Boycott / Loans

I am not going to tell you to not go to tonight’s game with Stoke City u23 but I would like to play with your intuitions around the situation League One clubs find themselves in.

The English Football League Trophy (EFLT) should be boycott because – it is said – allowing teams of under twenty three players from the top two divisions of English football represents a first step towards allowing Reserve Teams/B Teams/u23 Teams into the Football League itself.

(Those top two division are referenced to as “Premier League” for the rest of this article. That would be a taxonomy that included Aston Villa more than Rotherham United.)

This would be inherently devaluing – the argument goes – because it would create a set of teams who were not representing communities but were using the resources of those who do. The upshot of this could be that competitions like League One are devalued by being won by teams which – by definition – are not as interested in them as they are other competitions.

Scunthorpe

Last season Scunthorpe United missed out on a play off place to a Barnsley team which had three loan players – Ashley Fletcher, Ivan Toney and Harry Chapman of West Ham United (now, and Manchester United then), Newcastle United and Middlesbrough respectively – who are the very type of footballer who will be playing for the likes of Stoke City u23.

As a Scunthorpe United supporter you might wonder how much of an impact Barnsley’s bringing in those players had and – considering the gap between Barnsley and Scunthorpe was three goals – you might conclude that without those three players your side would have been sixth not The Tykes.

You could think similar things about Josh Cullen, Reece Burke and Bradford City. What did Bradford or Barnsley do to bring those players in? Are we happy with a League where a decisive factor is the ability to maintain relationships with Premier League Academies?

That players can be borrowed from one club to another is a standard of football but we kid ourselves if we say what we have now is the loan system as we have always known it.

In the 1980s loans were used to cover injury – Liverpool’s Steve Staunton in for City’s Karl Goddard is a good example – and in the 1990s it was used to freshen up squads with an new face for a month or so and for try before you buy deals.

Now loans are a part of squad gathering. Each season a club looks at loans as a way to support the squad they are building. Signing Reece Burke was not to cover injury or because the players in that role were failing it was a cornerstone to Phil Parkinson’s summer recruitment.

So we kid ourselves if we do not notice the changes to how loans are used and we kid ourselves if we do not notice why those changes have been made and what the results are.

In a year Reece Burke went from squad man to valued asset at West Ham. The benefits of loan deals for Premier League clubs are obvious.

It is less clear what League One clubs get out of them.

League One’s clubs are now defined – in some part – by who they bring in on loan. The right contacts at the right Premier League academies would allow four Reece Burkes to be brought in by a team.

These loan signings happen at every club – more or less – and one could argue that they have a cancelling out effect. City only need Reece Burke because Barnsley have Fletcher and Coventry City have Adam Armstrong. If all loan players were to return to all parent clubs all League One clubs would be effected equally.

These loan players represent a cheap option for clubs – some free, some with subsidised wages, all without long term contracts – and loan signings make up three or four players in every squad of twenty two.

To make that explicit the Premier League is funding League One clubs at a rate of (around) 15% of their wage budgets and in return for that they are taking the value of having their players play a full season in League One which provides the experience needed to improve. They get to turn a young Reece Burke into an £8m rated player.

This has had a warping effect on League One squads.

The loan players available to League One clubs from the Premier League are young and because a squad must be balanced League One clubs know that they must build group of senior players. This necessarily stops League One young players progressing.

An example. A League One club wants three central defenders and – because they do not have to pay for him – they take a kid on loan from Premier League allowing them to spend more on the other players.

The manager – knowing he already has one kid at centreback – is not going to be able to progress one of his own team’s youngsters for fear of ended up with a situation where he has two teenagers at the heart of his back four. So he brings in older players to balance his squad.

So the manager makes a team of senior players and any value for progressing young players goes to the Premier League team. If you take a Gladwellian view – as I do – that good footballers are forged by playing games rather than born.

Which means that a Reece Burke is worth £8m to West Ham United while City;s 19 year old professional contracted defender James King has yet to play. With King it is almost impossible to say if he is worth a place in the team but a concern would be would a Dean Richards or an Andrew O’Brien be in the same position as King is now?

The Premier League clubs take all – or a lot of at least – of the value that comes from developing players in League One.

We have a situation in League One where the Premier League make a funding contribution to most of the teams in the division in some way, that the quality of loan players attracted has an unnatural and disproportionate influence on those teams finishing positions, and that the value from this transaction goes to the Premier League at the detriment to the teams in League One.

We worry about the Football League Trophy bringing B Teams into the Football League but I think we worry for no reason and that the problems that that would represent are already with us.

I’d suggest that if you consider the above you’d conclude that all the benefits of B Teams have been given to Premier League clubs and are already in League One today.

Why Sunderland should be begging for Jordan Pickford to play in the FA Cup

Preamble

The BfB legal advisor Joe – who is a man who just occasionally gets time off – enjoys playing Poker. He plays it and he is good at it. Very good.

Often he is asked ask to teach you how to play the game. Those who are are told to get out their wallets. You must bet in training what you do not want to lose. Only when the stakes involved are significant can you learn about how the game is really played.

You can play for pennies and for counters but that will not teach you how to play when the turn of a card actually matters. To get better at Poker – Joe says – the game has to matter.

Mu-Hill-Whaeal

A trip to Millwall for the third round of the FA Cup was nobody’s choice for a reward from beating Dartford. One doubts too that the Londoner’s would have been especially pleased to see themselves paired with Bradford City.

Ian Holloway’s side are struggling in The Championship while Phil Parkinson’s City team bubble in the middle of League One. Not much to pick between the two.

The strength of the teams that either side puts out could tip the game in one direction or another and no result could be considered much of a shock nor will be considered season defining.

Other ties were far more appealing. There was much flapping about the idea of last season’s final being replayed, and of a repeat of the 1973 final when Leeds United go to Sunderland. Sunderland’s interest in the competition being is significant importance to City’s on loan Jordan Pickford.

Remembering Jordan Pickford

Pickford arrived at Valley Parade looking as full of rawness and potential as any goalkeeper I can remember seeing. In his opening month one wondered if the rawness would be exposed to deeply that his potential be lost.

Pickford’s communication with the back four was so poor it was counter-productive. He came for crosses and then dropped back, or came and served only as a distraction, or did not come at all and saw the ball go past him. He was a liability.

But his reflexes were excellent, and his positioning good, and he made impressive saves some of the time. Even that communication problem was mitigated in some way by the fact he shouted at all. The sooner a nineteen year old goalkeeper learns that it his job to shout at seasoned defenders to get them into position the better for everyone.

Real football

A player only learns those things from what is termed “Real Football” but what “Real Football” is is open to interpretation and context. When a modern Premier League player gets a first cap for England against San Marino in a World Cup qualifier he has probably never played against worse players but the experience of a real international is useful. What use it is to someone with fifty caps is less clear.

For this definition when talking about Bradford City and Jordan Pickford we shall say real football is football where the result matters and where something important is at stake. Something like three points, or a place in the next round, or a manager’s job, or just the emotions of supporters.

When Jordan Pickford got into real football at Valley Parade the mistakes he made, and he made them, were forgiven because of the obvious potential in the rest of his game. Pickford needed games. And Pickford got games. Every league game so far. And now Pickford is realising the potential he has.

When Sunderland watch Pickford’s improvement over the last five months they must not recognise the footballing man compared to the juniors kid who joined City, but they must also have been expecting such a transformation, else why send him to Valley Parade in the first place?

But Pickford had played games before on loan outside the league with Darlington and Alfreton Town, and in it with Burton Albion and Carlisle United, with about seventy games under his belt thirty five of them in the league.

Cribbed maths could tell us that it has taken fifty professional football matches for Jordan Pickford stop having to rely on potential as the justification for having him in the team. Sunderland have to find a club, or clubs, who will give a player a season of games they could think of taking him back and having him in their team.

The tickets on the last train home

A first team place in the Football League is a rare thing. Each week less than a thousand players will get onto a field the Football League. Only assuming each team plays two loanees a week in the fourteen who can play then less than one hundred and fifty players are loan players places are available.

That one hundred and fifty includes players like Jon Stead who is both loaned from another Football League club and not a player in development. How many spaces are available for a player to be loaned from a Premier League cup for first team games when he needs development rather than being able to offer something immediately? One hundred? A dozen more, a dozen less? For twenty Premier League clubs with a few dozen kids each.

We are accustomed to looking at this from the point of view of teams loaning players. That teams like Bradford City are given the chance to have a player (like Pickford) who could go onto Premier League or International football and that they sometimes pay for this but sometimes are allowed to borrow future talent for nothing at all.

From the eye of a needle

Rarely is the idea flipped around.

A first team shirt in the Football League is a rare thing. One of the biggest assets that any club has is that it creates eleven development opportunities every week that clubs loaning players out want.

Teams like Bradford City’s side gives them away for free at best, or sometimes even pay for the privilege.

Every player I have ever been impressed by with has proved this to be true. Being able to run fast or kick a ball accurately is one of the first steps a player needs. The rest of the steps he learns through playing in real football matches. And more specifically applying himself well in real football matches.

Without this the talented youngster becomes the typical non-league nearly man who could have had his shot at the big time and seems to have the skills but never does work hard enough.

If clubs in Bradford City’s position knew the value of what they had they would charge clubs to take their players on loan rather than just looking at the system as a way of filling shirts. If clubs loaning players understood the value they would be willing to pay.

And if Sunderland understood the value of playing in a competitive, FA Cup tie at Millwall that really matters to the development of Jordan Pickford they would not be refusing to allow him to play, they would be begging Bradford City to put him in the team.

The Last Time

In front of me right now, just waiting to be filled in, is my application form for next season’s ticket. It is a form that, despite the poor taste of its promotional pictures, represents positive forward thinking from the club and excellent value for money for the supporters. And yet I am wondering whether I should bother this time.

Now I am well aware that there are those who would never consider giving up City. Those who sing of their lifelong commitment to the club are to be commended but I for one have never joined in that particular song. Maybe it is superstition, tempting fate or just the reality that advancing years brings that is reflected in my reluctance to participate in claiming such allegiance. Whatever the reasons, whether through choice, fate or necessity I am prepared to accept that there will come a time when I will no longer go to Valley Parade.

I know there are those whose commitment to City goes back a lot further than mine but I count my support in decades rather than seasons so there is no short-termism in the decision to question my renewal. So why think what for many would be the unthinkable?

Well to put it bluntly, I am finding it less and less enjoyable turning up and not recognising so many of “our” team. I am finding it more and more difficult to rationalise the thinking behind the team selection and then the unforced changes within games.

I am at a loss to explain what appears to be favouritism shown to some players and the dismissal of others regardless of their on-field performances. And any justification or explanations that do come from those in charge seem to have a hollow and inconsistent tone.

Now this is nothing unusual in football – we all know you can’t please all the people all the time – but the uncertainty of my renewal is not based on results but on my perceived attitudes of those making crucial decisions. And the trouble is that once you get to feeling this way there seems to be so many more decisions that add to the sense of irritation.

As supporters we all like to feel that we have some kind of ownership through our involvement with the club. Our contributions – both vocal and financial – to what happens at the club are, in principle at least, united in a common cause. But this is becoming more of a delusion that we literally and all too readily buy into and right now I am not sure I want it to continue. So what would it take to get me to sign up for another year?

Well, to put it bluntly once again, it would take something that would make me feel that my support mattered. Rightly or wrongly, I need to identify with the players that make up “my” team as well as the team itself. I find it difficult to do this with the manager’s involvement of so many loan players, especially when it is in preference to fit, contracted players.

If roles were reversed and the players had to sing to us about their commitment to the club then reality says that we wouldn’t expect “City ‘till I die” because players – no matter how popular – move (or are moved) on. Their on field commitment whilst playing for the club that signed them is enough for most of us. But too many of the “City” players of Peter Taylor’s managerial tenure would struggle to sing more than “City ‘till next month” Loan players have their uses but the quality and quantity used by P.T. has not been good for the club. (Is there anyone out there who can tell me exactly how many have been and gone and how long they were with us?) If this is what is felt is needed to bring about “success” I do not share that view.

Commitment whether from supporters, players or managers is a reciprocal thing and the lack of this from those making these decisions is what prompts me to consider my commitment. Questioning these decisions, whether by commentators, writers, supporters and now players is given short shrift. It has the ring of dictatorship rather than discipline, of confrontation rather than cooperation.

I hope I am not alone when I look for a team I can identify with. Right now I feel that as a supporter I am being taken more and more for granted. The management and the supporters need to reconnect and do so round a shared view of progress that makes sense to players and fans alike. Maybe then those that sing of a lifelong commitment will be rewarded and those of us who have kept up our support despite so much disappointment will feel we are getting our team back and will commit once again.

This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know.

Perplexed

Picture the scene; it’s 9.45pm on Tuesday 28 September and the game between Rotherham United and Bradford City concludes. The 600 or so City supporters rise to their feet and applaud the Bradford City players despite their team failing to score in yet another league game.

The reality is that Rotherham United are still unbeaten at home in the league this season whilst Bradford City are still to win an away league game this season. So why the applause from the City faithful? Well, going into the game, it was quite possible that our team could be propping up the football league.

However, a determined team performance ensures that City gain a precious point and climb one place to 21st in Division 4. It doesn’t sound glamorous but the City supporters appreciated the effort shown by all of the players who played at the Don Valley Stadium. To me, this shows that at whatever level of football, if the players show effort and commitment, then most supporters will appreciate their efforts.

It was interesting to see that Shane Duff, Steve Williams and Luke O’Brien were three of the City players who walked towards the City faithful at Don Valley after the game to return the applause to the supporters. For me, these three City defenders put in solid performances. O’Brien is enjoying one of his best runs in the first team whilst Duff and Williams are forming a strong partnership at the heart of City’s defence.

Williams was my man of the match and I believe that he has the potential to be as good as Dean Richards. At one point, Williams was beaten in the tackle but did he give up? No – he won the football back and dribbled it out of defence before playing an intelligent but simple pass to a colleague.

So, why am I typing further notes from the away game at Rotherham United when Jason has already produced yet another quality match report? Well, because today I read that our club has signed two Manchester United reserve players on loan for a month. I am perplexed.

The back five last night played well and it’s no coincidence that this good defensive performance occurred with the absence of Hunt, Oliver and Threlfall. (I know, Oliver played up front again and I’ll come to that matter in a bit.) I am all in favour of Peter Taylor remaining as our manager for many seasons to come. But with our poor start to the season I can understand why supporters are muttering that Taylor doesn’t know what he is doing. And I have to agree with that to a degree.

It will be interesting to see who starts at the weekend in the vital game against Morecambe. For me, if Taylor doesn’t start with the same five players who played in defence against Rotherham United, there will be plenty of already frustrated people whispering negative comments inside Valley Parade on Saturday afternoon. I simply do not understand why Brown and Gill have joined us for one month. Surely, if we are going to sign a couple of loan players, we need some forward players who can score goals.

Four goals in our first nine league games does not read well for us City supporters. We all know that Hanson is injured and Evans is lacking in confidence although his second half performance at Don Valley showed some signs of improvement. Speight, for me, despite not scoring yet for us, has been our best striker so far this season.

I’ve read comments both in support and against playing Luke Oliver up front. For me, I do not like playing players out of position and this includes starting with tall defenders playing up front. Maybe if you are chasing the game with 10 minutes to go, take a chance and throw a tall player up front. But, we shouldn’t be starting with Oliver up front. Unfortunately, Oliver is a Taylor signing and I fear that he will continue to start up front until Hanson fit again. And then, when Hanson is fit, do not be surprised if we see Oliver starting in the heart of our defence with one of the two Manchester United loan signings.

I am supportive of both the Bradford City management and players. However, if the Manchester United loan signings start against Morecambe and Oliver starts up front, I will not be happy. However, I will not be booing the players but I will be questioning Taylor’s judgement.

Taylor to bring in Dickinson

BfB understands that Peter Taylor is to sign Barnsley’s six foot four 24 year old forward Liam Dickinson on a month long loan deal.

Dickinson joined The Tykes for a free reported to be £150,000 from Brighton & Hove Albion having played for Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Blackpool and Peterborough United on loan deals as well as Derby County and Stockport County where he scored the winning goal over Rochdale in the 2008 play off final.

He was signed by Paul Jewell for Derby at a cost of £750,000 and later by Guy Poyet at Brighton for £300,000 before his move to Mark Robins’s Tykes. He has yet to feature for the South Yorkshire club.

Take a pinch of salt with this story – The Official site will announce it should it be, well, official – but it would seem that Taylor has signed a replacement for the injured James Hanson and that Luke Oliver will no longer be required to play in the forward line.

Taylor has previously offered a deal to Jon Macken who opted to join Chris Hutchings’ Walsall in preference to the Bantams or to tomorrow’s opposition Rotherham United.

The price of success

As the interesting encounter that ended goalless the Notts County fans sung that they were going up and while they are almost certainly correct the health that their club find themselves in at the end that process is debatable.

The debate centres not around the usefulness of the County side – without the risible Lee Hughes in the side the Magpies are an easier team to judge objectively and they have few flaws – but rather the effects of assembling that side.

£20,000 a week gets – in Kasper Schmeichel – a keeper who was capable of pulling of two super saves with the Mancdanian pushing away a Michael Flynn power at goal in the first half and diving headlong to push away Gareth Evans’s inventive attempt from range and angle but Matt Glennon also enjoyed a clean sheet, also made a decent save or two but set back his club a twentieth of the price.

Indeed as City look at next season and how to start looking at a team that can compete under Peter Taylor who most would agree can be trusted to do that then it is worth noting that the cost of Notts County’s keeper for a season is more than the Bantams pay for Valley Parade while Meadow Lane costs the same for a season as the custodian does a week.

County’s side brims with confidence after a mid-season wobble and this is typified in Luke Rodgers – playing today after an eleventh hour reprieve of his red card on Saturday – who played as well as anyone who has visited Valley Parade this season and it is credit to Luke Oliver and Steve Williams who were partnered in the defence for a first time that the lively striker was kept down to a single headed chance which flashed wide.

Chances were thin on the ground, mud was thick and it got the better of Omar Daley who struggled manfully trying the things he tries but having little effect. County’s passing game through midfield never seemed to get going and again that was credit to some excellent work by the Bantams with Adam Bolder and Flynn creating a midfield pairing that showed no ill effect for the loss of suspended Lee Bullock. Perhaps there is a message for Taylor and the Bantams next season that in having these three quality midfielder – and as Bolder settles it becomes clear he offers a similar (and high) quality as Bullock and Flynn – allows the team to play the same dug in performance even when one of the core players is out.

Can City afford to pay three players for two positions? Perhaps not. Certainly County have done that this season and try trundle on to promotion and the uncertain future because of such extravagance.

Taylor’s resource management – should he accept the club’s offer of a contract – needs to be more parsimonious. The eye he has cast over the City squad and assembled loanees seems to have suggested that what was at City on his arrival needs augmentation and not overhaul. Loanees Mark McCammon and Gavin Grant would seem to have failed to impress while Oliver, Bolder and Robbie Threlfall have shown well. Ryan Kendal made but a cameo but certainly the likes of James Hanson, Luke O’Brien, Gareth Evans have all risen to the challenge that Taylor’s new faces suggested.

How to turn results like this – and it was a good result and could have been better with the Bantams always looking within a chance of taking a win – into a promotion campaign is a matter of much discussion, not least of which will be between Taylor, Rhodes and Lawn as the three month manager winds down one season are – perhaps – prepares for another.

Didn’t you used to be Hereford United?

Hereford United sit below Bradford City in the football pyramid at the moment – that is not that easy – and dismissed manager John Trewick who himself had taken over from Graham Turner, the manager who guided the club to promotions from the Football Conference and League Two two years ago.

The Hereford side mugged Bradford City in the first season under Stuart McCall were a big bunch of guys who assembled by Turner at the cost of only half of City’s purchase that year Willy Topp. Ben Smith who was signed from Weymouth for £20,000 in January 2007 and the rest of the squad were either picked up for free – or – in the case of nine of them including Robbie Threlfall they were brought in on loan.

Turner tried the same policy the season after with less success. The team that finished the previous season third and included the likes of Theo Robinson who now impresses for Huddersfield Town and Peterborough’s Toumani Diagouraga ended up bottom of League One with seventeen loanees coming and going in the season including once again Threlfall and former Bantam and, erm, “team mate” of Mark McCammon Moses Ashikodi.

Not that one should dismiss Turner’s methods for taking a team from the non-league to the division above City but the whole story of the rise and fall of Hereford United in the last three years is illustrative of the perils of building teams of loan players. Any progress made is done so on foundations of sand. The players brought in that brought success one year are gone the next and the manager is left scrabbling to find players of a similar or higher quality.

Loan players are a fact of life in all the leagues of English football outside of the Premiership and the odd additional face can help a club, get the mix wrong and the team is full of players who have an eye on the way back to their parent clubs. It is a mix that more often fails than succeeds, but it does sometimes succeed as Hereford prove.

Peter Taylor’s approach to loanees underlines his abilities as a manager. He has brought a half dozen new faces to the squad but few of them have gone straight into the team. Gavin Grant has not been put in over Omar Daley, Mark McCammon has not gone in over James Hanson, Luke Oliver had to bide his time rather than being put in over Steve Williams.

As with his retention of Wayne Jacobs and his keenness to sign Peter Thorne up as a coach Taylor values stability and knows how to maintain and maximise it.

The Bantams are in exceptional form having taken twelve points in the seven games Peter Taylor has managed (two home, five away) and now are looking up the table to climb towards a play off target that most think is unreachable. Other aspirations have been established: to finish in a higher place than last season, to end with a positive goal difference, to maintain a two points a game average over the next two months.

The Bantams continue with Matt Glennon in goal although Simon Ramsden will miss the game injured at right back so Jonathan Bateson is expected to fill in. Luke Oliver and Matthew Clarke continue in central defence and Robbie Threlfall stays at left back behind Luke O’Brien who is on the left flank.

Lee Bullock and Adam Bolder are building a partnership in the middle with both given a ball winning remit while Omar Daley may make the right hand side despite an injury last weekend. Should Omar fail a fitness test Gareth Evans may return or Gavin Grant could be given a chance to make his first start for the Bantams.

New face Ryan Kendall will probably start on the bench with Michael Flynn continuing up front alongside James Hanson.

Hereford’s aims are to stay in the division which – thanks to Grimsby Town’s continued inability to make a fist of staying in the league – seems likely to be achieved. The Bulls are looking to put a wretched year behind them and come back stronger next season.

They may do, they have before..

Another day, another loan signing as Adam Bolder joins

Adam Bolder has signed for City on loan from Millwall as Peter Taylor continues to make changes to the Bantams side.

Bolder – who is expected to make his début for the Bantams in the game against Rotherham United tomorrow – is a central midfielder who played 166 games for Derby County and brings to four the number of loan players the Bantams have at the club with Gavin Grant being a non-contract player and Matt Glennon having signed a short term deal.

Bolder is expected to take the a central midfield role which may see Michael Flynn moved out to a wider position, or dropped and as such one has to wonder what the aim of bringing him to the club is. The central midfield position in any team which is not doing well is always to be questioned but few would suggest that Lee Bullock and Michael Flynn are the reason the Bantams are not doing well.

Indeed the performances of both have been rightly lauded during the season and Bolder’s arrival – should he displace one of them in his month long loan deal – only serves to throw more uncertainty at the City side.

One can understand Taylor’s bringing in players to cover the gaps in the City squad. The strength of Mark McCammon is needed to play Taylor’s direct football and the delivery of Robbie Threlfall adds something to the arsenal that we have struggled with since Paul McLaren’s exit. These signings give the squad added breadth.

As with Grant and the move on of Scott Neilson, Luke Oliver who will displace either the promising Steve Williams or the (frankly) best player on display against Darlington Matthew Clarke new signing Bolder – a central midfielder – seems to offer more of what we have.

A glance through the pedigrees of Bolder, Flynn and Bullock does nothing to suggest that Peter Taylor is bringing in an improvement to the side so much as a different face. Taylor is very pleased with his capture and he is no doubt a good player but once again we see a situation where first team experience is being given to another team’s player rather than our own.

Oliver, Grant, and Bolder could all end up signing for City but what will be achieved by that is debatable. After all Lee Bullock was signed on loan and then full time to replace what we already had and now, two years later, he could end up on the bench watching a loan player in his shirt.

How this plethora of loanees is going to effect the development of the likes of Williams, Neilson, Luke Sharry, Leon Osborne et al is anyone’s guess. How is the harmony of the side helped by having the majority of the starting eleven on short term deals is also a worry. All of the short term players are probably good footballers and Taylor has an eye for a player and a character – one recalls the armband and David Beckham – but the use of so many loan players is perhaps a definitive problem with the short term approach the Bantams seem to be taking at the moment.

Some might say that it is not important to build a team at a club, that players are bounty hunters and collecting enough good players in one place is all that is required. These people would not include Rochdale manager Keith Hill, or Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson.

Perhaps Taylor believes that before he can build a future with City – be it with the squad he inherited, the one he is making from loan players or a third one – he needs to win the “trial” for manager’s job he has in front of him. Wins now mean that relegation is banished and the loan players can go home or become full members of the squad.

One hopes so because switching one set of league two players for another set of league two players is a very curious definition of progress and replacing players signed on loan and then permanently with another set signed on loan and then permanently is no one’s idea of a change.

What makes a good loan deal?

The penalty saves Simon Eastwood made against Notts County did a lot for the confidence that City fans had in the young keeper who arrived on loan from Huddersfield Town at the start of the season but seemed to do very little for the confidence of the custodian himself.

Saturday saw another Eastwood performance where he made some impressive saves but enough errors to cost goals. This has been the pattern for the keeper all year with the ten minute spell after half time against Crewe being illustrative of the player. One stunning arm out save from a Steven Schumacher header, one picking the ball out of the net when a long range shot from the same player bounced through him.

Eastwood arrived at City having played a same for Town and a dozen on loan in the non-league and perhaps Stuart McCall was hoping that after three months or so wearing the gloves week in/week out that Luton born keeper would have started to show improvement that comes with being blooded.

The theory is a good one because if Eastwood could cut out the brain-freeze errors that see him wandering around the penalty area like a loose defender then he would be a decent keeper who made brilliant saves. The problem is that such progression has not been seen in Eastwood and he remains now, as he was when he arrived, a player who is good at football rather than a good footballer.

This is not at all unique. Back on the 9th of May 1999 when City were promoted at Wolves the world ball juggling champion entertained City fans with his tricks on the side of the field while the 22 players were not as good with the ball but better footballers got on with deciding who would be in the Premiership next season.

Eastwood – as previous Bradford City keeper William Foulke – could make a living at a goalkeeping stall in Blackpool showing off his shot stopping but he needs to get better at playing the game of football if he is going to make a living in the game.

A poor loan spell at City did not do Boaz Myhill – the Hull City ball-picker-out-of-netter – played twice for City letting in five to Sheffield United one afternoon but after joining the Tigers in the bottom division he has played for them all the way into the top flight and has played over 240 games for them. One assumes that after running under a ball when the Blades bore down on goal Myhill took stock and learnt – certainly his cameo’s on Match of the Day are not litters of errors which suggests he is a better keeper than he was – and so in that way his time at the Bantams was a massive success. At least is was for Boaz Myhill.

Myhill’s Hull team mate Nathan Doyle’s loan time at the Bantams seemed to be great success for City – he was player of the season despite only being at the club until Dean Windass sprung him after Christmas – but for Doyle it seemed to secure him nothing more than a move from one team’s reserves to another from which he is loaned out, in Yorkshire.

Two years on and Doyle seems to be pretty much where he was when he left the Bantams – although perhaps he is on more money than he was at his first club – but perhaps that is a slight return and not really what we should be looking for when we ask what is a good loan deal if only because even with his contribution the Bantams still were relegated.

Other players like Andy Taylor – the Middlesbrough left back who impressed many during his four months with the Bantams – and last season’s midfield pair of Dean Furman and Nicky Law are perhaps a better example for a typical loan deal. These players come to the Bantams as rough young players who can kick a ball well and after a few months or a season of regular play establish themselves as footballers who understand the rigours of the first team game.

The Bantams got something from the players but as with Doyle it is rarely enough to create anything like a promotion campaign from and the work of Michael Flynn, James Hanson and Gareth Evans show the debilitating way that the loan player – with his route out of the club – effect the level of effort put in. The aim for Furman and Law was – perhaps understandably – contracts for next season not promotion this and while there was a convenient eclipse of these aims when backs were to the wall they were not the men to be counted on.

(This is a standing debate between City fans – the end of season collapse and the abilities/attitude of Dean Furman and Nicky Law – and one I suspect will not be resolved here. Suffice to say it while cannot be true that the team lacked drive to maintain a promotion push but the heart of the team excelled there were many causal events in place.)

Should Oldham or Rotherham be faced with similar problems would this be the case? The Myhill scenario suggestions not. Last season’s players were added to with a good half dozen other players of a transient nature which caused its own problems. Taylor’s loan at City saw him put in displays which got him recognised and awarded a first team place at a (relegated) Boro but his level of effort was similarly capped as one might say Furman and Lee’s were.

These were good deals for the players and for the Bantams individually although collectively represented something of a weakness. The players were markedly better when they left the club than they were on arrival – more confident, more drilled into a playing style – and moved onto higher divisions or more money and so perhaps they can be good loan deals.

There remains though the quantity of loans and the effect on the team’s morale – not repeated in Stuart’s battlers of this season – which perhaps offers us the answer that a good loan deal is a scarce one in which the player – especially a young player – is allowed to grow as a team footballer without being relied on.

Eastwood though the exception to that rule – goalkeepers being different and all – because while he is alone in being on loan he is relied on as the keeper to settle the defence – something he has failed to do so far.

So City are stuck in the invidious position of waiting for Eastwood to start to show signs of the progress which all young players make while out on loan while understanding that that lack of progress is costing goals. In ten years time Eastwood might look back on the last few months as the making of his career where he learnt the hard way the way to be a professional footballer – certainly he has the raw ability of a quality goalkeeper – but the longer City wait for the lessons to sink in the longer we will go on conceding unnecessary goals.

The end seems nigh for City at Chester City

The transfer deadline for loan players passed without incident at Valley Parade as the season’s true end game began. Lincoln City prepare for another season in League Two by cutting costs while Wembley is prepared for the end of season flurry of games.

End game, but not yet “must win”.

The words “must win” are used far too often in football and as such have lost relevance and once again City face a game that a win would do a power of good in but defeat while telling would not be fatal to the club’s play-off chances.

There will come a time in the next six, seven, eight, nine or ten games that the Bantams will face a game that if it is not won then League Two football is a certainty next season but it is not this day at Chester City.

It says much about the season that four defeats on the spin have not ruled City out of the chance of a play-off place – never look at the table and add twelve points, it is not good for the mind – but do spare a thought for those bookmakers who lined up two clubs as favourites for automatic promotion: Bradford City and Shrewsbury Town.

It it us and them, and Chesterfield if they win games in hand, who are bashing out for the bottom of the play-off places as things stand and whatever gut wrenching is being done at Valley Parade is probably also taking place at The New Meadow. Grant Holt does not come cheap.

However to restrict the talk to these clubs and this last play-off place is to undersell the essentially random nature of the top of League Two this term. We are time away from “must win”.

“Should win” has been a problem for City this season. Around Christmas time the players seemed to slip from the mindset of digging out victories to expecting better results than earned and I would argue that the turn away from “doing the right things” – the panacea of all things in football – came at Shrewsbury when TJ Moncur and Graeme Lee clashed heads and the home team scored.

Since then it will be better when the right backs are fit, when the midfielders are fit, when the form turns around. Players are excused in a variety of ways and Stuart McCall’s job make sure that City minimise defeats and move on and one suspects that if he had the season to do again he would do things differently. That, dear reader, is the beauty of institutional memory and retention of people.

My take on City at the moment is that the Bantams have a pool of players more than talented enough to be winning games but that those players are not taking responsibility for winning those games. The phrase “players standing around waiting for someone else to win the game” has featured far too often in my thinking and in my estimation this is a problem one gets in modern football where teams at this level boast four or five loanees and a few who have contracts that expire when the season is over.

Long term commitment, significant investment, institutional memory.

All of which undersells the superb form of Dean Furman who has shone out for City this season. Such is the problem at the heart of the debate over the future of City management. It is all in the balances, and it is hard.

Rhys Evans will keep goal but in front of him four of Paul Arnison, Graeme Lee, Matthew Clarke, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien will play. There are those who would not play Clarke but I am not one of those people and recall the brittle way the Bantams used to be bested before the big former Darlington player came into the side. Could Rehman do the same job? See above.

Up front McCall hopes to have Peter Thorne back to partner Michael Boulding but will use Paul Mullin if Thorne needs more rest. McCall’s thinking on rather having Thorne fully fit for six games rather than half fit for seven precludes the play-offs. It was said at the end of last season that keeping Thorne fit for this year was key to success and certainly when the striker started to struggle with injury so did City.

Midfield holds the problems. The embarrassment of riches seems to be a thin seem these days with the likes of Keith Gillespie and Steve Jones hardly inspiring on the flanks last week.

Chris Brandon, Lee Bullock and Joe Colbeck all got a run out for the reserves and with the addition of Dean Furman that could be the Bantams midfield for Saturday. I would throw in Paul McLaren for Bullock in that quartet and others would not think of leaving Nicky Law Jnr out. It is all in the balance, and it is hard.

Chester City is not “must win” and – blame a week off work – there are many permitations and calculations around the end of this season. If one assumes that the rest of the division will continue to score points at the same rate and that the Bantams picked up seven wins then City could expect second place. More realistically the Bantams have to do a couple of wins better than some of Shrewsbury Town, Bury, Exeter and Chesterfield to be in the play-offs.

This seems like a tough call for a team in a slump but with the division’s poorest travellers Shrewsbury heading to Wycombe the Bantams could expect the seventh place team to have 59 points even if we still had 58 at the end of play. In two weeks we play Brentford while they play Grimsby. When we play Morecambe they will be playing Bury.

Not must win. Not yet.

The rule of thumb for loan players

Dean Furman’s display against Wycombe Wanderers was as close to being the complete midfield performance as I have seen at Valley Parade since Stuart McCall left for Sheffield United.

Furman was the exception in my rule of thumb – expressed often on this publication – that the club should favour players we own over players we are borrowing. Furman’s future is very much about bedding into the squad at Ibrox rather than staying at Valley Parade although there is little harm in asking if we can borrow him in 2009/2010.

Furman’s midfield partner Nicky Law Jnr I did not exempt from that loan player rule, nor Zesh Rehman, nor Steve Jones. All three were impressive in the Wycombe win, none of them belong to Bradford City.

However unlike Furman all three of those players are contracted to play for the Bantams until the end of the season and are then looking for new deals.

All of which embarrasses the rule of thumb which says that the wanderering loanee has no reason to put in the fabled 110% for City when he will be back at his home club in a month and Valley Parade will be a distant memory.

Remember names like Ian Moore, Kevin Wilson and Mike Newell? No, Neither do I and it is because while they put in some work they lacked the extra mile that the likes of Barry Conlon put in.

Conlon is out of contract with City at the end of the season as is Rhys Evans. Both are looking to impress Stuart McCall and have something on the table for next season and in a way they are in the same position as Jones, Rehman and Law Jnr. Not on loan but with playing for Bradford City and with three months to impress their way into a new deal.

Rehman and Law – as with Furman – are doing as much and putting in as much effort as Conlon (perhaps almost, who puts in more?) and Evans (I would argue that Jones is giving all he can too, although it is less evident owing ot the type of player he is) towards Bradford City winning matches.

Balancing the squad, building inclusion for the loan players and not putting the current squad’s nose out of joint, settling players who lack stability. All man management jobs failure in which shows on the field.

So perhaps the key to a good loan player is length of time they are at the club – I’m a firm believer that the longer someone is bedded into a club the better they will play – and the length they have left on their current contract but I suspect it is in equal parts about finding the right personalities.

It would seem that the current selection are just that and credit to that goes to the management team at Valley Parade.

When signing Tom Clarke McCall sends the squad the wrong message

Tom Clarke – who joined from Huddersfield Town on loan for a month – is most probably a good player. The Town Academy system at the freezing cold Studentville that is Sthores Hall has a good reputation for a reason and the number of player filtering into the rank and file of professional football is that reason.

Clarke will add a full back option and put pressure on Matthew Clarke who has had his form drop recently. Realistically man mountain Clarke (M) was always going to have a downturn. He is speedy, he is good in the air and he can tackle. There had to be a reason why he was knocking around League Two on free transfers and perhaps consistency is it.

Nevertheless Clarke pressures Clarke and hopefully performances improve but by delving into the loan market to bring in a player who with only a handful of games under his belt and no real track record McCall has added to – rather than adding on top of – the quality of the squad.

The quality of City is under question. The six bad games have concluded with the Bantams dubbed dire following the 2-1 defeat at Darlington on Monday night. What that says about the rest of the league is interesting. But for the late goal flurry the Bantams would have ended level with Darlington and while you might argue that City would not have deserved the point for a lack of attacking endeavour – if you do argue that point then you must often come away from Valley Parade convinced that City deserved the win because often when at home we are the only side attacking – but a point we would have had in a not dissimilar way to how Luton Town took one from us a few weeks ago.

All of which raises two interesting questions. Firstly if the Bantams are dire for trying to do what Luton did to us were they then not dire against Luton – consider at will – and secondly if one is edged out of games at the death when playing “that badly” then perhaps the calibration of the division has it that the League is won by the team that plays “very poorly” rather than “dire”.

I recall thinking just before the first goal at Darlington that City need only have snuck in one of the two chances that edged past Barry Conlon’s foot to have turned the game on Monday into a win. The performance would hardly have been better but the result could have been and City – oddly as it sounds in the current debate climate – could have gone top.

Perhaps then with the idea that playing dire is only one step away from winning games McCall would – I believe – have been better working within the squad and addressing the issues that have arisen within the last six games that differed from the first six to try return to previous form.

The Bantams – with Tom Clarke – play a Grimsby team that have not won all season in the league hoping to do what Chesterfield have when they claimed a first win in seven last night and put a marker down that the bad times have ended.

By bringing in loan players for squad places McCall risks that marker suggesting that the slump in results is more permanent than can be fixed by returning to the basics of providing quality supply to dangerous forwards alleviating defensive problems by virtue of having the ball in the oppositions net more.

The players – and lest we forget the maxim about players winning you games – need to get back to the first six game mindset and know that should they – the current squad – do that then the wins will return.

Recent Posts