Honesty in football management

Blackburn Rovers are stopping supporters from displaying banners which call for manager Steve Kean to be sacked. Rovers have taken this action in the name of health and safety.

Honesty in football is a strange thing. It helps football and footballers that lies exist. In his excellent book Bounce Matthew Syed argues that the very core of a champion sportsperson is the ability to hold the view that they are the best at their sport in the world and thus unbeatable while at the same time knowing that they need to look around them and learn from what they can see.

The Liverpool Boot Room used to invite opposition managers in for a quick ale after every game with the other gaffer being awestruck to be in the inner-sanctum of the greatest club in the world not realising that he was being pumped for information as he sipped a bottle of beer with Bob Paisley. Liverpool stayed on top by learning from those underneath them, but maintained the front of needing nothing.

It is not honest, but it is football and it is successful.

Every club in football talks about having great fans, special fans, and it is obviously not always true and rarely honestly said. Steve Kean talks about a minority of the great Ewood Park crowd being against him perhaps in the hope that he will create a loop of belief. He believes them, they believe him.

Not that that would worry the Blackburn Rovers fans who talk about Steve Kean – or any City fans who are against our managers (and there have been a few) – because without the success then the belief that you are unbeatable is hard to maintain. Football is a game played largely in the space between the ears and convincing the players that they are able to win is most of the battle. Give the players an excuse to lose and they will take it, as the Blackburn players often seem to do.

Counter-intuitively though giving the players a reason they lost can often improve performance. It is trick that Sir Alex Ferguson perfected in his first decade at Old Trafford. Manchester United lost because of The Ref, because of England injuring Bryan Robson, because the people on Match of the Day supported Liverpool and so on. The players built up a siege mentality with Ferguson making them believe that everyone else was at the root of their failings. They bought it too, and the rest is history.

Blackburn supporters may think that there is an honesty to their protests and may indeed be aware that that honesty is counter-productive and believe that what they are doing is for the benefit of the club in the longer term. Kean counters with his talk of minorities.

Once I would like a manager to reply in honest kind. To take the microphone and tell these who criticise him that he will be in work at some early hour working hard to try put right what is wrong while they are still in bed. That the failure that they feel on a Saturday or a Tuesday is the all consuming force in his mind. That they support the club a few days a week and he works every day, constantly, trying to improve the club.

And then the other truths. That the next manager that they want to replace him with will only be able to offer the same thing: hard work, a few ideas, a few contacts; and that really all that anyone can offer at a club.

Managers though are trapped in the need to believe that they can make a difference so Kean carries responsibility for the slump on honest shoulders, or as honest as football can bring itself to be.

Archie Christie Day: Part 2/3

Continuing from Archie Christie Day Part 1. See also Remember The Name: George Green.


We have not left the Cedar Court Hotel car park and Archie Christie has taken five calls in fewer minutes.

“I’ve got great taste in music Lads, Sixties soul, all originals, I’ll have ye converted by the end of the day.” Christie had said on his way to the car, but once he settles into the driver’s seat of his Audi the phone starts to ring again and parked up in the hotel car park he takes each call, each call about a deal to be done.

There are deals in the offing but one gets the sense that Christie would not have it any other way. Dominic Rowe is going on loan to Barrow and Christie has all but ironed out the details but wants to make sure the paperwork is being done and so sends instructions to Kath back in the office, covering the details.

In-between he talks to three or four clubs who would both be comfortable in calling themselves in the group of the bigger clubs in Europe. As Christie gets off the phone after his five calls he has eight missed, and a stack of voice mails. They include chairmen of top clubs and internationally known managers leaving chatty voice mails. That manager who you have heard on Match of the Day a hundred times is calling him “Arch” and shooting the breeze.

The effect is surreal, and Christie cuts the calls before anything sensitive can be said. Over the course of the day he is as open as he can be with us, but canny enough to respect the privacy of other people in the game and asks that we do the same.

There is an intoxication to it all – Christie seldom takes a breath between dealing with City staff, other managers, his players – and questions fall out thick and fast. Already we are impressed with the shear amount of work which Christie has got through since we were talking about Carlos Tevez and doing lengths of the pool. Why did he come to Bradford from Dagenham?

“I never worked for Dagenham, I worked for John Still,” Christie explained. “Me and John go back years. We were at Barnet. I’ll let him tell it.” The phone is out, John Still is on speakerphone in seconds telling the story of the time he went to Portugal leaving Christie instructions to get rid of a young lad they had at Underhill. By the time he came back Christie had sold that player – Marlon King – for £550,000 and Still was happy to see both the back of the player and get more money than he hoped for.

“Archie gets things done.”

It is not the first time the phrase has been said about the man in the day, nor will it be the last. Talking to football agent Alex Llevak in the morning, he was unequivocal about Christie’s “knack of getting things done”.

Llevak was a part of the deal which took Paul Benson from Dagenham to Phil Parkinson’s Charlton Athletic and the negotiations which would have brought Benson to City. The deal broke down because of how the London club wanted the deal structuring and City walked away from it. Christie’s watchwords – “I’ll only do what is best for the club” – come back to mind.

Softly spoken Llevak is far apart from the burly Scot but believes that Christie’s great strength is his forthright communication. He says what he is going to do, Llevak adds, and then he does it.

Llevak cannot speak highly enough of Christie and his ability to take players who have lost their way and turn them around. “He has an eye,” Llevak says, “for talent and a knowledge of how to make a minor adjustment to get to that talent. A tweak here, a nudge there. Archie knows what to do.”

Doing A Deal

Back in the car and Christie explains “John would ask me to go look at a player, so I would, and I’d tell him what I think.” Dagenham’s success in moving from a self styled “pub team from Essex” at the bottom of the Conference to overtake City and reach League One speaks for itself. Names like Craig Mackail-Smith, Benson and Roman Vincelot were a part of that rise. Christie beams with pride when he talks about Mackail-Smith – a pride he showed in the trio of Dixon, Brown and Burns and in other players throughout the day – who Dagenham signed from Arlesey Town having been released by St Albans City. The Daggers sold him on to Peterborough who sold him on to Brighton in the summer, the London club having a 15% cut which will see them pocket £375,000 and could still see them get more.

Christie is keen to get those sort of deals done for City. “See Tom Cleverley, I looked at his contract and I went over to Manchester United and told them they owed me money.” The story is in the national record – City’s successful attempt to get what was owed from Manchester United for Cleverley – and that was Christie’s doing taking the contract out of the filing cabinet where it was gathering dust and finding the fine print to exploit. He tells us the figure that he prised out of Old Trafford. It is more than the annual cost of the running the development squad by some way.

“Manchester United said to me, and they said to Julian (Rhodes), we like doing business with you.” Christie’s straight forward approach validated.

There are more calls than there is time to answer them. For every Premier League person calling there is a local team’s manager touching base. Key to Christie’s development plan is his ability to loan lads out to the local sides, his aim being to build closer relations with the teams in the area. “The chairman of (club) one minute, the manager of Harrogate Town the next. That is my day.”

Sixties soul turned up and there is a break from discussions. Christie navigates his way from the hotel towards Woodhouse Grove. “This is my five minutes,” he says with a smile.

Already it would be hard to write a job description for Christie. Having got back from deal doing at one the previous evening he was up five thirty to take another meeting with a Premier League manager before we met him. City boss Phil Parkinson says that every club has a guy doing Archie Christie’s job – getting deals done, managing the details – and in a conversation about Liverpool loanee goalkeeper Martin Hansen, Christie talks about dealing with Anfield’s Director of Football Damien Comolli rather than manager Kenny Dalglish. He agrees with the idea that Comolli is his opposite number at the Merseyside club.

On the Hansen deal Christie confirms that he was guaranteed to play as a part of his signing pointing out that when City send a player out to a team below them then he insists on the same stipulation. When Comolli decided – after the deal was done – that Liverpool did not want their man cup tying in the League Cup or the Associate Members Cup (just in case Liverpool fancy a pop at the JPT one supposes) then Christie got on the phone to Harry Redknapp who quickly dispatched Oscar Jansson on a train to Bradford.

“Did Harry do that to earn a favour?” Michael asked, “No, he did it because he is a Gentleman, a real Gent” came the reply.

If it is hard to create a job description for Archie Christie it is even harder to nail down a title for him. He is nominally Chief Scout and Head of Football Development and could probably be titled Director of Football. When Frank Arnesen joined Spurs with such a title there was confusion about his role at the club which was summed up in the idea that when Frank Arnesen rings the head of AC Milan, he gets an answer.

Perhaps Christie is the same. When City’s staff approached Spurs about Jansson they were not successful, when Archie called Harry something was done. Talking about the deals being done during the day it becomes obvious that Christie is a man football people take notice of. “I’ve got one for you, and when I’ve got one, they know I’ve got one, ’cause I don’t do it often.”

Driving through Bradford the mellowed out sound of Sixies Soul plays on and Christie nods towards the CD player, “Trust me, I’ll convert ye.”

Archie’s Boys

We are at Apperley Bridge and Archie Christie cannot spot Chris Mitchell.

Driving into the training ground, parking up and looking out over the squad, the development squad and the youth team is the kind of feeling that you could happily get used to – but to wander up to a pitch and see players you normally only see in the thick of action running defensive drills is strangely unnerving. Today Phil Parkinson has the first team – including new recruit Adam Reed – lined up against the Youth Team who are trying to play like Burton Albion.

Talking to the head of Christie’s scouting network Nigel Brown reveals a story hard to fathom. On arriving at Valley Parade Christie – who had been doing opposition scouting for John Still at Dagenham – found what could best be described as four empty draws in a filing cabinet marked “Opposition.”

Not much is made of this but thinking back to the first day of the season and talking on the walk away from the ground about how the opposition had done their homework better than we had the idea strikes that we had not been doing our homework at all, or if we had that homework had been somehow removed from Valley Parade, or as good as. Perhaps it is this kind of blank slate that the club represents which attracted Christie and he seems to have relished constructing a network of scouts.

“Nigel is my right hand man,” he says introducing the one time retired scout who encountered Christie at a Halifax Town game and was pressed back into service. Nigel explains the meticulous preparation which goes into every game, how every opposition side is scouted three times including once home and once away, and how the reserves are watched to pick up on any players who might be drafted in. We cast our eyes over copies of the latest opposition reports, “detailed” would be a good summation, “very detailed” a better one. “I look at weather reports, get us prepared for that. It is business planning, only in football.”

And so briefed in are the youth team by Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin – new assistant manager who is impressed with the City facilities – on the basis of the details on Burton, they are playing as Paul Pechisolido’s men might against City’s starting eleven for the game.

“Good work James!” Christie bellows in the direction of five foot seven midfielder James Nanje Ngoe who piles into a tackle with Kyel Reid and come away with the ball. Christie has already told us the story of taking the Development Squad along with eight of the Youth team to Rotherham with people telling him that the Millers were fielding a strong team that would trash his young charges. Nanje Ngoe was one of a pair of midfielders who hunted in a pack in a game won 2-1. “He was one of my Xavi and Iniesta,” Christie explains, his face a picture of pride.

Here though Christie is but an interested spectator watching Nanje Ngoe – and the rest of the squad – but not involving himself. Here he is most like a supporter. When Scott Brown picks up the ball in the would be Burton midfield Christie’s eyes flick around looking for options and a small smile creeps across his lips as the youngster picks the right one. “Six foot one, sixteen, what a player.”

As the training game progresses we talk to Christie about some of the players he has helped to bring in. Chris Mitchell he likens to Phil Neville. “As Alex Ferguson told me, Phil Neville wins you trophies. You play him right back, left back, centre mid, right mid, left mind. They’re worth their weight in gold. They are not spectacular but they win you trophies and if Ferguson says you need a Chris Mitchell, you need a Chris Mitchell.”

Mitchell is an example of the value which Christie has brought to the club. Signed for substantially less than players that then manager Peter Jackson was targeting Mitchell offers quality without expense. Tommy Miller is discussed and later Rochdale’s Gary Jones is mentioned – and the figures that are talked about are substantial for a League Two club.

“How much does the Development squad cost?” we ask, “£145 a day” comes the quick answer. “Including all the salaries, all the expenses, accommodation, everything.”

There is an explanation about how Christie gets his budget provided by the club, how he has a role in generating revenue on things like the Cleverley deal and other deals which are buzzing around and will come to fruition, but in cold figures the Development Squad of a half dozen players including the likes of Brown, Burns and Nakhi Wells costs about the same as a middle weight League Two professional might make and – if you believed the rumours which were heard at the time – about a third of what Tommy Doherty was paid.

“I said to (the chairmen) ‘Take my wage and put it in the development squad’. I don’t get a commission but come to work with me and you’ll see I’m the hardest working person putting it all in for City. This is what I do every day, and I said I’d get it done, because I can.”

Wandering around the pitch towards the Development Squad game we see Mitchell wandering towards us kicking a ball. Archie offers a consoling word for the down looking player – obviously not going to be in the starting XI on Saturday – on a roasting hot day, something about keeping on trying, and that is all. His concern is almost paternal, and there is no suggestion that Christie could do anything to push Mitchell into the side.

The First Team

One thing lacking from our day with Christie is conversation about the first team, and its current struggles. When asked about Luke O’Brien and how he had played all pre-season but not started the year Christie replies that it was all and only ever Peter Jackson’s decision. Phil Parkinson, who has left the squad to watch the Development Game as we do, is the manager and Christie’s thoughts are middle to long term. They are about providing players for the squad at Christmas maybe, next season probably, a fact underlined by Terry Dixon rounding the the goalkeeper in the Development Squad game to put the ball in. “A Championship player in a non-league body, at the moment” says Parkinson.

Phil Parkinson chats to us for 15 minutes and comes over as a thoughtful man. He does not swear – a contrast to the sounds coming from a few of the players on the training pitch – and speaks softly. Christie was involved in his appointment and the two seem in tune with each other. “Phil wants a player, I get the deal over the line,” explained Christie “1,000,000% he decides (on players to sign). That is the way it should be, and I’m happy with that.”

When asked if he had vetoed any of Peter Jackson’s attempts at signing players Christie clearly states that he never has, and never would have, saying that his role is to provide players for the manager to consider that are good and cost effective be that through the Development Squad or the scouting network.

Richie Jones, toiling away on the pitch in the baking sun, is an example of this. Jackson’s attempts to sign midfield players having failed, Christie found Jones who wanted to join City to the extent that Christie tested his conviction by offering him less than he was previously on to drop down a league. Christie is pure fan talking about Jones. “He has had no pre-season, cause he got injured, but when he gets up to speed…”

Parkinson is casting his eye over players on trial in the Development Squad game and likes the idea of it. He explains about how players released from clubs get forgotten about and for the cost of running the squad it is worth offering that chance. “If out of ten, we get two, then it is money well spent.”

The new City boss is still settling into Valley Parade. As Christie’s phone buzzes again in the background and he continues dealing, Parkinson talks about how long it takes to put together a deal in football and how he would not have the time to do that in addition to his first team duties, outlining the need to have people at the club with connections into agents and players. The manager and Christie pass a story between them about a senior pro from Parkinson’s days as a junior, who Archie has encountered and passes on his regards. Parkinson puts a lot of success in football down to having good senior professionals who can set a tone and a culture at a club. On the pitch in front of us Andrew Burns puts in tackle after tackle after tackle claiming everything around him. Later Christie will smile as he recalls this.

Scout Nigel Brown has been brought in after decades of experience with the likes of Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Coventry City. He is a part of the network which Christie has assembled to scout “everything” to have it at the fingers of the manager, whoever that manager may be.

Brown is steeped in football talking about things to look for, about his times at Blackburn under Jack Walker. It is not hard to see why Christie has appointed Brown who is rigorous in his approach and with the scouts he employs. He talks about the need for thoroughness and how he demands it.

When talking about player recruitment Brown wants pace. “You can’t teach it,” he says, and Christie has a similar approach, stating, “I watch a player five or six times, I’m looking for one thing: Desire. Just the desire to want to go do it. No one can coach that into you. You just need it.” Christie sees his role as finding players with that desire and teaching them. “You can see how well we (Christie and the Development Squad players) get on, we have a great time but I’m tough. I treat this like a University, they are here to learn. I am tough, but they respond to that very well.”

Brown is unequivocal about Christie saying he an asset to the club, a great wheeler and dealer, and it strikes us that in the hours at Woodhouse Grove alongside Archie Christie meeting Phil Parkinson, Steve Parkin, Peter Horne and Nigel Brown that we’ve found complementary skills rather than competition. Christie speaks highly of his people, who speak highly of him, and each relies on the other to augment the club.

Walking off the training pitches Christie walks past all four of the club’s goalkeepers: Big Man, Jon, Callum, Stuart; and chats to each in turn offering encouragement, enquiry, advice and motivation respectively.

When discussing John Still, Christie mentions how when talking to Julian Rhodes Still had sung his praises but doubted he would come to City having knocked back two Premier League scouting offers. Christie talks in terms of plans that last four years, nothing beyond that, and certainly nothing less than that steadfastly refuting any idea of using the club as a stepping stone. Perhaps it was something about the blank slate that he saw when looking at City that attracted him? Perhaps something about the potential of a club which was in the Premier League a decade ago and has a stadium to show for it? Perhaps it is just his own bloody minded determination to get things done?

As we drive back to Valley Parade it seems like a good time to ask him.


Concluded tomorrow in Archie Christie Day: Part 3.

Picking a football manager out of the crowd

There is no footage of Andre Villas-Boas playing football.

The new Chelsea boss did not light up the International stage for Portugal, nor did he play for his favoured club FC Porto. He did not achieve minor success in the shadows of the bigger clubs. Andre Villas-Boas, 33 and the youngest Premier League manager since Paul Jewell, did not play football at all.

That is probably not correct. As one reads the story of the rise of Villas-Boas one doubts that he has never booted a ball in earnest but unlike Arsene Wenger, Sven Goran Eriksson and perhaps Jewell who had minor careers Villas-Boas has no clubs on his CV. He is – for all intents – a football manager who has never played football.

He has some good company too. Carlos Alberto Parreria won the World Cup with Brazil in ’94 but never played the game while Arrigo Sacchi, in the other dug out when Parreria’s side claimed the lump of gold, also never played having come into football via a career selling shoes but on the whole even – if like Monsieur Wenger – the most one amounted to was a few lower league games the vast majority of football managers have played football.

But need they have? Is having played football a requirement for a manager not only at the top level, but at any level?

Villas-Boas has a few Portuguese leagues and a Europa Cup to suggest his name to Stamford Bridge and while his appointment will raise eyebrows he is proven. One wonder what the reaction should a League Two club plump to give their big chair to a man who has never got his boots muddy.

There is precedent. Cambridge United once appointed – in a caretaker role – their marketing manager as gaffer but it seems that either my memory or a gentle airbrushing of history has forgotten his name since the early 1990s. Current Tranmere Rovers manager Les Parry made the increasingly popular move from Magic Sponge man to Manager having never played the game.

The track record is hardly inspiring though and in the annual Bradford City March Manager recruitment no name of non-footballers seem to emerge prompting the question would we accept a Bantams Boss who has never played not just for us, but for anyone?

The key, perhaps, is in the skills each person believes the football manager must have. None of them are exclusive to former players but most of them are best tested within the arena of playing the game. The ability to know a player who will do “the business” for you as a gaffer is helped – perhaps – by twenty years lining up next to ten other case studies while the domain knowledge which comes from 500 games of being the subject to different tactics must help when one starts to form them. While these things come best from a life in football as a player the story of Villas-Boas suggests that immersion in football can come in other forms than just pulling on the shirt.

Chief amongst the issues for the manager who has never played would seem to be commanding the respect of the players and it is oft said that when a manager has “done it all” the players will look up to him. Glenn Hoddle – who became frustrated when his players could not pass as he could – provides the counterpoint but like his colleague with dirty boots the never a footballer manager draws his respect from winning things. The one thing which unites Villas-Boas the never played, Arsene Wenger the might as well not have bothered playing, the decent enough like Sir Alex Ferguson, and Kenny Dalglish the highly decorated player is that they are employed on the basis of what they have won now, not what they did kicking a ball.

Dalglish though was given Liverpool aged 36, Ferguson got to Aberdeen in his early 40s, Wenger took longer still. It seems the better the playing career, the easier the foot in the door. The never playing manager puts his CV on a pile with former internationals, club legends and experienced gaffers. There is little to suggest his name.

Perhaps Villas-Boas, Sacchi, Parreria and in his own way Les Parry show that the manager who can get past that rigour might have something extra to offer. Perhaps if you can outshine names which inspire awe in football boardrooms then you have that extra something which makes a – if one pardons the phrase -a special one.

However Villas-Boas begs an obvious question. If having played football is not needed to be a football manager could any of us be potentially successful? Could the person shouting from the stand behind Peter Jackson be a better choice for Peter Jackson’s job than the manager himself? Could you pull a better football manager out of the crowd?

Who’s better

I want Bradford City to be better.

A glib statement of the obvious? To some, probably. But for me it’s a genuine, earnest desire. I mean I really want Bradford City to be better. A lot.

The statement isn’t a direct reaction to the club finishing in it’s lowest league position for 45 years this season, the winning of a mere 15 league games in a season that averaged less than a goal a game, or even the wrangling over rent and where we are to make home. I have, and will always, want Bradford City to be better.

As they walked out at Wembley. As Wetherall belly-slid across the Valley Parade turf. As we greeted a grinning Carbone and a beaming Geoffrey. I looked forward to getting better.

It’s a want that all connected to Bradford City share, from the boardroom to those in the cut-priced seats. The truth is, however, we seem to have forgotten how to get better. And as we have seen in the last ten years if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

In our four seasons and counting in the basement of English football, permanent and interim managers alike have bemoaned a lack of consistency from one week to the next. I find consistency an odd concept to embrace or value. I’m a believer that you’re either on the gain or on the wane.

Whilst sporadic fluctuations in the quality of human performance can be expected, and excused, more important is the general movement towards ‘better’ from the collective or any individual contained within it.

Great sportsmen and women will see a steep and long upward curve in ability and performance. They will then, at some point (and probably unknown to them) hit a peak, followed by a decent, which they will try to make as gentle and elongated as possible.

Tiger Woods will never eclipse the near golfing perfection he achieved at the start of the century. His challenge now is to minimise the rate of his decline and hope his still immense ability sees him to future victories as his powers diminish.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been the master at putting together team after team that have improved as a unit, then dispensing with those individuals that have peaked whilst retaining those with the longer curves of improvement.

We used to have knack for improving players. Remember that young, skinny lad McCall and his ragbag teammates in 1985 that grew individually and became more than the sum of their parts? Dean Richards oozing pure class from his debut to his departure and beyond. Sean McCarthy smashing up Norwich City in the Coca-Cola Cup before going on to score at Old Trafford for Oldham?

What about the lazy lad Blake we signed from Darlington? Wayne Jacobs seeing off an almost annual replacement left-back? Lee Mills? Jamie Lawrence? You’ll no doubt have your own favourite, dear reader, but what we saw were players getting better and our club benefitting from it greatly.

Bradford City players don’t seem to get better anymore. Last August the squad were pre-season promotion favourites, now, despite Jacko’s “everything must go” approach to the retained list, City would be forgiven for thinking the new telephone lines aren’t working properly . We witnessed the incredibly hard-working Gareth Evans seemingly give up on his City career with two months of the season left, and last week even the ever-positive Michael Flynn conceding that Bradford City is “a negative place to be“.

It’s telling that the last four Player of the Year recipients were all enjoying their first full season within the professional game, and as such, we cannot apply any metric of improvement:

  • 2008: Joe Colbeck. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. 16 disappointing months after his award he moved to Oldham, and then Hereford.
  • 2009: Luke O’Brien. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and direct play. Last seen sat next to Leon Osbourne on the substitutes bench as City were dismantled by Crewe.
  • 2010: James Hanson. Burst on the scene, all strength and no shortage of finishing ability. A second term disjointed by injury and questionable priorities.
  • 2011: David Syers. Burst on the scene, all bundles of energy and an eye for goal.

Time will tell if Syers can buck the trend, but the preceding three represented our most exciting and talented young prospects and all have failed to improve after their first season.

Jackson has signed the exciting prospect Ross Hannah, and the enthusiasm leaping from his twitter feed should hopefully see his first season in professional football be filed alongside that of Hanson, Syers and Steve Williams rather than that of Scott Neilson. But, in many ways, getting a good season out of Hannah isn’t the most pressing issue or biggest challenge for the next permanent manager of Bradford City.

Whether the board reluctantly appoint Jackson, or, as rumoured, continue to wait for John Coleman and subsequently expect him to repeat a decade’s growth and endeavour at Accrington in a 12 to 15 month period, the major challenge will be to get individual and collective development out of more established and experienced players. Creating a culture of improvement which is both inspiring and contagious within a dressing room.

There’s seems little point in throwing more of the precious wage budget at talents like Paul McLaren, Tommy Doherty, Michael Boulding, Graeme Lee et al when we continually fail to get the best from them, and then discard them without examining why. League Two has never been about having the best players, it’s about getting more from your players.

Off the field there is a lot of work to do, but lots of opportunities to get better. For all the criticism and scepticism aimed at the board recently, it’s worth remembering that they too want things to be better.
David Baldwin’s announcement about the new training facilities deal with Woodhouse Grove is incredibly welcomed. Negotiations with our landlords continue with the hope that a deal can be worked out that’s better for Bradford City.

We, as fans, can help make things better. Rival managers and players talk often of how the impatience of our large crowds can play into their hands. It seems odd that the greatest strength of our opponents is something we control. Let’s make that better.

Where Bradford City will be in 12 months time, in terms of both league position and physical location, is pure speculation at the time of writing. My only hope is that we all feel that we’re moving closer to where we want to be, and, as much as possible, enjoying the process of getting there.

As the rebuilding begins, let’s not immediately concern ourselves with being the best. Let’s focus on getting better.

The managerial question that will probably come back to bite

Manchester United’s record-breaking title triumph on Saturday was another excuse for the media to shower manager Sir Alex Ferguson with gushing praise – and with good reason. The latest league championship means Fergie has now won 47 trophies over his managerial career – making him easily the most successful British manager in history – and no matter how many times the story of the job he has done at Old Trafford is retold, it never fails to be inspirational.

A one-off, never likely to be equalled may be – but there is so much about the legacy Ferguson has built that should act as lessons for football clubs up and down the country, at all levels.

Almost as famous as the success he has achieved are the struggles Fergie endured during his early days at United. In the modern era no football club would tolerate their manager failing to live up to its expectations in the way the Manchester United Board did during the late 80s. To say they were handsomely rewarded for maintaining patience in Ferguson is an understatement, yet still no football club owner or set of supporters have afforded their present manager a similar length of time to build a club before demanding their dismissal.

Indeed the previous argument used by people backing an under pressure to “remember it took Sir Alex time at Man United” has been mocked to the point of parody. It has become an ‘excuse’ that lacks credibility, or as the excellent RochdaleAFC.com put it in July 2009, when talking about our then-manager Stuart McCall:

Can anyone still try using Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford as an excuse for not getting rid of a manager with a straight face?

Straight face or not, Ferguson keeps lifting trophies while the majority of the rest of English football gets through manager after manager, sometimes stumbling on the right one but in the majority of cases looking back on their current appointment as a mistake. Unless success is fairly immediate, the opportunity for the manager to build up the club on and off the field in a similar to manner to Ferguson is lost. For the under-pressure manager the priority is obvious. Why devote time and resource to matters such as improving the youth set up, if you’re a couple of games away from the sack?

While Ferguson has built his Old Trafford empire, 16 different managers have occupied the dug out at Valley Parade. Clearly more failures than successes during that time, and it is revealing how the club’s most successful period – 1995-2000 – occurred from a hire-from-within approach that ensured greater continuity and evolution. All kinds of strategies have been tried since, but the decline down the leagues illustrates how unsuccessful they have proved.

Equally telling is the immediate backwards direction the Bantams embarked upon after removing managers awarded an above average tenure – Colin Todd and McCall. Both driven out because they were struggling to take the club forwards, but their departures had an entirely opposite effect. Todd and McCall were as close as City have come to following the lessons of Ferguson, but in the end fear became too strong and action was taken.

This summer City are once again looking to recruit a new manager, and though off-the-field events completely overshadow this task right now the apparent neglect over making a decision is troubling. Over 40 people applied for the vacancy in February, but Head of Operations Dave Baldwin has admitted the majority have not being contacted yet. A six-person shortlist was then apparently drawn up, with only John Hughes interviewed. Later we were informed the next manager was between current interim boss Peter Jackson and Dagenham & Redbridge gaffer John Still. Though in recent days Still has committed his future to the relegated League One club. Sammy McIlroy could be a late contender after leaving Morecambe.

Has the club kept in touch with Hughes? How many of those 40+ applicants have since got other jobs or being left feeling let down by the lack of response from City and so no longer be interested – either this time or the next occasion City are advertising a managerial vacancy?

Jackson remains the likely choice as manager. He’s been asked to sort the retained list, and even made a first signing for next season in Ross Hannah. Joint Chairman Mark Lawn’s comment that Jackson is signing players any manager would be interested in is ludicrous, however. Whoever is given the job eventually, City are very fortunate that Jackson is willing to continue managing the club with such uncertainty at the moment.

Nevertheless the whole manager recruitment approach is troubling. Of course there are more important matters at the moment, but given the club has in recent days attempted to blame this poor season on Peter Taylor one might think efforts to truly get the appointment right on this occasion would be more determined and proactive. Baldwin has confirmed City will still exist next season no matter what happens, and the club surely has to start planning for it regardless of where they are playing.

At the very least, it seems unlikely the next manager of Bradford City will be given much time. Longer term building seems to be yesterday’s idea and, no matter what the playing budget might be next season, the manager who oversees it will be expected to over-perform. Whether City are at Valley Parade or elsewhere next season, the backwards steps taken over the past two years means another campaign of failure and under-achievement won’t be tolerated by many. Despite the size of the rebuilding job, progress will probably have to be swift.

You just get the feeling this next appointment will be heavily criticised, retrospectively.

Jackson has probably already had his honeymoon period, while a new manager would be quickly criticised not because of the job they have done but because of the lack of thought that went into appointing him by the club. When in the past Lawn and Julian Rhodes have been able to devote their full attention to finding the right manager they have – rightly or wrongly – been judged to have failed. This time hiring a manager is halfway down a sizeable to do list, and it will arguably be more luck than judgement if their eventual choice proves to be a success. Then again, there’s a question mark over whether it will ultimately be Lawn and Rhodes who make the decision.

Despite the fact Sir Alex Ferguson turns 70 at the end of this year, it appears a safe bet that he will still be in the Old Trafford dugout the next time City are beginning the search for a new manager.

Welcome to the tactical sophistication

Watching City getting men behind the ball defending with numbers rather than quality and leaving the attacking side of the game undermanned it suddenly struck me what this “dour football” of Peter Taylor’s really is.

City lost 2-1 to Port Vale in the glare of a watching TV audience having tried to keep a closed shop most of the game but then after two goals – the second of which was offside – ended up unlucky not to equalise in the dying minutes. It was not pretty stuff either, and ultimately whatever the plan at kick off, that plan did not work.

Having spent much of Friday talking about the principal that how if the job was offered in the summer Taylor’s name would still top the list of potential managers the practice of watching a dour, negative display jarred but the final reckoning City lost to an offside goal and were it not for a great block would have drawn the game. If wishes about Bradford City were snowflakes we would have woken up to a hefty covering Saturday morning, and we did.

However for all the dourness and negativity those two moments – had they fallen differently – would have given City a creditable result (a draw, assuming one of those snowflakes did not melt) and so Taylor would note that his tactical approach – while unsuccessful – was realistic in its chances of getting a result.

Were it not for a mistake by a linesman or a bit of pondering by Lewis Hunt that left John McCombe in to block then The Bantams would have had a draw at promotion chasing Vale. For all the negativity that is evidenced in the game the approach is practical, reasonable and realistic.

But it is dour and watching the game we wanted the players to break the shackles and entertain, going for a win.

We wanted the players in our struggling team to forget the fact that in frustrating and negativity the chances of a draw are there for all to see and to go for broke. We wanted the manager and players to play an attacking game at a promotion chaser, seeing if they could bring back a win.

There is a word to describe that attitude and the word is naive, or at least it was.

In football it is naive to look at away games – especially those against promotion chasers – as the chance to get three points. Away victories are uncommon. Look at any Saturday of results in The Football League and something between two thirds and three quarters of the results will be home wins, then draws will be the next most common, then away victories.

Sir Bobby Robson used to say that a team need wins its home games, draw away and should expect no better than that and will achieve its targets. Two points per game will get any team promoted from any league.

Perhaps Peter Taylor has this in mind. If he does he seems a long way off achieving it but that “long way” was a linesman’s flag away against Port Vale. No matter what you think of the approach or the manager’s approach his understanding that when one goes away from home one frustrates and tries to minimise opportunities knowing a draw is a good return is common thinking in the game, it is the realistic choice.

So we should use the terms that apply consistency, or so I realised when considering “dour football.”

This “dour, negative football” is “tactically sophisticated” as distinct from being “tactically naive”. Likewise the desire to see more “attacking football” – to see players who leave more space as they uncompress the game looking for space to play in – is to want the players to be more “tactically naive.”

This revelation ruined my evening and once again one of my Nan’s oft sage (although always containing the odd swear) turns of phrase came into my head. “Them buggars best be careful a what they wish for, cause they’ll get it.”

I never took to the phrase “tactically naive” because I could never think of the opposite to contrast this naivety with. The fans over the years that use the phrase against managers like Stuart McCall at City and Kevin Keegan at England must have had something in mind as the opposite, but I could not see it. If trying to win every game was to be considered tactically naive what was the opposite? What was tactical sophistication?

Naive has a good half dozen meanings in the OED but in football’s lexicon it seemed to point towards a kind of inability to accept certain pragmatic realities and react to them by changing an initial approach. It was being incapable of flexing tactically to cope with the opposition. A tactically naive manager was one who always ended up getting beaten by some veteran gaffer who saw the benefits of soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter. When Keegan’s Newcastle United lost 1-0 at St James Park to Ferguson’s Manchester United in 1995/96 it was the only time that his team had failed to score in a home game that season The Red Devils having frustrated the attacking flair of the Magpies and caught them with a Cantona sucker punch.

It was the “naivety” of Keegan for all to see supposedly in that his team out played but did not outscore their opponents. That season ended with Keegan’s famed “I’d love it…” speech which was used as proof that the grizzled old Scot had bested his naive foe. That dour football had bested attacking flair, the naivety of an attacking approach had been exposed.

“Sophistication” is probably not the word that springs instantly to mind watching last night’s first half of Bradford City’s football but there it was, for all to see, a sophisticated tactical approach which recognised the realism of the game and set out with a pragmatic plan to get a result.

It is old Arsenal’s 1-0 ways against new Arsenal’s being four up having gone on the road with a plan to play and after half an hour at Newcastle United only to ended up lucky to get a point. Arsene Wenger naive to carry on attacking at four up but wanting his team to play a certain way rather than accept the reality that closing the game down at half time would have meant coasting to a victory.

Knowing what we do about how teams come to Valley Parade with rows of defender and packed midfields and try nick a point, sometimes taking more, and expecting our team to play in a different way simply because it is more enjoyable to watch is laudable but it is the very stuff that was called “tactically naive” this time last year when Peter Taylor joined the club.

“Them buggars best be careful…”

This is the situation we are in. A popular consensus wanted Taylor and his “tactical sophistication” into the club and perhaps there would be more sympathy for the browbeating over how dour it can be to watch if – when watching a manager who wanted to play attacking football – the words “tactically naive” were not allowed to float around unchallenged so often.

“Move on”, or so we are told, but the point of this article is not to wallow in the blanket of snowflake wishes and memories but rather than to state that “move on” too often means forget to the point where as a football club we have become masters of Orwellian doublethink.

Attacking football is naive, and we want an experienced man who can play in a tactically sophisticated way. When we get that we want someone who can bring more flair and make the team more enjoyable to watch. Passion is not important in a manager, then we rage at the dispassionate figure on the sidelines. The manager does not have enough knowledge of the English game, but the next one is too parochial. The manager is too showbiz and interested in talking about his past as England captain, but the next one is too sour and grim.

Least we forget the purpose of constant war in Orwell’s 1984 is to waste the excess of production. This is exactly what City do when changing managers.

The club’s resources go not into improving the team but rather into changing it to suit the new approach – Omar Daley’s exit for Kevin Ellison being a great example of that – and then changing that back again when the mood sees fit to replace manager.

So while City slip to a tenth away defeat of the season – the most of any club in League Two although, worryingly, we have played more games than most – I reflect on how unsuccessful the approach has been but how much that twelve months ago it was presented as the solution.

This is important as we look for another solution.

Getting the message

First it was Jon McLaughlin, then Steve Williams and now it’s James Hanson’s turn. The Bradford City striker has joined his team mates in receiving public criticism from his manager Peter Taylor, the reasons for which are less than clear.

Taylor declared Hanson, “probably needs two kicks (up the backside). He hasn’t done himself any favours this year. He’s been a little bit unlucky with the hamstring injury – the imbalance he has got isn’t his fault – but in other areas he could have done better for himself and he knows that.” Last season’s top scorer has missed the last three games with injury, and has only started four matches this season. He’s certainly not hit the heights of last year to date, but it’s not clear what Taylor is disappointed with him for.

Rumours have circulated BfB’s way that Hanson has not exactly been the model professional off the pitch, and it’s been suggested he may not even be injured as reported. The tone to Taylor’s words don’t seem to allude to Hanson’s efforts when playing and give some legs to those rumours, and one is left to wonder whether it is wise for Taylor to make ambiguous comments, or indeed say anything about the situation in the public domain, when it can be left so open to interpretation.

Taylor has also not been afraid to criticise McLaughlin for making goalkeeping errors and Williams for not taking matters seriously enough, and it is quite unusual to hear a City manager talk so openly critically in this way about their players. The main school of thought on public criticism, which emanates from Sir Alex Ferguson’s unflinching stance, is that cross words should remain private and players are defended to the hilt in front of the microphones. We know Sir Alex is a tea cup throwing – or at least boot-kicking – type of manager, but no matter how badly behaved some of his players were, he’s never brought his true feelings to the public’s notice.

In our own working lives, many of us may have experienced similar approaches from our own managers. I’ve certainly had bosses who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me off or give me a kick up the backside when I’d deserved it, but when it came to talking to anyone else would defend me to the hilt and only say good things. Similarly I’ve had managers who wouldn’t be prepared to stick up for me and happily join in offering criticism in front of others, and like most people it’s the former style of management that I respond to best.

The one-to-one relationship between manager and employee/player is so vital. Trust needs to be encouraged from both sides; honesty and respect should be mutually contributed and recipicated. The most important person in McLaughlin, Williams and Hanson’s immediate future is Taylor, and it’s vital those relationships work in a way that sees the manager get the most out of them. Whether that’s putting an arm around the shoulder, or screaming in their face.

No one, apart from the manager and player can truly understand how well those relationships are working, because no one knows what Taylor says in private to any of his players. Public criticism for Hanson can seem harsh or unclear to us supporters reading, as we don’t know exactly what he has done to deserve it. But perhaps we are not the target of Taylor’s words, even if it seems they are meant for us to read. Perhaps Taylor’s spoke many times to Hanson and needs a different way of getting the message home. Perhaps when the Telegraph & Argus dropped through the Hanson’s household’s letter box on Wednesday so too did the penny.

Whatever the reasons for Taylor public criticism and however confusing they appear to us in-the-dark supporters, it’s to be hoped they’ve been made loud and clear to the one person who counts.

Todd, Robson and some unresolved history

Those who tuned into watch Manchester United lift the Premier League title on Saturday will have seen shots of Bryan Robson in the stands before and after the game. Now assuming the role of Manchester United Ambassador (nice work if you can get it), the TV director cut to the Red Devils legend at irregular intervals so the commentators could point out he was captain of the first of manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s 11 title triumphs. On the day he even had a role in presenting the trophy to the current players, receiving a warm reception from home fans as he walked out onto the pitch.

What the commentators didn’t find time to reflect upon was how Robson was once considered the air to Ferguson’s managerial throne. His early managerial career appeared to offer great promise, with two promotions and two domestic cup finals with Middlesbrough, but his inability to lift the North East club above the lower echelons of the Premier League would eventually cost him his job. A tarnished reputation appeared to have been rebuilt after pulling off the great escape with West Brom in 2005, but he ultimately lost his job after adding another unwanted blemish to his CV – three clubs managed, three clubs relegated.

The other club in that trio was Bradford City, who five years ago he turned his back on. After taking over six months earlier he was tasked with preventing City’s relegation from then-Division One, but such were the financial difficulties which threatened to kill off the club that even Sir Alex wouldn’t have been able to overcome such insurmountable odds. Robson did okay, but the impression he wasn’t exactly displaying the level of courage and commitment he exhibited as a player was difficult to shake off. A comparison of the hours he and Stuart McCall put in would be unlikely to reflect well on the former England captain.

So Robson seems destined to spend the rest of his life shaking hands with important guests in the Old Trafford boardroom, while the man who worked under him at Valley Parade and who took on the challenge at City he eventually baulked is back in English football. The similarities in the situation Colin Todd inherited at City to that he faces at Darlington have been talked up by the North East media and the reaction of the fans is likely to be comparable too. With all the anxiousness over the club’s ability to even start the next season, a new manager isn’t going to cause much excitement. Great to have you Colin, though in all honesty who else would have taken such an unattractive-looking position?

Todd’s time at Valley Parade is viewed differently by many. The fact he worked with such limited resources seen by his biggest critics as a poor excuse for accepting mediocrity. The entertainment factor was questionable at times, though was arguably masked by the fact his appointment coincided with a drop down a division where the difference in quality was particularly notable. I know of people who gave up watching City during Todd’s reign.

Yet for a club which had suffered such dark times, the more stable footing he achieved should not be discounted. There was enough of the wrong type of excitement for a period of calm to be needed, and the consecutive 11th place finishes he guided City to included signs of promise. Todd’s ultimate failing was his inability to take the club forward, though the transfer strategy of relying heavily on loans during his final season did much to undermine such hopes of progression. The time was coming for new direction, ideas and enthusiasm – but history suggests that time was called prematurely.

For while many will disagree, I don’t believe City would be in League Two right now had we not sacked Colin Todd when we did. The club was on a poor run of form just as the axe fell, but a similar scenario had been the case the season before and Todd had been able to avert the nose dive. Instead David Wetherall took charge, moaned about the fitness levels and declared intentions for City to play a more high tempo style of football. The subsequent results and wretched performances suggest he didn’t have the right players for such a philosophy to work.

Had we kept Todd until the summer before taking the decision to look for a new man we’d probably still have ended up with Stuart as manager, but in a higher division which we’d be sharing with Leeds and Huddersfield and from which, with Mark Lawn joining, we might have been able to mount a more realistic promotion challenge than Todd was ever able to. Instead the depths of League Two are proving troublesome to climb out of and the first target is just to get back to where we were under Todd.

For next season, Todd will be back at Valley Parade and the reception he’ll receive is likely to be mixed. It’s a chapter of City’s history that will never be universally agreed upon, but one for which Todd deserve at least some appreciation given his undoubted high efforts towards moving the club out of the mire. I for one will applaud Todd when he walks down the touchline and starts leaning on the dugout in a manner which so wound some fans up.

Some will say he’s still got the stomach for a tough challenge, still got the belief he has something to offer. Others will argue the 60-year-old’s not even good enough to get an ambassador’s job.

The games are the thing

There is football and there are things next to football and the two are oft mistaken for each other.

There is the game played over ninety minutes and the rest of the week of discussion and debate, of extrapolation and interpretation and these things should not be interchanged for each other.

The Easter weekend – Sir Alex Ferguson’s oft talked about “moving time” – is a space in the calendar of the game where it is the former that is concentrated on. Four days and two games and at the end of it a much clearer indication of the outcome of the season is had. There is no permutation of results this weekend that can rule anything out or anything in and the lack of six days worth of pontification time allows the mind to focus solely on the game, and those who play it.

In the thick of it it is hard to tell if the players of Bradford City have been too much talked about this year or too little. They have been responsible for some shocking performances but the fiercest critics have focused on the manager as a reason for this. The blame for last year’s trip to Morecambe and the weak surrender was put squarely at the door of the players.

Of the sixteen players who were in City’s squad that night only two could hope to be playing in this game – Rhys Evans and Nicky Law Jnr – and both have been away and returned since. One is still at the club: Nix; Two are injured: Daley and Heckingbottom; Three are out on loan: Ainge, Bower and Conlon.

That the squad of players going into the game with Morecambe and Monday’s match with Lincoln City bares little resemblance is – depending on your point of view – a vindication of Stuart McCall as a man prepared to make changes of a vilification of him. At Easter such questions do not matter. It is about two games of football.

Winning two games of football which would go a long way towards winning a play off place for City but what is the point of discussing, of thinking about, that situation without amassing the points – six, four, three, two, one, none – over these two games. After then we can and will talk more but now – and for four days – football is a game of action and not words and is about players and not managers.

Rhys Evans starts in goal with Paul Arnison expected to continue sitting out to allow Zesh Rehman to play right back opposite Luke O’Brien and next to Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke. Last week’s tight four midfield with Keith Gillespie, Dean Furman, Paul McLaren and Chris Brandon is subject to change – Joe Colbeck on the right is a mystery still unsolved – while the forward line seems to be Peter Thorne and either Michael Boulding of Paul Mullin.

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.

The dream you’d no longer want to live

There was a sense of vulgarity to the whole thing.

Man City supporters, trying their best to ignore reports of a poor human rights record and corruption charges this past year, had run out of patience when their ‘ruthless’ owner Thaksin Shinawatra was suddenly unable to buy new players. On transfer deadline day he was ousted, collecting twice the money he’d paid 12 months earlier – by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).

Man City fans were celebrating suddenly becoming the richest club in the world.

In the few remaining hours before the window closed, the new owners managed to cause enough of a stir to suggest the Premier League’s natural order might be threatened over the next few years. “We can win the Champions League in 10 years” has been the cry, amongst boasts of signing the world’s best players in January. Despite having just broken the British transfer record – £32 million – to lure a confused Robinho to Eastlands, the club will apparently have no problems – financially or ethically – spending £120 million on one player to help make those dreams come true.

Not so long ago, as Kevin Keegan will now have time to tell you, football clubs succeeded through clever management, shrewd buys, developing youngsters and adopting better tactics than others. In the modern day, the way to succeed in “the most exciting league in the world” is to have more money than your rivals. For how well the likes of Martin O’Neill, Harry Redknapp and David Moyes have managed their respective clubs, the glass ceiling just above their heads means they’ll achieve little more. After a superb season last year things are unravelling at Goodison, due to money of course. Everton can’t match others’ spending power and their Chairman, Bill Kenwright, offers the solution that the club needs a billionaire owner themselves.

Do billionaires grow on trees? One can only respect people who have built up vast fortunes during their lives, but also question why they would want to invest in a football club. Do they just have so much money that they want to get rid of some by donating it to clubs, or is it more likely that what got them to the level of billionaire in the first place will play a part as they eye up TV money, loyal fans and corporate facilities? Sure, come in and spend £80 million to get your new ‘toy’ into the Champions League cash cow, but ultimately most will collect a profitable return.

Man City might be the exception, just like Chelsea with Roman Abramovich, but the price of success will be felt somewhere. Without a hint of sorrow, Man City Assistant Manager Mark Bowen has warned his club’s youth players that they’ll largely be ignored in favour of paying over the odds for the world’s best players. As Man City start rising, so to will their worldwide fanbase. They already joke about overtaking their neighbours but, after years of self-smugness at been the club true Mancunians support while Man United’s followers hail from Essex, their die-hards might have to get used to the people sat next to them at games having funny accents. If Man City were a band, they’d be accused of selling out.

Last week someone asked me if I was jealous no billionaires were eyeing up Bradford City and I surprised them with my negative reply.

Suddenly having the relative fortune to buy the best players and rise up the leagues might seem exciting, but the price is one we’d more than likely have to pay. Would a billionaire appreciate the virtues of offering supporters cheap season tickets? Would they think there was a point to the youth team? Would we bother harbouring links in the community? Already Mark Lawn has uttered the ‘brand’ word when talking about City, but it’s a long way removed from the rampant commercialism of his Premier League counterparts.

Of course the Bantams were guilty of throwing money in pursuit of the elitists’ dreams eight years ago and the consequences are still with us. The aim, during those six weeks of madness, was to speed up the club’s growth beyond its natural resources but, unless you have an Ambromich or ADUG to soak up the losses, it’s a huge gamble.

We learned some harsh lessons when reality set in but for all the misery it has caused, not just to us supporters but the people who lost money due to our actions, one also wonders how happy we’d really be had it succeeded and we were now a regular Premiership club, when even the wildest of ambitions would stretch to no more than touching that glass ceiling.

Back in the big four, Arsene Wenger has made laudable noises about ensuring Arsenal becomes self-sustaining in a few years, rather than relying on the pocket of a rich owner. He’s pinned his faith in a youth system which, while not above criticism, has reaped great rewards. Their impatient fans might not agree but, if the team takes a few years to succeed, it will still be all the more worthy for doing it the right way. Some ran off into the sun at the whiff of more money, but Arsenal are building a team of players fully committed to their club’s cause.

Stuart McCall did not use money to persuade those who joined this summer; he used his own ambitions for glory and the club’s biggest asset, its fanbase. Last week Stuart revealed that promotion this season would surpass anything he has achieved in his football career.

“I have been lucky enough to realise a few dreams in football but promotion this time around would mean everything. How much? Put it this way, I can’t see Alex Ferguson getting more pleasure than I would from taking my team into League One. That might sound daft but it illustrates just how deeply I care about Bradford. This club is in my heart and soul. Every win we get gives me so much satisfaction, it’s unreal.”

Should Stuart succeed, we’ll be looking back and noting promotion was not achieved because of throwing pots of money at it; but by using the club’s resources to build a hungry team desperate to succeed, having gone through years of hardship as punishment for going down the route of spending beyond our means. In it’s own way that will make the achievement seem greater and be celebrated wilder – the feeling we’ve earned it after years of punishment.

Two years ago this site looked at how the club could arrest itself from the decline and, while there has been more misery since it, some of those ideals have been followed. Success can be an overnight thing when money’s thrown at it, and of course it shouldn’t be forgotten that the investment of Mark Lawn has speeded up our recovery, but it can be hollower and raise headaches further down the line.

It might be a long time before we play Man City on merit again, but if they are now living the dream it’s not one all of us are interested in pursuing anymore. Reality could prove far more enjoyable.

What could possibly go wrong? Pre-season 2008/2009 [IV]

When Arsene’s Arsenal went for 49 games without defeat they seemed imperious but the end of that run – losing at Old Trafford – sent them into a spiral of negative results which cost the a chance of winning a second consecutive Premiership. The same team that could not lose then could not win – for a while at least – before even keel was regained.

The moral of that story was that in football failure is inevitable and the control that managers have is not in avoiding defeat – everyone gets beaten sometimes – but in how defeat and other failure is dealt with.

So last season when City started a losing run around October Stuart McCall struggled to turn that streak around. One failure rolled into another in a string of results that could have cost any manager his job. McCall lived and learned it.

City started last season on a bubble of optimism which once pricked burst. This year Stuart McCall is building on more firm foundations but for sure the mood of the club is that City’s side will be a step above everyone else. At some point though the Bantams will lose, will be out played, will get robbed, will fail.

It is at that point when things can go wrong and that point where Stuart McCall has to start testing his management skills. As a coach one can be confident that he has the right stuff – many players at Sheffield United and City have praised him – but any question marks that remain are around this untested attribute.

When failure comes will McCall be able to arrest that and turn it around as effectively as an Alex Ferguson or will defeats snowball as they did for Wenger that year and Stuart in his first season?

Such a loss of confidence can come in many ways – losing can seep into being a habit – but most often it is brought about by players finding excuses. Last season too many loan players like Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu and Nicky Law Jnr were at walking pace as the Bantams went down to defeats because as loan players one could not blame them for losses. It is noticeable that Stuart has no loans in his squad so far.

Injury gives players excuses too and as Rochdale websites call him the signing of the season Paul McLaren grows a totemistic importance for City with the belief of supporters resting on his shoulders. For sure keeping McLaren fit is a bit part of City’s season but not allowing too much store to be placed on the midfielder is also important when he is absent.

One remembers how on the final day of the 1987/1988 the Bantams without John Hendrie lacked the belief and how the team minus Dean Windass simply did not believe the goals would come. McCall has to balance McLaren’s usefulness with not over playing his importance should he be lost.

However McLaren’s form cannot be worse than the previous incumbent of that shirt – Paul Evans – who was a superb player who played so many wretched performances that he had a wretched season. Evans was talented – perhaps not as talented as McLaren – but totally failed to bring that talent to City last season leaving a huge hole in the side.

City this season are stronger and have more top quality players. Should one of Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding, Chris Brandon, Peter Thorne or any of the other players who one could put in the top bracket of players in this division not perform then others are there to back them up. Money in football gives the the chance to make more mistakes. To fail more often.

Failure is not on the agenda at Valley Parade this year and confidence is high with Mark Lawn bullish and bold. With boldness he needs strength. Failure at some point is assured and the reaction to that failure needs to be consistent and measured. Three defeats on the trot are not the time for the either chairman to start talking in worried voices.

Confidence is fragile and cold heads – cold heads in the heat of a promotion battle – are required to retain it. One need only as Carlisle United about that with their off field troubles derailing a promotion bid last season.

Failure is the only inevitable thing in football. Every run of wins will eventually end. Every team will lose games. Every player will have a bad game at some point. Dealing with that failure and moving back to success is the key to a winning team, a winning season and to promotion.

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