Only a fool would consider sacking Peter Taylor as Bradford City manager now but five games and twelve points ago it seemed that the City boss was a game away from his P45.
The game changes quickly and probably having lived his life in it this comes as no surprise to the 57 year old manager. One has to wonder what he made of the pressure he was coming under and the asked for and not received backing. No matter. For now, Taylor is safe.
Safe because only a fool would sack him now and Mark Lawn is no fool – indeed he did not act when other itched five games ago – but he is also no expert. Indeed looking at Bradford City at the moment and making a list of which person at the club knows enough about football to be qualified to make a call on the job that Taylor is doing and one is forced to conclude that at the head of the list is the manager himself and the gap to the others is startling.
Wayne Jacobs and Junior Lewis – and a few of the players – have some knowledge on the field and Mark Lawn, Julian Rhodes et al have some off it but like the vast majority of football club chairmen they were set the task of assessing the all round performance of the manager without the required domain knowledge to make a decision.
Take as an example Liverpool – a great reference for many things – who when replacing Rafa Benitez with Roy Hodgson did so with the idea that they were replacing a lame duck with a soaring eagle. At the moment Liverpool struggle and it seems not that Hodgson is doing an especially poor job but that Benitez had been doing a rather impressive one taking the team to second place.
In essence there was no one able to tell the difference between a good manager doing well with a bad team and a bad manager hampering a good side or – as is the case with the vast majority of situations a hard working manager doing his best only to be replaced by another hard working manager doing his best.
Indeed the idea of a good manager is questionable. Nigel Clough built Burton a season at a time over ten years and created a strong club which managed his departure without much of a blip. That is to me the measure of a good manager, not a win percentage figure.
Yet chairmen are constantly forced to look at the win percentage, the most recent trophies in the cabinet, the flavour of the month. Hodgson got the Liverpool job for taking Fulham to a cup final, Steve McLaren got the England job for similar. The list of managers sacked from doing the long term job because of poor short term results contains some impressive names.
Sir Bobby Robson – after all – was replaced at Newcastle United by Graeme Souness because he failed to secure Champions League football and Peter Reid was given the boot by Manchester City for not finishing high enough up the Premier League. United spent a year in the second tier, City ended up in the third.
Looking back at the last three decades of City managers and noting the only common factor in success – the two promotion winning managers were appointed from within – and one sees many examples of this practice of a chairman who knows less about football than the man sitting opposite him, trying to make a judgement on the man opposite him.
Gordon Gibb was wowed by Bryan Robson, but how could judge between Robson and Todd the two men in for the job? Gibb had some experience as a junior footballer but how did that qualify him to know which of the two potential gaffers would be the best for the club?
Plenty of people would tell you that Mark Lawn make a mistake when appointing Stuart McCall, or when sacking him, but most would agree that when appointing a replacement and trumpeting that man’s years in the game and experience the joint chairman was basically saying that he did not really know what he was looking for the first time, now he thinks he does.
He is not alone. Most chairmen hire managers on promises and sack them in disappointment that those promises have yet to deliver a promotion or a trophy and at no point are they qualified to judge anything other than what can be seen from the league table. The decision to move on Taylor from Hull City and replace him with Phil Brown ended up in promotion (and relegation) but the club rode on what the current City manager had built and Brown’s magic wore off in the top flight.
Chairmen lack the domain knowledge to make decisions on their managers. They can be unhappy at results but most lack the calibration to know if those are bad results with a good team or good results with a bad one. Lincoln City have replaced Chris Sutton who was gaffer for a year replacing Peter Jackson with almost no net result at all. Sutton’s side did no better than Jackson and – one was forced to conclude – that the factors in play at Sincil bank are deeper than the dug out.
To borrow a phrase Mark Lawn needs an experienced assistant. Someone with football experience at boardroom level. Most chairmen do. They need someone next to them who knows the difference between a manager building something and one who is doing badly. Someone who can tell them that things are going well at the training pitch, that the young players coming through have real potential, that the manager is doing his job well.
They do not have this, and so they sack on form and results.
Only a fool would sack Peter Taylor now, and in retrospect the decision to not make a decision on him five games ago looks a great on indeed but Mark Lawn – in common with a great number of football chairmen – needs to bring in expertise to give him the ability to make that call should it ever arise again.
Compare the mood prior to Saturday’s trip to Northampton with that ahead of the visit to nearby Gloucestershire, seven short weeks ago.
Bradford City headed to Cheltenham Town with a record of three defeats, one draw and zero goals scored. Numerous rumours were flying around that a defeat would see manager Stuart McCall dismissed, with the feeling the squad he had assembled was wholly inadequate to meet the season’s expectations. One 5-4 victory and a subsequent seven further unbeaten games later, the contrast could not be greater.
As distant as it now feels, it’s worth reflecting back on the atmosphere during those opening three weeks of the season. Stuart was on the receiving end of bucket loads of criticism from supporters, not helped by the unhealed scars from the previous campaign’s late collapse. Yet despite admitting the pressure was on, Stuart kept a clear head and a stronger sense of perspective compared to how he’d often reacted to set backs during his first two years in charge.
After the opening day hiding at Notts County, Stuart spoke as a manager who was in it with his team, holding back from slamming the players whose confidence he now had to repair. “It’s how we react in the short term to this defeat. Individually and collectively we’ve got to show some courage and determination to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he stated. The use of the word “we” may seem minor, but is significant.
For Stuart and Wayne Jacobs kept faith in their players and began to slowly rebuild shattered confidence. Whatever was said in the dressing room and on the training pitch remained private. Matt Clarke had been hauled off on the hour mark and has yet to play again this season, but Stuart has deliberately held back from publicly slating the centre back.
A couple of weeks later Lincoln were enjoying a fortuitous win at Valley Parade and the criticisms from fans turned to the fact Stuart was apparently too close to his players, too desperate to remain one of the lads. The Official Message Board ran a poll questioning whether he should stop wearing his regular tracksuit top and shorts in the dugout, and turn out in a suit. But as the players struggled to overturn Lincoln’s lead and the abuse reigned down on them, Stuart’s bare legs could be symbolically viewed as him showing his team that he was with them, one team, Team Bradford.
And the eventual rewards is a strong team spirit and astonishing level of work rate which puts numerous recent City players – many with unquestioned higher ability – to shame. After the draw with Morecambe Stuart spoke of the joy he felt watching his team play the football they do – and he was speaking for us supporters too. That spirit is not something that can be easily manufactured, as we’ve seen in past seasons, but it’s worth wondering how big a factor going through such a difficult start to the season was on how well Team Bradford are now doing.
Compare and contrast with another City, Hull. This time last year, manager Phil Brown was considered the best thing since sliced bread. Hull were beating the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham in their own backyard, taking a place in the top four of the Premier League. Brown was rightly receiving the plaudits, but while most managers would keep their feet on the ground he appeared to let it all go to his head. Article after article praising Hull appeared in the media, almost always including a quote from the Geordie. Going a little too far, he even decided to publicly reveal he had once been turned down for the Bournemouth job. Given the Cherries were, at the time, struggling near the foot of League Two, it seemed unnecessary to kick a club heading down. It also seemed to escape Brown’s attention that Bournemouth’s plight was down to disastrous finances rather than some apparent foolishness in rejecting his application. Brown had done brilliantly to get Hull to the top flight, but he’d had the luxury of sizeable transfer funds along the way, too.
And when things began to go wrong, Brown apparently was more pre-occupied with making sure he passed on the blame than keeping the spirit high amongst his players. The now infamous half time telling off of his players on the Man City pitch was at the time widely viewed as a managerial masterstroke, showing he won’t tolerate the poor standards that had seen the Tigers 4-0 down. Yet at the time it was only their second defeat in seven games, and the public dressing down is now widely looked on as Brown making sure his players copped the blame, removing himself of responsibility to the Hull supporters and watching world.
The poor form got worse and Hull only survived relegation by the default of the season running out just in time, but even then he couldn’t resist stealing the limelight by getting on the KC stadium microphone to serenade the Hull fans. The message was clear, “Look at me, I’m the man who kept us up.”
Hull’s form has continued into this season, but it’s in Brown’s post match comments that suggest he’s only making the damaged team spirit worse among his players. Unlike Stuart in the same situation, it’s not a case of “we defended poorly today”, but “I was disgusted with some of the defending, individually and collectively. For me it was demoralising and I hope it was for the players as well.” Every week he seems to be lambasting his players via the media, and every week they seem to lose.
Which may have nothing to do with Stuart, but does demonstrate two different styles of management which, for the time being, are delivering different results. City head to Northampton with plenty of confidence and with only one enforced change needed after the encouraging draw at Morecambe. Gareth Evans’ red card has not been appealed – a curious decision from City which it’s strongly hinted is down to the cost of appealing and lack of faith the TV pictures and opposition of an arrogant referee would clear the former Macclesfield striker. An unsuccessful appeal risks an extension to the three-match ban, which suggests the FA’s system is flawed and unfair on lower league clubs who don’t enjoy the benefit of their matches being covered by 50+ TV cameras. If a club appeals a sending off that was clearly a sending off, they deserve to pay the costs and have an extra game ban be slapped on. If it’s more borderline, and at worst City’s appeal would be considered that, there should not be such ramifications.
Evans’ absence affords Michael Boulding three games to stake a regular claim for his place. There remains a nagging doubt City’s squad will not prove sufficiently strong enough for the demands of a full season, but there is currently plenty of quality on the sidelines at the moment. Having taken a pay cut during the summer, Boulding can only be considered as positively contributing to the team spirit, though his work rate will need to increase from some laboured early season outings. His ability is not in doubt, but his desire to match the effort of Evans is. Boulding will only have himself to blame if his spell in the starting eleven is short lived.
James Hanson will take the central striker role next to Boulding with Peter Thorne – back in action for the reserves midweek – likely to take a place on the bench. This time last year Boulding and Thorne had netted 11 goals between them – four fewer than City’s total goals this season – and still have much to offer. Scott Neilsen seems to be getting better each game and will continue in the other wide striker role in Stuart’s 4-3-3 formation of choice.
In midfield, James O’Brien quietly impresses while the influence Michael Flynn is having on performances has not been seen from a City Number 4 since his manager. Lee Bullock plays the holding midfield role with increasing assurance. Simon Ramsden is hoping to be fit enough to take Jonathan Bateson’s slot at right back with Steve Williams, Zesh Rehman and Luke O’Brien completing the back four in front of Simon Eastwood.
Whether a ninth unbeaten game can be achieved against opposition which has just tasted its first victory in six and have a caretaker manager in Ian Simpson taking his last chance to stake a claim the permanent position remains to be see. Whatever the outcome, the journey back North will be undertaken by the same Team Bradford which set off to Cheltenham winless but still together seven weeks previous.
It was anticipated that Dean Windass’s move from Bradford City would go without a hitch and it probably would have done but for a missing zero. City want £250,000, Hull have offered £25,000. No one is happy.
Julian Rhodes maintains that City are not going to seel a Championship quality player for a cut down price, Windass complained about City “moving the goalposts” – lovely football metaphor fom the big man – while Hull manager Phil Brown maintains that City suggested that they loan payment the Tigers (Tiger-Ra-Ra-Ra) made for the home town hero should be knocked off the £250,000 tag. Rhodes would probably say it has been. Perhaps Rhodes will suggest Hull take the £25,000 to Milton Keynes Dons and see how close it gets them to signing Izale McLeod who is perhaps the only comparable goalscorer in the league.
Windass is frustrated and calls the price tag an absolute joke but after two administrations and many staff losing jobs few are laughing at Valley Parade when it comes to finance. Windass has two years left on his City contract and the Bantams pay him something around £85,000 a year. Simple maths suggests that any bid less than £170,000 less than the Bantams value the player at – that sort of figure that Windass would be looking at spending if he wanted to buy himself out of his deal at Valley Parade to move abroad – is bound to be rejected but Windass wants age considering and his desire to play at his home town club.
For Hull’s part £250,000 is probably more than they would want to pay for a player with no resale value but resale value on footballers is an increasingly outmoded concept. Reading signed Steve Sidwell from Arsenal for nothing which was exactly how much they got from Chelsea for him when he left having rejected a new contract with the Royals. For the wages they paid him they got a contribution to a promotion and another year the Premiership which represents decent value in anyone’s book. It is this model – not the idea of footballer as resaleable asset – that is taking hold in the game and be is £250,000 or £25,000 that The Tigers spend on Windass they would be advices to spread that cost with the players £1,000 a week as a liability cost of ownership but I’m sure Adam Pearson does not need a lesson in football accounting from me. He was smart enough to get out of Leeds before the money ran out.
Is £250,000 a joke for Windass? Is £25,000? One rumour has it – and we stress that this is little more than idle gossip – that Jan Molby had run up a phone bill of £42,000 in three months when he was fired by Hull City which he expected and got the club to pick up. This is a world where people sweated blood to raise that sort of cash to keep clubs up and down the land in business.
Were the positions reversed and Hull were returning our talisman then no doubt different views would be taken but as it is the men in the East hold all the cards: they are two divisions higher, have more money and have the will to take the player to the KC Stadium. City have Windass and that rules all.
The strikers options are limited should a deal not be struck. He could threaten retirement unless he is allowed to join but such a move would only work as leverage to get the Bantams to allow him to leave for as little as he wants to and while no one has ever accused Deano of having the greatest reason he will at some point begin to wonder what the purpose of his move is if Hull are not prepared to offer the going rate for him? How valued would Dean Windass be at his new club if they only wanted him on the cheap? How many games can he expect to get in the next two years if he is considered a nice-to-have player rather than the first name on Stuart McCall’s team sheet?
One can assume that Windass’s anger at City for demanding big money is equaled by Hull’s instance that he is only worth small potatoes. Without Windass Hull would probably be back in the bottom two divisions – isn’t that worth £225,000?
Or is Windass’s return a sop to supporters who want to see the Lionesque forward reduced to a bit part player poked onto the stage for their amusement. Surely Dean Windass is not going to be reduced to a cameo ten minutes at the end of a Championship game so that the Tigers can applaud their hero but not reward him with the ninety plus games he has left in the next 24 months of his football career.