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.

The superb and stupendous success of Scunthorpe United

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Nathan Clarke, Greg Leigh | Tony McMahon, Lee Evans, Gary Liddle, Kyel Reid | Jordan Bowery, Billy Clarke | Luke James

There were probably more Bradford City fans in the stadium applauding off their side than there were supporters of Scunthorpe United following City’s 2-0 victory.

The Bantams had scored a goal in each half with Kyel Reid being fouled after his own shot was saved to allow Tony McMahon to score his second penalty of the week. Greg Leigh scored his second mesmerising run and finish from left back of the week too. Which was good, if you like that sort of thing.

City drafted in Jordan Bowery on loan from Rotherham United to cover Steve Davies in covering James Hanson in the forward line. This caused some upset with some supporters aghast that the Billy Clarke/Deavnte Cole partnership would not be given a chance, others that Bowry’s training would be to have Rory McArdle kick the ball at him very hard, and others that Luke James would be furious. The irony of Parkinson being called out for overlooking long term loan players in favour of short term loan players is not to be lost.

But so it was that Bowery – a willing runner who ran up with cramp towards the end of the game – played target man and Billy Clarke fell deep from the forward line to bolster a midfield which was already bolstered by favouring the more defensively minded Gary Liddle over in form Billy Knott.

City dug in and delivered the ball quickly to the final third. It was the first Wintery day of the season and – at times – one half expected to hear the old stand-by that the ball would come down with snow on it.

Oh to be a Scunthorpe United supporter

By contrasts Scunthorpe United are a joy to watch. Set up with a 433 with one fulcrum midfielder they deployed the insanely talented ballplayer Gary McSheffrey on the left side of a three up front and he drifted between the lines perfectly.

The Iron midfield moved and played short balls well – or tried to – and the forward play of Darius Henderson was all about him dropping deep and trying to turn balls on the floor into him, into passes to supporting players. Henderson ended up isolated and isolated because after a team the belief seemed to seep out of Scunthorpe.

Promiscuous manager Mark Robins has created a Scunthorpe United team who try to – underline on the words try to – play football “the right way” and while the two best chances that the home side created came from raked balls forward on the whole Robins deserves whatever credit swirls around for playing passing football to focus on him.

Yet nobody stayed to applaud his team off.

What you say you want

What Scunthorpe United do is what you (and it should be obvious who the “you” referred to is) say you want. You say you want to see Bradford City play passing football. You say you want City to stop playing long balls to a target man and play through the midfield. You draw little pictures of formations with Devante Cole on one side of attack and no Tony McMahon.

This is what you say you want. Players with deft touches trying to create the perfect chance. The passing game. If you are brave enough to match the courage of your conviction and utter the phrase “I’d rather see City lose than play like this.”

This is what you say you want.

And I wonder if you would stay behind and applaud off a team that lost 2-0 and lost heart when the deft touch was bitten down and the team fell short in effort as well as quality despite the desire to do the right thing.

The evidence of the home supporters suggests that the superb and stupendous success of Scunthorpe United is not all it is cracked up to be.

And perhaps you should stop saying it is.

And onwards

There was a sense of hopelessness in the air when Phil Parkinson brought back Kyel Reid and put McMahon on the right at Rochdale but City have not lost a league game since.

McMahon talks about a team meeting that turned the season around and brought the squad together. That togetherness is – to me – what is worth watching in football. Seeing players enjoying working hard for each other, and enjoying the rewards.

It is what elevates the game from twenty two grown men running around a bit of grass taking everything too seriously.

Stern tests await. Coventry City are top of the League One table and arrived at Valley Parade on Tuesday night. They used to have McSheffrey and now have Joe Cole in his position.

One can not imagine that if reading that all the Bradford City players would smile and note that McSheffrey’s position is somewhere deep in Stephen Darby’s pocket.

The obvious quality of Phil Parkinson and how he could be the decisive factor in 2015/16 Promotion

The season starts and one thing is obvious: Bradford City will be promoted.

That is obvious. It is obvious because I’ve read it in FourFourTwo and it is obvious because Bradford City beat Champions Chelsea last season and that must mean that Bradford City can win League One.

It is obvious because City have brought in some real quality in the form of Paul Anderson and Mark Marshy Marshall, and while seeing Andrew Davies go is hard seeing Mark Yeates and Andy Halliday go is not.

And it is obvious because City finished a place off the play offs last season, and every season Phil Parkinson has improved Bradford City’s league finish, and as we all know no one ever gets in the play offs and does not win.

It is obvious and because of that it is a thought that has passed the mind of even the most negative Bradford City supporter.

No matter how many layers of cynicism a person might surround themselves with one cannot escape that feeling on a sunning Tuesday morning that this year is the year that City return to the top two divisions for the first time since May 2004.

But wait…

A Barnsley website who had, one assumed, lost Jason McKeown’s email address asked me to preview the coming season. They asked what my realistic view on the Bradford City season was. I chewed my pen (metaphorically speaking) and considered beating Arsenal, beating Aston Villa, late serge and beating Burton, Wembley again, beating Chelsea, getting to Wembley for a major Cup Final.

It struck me that at Valley Parade of late realism is in short supply.

And perhaps in that context it is excusable if all of us go on a little fantasy safari when considering the prospects for the season that starts at Swindon on Saturday.

The counter to those thoughts are the huge gulf that was obvious between Bradford City and Bristol City in the mauling of last season and the general lack of character in the team around that time. Reality comes in wondering if the Bantams have a Marlon Pack/Luke Freeman pairing as Bristol City had or a back line as strong as the one that took Preston North End up? Or a 25 goals a year striker?

At that point obvious stops being the operative word.

The multi-polar world

The temptation is, of course, to take the team one follows in isolation and to consider that if your team has done well in recruitment, or preparation, then it will improve in absolute terms in League One. League structures are always relative.

You can be better than last year (or worse) but your position will on the whole be decided by the strength of the other teams in the League. Was the Benito Carbone team in the second year of the Premier League worse than the one which finished 17th the year before?

It certainly was at the end of the season but after the other win over Chelsea in August 2000 was the team worse or was the problem that there were no Watford, Wednesday and a woeful Wimbledon dropping like a stone to finish beneath them?

Football is a multi-polar world. Your league achievements are necessarily measured against the other teams around you. It might be obvious that City have improved (or not) but have they improved more than the teams around them in League One?

Looking at the teams in League One this season first day opposition Swindon Town lost in the play off final last season which normally denotes a challenger but they seem to have lost a lot of players and are blooding a new team.

Relegated clubs can be strong but few will fear Millwall considering how easily the were brushed aside eight months ago at Valley Parade. Wigan Athletic have a lot to do to end a losing mentality which has come into the club since it got to an FA Cup final three years ago. As for Blackpool it is very possible they will carry on where they left off last season and finish bottom.

The likes of Peterborough United, Doncaster Rovers, and Barnsley would all argue that they have as much of a right to be considered promotion contenders as anyone. Scunthorpe United, Bury and Fleetwood Town have spent money to get where they are but not Bristol City levels of money and even if they had sometimes when you spend money you get Aaron McLean.

I have a belief that Burton Albion are worth considering as having an interest in the play off places. They are a club that seem able to transcend managerial changes and maintain steady progress. Coventry City have potential and in Tony Mowbray they have a pragmatic manager.

All of which leaves Sheffield United as being everyone’s favourite for promotion. They reach semi-finals, they bubble under in League One, they have a strong fan base and get great noisy crowds. They seem to have everything that a club that is trying to get out of League One wants.

Except for the manager.

They have their second choice as manager.

Nigel Atkins manages Sheffield United now but they wanted to take Phil Parkinson to South Yorkshire. It seems that the Blades boardroom came to the same conclusion that echoes around the City manager.

Parkinson: Special One

If all league football is relative then perhaps management is absolute.

Perhaps a manager who improves a team always improves a team. Perhaps when Parkinson is given the chance to manage – a chance Hull City did not give him in his brief time at that club but did at Colchester United – he will always improve a club as he has Bradford City.

It is hard to draw a conclusion but Parkinson’s admirers are many and growing with every achievement.

From the outside when looking at the twenty four teams lining up in League One some teams have spent more, and some teams have more season ticket holders than others, but no team has a better manager in a better position to manage his club than Phil Parkinson at Bradford City.

Parkinson has carved a space out for himself. He arrived at a club where Mark Lawn was accusing the players of not passing to a prospective signing, that had had a manager who (reportedly) felt bullied out of the club, and where the dysfunctions at the club had become endemic.

The success Parkinson earned on the field gave him the scope to create the role he wants off it. Parkinson is as powerful a manager as Bradford City have had but still had challenges to his role. One could worry about how success would be maintained should he exit if one wanted but more important would be ensuring that he is allowed to do his job and shapes the club around that.

We are, perhaps, lucky that the Sheffield United approach and the moment Parkinson had to bend the knee to the boardroom were separated by six months. Imagine starting this season without Parkinson. Where would thoughts of promotion be then?

When looking at which teams will be promoted what is most often the decisive factor? It is not in the quality of players but rather the quality of manager. The thing that unites the clubs that went up was that they had experienced managers who are spoken of in terms of their quality.

What Steve Cotterill, Karl Robinson and Simon Grayson offered last season is the thing that Phil Parkinson offers this. Likewise when José Mourinho got over his defeat at City by winning the Premier League it was – we are told – because he was the best manager. Success – the theory goes – goes to the best manager.

That, at least, is obvious.

The Thing About Football

One thing I’ve noticed about football is that often I’m right and you are wrong. Maybes not you but other people. Most people. Most people are wrong about football.

It is not most people’s fault. They watch SKY TV and read The Sun and what they read and see must be true cause everyone around them is saying it but a million people can say one thing and still be wrong. Majority might rule but it ain’t always right.

Now I’m not always right either but when I said Colin Todd should not be sacked I was not off the mark. Nothing has improved since the manager got the bullet at Bradford City as we sink down and down the division until we sit in League Two next season.

David Wetherall’s job was to add a short term boost and nothing more and everyone knows that Stuart McCall just has to say the word and he will be gaffer. Wetherall is supposed to be a short term fix but Todd’s team wasn’t in the problems that the skipper finds his in.

Todd was not pulling up trees but he kept things going along and we would have sailed out to close season in a rather dull mid-table place but that was not good enough for some and they demanded and got a change. I think they said something about more excitement. I don’t know if they are happy now.

And of course we miss Deano and JJ and of course that is not Wetherall’s fault cause cash needed to be got in but what we paid to let the gaffer go was wasted.

I’m wrong lots of the time too by the way but I’m not wrong here and I’m not wrong when I say that what we have left after this 2-0 defeat to the league leaders is a lottery numbers chance of staying in the league.

City did well today keeping back a team on the way to promotion for so long but pressure always counts in football and sure enough Billy Sharp looks a striker on his way to bigger and better things. He lashed home and after that City were all but out of it save a Dave Wetherall header that got flagged away for some reason.

I’m losing count of goals chalked off for some reason. One thing we can all agree on is that in football if you don’t score goals you don’t win and Referees are determined to stop City scoring. Not that that seems to be stopping Dean Windass.

I guess it is not worth talking about what might have been and we should look at what is and what is is that we need wins and God knows where we are going to get them from. Easter is moving time Sir Ferguson says. We can only hope.

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