The bus ride to Kent as Bradford City face Gillingham

If there is a place to want to be this weekend it is apparently on the Bradford City team bus that will be taking the players to and from the Priestfield Stadium for the Bantams’ important League Two clash with Gillingham.

Interim manager Peter Jackson has been quick to point out that there are a lot of southern players in the bulging squad he has inherited. He’s not saying there’s a North-South divide, just that no longer will players, who have friends and family close by the Southern excursions that form part of the League Two fixture programme, be allowed to get off the bus early. A statement that has attracted strong approval from some impressed supporters.

With such a strong keenness to get the full time job, it is perhaps understandable that Jackson is keen to differentiate himself from the previous regime and drop not-so subtle hints that he believes the more relaxed stance the last guy took was wrong. However a few media soundbites to curry favour with supporters willing to embrace new reasons for why Peter Taylor was a poor manager deserve to be taken with large a pinch of salt.

For much of this week, every word uttered by Jackson has seemingly been met with strong approval by some supporters – and there is already some clamour to sign him up before he has even taken charge of a game. But the simple, overlooked reality is that every new manager over the years is the recipient of warm approval for what they initially say, and the idea that Jackson forcing the players to eat breakfast together is a meaningful reason towards why he’d be the right man for the job is somewhat over-simplistic.

Just one year ago, Peter Taylor was receiving exactly the same treatment from some supporters. Every public utterance was not only considered over-whelming evidence of his brilliance – it was another opportunity to slate the last guy. So if Jackson feels the need to talk down Taylor’s approach – and he is entitled to do that if he believes it will earn him the job – he should do so knowing full well that, should he succeed in getting a contract, in one or two years time his successor will making similar statements about why his different methods will be more effective  – which will be leapt upon by some as evidence Jackson was a terrible manager.

It’s happened before, countless times.

City Director Roger Owen was last year quick to ensure we all knew that Taylor – unlike his scruffy, ill-disciplined predecessor Stuart McCall – was making the players wear suits on matchdays. ‘Brilliant’ was the general reaction, but it hardly boosted results. David Wetherall was quick to deride the players’ lack of fitness after taking over from Colin Todd in 2007, but his efforts to introduce a high-intense approach coincided with some of the worst performances of the season. Bryan Robson and Todd claimed they would play attractive passing football “unlike the previous manager who preferred direct football”, even though Nicky Law hadn’t actually played in this way.

And this need for a new manager to provide tedious reasons for they are different to the last man – in order to earn praise and encourage favourable comparisons to the outgoing guy – isn’t exclusive to City. Witness the always positive welcome new England managers receive. Sven Goran Eriksson supposedly failed at the 2006 World Cup because he let the WAGS stay in the same hotel; under Steve McLaren the squad didn’t eat their meals together. So Fabio Capello was praised for banning the WAGS and for not allowing players to leave the dinner table until the last man had finished, but England’s fortunes failed to improve.

All of this is not supposed to be intended as an attack on Jackson. BfB has been criticised in recent days for not being positive enough on his interim arrival; but, for me at least, it’s more a weariness about this reoccurring situation than anything personal.

The club continues to under-perform, and somehow all the blame for it ends its way solely on the manager’s shoulders, and he is got rid of. Then a huge wave of positivity greets the next man and he is initially praised for nothing more than a couple of nice comments in the press, before in time it all becomes his fault all over again.

Maybe Jackson is the right man; but after so many failed managerial appointments over the last decade, it seems foolish to dive into falling head over heels for him so willingly and so quickly.

Is he right to keep Southern-based players on the team bus all the way back to Bradford? Who knows, but the insinuation that Taylor failed because he made certain allowances for people who have family and friends hundreds of miles away from Bradford is misguided and somewhat trivial. Paul Jewell was known to make similar allowances to his players during the last promotion season, and team spirit wasn’t a problem then. At worst, Taylor stands accused of treating adults like adults.

Let us, for example, imagine the negotiations for signing Tommy Doherty last summer – someone who has previously played all his career in the South. Doherty might not have been keen to move so far North, away from loved ones, so Taylor may have offered a concession that he can go home at weekends after the match, including not travelling back to Bradford after a game in the South. As a result City can sign a talented player who would have proved more effective had an injury not hampered his efforts.

More realistically what Jackson offers the club is someone who will do things different to Taylor. There will be some methods he’d employ that would work better than Taylor’s equivalent approach, but other ideas which won’t. However we come to view Taylor’s time in charge, the facts are his strategy has delivered outstanding success at certain clubs but didn’t work at Valley Parade. That doesn’t mean those methods are wrong, more that we need a manager who’ll be able to flourish in the Bantams’ environment.

Jackson gets his first true outward opportunity to stake a claim for the job with the long trip to Priestfield tomorrow. The Gills have always been strong at home – even last season when they were relegated from League One – and though City have been able to enjoy success in Kent, most notably in the last meeting two years ago, it is the kind of place they often return from pointless. An interesting first test for Jacko.

It seems a waste of time to predict his team, other than to expect a 4-4-2 formation that will include some of the players who clearly impressed him during the reserves 6-2 hiding of Port Vale on Tuesday. So expect Scott Dobie, Gareth Evans and Jake Speight to be knocking on the door to partner James Hanson. In addition Jon Worthington, who played under Jackson at Town, will be hopeful of a recall.

Whoever makes the cut, it’s to be hoped the coach journey doesn’t prove to be the day’s only highlight.

Square pegs, round holes

So yet another England international passes us by and we hear journalists and pundits asking that old chestnut of a question: “Why are we playing with a naturally right footed player on the left side of midfield?” Steven Gerrard occupied the left sided position this time to accommodate Frank Lampard in a central midfield position with Gareth Barry along side Lampard with David Beckham on the right hand side. Previously Steve McClaren had been slated by the press for England not qualifying for Euro 2008 but what about Capello and his tactical decisions and team formations?

From what I witnessed last night on the ITV highlights show, Capello picked a starting 11 very similar to what McClaren would have chosen if he was still England manager. So then we hear Tony Adams and Andy Townsend mulling over England’s starting midfield players with square pegs and round holes muttered.

I believe that as long as the England manager picks the supposedly best 11 individuals rather than the player who is best for a certain position we will win nothing.

It’s been discussed plenty of times before and I’m sure that it will do so again in the future. Why do England managers have to accommodate both Gerrard and Lampard in midfield? Whilst they are both quality players we have seen over several years now that they can’t play in the same midfield. Why not pick Stewart Downing as the left sided midfield player? Is it because he plays his club football for Middlesbrough who are perceived as a smaller club in the Premiership?

Anyway, whilst I’m bothered about how England perform I’m more bothered how Bradford City are performing. Which got me thinking; has Stuart McCall got a similar dilemma to Mr Capello?

In Joe Colbeck and Omar Daley we have two good right sided midfield players so how does Stuart accommodate them both in the starting 11? Answer: he is currently operating with one of them on the left side of midfield. Is this a good thing? Only time will tell. What about Kyle Nix? Personally, I believe that we look like a more balanced team when Nix operates on the left with either Colbeck or Daley on the right. Similar occurrences can happen in defence when you get a team playing a left footed player at right back or vice versa.

This isn’t a new problem that has faced football managers and it will always occur. Supporters often talk about successful teams having balance and partnerships. For me, City have looked a better team when we’ve had a balanced midfield with the likes of Paul Showler, Mark Stuart or Peter Beagrie playing on the left side of midfield. As for this season, we will just have to wait and see who McCall picks as his left sided midfielder.

Bump

City’s 4-0 defeat to Motherwell brought us all down to Earth. The signings and a win over Bradford Park Avenue seemed to have got City fans thinking that League Two was in the bag. A trip to a UEFA cup team saw to that and over the weekend Shrewsbury over took us at the favourites to win the league.

I liked that rush when Michael Boulding signed and I still feel it now. I’ve looked at the eleven and the sixteen that City can put out next season and the bumps of ability around the squad are impressive.

Take the midfield situation and the players like McLaren and Brandon are in and the likes of Phelan and Eddie Johnson making do are out. Tom Penford was snapped up by non-league clubs wanting to punch above their weight when he left us but we have snapped up players for League Two clubs looking to punch above.

Players like Graeme Lee who would be the most impressive name on someone else’s team are now in our team and we have a collection of these guys. You would have looked and worried cause some visitor had former Premiership players like Boulding or multi-million guys like Peter Thorne. We have a fist full of these guys. We have the best team in League Two next season.

But having the best team and playing the best football are two different things and on Wednesday night we get to see how these Bantams play against Burnley.

Rhys Evans seems to be Stuart’s first call as keeper but I’m not convinced. This is the weakness in the side as every other position fills up.

Paul Arnison at right back with Milton Turner as back up if the Guisley man can be signed. Paul Heckingbottom at left back. Graeme Lee and Matthew Clarke in the middle which is strange cause I would never have thought Mark Bower should be dropped. Clarke is just too impressive and the sort of big man we need.

Joe Colbeck is sitting out the first two games but Omar Daley can and will fill in. Paul McLaren seems a shoe-in for the starting line up with Lee Bullock or Kyle Nix alongside him. I’ve not been impressed with Bullock much but McCall is and those two could be his starting midfield. Nix might be needed on the left with Chris Brandon injured.

Michael Boulding is injured too but Peter Thorne and Willy Topp will be up top on day one and if not then Barry Conlon is scoring freely in pre-season.

The way the names trip off the tongue. The way they fill the starting eleven with quality like Bower, Nix or Topp to spare. That is the indication of the quality Stuart has.

Someone once told me (It was me – Ed.) that to get promoted you get a bunch of players together who are too good for the league you are in and let gravity take you up. Gravity bounced City off the floor of football. Time for the bump back to begin.

The longer route to success

Last week the FA chose Fabio Capello as the man who they believe can lift the English national team to future glory. After the failure of Steve McClaren to lead England to next summer’s European Championships, there’s been a lot of pressure heaped upon the FA to get the appointment right and Capello’s record at various top clubs suggests that success for England will quickly follow. Yet while Steve McClaren was judged by some as a safety first appointment, Capello is surely much more so.

There’s been the usual howls of discontent about going for a foreign coach from the usual suspects and I find myself feeling sympathy for them. True, there aren’t really any outstanding English managers who were in the frame, but perhaps the FA could have seen beyond this and truly looked to the future, like so many were howling at them to do in the wake of McClaren’s dismissal.

The England team are always under heavy pressure from the media and fans, but now could have been the time for appointing a bright young coach like Aidy Boothroyd and opting to build both the national team and the set up that surrounds it, while giving them time to develop in the role and implement their ideas and beliefs.

With a reasonably easy looking World Cup qualifying group (though we’ve heard that before) there’s three years of building before England will presumably compete in the 2010 South Africa tournament. Capello will be just short of retirement age by then and hardly likely to still be in the England hot seat four years after.

I might be wrong, but I don’t see Capello worrying himself with the development of young talent in England and busting a gut to go and watch the various England youth teams. Understandably, his priority is delivering immediate success with the senior side. He is also bringing in fellow Italian countrymen to act as backroom staff and run the team. It will be interesting to see what sort of relationship these people have with the England youth coaches.

I don’t think you can blame the FA for going for the quick fix. They’re under pressure themselves and any failure in the near future will see calls for them, alongside the manager, to go. But what about the England team in five years, or ten, or twenty? The FA are paying Capello a reported £6 million a year. There’s plenty of people raising their voices about the failings with youth development in England, what could an extra £5 million a year do to aid that?

I watched some of the TV footage of Capello’s press conference on Monday and found it bewildering. As a caption appeared on the TV screen translating into English Capello’s comments it was hard to believe I was watching the England manager speak. Typically it seemed he was only asked tedious questions about John Terry and David Beckham. Over the last month various journalists have written opinionated columns about the failings of English football in the wake of the McClaren era. They might as well save these pieces on their lap tops; in two years time they could be writing more or less the same thing again.

Closer to home, the latest choice of manager at Valley Parade was a very different decision. Stuart McCall’s appointment might have been universally popular among City fans, but the Board knew that they were also appointing someone with limited experience. There was certainly nothing ‘safety first’ about choosing to bring Stuart back. We could have gone for someone like Peter Jackson and have been confident he could have taken us forward quickly; though it’s questionable how far he could ultimately have taken us, just like Capello and England.

By selecting Stuart I believe that we have selected a longer term approach. In his first position as number one, mistakes will undoubtedly be made. No one, in any walk of life, gets things right all the time and with each day in charge his experience will grow. Judgement of players, man management of different personalities and changing the course of games looking lost – all necessary abilities of any successful manager, though not learnt over night. Will success be as instant with Stuart than it would have been with someone like Peter Jackson? Probably not, but who would leave the club in the best of health?

And let’s face it; Bradford City is a club that has been failing on and off the pitch for a few years. We badly needed to change the way we do things, because the results speak for themselves. Of course there are good reasons for our failure, the financial strife caused by over stretching ourselves in the Premiership have taken years to sort out. This summer Mark Lawn has come in and wiped out those remaining debts. We can look forward to the future with much more optimism, but as we do so we find ourselves stuck in the bottom division.

Speaking about the up coming January transfer window, Stuart made some very interesting points. Of course, with the season not going as well as hoped, he is looking to bring in new players to improve results and, like his predecessors, the budget available will mean only loan signings are likely to made. Yet even with this short term issue Stuart says he is aiming to bring in temporary players who potentially may become permanent signings in the summer. It would be reasonably easy to bring in reserve players at Championship and League One clubs who are too good for this level, but just bringing in people whose aim is to impress enough to win a place at their parent club or earn a transfer elsewhere will only benefit us in the short term. Instead Stuart is hoping to bring in loan players who we might later sign permanently and play a significant role in future seasons.

Surely this kind of approach, looking at City’s future in years rather than months, is more preferable. Previous managers have had little choice due to the finances, but the last few years we have experienced a high turnover of players with dire consequences. This week I’ve been enjoying old videos of City’s 1998/99 promotion season and recalled the fantastic contributions of so many former City greats. A team that had Walsh, Bruno, Tumble, OB, Whalley, Beagrie, Blake, Lawrence, Mills, Flash and of course Stuart and Jakes – so many heroes! There have been very few players in recent years whose efforts for the club would see them described in such a way, but it would be nice to think we could have players in the near future who could reach such a status amongst us.

During his first interview after been appointed as manager, Stuart also spoke of wanting to bring in players who would be with City for years. I felt at the time that part of his view was formed by the career that he himself enjoyed with City. He, and so many of his team mates, gave so much to City and are rightly held in high regard for this. Being part of successful Bradford City teams will help him to understand what he needs from players now.

The fact that he has also come through the youth ranks with us will also mean he will understand the importance of this side of Bradford City. There were murmurings that some previous City managers didn’t pay enough attention to this area, perhaps unfair given the steady stream of youngsters who have been given a first team chance. If we’re going to produce talented youngsters who can really take this club forward, I would suggest having a manager who has come through those same youth ranks can only aid the club’s ability and understanding to do so.

All of which links back to Capello. What does the man charged with lifting English football know about it? What idea of our history and tradition does he have? It can be argued that this is irrelevant if he wins matches, which he surely will, but what’s the long term aim? Surely the English national team should stretch beyond the 11 players.

I’m comparing the situations of the national team and Bradford City because they have both hit their respective low points recently. Our relegation to League Two is probably the equivalent to England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and our dismal 3-0 loss at Chesterfield last April was as passionless and clueless as that of England’s Croatia Wembley defeat. Both City and England have been in the situation of needing to rebuild. England have gone for the quick fix in Capello and are likely to enjoy immediate better times, but the long term ratifications for English football in employing an Italian concerned only with delivering immediate success remains to be seen. City have gone for the untested and inexperienced Stuart, but a man who understands our great club and who, for the first time in years, has the stability to restore it’s pride. I’ve heard some fans criticise Stuart and that’s fair enough, we’re all allowed our opinion. But anyone who has watched Stuart play for us can’t forget the way he performed and how much he gave to this club. He might get things wrong as manager, but his effort and motives cannot be questioned.

Capello’s experience and greater resources will mean his success will come easier, who will ultimately leave the biggest mark in their respective jobs remains to be seen.

McCall or McClaren?

Our home game verses Stockport County came at the end of a footballing week that most England supporters will want to forget. If you are reading this piece of editorial and you don’t know that England lost to Croatia by 3 goals to 2, you must have been on the moon for the past week. England’s failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals has got football supporters up and down the land contemplating what went wrong for Steve McClaren and the England football team. Whilst I am disappointed that England haven’t qualified for next years finals, I was more concerned about the outcome of Bradford City’s home game verses Stockport County. Prior to kick off we were sitting in 18th position in Division 4 with 18 points; only 8 points above the trap door to non league obscurity. Yes, we went into the Stockport game having won our previous 3 games but we should remember that there is still a long way to go until the end of the season and we could still get dragged into a relegation scrap.

McCall made one change to the team which won 4-1 at Dagenham and Redbridge last Saturday by recalling Ndumbu-Nsungu following his one match suspension and placing Daley on the substitutes bench after his goal scoring appearance for Jamaica against Guatemala in mid week. The first half was a tight affair, but neither side created a goal scoring opportunity. There were no corners in the first half which indicates that the first 45 minutes were rather void of goal mouth action. Indeed, the pre-match talk in the Bantams Past museum outlining Bradford City’s triumphant 1911 FA Cup story in the presence of Jimmy Spiers great grandson was far more incident packed as Dave Pendleton and John Ashton decided to re-start their interesting presentation owing to Spiers great grandson and family’s delayed appearance.

Surely the second half would be more incident packed. I had queued during half time for a cup of tea and actually missed the first couple of minutes action of the second half but was informed by Messer’s Ashcroft and Onions that I’d only missed a good save by Ricketts. City started to pass the ball a bit more which is always good to see and this was partly due to the fact that we had more width with Daley replacing Phelan at half time. However, for the second consecutive home game we had a man sent off for a second yellow card; this time it was Heckingbottom early into the second half. Could City hold out like they did verses Chester City in the FA Cup? McCall decided to employ the hard working Nix at left back and kept two up front with Thorne and Ndumbu-Nsungu. As the clock ticked away the City supporters found their voices more and we played better with only 10 men. Evans was effective in midfield whilst Clarke continued to improve alongside Wetherall.

With only 20 minutes remaining, Evans played a neat pass into Ndumbu-Nsungu, who strongly held off a couple of challenges before unleashing a low right foot drive past Logan in the Stockport County goal. City continued to play the better football although Ricketts did make one excellent finger tip save. With time running out, the 4th official displayed 5 minutes of injury time. Grumbles from within the home sections of supporters could be heard and as the ball bobbled around in the City box, Poole stroked the ball past Ricketts for a late equaliser.

Talk at the final whistle centred around the fact that City had annoyingly conceded a late equaliser whilst others stated that they would have accepted a point when Heckingbottom was dismissed. As I walked away from Valley Parade I kept thinking about Nicky Law’s response when asked who should be the next England manager? His answer to the Radio Leeds presenter the day before the Stockport County game was Stuart McCall. Now then, which team would you rather follow; one managed by McCall or one by McClaren?

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