Manager / von Neumann / Advantage

A small group of scientists asked a larger group of scientists who would best represent the intelligence of human kind and, with as much of a consensus of scientists every give, the answer was John von Neumann.

American-Hungarian von Neumann was a polymathic figure in science and his contribution to the fields he touched – which were many – were significant. His work on Quantum theory will shape Mathematics for the next 100 years, his work on The Manhattan Project shaped the history of the 20th century, and his work on Game Theory should shape the selection of the next Bradford City manager with his minimax theorem is our case in point.

In my limited way I will summarise it thus: When making a decision in any game theoretic situation a player will consider all options and select the one which minimises the maximum loss. Which is to say – in this instance – that when selecting a football manager players (in this case chairmen) will make the selection of the person who should things go wrong will go least wrong.

It is hard not to see this in action with Bradford City chairman Edin Rahic’s previous two selections. Neither Stuart McCall or Simon Grayson are bad managers and – and this is important – neither could be accused of being poor managers. If McCall were relegated there are some who would have defended him and Simon Grayson did do badly and is defended.  Both were acceptable appointments though and within the remit of what a League One club is expected to do.

This remit is discussed in the work of a slightly less intelligent but significantly more famous Mathematician John Nash.  The main thrust of Nash’s work was that game theoretic situations relied on the participants knowing the range of acceptable and common moves to them, and anticipating the range of acceptable and common moves available to the other players.

The Nash equilibrium also comes into play when considering the game theory of manager selection. There is an idea that the management of football club’s is a settled matter and a decision has been made on how it is done, and that any variation on that is to do it wrong, which means that football is in something like a Nash equilibrium.

Pardew

Except selecting a football manager is not a Nash equilibrium. The role that a manager does changes often. As recently as the 1990s managers used to sell in ground advertising. The Head Coach that Bradford City are looking for would expect that to be done by someone else no doubt, and would find that scouting is done by another person, and one does not have to agree with this breakdown of work that to accept that the role of manager changes.

And should the role change then the demands of the role changes and so does it’s remit as does the profile of a person who would do it well. von Neumann’s minimax theorem is the way which football deals with this.

The desire of chairmen when making the selection of a manager is to make the choice which is least likely to be a very bad choice which very often is the best available of the group of football managers looking for a job at any given time who have experience at the level you are at.

I am not even a tenth as smart as John von Neumann but I feel certain that he, as I, would call this The Alan Pardew Effect.

Unfair

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp have a list of League One’s Alan Pardews ahead of them and von Neumann theorem would tell them to pick a name from that list. No one person the list will give them an advantage over any other but, at the same time, no one will give them a significant disadvantage. If there are managers who can be found lower down the leagues but who are in effect passing through to find them requires someone to break out of minimax and risk an outcome which does not minimise maximum losses.

So, for example, were the 29 year old Bolton Wanderers player Stephen Darby be offered the role of player manager at Bradford City – and he seems like a qualified man for that role – there is a risk that Darby will manifest zero abilities in the role and the club will loose a dozen games before sacking another club legend. However Darby would seem to have all the indicators that a player can show that he will be a good manager and should he be an Eddie Howe the decision to give him the job will pay far better dividends than appointing any of the League One Pardews.

Two things allow Bradford City to follow this find of approach. Few people seem to expect much of the next management appointment and there is a small but verbal section of fans think that the club is going to be relegated to League Two next season although the chairmen believe that the manager should over-perform and – by definition – expecting one of the League One Pardews to do this is against logic.

Credulity

In selecting a new Bradford City manager Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp a continuum of choice. At the one end they can pick from the list of what we might unflattering call League One Pardews and hope for an uncharacteristic over-performance knowing that an under-performance would not damage the club in a way which is beyond repair. At the other end of the scale is as far away from that list as is possible while still appointing someone who is a credible football manager with the stretch in credulity being the commensurate amount as is justified by the abilities of the target, should such a target be identified.

Which brings us to Nick Cushing.

Cushing is probably not going to be considered by any Football League club this season yet he won the Women’s Super League with Manchester City last season. He is, of course, in possession of an obscene level of resources at Manchester City but his reputation as a coach is very good. He is 33 years old and contracted to Manchester City WFC for sometime but that deal hardly seems necessary. Even the FA seem to believe that you need no ability as a manager at all to manage Women’s football.

If may, or many not, think that women’s football and men’s are non overlapping magisteria and you could believe that were a club like Bradford City to appoint Cushing they could be getting a superb manager or you could think they could get someone who has no relevant experience at all but my point would be that if the club are attempting to get someone who is disproportionately better than the standard of League One they need to find a candidate who has those qualities but is undervalued.

As well as appoint Cushing a club like City could look – and one doubts they would – at Mark Sampson who has experience taking England to a World Cup Final or, should they wish to annoy all the right people, Hope Powell. The level of experience on offer is not going to be matched by someone who got sacked by Scunthorpe Town, unless all that experience is irrelevant.

Instinct

The marketplace for football managers overvalues many irrelevant or partially irrelevant characteristics – such as one’s ability to play the game, or one’s connection to a club – leaving a significant inefficiency that can be exploited. As Arsene Wenger retires is it difficult to recall how hostile the English game was to the idea of overseas managers but Arsenal found they could replaced the entirely unimpressive Bruce Rioch with the Imperious Wenger because Wenger’s Frenchness saw him undervalued by English clubs who were hitherto happy to move around the same talent pool.

Wenger is probably the most celebrated example of a club getting a significant competitive advantage from recruitment. The Frenchman changed the way that footballers behaved at Arsenal, and his legacy is that every other team in the game duplicated the professional, thoughtful, tactical approach and a good number overtook him. This was able to happen because Wenger was undervalued in the marketplace and not just be the xenophobic. His extremely limited career counted against him in his home country as did his demeanor. Famously he was said to resemble a Professor more than a football manager. By ignoring all these points Arsenal were able to create disproportionate benefits.

To find a competitive advantage from recruitment Rahic and Rupp have to identify such areas of value negativity in the market and exploit them. That is exactly what the chairmen of Bradford City should be doing right now.

Come / Grayson / Go

Simon Grayson came and went from Bradford City so quickly that one might excuse him making few friends.

The manager was hired after Stuart McCall was sacked – and no one liked that – with a brief of turning around a slump which saw McCall’s team go from inconsistent play-off contenders to very consistent team heading for a middle of the league finish which would be finalised in May 2018.

Grayson failed in this. He failed for many reasons.

The squad had been split following one of the more serious disciplinary issues that a dressing room can face in January which McCall was ill-placed – and perhaps ill-equiped – to to counter. McCall was everyone’s friend but you cannot be everyone’s friend when sides have been taken.

The manager who can claim to have been promoted four times from League One seemed have enough of a grasp of a game to see what was going wrong both with that squad and during games and some of the time he could do something about that but not often enough to make a difference.

The chairman Edin Rahic had the finger pointed at him as the reason for Grayson’s failure. He has not paid Charlie Wyke a bonus that Wyke was due in the haste when Wyke had wanted it, or so we were told, and because of that Wyke and his fellow squad mates had effectively stopped playing.

How that story reflects worse on Rahic than Wyke I do not know but Rahic has become persona non grata at Valley Parade. He is autocratic they say, and he interferes. The same was said about Geoffrey Richmond of course and one suspects that Rahic would enjoy the same regard were the club to have the same success. Everything in football is seen though a lens of results on the field.

So the squad that was in the play-offs for eighteen months under Stuart McCall went to scoring a third of a point a game and Simon Grayson was on hand to say why.

It was not good enough.

Budget

A bad workman, the adage says, blames his tools. Grayson blamed McCall’s tools but – sensibly given the fact that Our Stuart was able to do far better with them than Their Simon – not because they were poorly assembled but because they were not costly enough.

A club like Bradford City – Grayson said – needs to put is resources into the First Team. One assumes that Simon said that to Edin, and Edin said to Simon that he and Stefan Rupp have a plan to develop young players, and to turnaround Academy released players and the two parties did not meet, or perhaps meet again.

The offer to the manager of Bradford City seems to be that you will get a budget to spend on the first team squad of between £2m and £2.25m and access to – and the obligation to work with – a development set up which one might guess costs the better part of £500,000 to support. That is money paying for squads with coaches who are paid to bring those squads on, who develop those players.

You get Tyrell Robinson, Reece Staunton, Josef Hefele, and George Skyes-Kenworthy and you get at least a half a dozen other players to consider. If you are a football manager you might find that attractive – raw talent and all – or you might also think that you’d rather that money is spent a contract for a senior professional or two.

If it is the latter then you would probably not be the man for Bradford City. And not just today.

Unpleasing

If there is not something that strikes you as unpleasant about the above sentences there should be.

Simon Grayson could not get the same performances out of the team that Stuart McCall could and, because of that, he wanted the dozen or so coaches at the club to be put out of work and the kids that they are coaching to be told to find a new club.

That is what focusing all your budget on the first team is. It is closing down anything that is not the first team. It happened under Phil Parkinson when the Reserve Team closed down and the path from promising youngster to first team member for Oli McBurnie was a broken path.

If you can imagine a Bradford City in the 1980s that did not bother with Stuart McCall, John Hendrie, or Greg Abbott then you can do what I cannot. A football club without the optimism that comes with player development is not really a football club I recognise. It is an artificial thing, a constructed thing, and gives up something too precious to be lost.

Simon Grayson wants to go down that route, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp do not, and so it seems like a good thing that there has been a parting of the ways.

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.

Things that happened to me when I was on loan at Bradford City

The Team

Jon McLaughlin | Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Matthew Bates | Kyle Bennett, Gary Jones, Nathan Doyle, Adam Reach | Aaron McLean, James Hanson | Ricky Ravenhill, Oli McBurnie

Kyle Bennett’s Bradford City debut lasted 24 minutes and for a few of them he looked interesting coming in off the right flank, getting involved in play behind the two forwards, but it was a tackle he put in on Neil Kilkenny which saw Kilkenny kick back at him and Bennett slap Kilkenny that he will be remembered for.

The red cards – both players were sent off – were deserved but the result was a game left without a pattern.

Addition:
The footage of this incident suggests that the red cards were harsh and certainly Kilkenny has some questions to answer about his reactions but Bennett is clearly not going for the ball with his hands and is – in that way – the architect of his own sending off.

Promotion hopefuls and powerful defensive unit Preston North End started better but by first half ended had been pushed back to defending. Playing an hour with ten men Preston were happy to try sneak a win by feeding forward Joe Garner. City struggled to set a pattern of play when Preston sat back.

The Lillywhites were as well drilled a side as any who have come to Valley Parade this season. Both teams saw the benefits of a draw. A draw seemed inevitable even when victories for Phil Parkinson are scarce. The onus was on not losing.

Parkinson’s side’s posture was aided by the return of Andrew Davies who stepped back into the team and immediately impressed with a controlled performance in a calm defence.

Davies arrived on loan at Bradford City two and a half years ago with the club in the bottom two of League Two and ended up staying. He was the best defender in League Two and certainly is amongst the best in League One. That is what happened to Andrew Davies when he came to Bradford City on loan.

Davies was calm and so were Rory McArdle and Jon McLaughlin alongside him despite both making mistakes. McLaughlin pushed a ball wide he could have taken but did not sulk. McArdle put mistake upon mistake giving the ball away sloppily twice but his was not composure lost. Both can mark that as personal and collective progress.

City struggled to press the game. Without Bennett the width in midfield was lost. Also on his debut Adam Reach ended up drifting from position to position occasionally looking useful but often looking lost for a place to settle in. Within an hour of his first game at Valley Parade he found every eye in the stadium looking to him to provide inspiration which was lacking all evening.

City lacked confidence going forward and have for some time.

James Hanson toils but is now targeted by big defenders who make it their business to stop him doing his. Aaron McLean looks to have the strength to hold up the ball and bring other players in but again without Bennett or width he lacked targets to do that. Oli McBurnie did well when he came on but as with Wells before him in the last three months without Parkinson committing more men forward to attack players with pace end up running into defensive bodies.

The goalless draw was threatened on occasion when McLaughlin’s post was rattled and when McLean forced Declan Rudd into a push away and both teams were content to take a point. Rudd was an assured pair of gloves all evening.

One wonders though what – in private – those managers will think of Bennett and Kilkenny. Parkinson’s run without winning goes uncommented upon at Valley Parade and there is a justified belief he is in the process of getting things right but Bennett’s actions will not have hastened that process.

One wonders though how much today will shape the things that happen with the players on loan at Bradford City. Adam Reach won admiration for his attacking play and willingness to take players on.

Kyle Bennett, on the other hand, has a lot to do.

Bradford City drawn against some team East of Pudsey in the Carling Cup

The draw for the 1st Round of the Carling Cup has seen Bradford City handed a mouth-watering derby against some team who play in a nearby city 10 miles away – which will probably see some 5,000+ Bantams fans crossing the Pudsey border to roar on their team.

The game, to be played w/c 8 August and very possibly one selected for live Sky coverage, is one City manager Peter Jackson will especially relish given his time playing for the club in West Yorkshire derbies during the 1980s. The manager of the other lot, Simon Grayson, will probably also enjoy facing a team he played on loan for a decade ago. Living in the next village from me, near Skipton, Grayson will no doubt get a strong flavour of what the game means to some people in the build up to the tie.

Much has been said of the rivalry between the two sets of supporters – indeed, if I may, I will refer you to my article and reader comments last November, which talked about how both sides view the other. It is a rivalry sadly devoid of humour on both sides and the prospect of trouble is high, but it will still be a great experience to be part of a huge travelling support and to be cheering on our players as underdogs.

What else is there to say right now? I can’t wait.

O’Grady in the holding pattern of City history

Hands up, dear reader, if you recall Bradford City striker Kevin Wilson.

Wilson signed on loan for the Bantams in 1994 for a month just as Chris O’Grady has joined for a month from Oldham today and with a couple of games under his belt for Frank Stapleton’s side the ground he stood on shifted significantly.

That day, enter Geoffrey Richmond and the promise of £500,000 and soon after enter Lee Power. A month after signing Wilson left a much different club to the one he joined.

The Sun are reporting this morning that Manchester United will bid £10m for Leeds United’s former City kid Fabian Delph. Tipped off by his arrest Sir Ferguson wants tighter control on the talent and won’t leave him in the hands of Simon Grayson much longer and – courtesy of a 20% sell on clause – City could be £2m richer within the week, or the month, or within O’Grady’s time at the club.

All of which would leave the striker in a similar position to Wilson – at a club with suddenly heavy pockets and eyes for name players – unless the former Rotherham United striker can regain his form for the Millers and start scoring goals. His 13 in 51 games at Millmoor represents something like one in four. Up that rate and he could be sitting pretty at a club with cash to spend.

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