin Keegan once paid £5m for – to finish coolly. Give the ball away cheaply and you will lose matches.

City gave run outs to James Hanson, Gareth Evans and Leon Osborne – Hanson looked full of running and his a cracking attitude – while Luke Sharry got a chance to play central midfield showing no little ability. Should Sharry be dubbed first reserve for Bullock going into the season I would not be unhappy at all.

However the number four gap continues two games and two weeks away from the start of the season. James O’Brien and Hugo Colace got involved in tackling that would result in booking and O’Brien looked frustrated by his inability to grasp the chance and take the position that begs for a player.

Responsibility for the poor performance ends with the players

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every game has to be won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This lot can’t play.

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

The players have seven days to think about that.

Stuart McCall and Plan Nine from Outer Space

I have become so tired of hearing the phrases “tactically naive” and “No Plan B” and if life were QI then the siren would be going off around almost every football discussion heard.

These two phrases are banded about by the media with one being used to apply to Kevin Keegan and Sven Goran Eriksson but within months of their uptake they became part of the lexicon of every football supporter.

Any team that has not won are lacking a “Plan B”. Every team that get beaten are managed by someone tactically naive. It is no more sophisticated analysis than saying that a match was a game of two halves but it sounds more analytical and there is is the key to its asinine overuse.

Stuart McCall and his management team was accused of having “No Plan B” this week not a fortnight since we saw a City team struggling to breakdown Exeter and until McCall pulled Paul McLaren further back on the field creating spaces and holes for midfielders to probe and twenty minutes later we had four goals. He either got very lucky, understood the tactics involved in the game or found a “Plan B”. That or he made a change, put some rockets up backsides and reminded the players that they had no little quality.

The whole assumption of “Plan B” in football is flawed. It assumes that every week a manager goes into a game telling his players little more than “Go with Plan A today, boys” which is probably a product of Championship Manager/Pro-Evolution Soccer thinking and almost certainly not based on anything that happens in a real dressing room where other teams are watched, players are singled out, danger-men noted and patterns recognised in the opposition.

Don Revie famously complied dossiers on every team in the First Division and every Referee that his Leeds United team could face in a season each game presenting itself differently to the last or the next, each game requiring individual preparation.

Not “Plan A” or “Plan B”. Nothing so simple.

In truth “Plan B” is one of those football phrases that when translated means little. If a manager’s team is losing then “Plan B” is the term given to his demonstrable actions. If those actions work and his team win then he is judged as “being able to influence the game from the sidelines”, if they do not he “has no Plan B.”

Likewise a manager is “tactically naive” if he does not use uncommon formations or should I say if he does not use uncommon formations and win. Sir Alex Ferguson won the treble using a 442 formation but very few called him naive. He won the double last year using the same formation which Kevin Keegan was using during his brief spell back at Newcastle United but few suggested the two of them as having the same tactical acumen. Too often “tactically naive” means “plays the default formation in FIFA 2009” and the people who generally believe that a Keegan or a McCall is lacking in understanding of how the game is played need a new way of saying what they think.

Tactics are painted in such broad brush strokes that such ham fisted criticism is almost inevitable. Within football tactics are about the jobs that must be performed on a field and who performs them, they are about making the most of combinations on the field, about when to attack and when other players should commit to attacking. They are nuances and subtleties that are simply not addressed in the phone number phrases that are passed off as analysis. “Four-four-two” is a starting point but it is not a tactic and when played with an Owen Hargreaves/Michael Carrick formation it is simply not the same way of playing football as when Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard occupy the middle positions.

These are phrases used as pejorative that have long since lost any meaning. One might as well say Stuart McCall is “player boot naive” that he has no Plan Nine from Outer Space. That or you could – if that is what you think – say that Stuart McCall has a troubling lack of options in his squad when his team is behind other than bringing on Barry Conlon to play a battering ram role and perhaps – as has been said before – that that sort of talk might be more appropriate than randomly firing around criticisms which have no granularity between “slight issue with” and “majorly incompetent at”.

Football management is not about applying single skills – you cannot add a dash of tactics to a team and make them win – it is a combination of mental and emotional skills and not the kind of problem that can be modelled and brought down to such simple mechanics.

It certainly cannot – in the most – be summed up by soundbite phrases. We live in a time when through official message boards and forums, fanzines and websites (such as this one which has given voice to over 125 City fans and only turned away less than half a dozen articles in ten years), blogs and letters to the T&A football fans are more listened to than ever. It is thus important that when they speak they do so with a sense of understanding of how what they say will be perceived and responsibility they have when they say it.

Winning at dominoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dream you’d no longer want to live

There was a sense of vulgarity to the whole thing.

Man City supporters, trying their best to ignore reports of a poor human rights record and corruption charges this past year, had run out of patience when their ‘ruthless’ owner Thaksin Shinawatra was suddenly unable to buy new players. On transfer deadline day he was ousted, collecting twice the money he’d paid 12 months earlier – by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).

Man City fans were celebrating suddenly becoming the richest club in the world.

In the few remaining hours before the window closed, the new owners managed to cause enough of a stir to suggest the Premier League’s natural order might be threatened over the next few years. “We can win the Champions League in 10 years” has been the cry, amongst boasts of signing the world’s best players in January. Despite having just broken the British transfer record – £32 million – to lure a confused Robinho to Eastlands, the club will apparently have no problems – financially or ethically – spending £120 million on one player to help make those dreams come true.

Not so long ago, as Kevin Keegan will now have time to tell you, football clubs succeeded through clever management, shrewd buys, developing youngsters and adopting better tactics than others. In the modern day, the way to succeed in “the most exciting league in the world” is to have more money than your rivals. For how well the likes of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have managed their respective clubs, the glass ceiling just above their heads means they’ll achieve little more. After a superb season last year things are unravelling at Goodison, due to money of course. Everton can’t match others’ spending power and their Chairman, Bill Kenwright, offers the solution that the club needs a billionaire owner themselves.

Do billionaires grow on trees? One can only respect people who have built up vast fortunes during their lives, but also question why they would want to invest in a football club. Do they just have so much money that they want to get rid of some by donating it to clubs, or is it more likely that what got them to the level of billionaire in the first place will play a part as they eye up TV money, loyal fans and corporate facilities? Sure, come in and spend £80 million to get your new ‘toy’ into the Champions League cash cow, but ultimately most will collect a profitable return.

Man City might be the exception, just like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, but the price of success will be felt somewhere. Without a hint of sorrow, Man City Assistant Manager Mark Bowen has warned his club’s youth players that they’ll largely be ignored in favour of paying over the odds for the world’s best players. As Man City start rising, so to will their worldwide fanbase. They already joke about overtaking their neighbours but, after years of self-smugness at been the club true Mancunians support while Man United’s followers hail from Essex, their die-hards might have to get used to the people sat next to them at games having funny accents. If Man City were a band, they’d be accused of selling out.

Last week someone asked me if I was jealous no billionaires were eyeing up Bradford City and I surprised them with my negative reply.

Suddenly having the relative fortune to buy the best players and rise up the leagues might seem exciting, but the price is one we’d more than likely have to pay. Would a billionaire appreciate the virtues of offering supporters cheap season tickets? Would they think there was a point to the youth team? Would we bother harbouring links in the community? Already Mark Lawn has uttered the ‘brand’ word when talking about City, but it’s a long way removed from the rampant commercialism of his Premier League counterparts.

Of course the Bantams were guilty of throwing money in pursuit of the elitists’ dreams eight years ago and the consequences are still with us. The aim, during those six weeks of madness, was to speed up the club’s growth beyond its natural resources but, unless you have an Ambromich or ADUG to soak up the losses, it’s a huge gamble.

We learned some harsh lessons when reality set in but for all the misery it has caused, not just to us supporters but the people who lost money due to our actions, one also wonders how happy we’d really be had it succeeded and we were now a regular Premiership club, when even the wildest of ambitions would stretch to no more than touching that glass ceiling.

Back in the big four, Arsene Wenger has made laudable noises about ensuring Arsenal becomes self-sustaining in a few years, rather than relying on the pocket of a rich owner. He’s pinned his faith in a youth system which, while not above criticism, has reaped great rewards. Their impatient fans might not agree but, if the team takes a few years to succeed, it will still be all the more worthy for doing it the right way. Some ran off into the sun at the whiff of more money, but Arsenal are building a team of players fully committed to their club’s cause.

Stuart McCall did not use money to persuade those who joined this summer; he used his own ambitions for glory and the club’s biggest asset, its fanbase. Last week Stuart revealed that promotion this season would surpass anything he has achieved in his football career.

“I have been lucky enough to realise a few dreams in football but promotion this time around would mean everything. How much? Put it this way, I can’t see Alex Ferguson getting more pleasure than I would from taking my team into League One. That might sound daft but it illustrates just how deeply I care about Bradford. This club is in my heart and soul. Every win we get gives me so much satisfaction, it’s unreal.”

Should Stuart succeed, we’ll be looking back and noting promotion was not achieved because of throwing pots of money at it; but by using the club’s resources to build a hungry team desperate to succeed, having gone through years of hardship as punishment for going down the route of spending beyond our means. In it’s own way that will make the achievement seem greater and be celebrated wilder – the feeling we’ve earned it after years of punishment.

Two years ago this site looked at how the club could arrest itself from the decline and, while there has been more misery since it, some of those ideals have been followed. Success can be an overnight thing when money’s thrown at it, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that the investment of Mark Lawn has speeded up our recovery, but it can be hollower and raise headaches further down the line.

It might be a long time before we play Man City on merit again, but if they are now living the dream it’s not one all of us are interested in pursuing anymore. Reality could prove far more enjoyable.

Andorra could beat England – The secret they do not want you to know

England will beat Andorra on Wednesday night, but there is the possibility that the tiny team could sneak a 1-0.

There was a chance – one supposes – that Bon Accord faced up against Arbroath on September 12, 1885 they thought they had a chance of a win. They were beaten, and some, so from that point on it was decided that seeding competitions was probably a good idea. Relying on the assumption that the seedings are calculated reasonably accurately, any match of any two teams in any competition, there exists the real possibility that team A can beat team B and vice versa.

Regular top ten ranked England and Andorra – 182nd – as one of the more one sided games in any competition, but in the weekend that the FA Cup’s qualification started when the first or third rounds are played, we will hear that two teams separated by not more than a couple of dozen places in the pyramid are to play out a foregone conclusion.

It will be – we are told – unthinkable that a team from League One could beat a Premiership team because football is not that competitive.

Likewise when Liverpool faced up to Standard Liege it was “embarrassing” that they only won 1-0 AET.

This was not Bon Accord or Andorra but rather two teams that had qualified as the cream of Europe. Nevertheless there is something afoot that is there to tell us that is a superior group of teams that are to be considered unbeatable.

On Saturday Newcastle United would have gone top of the Premier League should they – and I quote BBC – “Upset Arsenal.” Upset was previously a word used for non-league clubs knocking out sides from the top two divisions.

Two teams in the same league should not – and cannot – “upset” each other. Teams play matches – much as City did and lost on Saturday and Tuesday – and from that a winner can emerge. Unless the competition is woefully unbalanced then either can win without employing the terminology that one would use to describe Bon Accord doing over Arbroath or Andorra beating England.

Nevertheless as one of the (in)famed top four, Arsenal are judged as only to lose games as a shock result and while perhaps a case could be made for this in the Premier League – more of which later – it cannot be the case in leagues in which the top clubs are promoted at the end of each season.

Yet this coverage of football, where results of games amongst the same or similar divisions are seen as preordained by the press and then the public, has taken a grip to such an extent that losing to a team below/a team that has spent less money than you/a team that is less famous than you/a team that has recently been promoted (delete where applicable), is considered to be an upset for them and a disgrace for you.

Take City’s 2-0 defeat to Southend in the first home game of 2005/2006. Southend went on to win the title that season and City only flirted with play-off places, yet on that night it was considered a massive upset and one which Colin Todd was to be held accountable for. In actual fact it was a game – pure and simple – which was contested and won. The resultant blow to City’s morale – on and off the field – shaped the season in a rather ugly way. We believed we had been humiliated and reacted thus, yet in eight months time Southend were promoted and the result put in the context of playing the best, statistically, in the division.

Without the negativity of that August night the Bantams might have mounted a promotion campaign (Go with me on this one, dear reader, for the factors around it matter less than the understanding that it was possible in theory) and should we have played Southend on the last game of the season it could have been a top of the table clash.

Nevertheless, the belief was that City had been beaten by someone poor and thus were poorer. That City had been shocked and thus were shocking. That City were upset.

Back to the Premier League which this week is in uproar over the signing of Kevin Reeves Robinho. The indication being that Manchester City will now create a “top five” by spending flipping great wodges of cash on players who cannot get into the Chelsea and Real Madrid starting line-ups, has been common in the media and on the streets.

“The week that turned the Premier League on its head” one tabloid – adding the Kevin Keegan curio and the fact Alan Curbishley has left West Ham after the best start to a season in a decade to the pot – blazed and one could be mistaken for paying no interest to the Premier League on the understanding that it is, in fact, all decided by who has spent well in August. Read enough red tops, listen to Mark Lawrenson enough, and you would think that the table in May is sorted out now.

However Newcastle, before the fall out, drew at Old Trafford. Chelsea drew at Spurs. Liverpool drew at Aston Villa. All three viewed as shock results. It takes a special kind of mentality to see a shock or two every weekend and still consider it a “shock”. Whatever the agenda is behind the idea that there is an unimpeachable set of clubs who should win every week, the effect lower down the leagues is that a club like Bradford City who have set sights on promotion are expected to do it flawlessly. One is expected not to perform like a Manchester United, but rather like the projection of what Manchester United achieve which – oddly – not even Manchester United can do.

We have a situation of impossibly high targets and unachievable goals. No club can ever be as good as they are expected to be and no manager can ever do as well as is expected of him. Kevin Keegan – probably exiting stage left at St James’ – is the only man the fan’s there will tolerate because they will forgive him perceived failures in competition and the non-domination of football leagues and matches. We know this because our fans feel the same about Stuart McCall.

Fabio Capello’s England side will no doubt beat Andorra but a win in Croatia – a high task – is what is expected and anything less will be considered failure because Capello’s job is to win in every game and that is understandable, if not realistic, but open your mind to the thought that Andorra could win.

Not that they will, but they could.

Open your mind to that thought – look around at the times when the less fancied of two teams wins such as Chester’s 5-0 mauling of Barnet last weekend or Doncaster winning promotion last season – and you will see that football is not the haruspical and predictable procession that some would have you believe it is.

Hand me that Todd Out banner

I want a Todd Out banner for Saturday.

But more than just a banner – a bit of shoe polish on Mum’s table cloth – I want to believe in my Todd out banner.

Which is where I fall out. Odd for me being a good Catholic boy and all but when push comes to shove Toddy out the door I lack the faith required to see the benefit.

Naturally I see the good points in getting rid of the manager – bad results lead to a lack of confidence in the squad and in the supporters and this translates into games so obviously. Footballers – being simple lads – are under the impression that if you get rid of one man who tells you to play 442 (or sometimes not) and jockey the other side’s for’rad and get someone else to tell you to play 442 and jockey the other side’s for’rad then fortunes are immediately turned around. Who is to say that the next guy will not be better than the last? Sure it reeks of randomness but it has some sense to it.

Football is a mostly mental game – especially at this level – and as such it could be argued that if the players believed that a change of manager would equal a change of fortunes then the ends would justify the means regardless of the qualities of the incumbents of the job. The cult of the manager has a firm hold in football now but sometimes one must wonder how much influence the man who wears the big coat has over the team. Kevin Keegan used to say that his job finished at three on a Saturday and started again at quarter to five because the players were in charge in between those times.

Regardless of the short term boons it might grant I wish I could believe that sacking Todd would cure the problems of Bradford City but experience tells me that it probably would not. I have a genuine envy of those people who can be so sure that a P45 here and there would fix the team in the same way I wish I could be sure that Heaven, God and all that stuff was really real. Back to the good Catholic boy bit. It would be good to know for sure but perhaps faith is the order of the day and blind faith at that. Faith in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately I will no doubt find out both the answers to the mysteries of life and the question of what will happen to City post-Todd all too soon. Perhaps taking the Catholic religion as a metaphor is my problem when it comes to believing. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation and so perhaps should we? Are we really just Paul Jewell’s Bradford City reborn for the fifth time? Is it – as the man said – “the karma working from a previous lifetime”?

Colin Todd’s Bradford City will no doubt be reincarnated as someone else’s – perhaps Stuart McCall’s if rumour watch tells us anything – before too long but the new body will face the same problems as the old. We live in a world where Rotherham announce that they are £1m and a few weeks away from liquidation (not administration – liquidation) and being the first team to go out of the league mid-season since Aldershot but the leading stories on BBC and Sky Sports were that Chelsea were holding off on relaying the pitch.

Dwindling numbers and lack of interest – back to Catholicism again it seems. We are in an increasingly diminishing scenario where fans exit and are not replaced. Aggressive pricing has put off a generation – we all know a few who have stopped going to VP but who can remember the last time we saw a new face? – and takes chunks out of the previous ones. Rotherham gulp for air and the likes of Chelsea are using the aqualungs for breathing laughing gas. To suggest that no one cares outside of us is the understatement to kill a game.

I wish I could believe that this could be turned around by sacking Colin Todd.

Hell I wish I could believe that this could be turned around.

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