Strikers / Trajectory

There are many reasons, dear reader, as to why Bradford City are struggling to sign a striker following a two goalless draws one of which resulted in a penalty shoot out defeat to Accrington Stanley and what I am going to do is add a reason to the list.

Understand that I’m suggesting that this is a part of a nexus of a causal events that are conspiring to bring about an outcome and not the single and sole reason for Stuart McCall’s struggle to get a number nine who can put the ball in the onion bag.

It has to do with Japan, Andy Cooke, and West Bromwich in Birmingham.

1996

There is a temptation for anyone recalling the past to see it as halcyon. I am forty three years old next week and that means I’m old enough – just about – to remember that twenty years ago people were saying that things where better twenty years ago and to have lived through both time periods.

But I do recall that the character of football in 1996 differed from the current game in many ways but specifically in this one: Player used to decline.

Which is to say that one could watch a player on Match of the Day in the First Division for a few years of his career and when he lost a yard of pace or a touch of sharpness one could be sure that one would be seeing him at a lower league ground soon.

It was the natural order of things. Bradford City – like many clubs – number some players who declined from the top league to the grace of a good career lower down amongst their iconic figures. The top flight was done with Peter Beagrie when he came to Valley Parade, it was done with Trevor Cherry, it was done with Roy McFarland.

There was a steady stream of players who would have had a good career at the top level and would take a few stop offs down the leagues before they went to the job as a landlord/raconteur at some local boozer back near the ground where they were most fondly remembered.

2007

When Andy Cooke signed for Bradford City under Colin Todd he joined the club for a Korean side having had a few months in the Far East and got home sick. Cooke was a decent enough worker although he would not have been an answer to anyone’s goalscoring problems but he did show an interesting route a football could take.

Way batter yourself around Bristol Rover and Burton when Busan I’Cons will give you a year living somewhere exotic. Cooke was last seen playing for Market Drayton Town and one wonders if he might have thought that Busan to Bradford was not the best move he ever made.

Jay Bothroyd came through the Arsenal youth system and played for Coventry City in the top division and as he declined it became clear his career was a slow decline. Bothroyd handled that decline differently to most and cut a path that is increasingly common.

When QPR had done with him and the contracts on the table would have seen him schlepping around League One and Two he upped sticks and moved on to Thailand and Muangthong United and then to Júbilo Iwata in J2. He was J2 top scorer and got a promotion to J1.

Rather than opting to struggle in League One and Two Bothroyd went to someone else’s top flight. A modern football does not need the last pay day as was the mark of many a footballer. They can go where they going is good?

Or not.

2014

Rickie Lambert got his dream move to his boyhood club Liverpool and he got to play for England in what was an unexpected Indian Summer to his career aged 32. Liverpool moved him on to West Brom a year later and if Lambert was not already set up for life following his Bristol Rovers and Southampton career he was after a year going into an out of Anfield.

Lambert is currently at West Brom but played only eighteen games last season scoring once. I’d suggest that he is the type of player who twenty years ago would have been keen to not run down his contract at The Hawthornes and see what happened after knowing he had the comfort of a near limitless financial cushion but would have been telling his manager today that he wanted to find a club lower down to give him a three year deal to secure him a decent future.

Lambert is atypical in the Premier League in having played in the lower divisions of English football. I do not wish to cast aspersions on Lambert’s Baggy team mate José Salomón Rondón but there seems to be no future in which Rondón joined Walsall after four good years at Albion but accepting his yard of pace has gone.

Indeed it seems that when a Premier League player begins to decline rather than accepting a deterioration in contract terms lower down the league they head for the money of China, or Dubai, or somewhere else that allows you to fail upwards.

2016

It is not the sole reason that Stuart McCall struggles to find a striker but football – at the moment – has a supply problem. Players do not have the career trajectories they once had and do not end up coming to a Valley Parade aged thirty plus looking for a solid three year deal to secure their futures.

The scarcity of that sort of player makes other good strikers – the Rickie Lamberts on the way up – harder to come by and McCall, like many managers, is looking for scraps.

Candidate Two: Dean Windass, an old school manager

Football used to have a place for people like Dean Windass who – talking on Radio Leeds – declared his interest in taking over at Valley Parade. He is expected to be interviewed next week.

After a long career and a good deal of highs and lows some club in the lower leagues would take the journeyman player and welcome him into their club, showing him to the manager’s office, and seeing what happened.

And often it was not much.

Sir Bobby Moore turned up at Southend United as a reward for a career well done, Sir Bobby Charlton did the same at Preston North End. Sir Bobby’s uncle “Wor” Jackie Milburn was Ipswich Town manager for a year and a bit. These were big names. Lower down the ladder of football the jobbing player got given a chance just as England stars did. Football tends to like to look after its own and any player who has been heard of got given a club to manage for a brief spell before ended up running a pub.

Reputation was the key of course. When Sir Bobby Moore walked into Roots Hall he brought a dash of World Cup magic with him. Forever painted in red and gold on a sunny day in ’66 he must have dazzled in interview and the supporters no doubt welcomed him with the same awe. Aside from the odd quote in a newspaper – tidied up by a friendly editor – footballers seldom talked about football so the idea that the England skipper might not be that clued up on running a team never seemed to occur.

And then came BSkyB. Twenty four hour non-stop talking about football from anyone and everyone who can string a sentence together, and often those who cannot.

Which brings us to Dean Windass who is exactly that sort of player who would have been given a chance by some chairman who held him in high esteem and supporters would have been impressed by his reputation. Not now though with Windass having spent the last few years struggling to be coherent in front of camera for Sky TV.

Not that I would criticise him for struggling with that job – on the hoof football analysis is tough – but the fact that his abilities thinking on his feet has been exposed means that rather than his arrival being treated with he surprise of the new Windass has already been revealed.

He is what he is. Gruff, passionate, seemingly not especially bright (again, one would hate to conclude that on the basis of doing a tough job on Sky) and hardly the stuff of the modern tactical manager. A million miles away from Mourinho.

How close to Trevor Cherry? How close to Roy McFarland? Two of City’s successful managers of the 1980s got the job on the basis of England credentials and their own reputations. When appointed no supporter could say if Cherry or McFarland talked a good game, both played one, and that was enough.

So Windass represents a kind of old school approach to appointments. The guy who gets the job because of his reputation and a good feel that they chairman gets from him and – if he does well – gets to keep it.

It seems doubtful that City are prepared to turn the clock back.

The spotlight falls on Lawn as the short search for new manager should have begun

If one were to believe the rumours heard then Lawn has been keen to replace McCall since the start of the season – certainly McCall’s exit can not have come as a surprise to him although reports in the T&A say the two were not speaking – and so one must assume that the joint chairman has a successor in mind. Indeed the same T&A article suggests that Lawn has been pressuring for a management change for some time.

Reading that article – the talk of a rift between manager and chairman, the talk of a suggestion of bringing in a “senior man” – Lawn sounds no different to the OMB supporters he criticised recently. Indeed for strong leadership to be shown in this situation were the exit of the manager has been brewing for so long Lawn needs to have the successor in place on Saturday, and he needs to select wisely.

Distressingly Lawn is talking about appointing an interim manager until the end of the season which calls into question any idea of the joint chairman having a plan for City’s future post-McCall.

There is no reason why – should Lawn think that Stuart McCall should have been challenging for promotion with this squad of players why supporters should accept anything other than a team that can amass (circa) 37 points or more in the next 19 games.

Without putting too fine a point on events Lawn must have thought about a new manager who he believes is an improvement and a continued spell without that man needlessly exposes the club to risk. Lawn talked about the club’s need for stability in the past yet seems to have decided against continuing that policy now.

A manager who offers obvious improvement is needed and the position Mark Lawn has City in forgoes the idea of any risk in this appointment.

The next City manager should not be a repeat failure so people like Peter Jackson – sacked twice in his career – need not apply and should not be considered if they do. What is the point of replacing a manager who you do not think will succeed with one who is proven to fail?

The list of two and three time failures who would love the chance of eighteen months getting paid at City is long. Everyone on it should be ignored.

Likewise hundreds of players who are approaching the late thirties and fancy a player/manager job will be keen to apply and City have had success down this route in the past with Roy McFarland and Trevor Cherry but the risks of appointing a rookie to a role to gain the experience you have just lost by allowing someone who has been doing that job for years to depart is far too great. The unproven, like the proven failures, should not be considered by Mark Lawn.

Lawn needs to look at the pile of CVs that will arrive on his desk and ask the question what is a good football manager? How does one decide that one is better than the other? How can one guarantee that this manager is better than the last?

Certainly that does not come with someone else’s cast off who has never succeeded nor does it come with a new appointment. It comes from finding a manager who has not only had success – Mike Walker had success at Norwich but had no idea how he had achieved it let alone how to recreate it at Everton – but had multiple successes in disparate situations, perhaps situations which are applicable to the one the Bantams offer.

Again Jackson’s name should be struck off. A manager who once got it right as Jackson could point to in his second spell at Huddersfield Town does not offer the risk free promise of improvement but rather the chance that the success he had may not be repeatable.

There is a great example in City’s own history. Paul Jewell was able to create success at City but he is not alone in coming through the ranks at a club and taking them to glory – Walker followed that route Norwich City – but tellingly Jewell was able to do it again at Wigan Athletic unlike Walker who spend eleven months on Merseyside before getting the boot. Similarly Chris Kamara brought success at Bradford City but failed at Stoke City.

A manager is not a proven success if he has only achieved once and similarly CVs that show single achievements should be put in the bin next to the unproven and the proven failures. Lawn will already no this because he will have already gone through this process in consideration of the manager he would replace McCall with.

Jewell is an outstanding candidate for the job and while he still talks in terms of Premier League he said of City after his departure while on a visit to Valley Parade “This is still my club.” Lawn could do must to restore some faith in the idea that he has an idea on how he will improve City should he state on Monday that Jewell is his number one target and that he wants to speak to him about the job.

Jewell aside very few candidates suggest themselves although another is Peter Taylor who has taken Wycombe Wanderers, Brighton & Hove Albion, Gilligham and Hull City to promotions in the past showing his ability to reproduce success. Both would be good appointments but both have done their best work when funded handsomely and both have patches of failure in their careers.

To be honest if the rumours that Lawn has been keen to replace McCall since the start of the season are the case then he should have already have had that conversation with Jewell or Taylor someone of that ilk and calibre and have him ready to take charge for the game with Grimsby at the weekend.

No unproven, no proven failures, no flash in the pan single success managers if Lawn is to convince anyone that he has a plan to improve the club.

A common phrase heard of late is that football is a results business and should that be the case then the smart football chairman looks for a manager with manifest repeated results to reduce the risk to the club.

That is if the idea in the Bradford City boardroom is about trying to make low risk improvements and not just of appeasement and getting one’s own way

If Lawn is even seen standing next to Dean Windass, Peter Jackson, Peter Beagrie, Simon Davey, Brendan Rodgers, Russell Slade, Martin Allen, Mike Newell, Gareth Southgate, Ian McParland or any of the other managers who fall into these three catagories where risk is attached to the appointment then one has to wonder what the net benefit of this process will be other than the history of the club being bent in a way that simply lets the chairman get his own way.

Recent Posts