Timing / Signing

There is a worry, dear reader, that good signings are being made in League One and that shod of a manager Bradford City are not making them.

This is a problem of course. Without having a manager, a chief scout, and with having chairmen who have just arrived it at the club one doubts that anyone has a list of targets to bring in or if they do that that list is especially impressive.

The most impressive run of signings in City’s recent history came in the summer of 2012 when within a month Rory McArdle, Gary Jones, and Stephen Darby all arrived. Their arrival was Phil Parkinson’s coup and probably had not little to do with the fact that all three had played for Rochdale under Parkinson’s assistant Steve Parkin. One wonders how long a signing like Rory McArdle or Gary Jones takes to make. Jones had been shown around Valley Parade the season before he arrived but stayed at Spotland suggesting a year long chase for him but for all we know Phil might have turned to Steve one afternoon and told him the club needed a good central midfielder and Steve got on the phone.

Nevertheless the worry is that as City stand still signings are being made and the Bantams are missing out.

Using the summer transfer windows from 2010 to 2014 as a five year sample (which excludes last season, for fairness, as I’ve criticised it heavily in the past) Bradford City signed forty five permanent players. This includes loan signings being made permanent in the summer but excludes loan signings. Here is a list of those players.

Of the forty five players signed I’m going to say that fourteen were successful. By that I mean that in the season they signed they started at least two thirds of the league games the club played in the season that follow.

This criteria might seem to err harshly but the question at hand is about if the type of players needed for success are being sucked up while City are managerless and not about prospects or good pro squad men.

Any player who signed but started less than a third of the club’s games is marked as a failure.

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started more than two thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 27 May 2010 – Luke Oliver – 100.00%
  • 30 May 2014 – Billy Knott – 79.49%
  • 7 June 2012 – Rory McArdle – 100.00%
  • 9 June 2014 – Gary Liddle – 100.00%
  • 22 June 2012 – Gary Jones – 100.00%
  • 27 June 2014 – Billy Clarke – 82.05%
  • 4 July 2012 – Will Atkinson – 68.42%
  • 4 July 2012 – Garry Thompson – 68.42%
  • 5 July 2012 – Stephen Darby – 86.84%
  • 13 July 2011 – Ritchie Jones – 79.17%
  • 29 July 2012 – James Meredith – 84.21%
  • 4 August 2012 – Nathan Doyle – 89.47%
  • 9 August 2010 – Dave Syers – 73.17%
  • 29 August 2011 – Kyel Reid – 66.67%

A list of the signings between 2010-2014 who started less than a thirds of the games in the following season ordered by day and month (not year)

  • 16 May 2014 – Matthew Dolan – 7.69%
  • 27 May 2010 – Lloyd Saxton – 0.00%
  • 30 June 2010 – Jake Speight – 31.71%
  • 1 July 2011 – Mark Stewart – 20.83%
  • 2 July 2013 – Jason Kennedy – 11.63%
  • 3 July 2013 – Mark Yeates – 23.26%
  • 6 July 2011 – Scott Brown – 0.00%
  • 8 July 2011 – Patrick Lacey – 0.00%
  • 13 July 2011 – Nialle Rodney – 0.00%
  • 14 July 2011 – Andrew Burns – 0.00%
  • 20 July 2012 – Alan Connell – 21.05%
  • 22 July 2011 – Nahki Wells – 29.17%* See comments below
  • 30 July 2013 – Raffaele De Vita – 13.95%
  • 1 August 2013 – Matt Taylor – 2.33%
  • 5 August 2014 – Ben Williams – 30.77%
  • 5 August 2014 – Mo Shariff – 0.00%
  • 5 August 2014 – Matthew Urwin – 0.00%
  • 18 August 2012 – Carl McHugh – 31.58%
  • 31 August 2010 – Chib Chilaka – 0.00%
  • 31 August 2011 – Dean Overson – 0.00%

I shall let you, dear reader, pick more bones out of those two lists but my interpretation of them are that our recent history points to successful signings being made early – in June – and that the closer towards the start of the season one waits the less likelihood there is that the player will play a significant role in the coming year.

There is, of course, a caveat to all this and it comes in the form of the Parkin/Joned factor mentioned above. That a glut of successful signings were made in June is probably more to do with ongoing relations that it is to do with the time of the signing.

We enter into post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking here. That successful signings are made in June is a factor of having the relationships and structures in place to make those signings. In short if all the work was done (at any point) previous to the end of the last season the signings will come in June.

If we consider the end of July and start of August to be the time when clubs who do not have those relationships make signings based on who is left following the players who are picked off because of Parkin/Jones style relationships (what we call scatter-signing) then City – with no relationship at the moment – would be operating in that way were they to be bringing in player now.

Scatter-signing in June is to replicate the behaviour of August two months early.

Bradford City do not have – or do not seem to have – those relationships or structure in place at the moment. There is no one at the club who knows a Gary Jones to bring in in order to bring him in in early June.

Should Nicky Law Jnr return with Stuart McCall then there would be a June signing because of that relationship but that is not the same as sitting a manager in the office in June and telling him to bring in five faces before the Euro finish.

The clubs who are working on signing Gillingham’s Bradley Dack – who City’s Billy Knott seems to have joined the Gills in anticipation of him leaving – have been working on that signing for months. Even if City’s new manager was to be on the phone buying players today the June signings would probably be out of his reach.

And so talking about not signing players in June misses the point. It is not that the players are not signed it is that – I would say – the structure that need to be in place to bring in a Gary Jones or a Rory McArdle need to be in place before June.

New chairman, new manager, new era and all. We have to accept that Bradford City are forced to sit out the June 2016 recruitment.

Applying Game Theory to transfers and why it is best to wait before signing

The League One fixture list was released this morning to a sigh of disappointment by Bradford City supporters. Swindon Town away. A long way, a bad roundabout and a difficult game. The League Cup draw at York City cushions the blow but City will be two games into the season before the season starts at Valley Parade.

In most quarters this was met with a gentle ho-hum but in some corners every season the fixture list seems to act like a tipping point for the disgruntled. With the start of the season now in sight then improvements should have been made and the failure to make them is a concern.

The day that fixtures are released seems to release a pressure valve on a meaningless fury and – albeit in a small section of the Bradford City community – there is concern. The concern is only of note because of its fundamental belief that the best time to sign players in a summer transfer window is early.

The wrong sort of data

When it comes to transfer deals we have but one statistic. The day that the deal was registered. There is no record of the first time a team made contact over signing a player from a club or recruiting him as a free agent. That data simply is not available and so a common assumption is that there is a correlation between an approach and a signing in the same way that there is between sowing seeds and reaping harvests.

And so if a player joins a club in the first week of August it is assume that the club got in touch a month before, or two weeks before, or so on. We probably have Championship Manager to thank for this. Everything takes a steady amount of time, and everyone behaves rationally.

Yet we know from Bryan Caplan‘s work that people do not behave rationally a good deal of the time when considering options which involve game theory as player recruitment does.

Let us consider the signings of Stuart McCall for his second spell at the clubs, and of Guy Branston. In both cases the player was highly motivated to the point where he would not have considered other offers with the assumption that no other offer would be significantly better. If Everton had asked McCall to rejoin following his exit from Rangers, or had someone in League One wanted Branston, then they may not have made the choices they did but in both cases the player had decided that they wanted to join the club and entertained no other offers.

Both deals were done early in the close season because the player was not interested in generating competition. Likewise the club wanted both players as marquee signings and so they had no other transfer priorities.

Both club and player made rational decisions because there was no competition in which to create a model of game theory. This is why I continue to raise the point that City made a poor deal when selling Nahki Wells. They allowed the buyer to “own” the rational decision rather than forcing them to be irrational.

The game’s afoot

When a second club becomes interested in a player or a club is interested in more than a single player there is a context for game theory – and Caplan’s thoughts on irrationality – to apply.

Let us consider two other signings from around the era of Branston’s arrival: Andrew Davies, and first Richie Jones.

Richie Jones was signed by Peter Jackson after he missed out on signing Gary Jones who stayed with Rochdale for another season. Richie Jones was not a player Jackson knew nor had seen but he signed him because he had failed to sign a player he wanted who was similar. In this way the club was the irrational operator. The manager decided to sign a (good) player he had not heard of because he had failed to sign a (also good) player he had and having failed in that there was an apparent need to succeed in another signing.

The irrationality is in Peter Jackson signing a player sight unseen to play in his midfield because he had not secured another target. The objective of the game was not to sign any player, it was to sign a specific player, and Jackson got that wrong but it is not an uncommon mistake to make.

City made a bad decision cause by Jackson’s out of date knowledge of the transfer market. Players were not scarce, they were just scarce to Jackson and as a result City made a bad deal. Richie Jones was a good player but he was no Gary Jones at that point in his career.

On Andrew Davies the player was persona non-grata at Stoke City but allowed the summer to pass waiting for someone to make an offer to sign him. No one did and he ended up at City on a fitness boosting free loan. In the cold light of day Davies’s decision is baffling. He joined a club which had lost to Accrington Stanley and Dagenham and Redbridge in the first month of the season and that was so far down the league he may as well have retired.

That the deal worked out speaks much for his abilities and character but the deal itself is one of the most strange in football. Seldom to Premier League players drop to League Two. Davies was acting irrationally.

Having attempted – one assumes – to find a better club over the summer and with the transfer window closed Davies had no rational options left. He signed for City on 23rd September 2011 which is a good four months after fixtures had been announced and is one of the better signings in the club’s history.

Davies was out of rational choices. As game theory is applied he had lost and as a result City were able to approach him with an irrational proposition – sign for a League Two club – and Davies had to comply.

What is to worry about

The aim of a player in dealing around a transfer is to create the game conditions in which irrationality favours them. This is the power of game theory in transfer deals. The clubs can believe they are in competition for a player even when there is no other offers. You and I engage in this kind of behaviour every time we offer more than asking price on a house that has no other bidders on it.

For clubs to get good value they need to lessen the irrationality involved in a transfer.

If one imagines a footballer – a goalkeeper – who today is considering deals from Bradford City, Wolves, Wigan and Crewe then one can imagine a player who would be holding out for Wolves, and probably not interested in Crewe. If City were to make an attempt to make a deal for that player now they would effectively be bidding against Wolves, and Wigan, and Crewe. To make a bid in that context is to enter into irrational action. There are a great number of variables most of which are unknown.

In two weeks time though Wolves may have signed another goalkeeper and Wigan might have taken one on loan after making it clear they have spent all their budget on a forward. The number of variables is reduced and City end up bidding against Crewe in a game which favours them, and so can make a better deal.

Of course one can point out that in this situation had City made their offer two weeks ago – and matched Wolves and Wigan – they would have signed the player but they would have done it on the terms that were comparable to Wolves and Wigan, and have less money to make other deals, and so a worse team.

And this is common in almost all transfer deals. The best deals are done for a club when that club is in a stronger position.

In short, and to recap

There are a few cases where the club wants the (free agent) player and the player wants the club in which the best deal can be done early but in almost every other transfer a club to make a deal early in close season will be forced to do a worse deal than they would have had they waited.

There are exceptions of course. There is only one David Beckham and if you have to bid against other clubs to get him you are forced into a bad deal but League One is not like that and players of League One quality are not so scarce as to mean that there is not enough to go around.

Signing players early does not mean – in most cases – that a team will be stronger because it had first pick it means it will be weaker because it had fewer picks.

On the value of footballers

When Nahki Wells left Bradford City there was a suggestion that the fee the club got for the player was too little. Counter to that was the idea that the amount was correct and the reason it was correct was because in economic terms a thing is worth what someone will pay for it.

This is Economics 101. You learn it on the same day that you learn the supply and demand rules which lead to City who have a large supply of seats increasing demand by lowering price. All that something is worth is what someone will pay for it and so Wells was worth £1.3m. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

At the time of Wells’ exit I discussed Arsenal’s attempt to buy Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle United. Cabaye has been subject of another bid – £14/£15m from Paris SG – but still Newcastle United hold out for a price they have concluded Cabaye is worth.

Why? If a thing is worth what someone will pay for it then they have arrived at his value. Paris will pay £14m ergo that is what he is worth.

Of course not.

If that were true the would be worth both the original bid and the new one. One might conclude that must be something more to Economics than “its worth what someone will pay for it” and there is, and it is the ability of the seller to resist factoring into the equation.

If the seller is not motivated then the price of anything can – and in practice does – increase. In the case of Cabaye unless Newcastle United get what they feel is the price they want then they are not motivated to sell.

“The thing is worth what someone will accept that someone will pay for it” which raises question about the first part of the statement: “the thing” and what it is.

What is Yohan Cabaye? Or what is Juan Mata? What is Marouane Fellaini? What is Mesut Özil? Are they discreet economic entities? When one talks about footballer value in economic terms one must have a field of comparison otherwise one is simply saying Juan Mata is worth one Juan Mata.

Are these four footballers the same thing in economic terms then? All are top Premier League midfielders with degrees of international experience. The spread on bids on them this season ranges £8m to £40m. If we accept the fairly simple premise that these four players represent broadly the same “thing” then perhaps we have an answer as to why Newcastle United can turn down Paris’ bid for Cabaye.

If Cabaye is a Premier League midfielder, and if a Premier League midfielder costs between £28m and £40m then they are right to value their player within that spread with – one might suggest – how close they can get to the top end of those valuations being a reflection of their negotiation abilities and position.

The better Joe Kinnear does the closer Cabaye’s price is to £40m.

So we revise our statement to “a thing which is the member of a group is worth what someone will accept that someone else will pay for members of that group.”

Which is a workable definition we can apply to other transfer fees.

Let’s take – by way of example – the centre forwards of the early Premier League era who create a group.

Chris Sutton joined Blackburn Rovers for £5m. Les Ferdinand cost both Newcastle United (again, they make a lot of transfers) and Spurs £6m. Andy Cole cost Manchester United £7m. Alan Shearer left Blackburn Rovers turning down Manchester United for £15m and Dwight Yorke when he exited Aston Villa to join Manchester United for £16.1m.

If we pick our way through these moves they fit into that definition. Some were good deals and some were not. Most would accept that Blackburn Rovers got a lot of money for Shearer, Newcastle ended up letting two England centre forwards leave and replacing them with one who was arguably better but not so on the granularity we are applying. Manchester United paid over twice as much for Yorke as they did for Cole who could not be said to be significantly better and so perhaps one was a good deal or the other a bad one.

All these transfers in the space of a few years (in which we saw market inflation) and give us a spread of £5m – £16.1m. What was the value of a centre forward in the early Premier League era? If you did business well and sold to motivated buyers it was around £15m. If you ended up in a position where you needed to sell it was less than half that £15m. If you had Les Ferdinand it was £6m.

Which – returning to the question in hand – leads us to ask if the fee Bradford City got for Wells was correct and the reason it was correct was because what someone will pay for him. I would suggest that it was not correct for that reason, although that it was not incorrect.

A look at a list of players transferred from League One shows us a spread of values for players sold from League One clubs to teams in the divisions above.

The list goes from Fabian Delph costing £8.4m down. It includes Andy Gray being sold for £1.6m in 2010 which one might say is an example of a club paying far too much and Rickie Lambert’s £1.1m move from Bristol Rovers which does not look like great business now.

Change the same list to strikers only and one gets a spread from Dwight Gayle at £4.7m down. Wells is equal on this list of Andy Gray’s move five years ago. We extend the spread to £1.1m (Lambert) which is the first internal League One move rather than a move up. That point is arbitrary but appropriate and gives us a spread of values for League One strikers moving up the leagues of £1.1m to £4.7m.

That is the marketplace that City were selling into. That is the value of what Bradford City were selling. Of those 22 players in that marketplace Wells nestles right in the middle being worth an median average.

That is if one accepts that grouping of the market. One might say that one could exclude players who went to the Premier League and point to Nick Maynard’s £3m move to Bristol City as the high figure. I believe that most of the groupings one could make tell the same story.

And that story is that City did averagely with the value of Wells in the marketplace. Whomever was negotiating the deal with Huddersfield Town (and I could not say who was involved on either side) could be said to have performed adequately.

We might long for the negotiation skills that they have at Peterborough United or Crewe Alexandra who are able to sell players who have objectively achieved less than Wells for much, much more money but we do not.

And it is at this point where the club and supporters find a way to learn and move on from the sale of Nahki Wells. Wells and his City team mates over-performed last season and the club benefited more than could have been expected from that. It was an example of what can happen when a high performance culture is fostered.

The sale of Wells represents a return to adequate performance.

Duff joins City after ten years at Cheltenham Town

As Peter Taylor signed Shane Duff from Cheltenham Town following the Northern Irishman’s ten years of service at the club one could not help but feel that city had some how pilfered the fixtures and fittings at Whaddon Road rather than just sign a player.

Duff – brother of Burnley’s Michael – has spent a decade with the club going from non-league to league to League One and his exit now in the season after his testimonial season. He leaves them with the best wishes of the club and a fulsome endorsement despite his tenth year being ruined by injury in the 5-4 match against the Bantams last year.

A strong central defender Duff thinks City and Peter Taylor can get his career back on track and one hopes he can. In these days of slightly loyalty in football though a player who spends a decade at a club deserves a great deal of credit for his staying power alone.

The 28-year-old has agreed a one-year contract at City with an option of a further year.

One signs, one joins as Hanson gets new deal and Speight arrives

James Hanson has signed a new four year deal with Bradford City as the club also found £25,000 to pay for Mansfield Town’s forward Jake Speight.

Hanson is believed to have attracted interest from Coventry City after his impressive first season in professional football and his new deal offers City protection from would be suitors. Peter Taylor was happy to retain the services of the striker saying “I’m pleased as long as he carries on doing what he has been for us. It’s good for the football club and it’s good for him.”

24 year old Speight – formally of Farsley Celtic – is a former Sheffield United youngster but since leaving Stuart McCall’s Blade reserves side he has wandered the leagues ending up at Mansfield where he scored seventeen in thirty two games.

At five seven Speight is not being brought in for his presence in the forward line and – having spent £25,000 on him – Mark Lawn made it clear why he was at the club saying “If he can score 17 to 20 goals for us next season, we will be well pleased.”

Lawn’s opposite number at the Stags Chairman Andrew Perry was less pleased to see the player going saying It was a great disappointment to learn that Jake Speight no longer wanted to play for Mansfield Town. We have had no option other than to grant Jake a transfer as he stated that he would refuse to play for the club unless a transfer was forthcoming.”

Parry continued “We did all we could as a club to keep Jake but both he and his agent refuted any fresh offers and made it clear he wanted to move on. I am very disappointed it has come to this. Jake was a great asset for us last season and I am even more disappointed when a player doesn’t honour his side of his contract, as we have done.”

None of which makes good reading and while Perry and Lawn will probably not exchange Christmas cards for some time one has to wonder how much City have been involved in Speight’s decision to seek a transfer.

One would hope none at all. On the day that we have a player agree a long term deal and are pleased by his committing his future to us it is sad to see another club unable to get the same from their player.

Speight has signed a two year deal.

The raw deal at Nethermoor, but better than no deal at all

One has to feel a little sorry for Guiseley after they were given exactly what they did not want from the Football Association tribunal as they set a fee for James Hanson following his Summer move to City at much below the price they wanted.

The Unibond League club had bulked at the Bantams offer of £7,500, a sell-on percentage and a pre-season game between the two clubs next year when City offered it in the summer but as the transfer window began to shut and the non-leaguers pointed out that that had paid twice as much for the player Hanson partnered up front that original deal was exactly what the F.A. gave them.

Rarely have City ever got the benefit of a tribunal decision so one imagines a glass or two will be raised to the man in Manchester who were charged with the judgement of Solomon today.

Guiseley will feel hard done to for sure and probably reflect that they would have been better talking up the Bantams by a couple of thousand rather than aiming high – it is said they wanted in excess of £30,000 but these figures are only rumoured – only to be disappointed. They had no chance of keeping the player and are not hard done to in Hanson’s exit. He was a part-timer working in Idle Co-op when up front for them, a professional for City. No one would deny him the chance of that.

Hanson has been a roaring success since his move and has reportedly attracted the interest of Coventry City in the Championship as well as a good few League One clubs in his first six months which one doubts he would have had he kept banging goals in at Nethermoor. If his time at City proves to be short lived and he exits for bigger things then the slice of that deal they get may prove a bigger reward than they have now.

Les Ferdinand’s 10% sell on from the move that took him from Queen’s Park Rangers to Newcastle United netting Hayes some £600,000 which dwarfed the £30,000 Rangers paid for him up front. So pleased were the non-league side with this that they built a function suite and named it “The Ferdinand Suite” in his honour.

That Hanson is coveted by Coventry – or indeed anyone outside of Bradford City having spotted him and Stuart McCall having seen him as a potential City player – is down not to his performances for Guiseley but rather those for the Bantams and thus is seems right that as his development from talented amateur to proper professional comes and the risk that entails is born at Valley Parade then the tribunal would favour those at Valley Parade.

That City got the player “on the cheap” is true if he is successful – and he seems to be – but many a man has failed to make the grade as a professional and the deal is only inexpensive if a player settles into being a pro. Many have not and it is unfair to those players who plug away working in a shop all week and trying to impress scouts on a weekend to set fees for them so prohibitively high that clubs cannot afford to take the risk that the corn will pop in the pan.

So Guiseley get a raw deal but the alternative would seem to be no deal at all and those at Nethermoor would do well to keep fingers crossed that Hanson gets back in the goals soon and his value – and the value of a sell on clause they now have – increase.

“The James Hanson Suite” would be a just reward.

City and Guiseley muddle over the value of Hanson

James Hanson’s spinning volley on Saturday gave the Bantams a chance of getting richly deserved points but came at the wrong time for the club as they prepared for a Football League Tribunal where City and Guiseley will be told how much the striker should cost.

Protected by his age Hanson signed for City in the summer with the fee to be decided later and perhaps it is the excellent start the striker has made that has seen them asking for a fee reportedly of £50,000 for the player – Mark Lawn says that the Leeds club want more for Hanson than club paid for Gareth Evans. Guiseley manager Steve Kittrick sums up the non-league club’s stance and frustration saying “We are prepared to mediate, but their mediation is very, very slight.”

Kittrick says “I’d rather not say what fee we want, but on a scale of one to 10, Bradford have started at one and now moved to two and we’ve come down from 10 to eight.” and that would suggest the Bantams are refusing to go over four figures.

One can not blame Guiseley for trying to ask the league club for as much as they can – after all a player in this league has been paid the figure they want for one game of football – but looking at the balance books City no doubt see their financial picture as closer to non-league than the haves of professional football than the Netherfield club would probably suspect.

At League Two level how does one rate the value of a professional footballer when without the contract the Bantams offered in the summer Hanson would – probably and unjustly – still been working in the Co-op in Idle? Without the interest from a professional club – or at least the chance of a contract – a player has almost no value but why should Hanson have less value than Evans just because one came from a League Club and the other did not? Jon Shaw – one time Halifax Town man who City would have taken for nothing but Rochdale bought for £70,000 – has ended up back in non-league football at Barrow. Is he worth the fee paid or does the fact that he cannot prove himself at league level mean he is worthless?

Hanson’s four goals prove the player’s value but that same value was given to Willy Topp who did much less, less well than City’s current number seventeen. Guiseley and City are left going to a tribunal because frankly a player is worth as much as a team can get for him and as Hanson scores and wins everything in the air he seems to be worth rather a lot. Had Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding put Notts County to the sword in the opening game of the season and Hanson been cooling his heels all season would Guiseley have been happy with the traditional non-league fee of twelve tracksuits and a couple of balls?

Barry Conlon – What every League Two club wants for Christmas

News that Kyle Nix’s contract is up soon focuses the mind on the more significant of the City players who have deals that expire on the 31st of December with Barry Conlon two months from being a free agent.

Conlon signed for six months in the Summer and – after much talked about rocky patches – has seen his stock shoot up as both cult hero and useful member of the squad. At the moment his being in the sixteen is bringing City points.

So it would be little wonder if one of our rivals looked at the situation and decided that having seen their forwards bullied by the likes of Matt Clarke and Efe Sodje for a half a season they need the burly target play that Barry brings. We know this because far too often City have been in this situation of needing a big fella up front as an option at least.

It seems unlikely the Bantams will offer Conlon anything other than another six months leaving the player open to the enterprising club who can give him a year and a half. In League Two that represents the difference between being a professional footballer and having to get a proper job in July.

Should Stuart McCall reward Barry with eighteen months? Perhaps although with the plan for April 2010 being battling for promotion to the Championship it would be elevating the player beyond where most would pitch his ability level.

It certainly seems that Barry has to be at 100% every game to be at the same level as the rest of the squad and with his role mostly as battering ram for big defences and mostly done in fits and (not that many) starts he is able to do that.

Should Conlon leave in the transfer window then McCall would be left looking for someone else who can bring the ebullience from the bench but understands his place in the pecking order at the club, who can play the target man role with proven effectiveness and who is ready to scrap for the cause.

In other words should City be looking for the best guy to take the place in the squad that Conlon fills the best name on offer is Conlon himself.

So for McCall fingers must be crossed that no one else has been impressed enough to put that 18 month deal in front of the number nine that would lure him away.

Brilliant McCall bounces City into the season to savour

Michael Boulding has signed for City. Graeme Lee has signed for City. Paul McLaren has signed for City. Chris Brandon has signed for City. Paul Arnison has signed for City.

If the Bantams had signed two of these five players then people would have been talking about us as promotion contenders. If we had signed three of them people would be saying we were making moves but we have brought in over the summer five players of massive quality.

Five players who can play in the league above. Five players who most teams in the bottom two divisions would want in their sides.

You can argue about Arnison but he played in the play offs for the Championship last season. Boulding went out of the league but still was wanted by League One where McLaren was the top dog for assists. Lee has turned heads with his signing although Moore would have been more impressive and Brandon started the ball rolling.

Add these to Joe Colbeck ripping teams apart, to Lee Bullock who is league one quality, to Billy Topp and suddenly City have a team that can and I think will murder the rest of this league.

What Stuart has this season that he didn’t have last one is options. He can use Peter Thorne and Michael Boulding but who can say that Barry and Billy would get less goals? He can put Omar Daley down the left or he can use Kyle Nix or Chris Brandon to be tighter. In those last ten minutes that make the difference between teams that go up and those who don’t options to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition win you games.

The squad City have is packed with players who would have been the most impressive guy on most team sheets. Guys like Boulding and Lee who would have raised eyebrows separately are together in a kind of League Two all-stars picking the best of what was on offer.

And making a season to savour.

The Boulding brothers settle for Valley Parade

Michael Boulding has an impressive goal tally for sure and he has been tagged as a target for City for a long time this summer but in terms of alarm bells there is very few that the 32 year old has not clanged.

Boulding joins City after the sort of on off chase which never has brought us much joy in the past. His father insists that the decision to join City has nothing to do with cash but one cannot help but be reminded of the transfers of Ashley Ward, of Lee Power, of Benito Carbone when thinking of this deal.

City’s best signings grasped at the chance to come to Valley Parade with both hands.

Then there is the injury picked up in training with minutes to go of a training session before a game which saw him able to go home rather than to Farsley. In itself not a problem – an injured player should rest – but hardly that desire to settle in to City.

Nevertheless Rory Boulding played that night. What are we to make of Rory and the deal that brings him in his brother’s pocket? How much elevation does the younger get to please the elder? How does McCall deal with Michael if if offers the opinion that Rory deserves a starting run out?

We are to hope that Michael is just pushing for his kid brother not pushing him into places he should not be. These are alarm bells but in a world where Christiano Ronaldo is a slave perhaps this is just Michael using player power and making his own decisions.

The biggest alarm though sounds when one recalls Mansfield’s brilliant, spirited display at Valley Parade last season after which I commented that the team would not be relegated should they play like that more often.

Boulding scored in that game. His 25 goals in a relegated side that can play so well but often did not makes one wonder how the striker fits into that or any of the many teams he has played for? Is the one of those players who while impressive gets more out of a team than he puts in?

Chris Waddle’s time at City was brilliant to watch but Shaun Murray got us out of the bottom two. Wayne Rooney’s second season at Everton was much worse then the year after he left and Tim Cahill took his place. These were good players who for whatever reason did not fit.

Let us this is not the case with Boulding. Let us hope that there worries are unfounded and that the alarm bells are pre-season tension playing on the mind. After all all indications are that this reason is very much make or break.

We welcome both Boulding brothers with the same – if not more considering Michael’s three clubs in the last month – enthusiasm they join us with.

In 12 months time though this double signing and how the relationship between the two is handled could very much decide Stuart McCall’s future.

How much would you pay to make the difference?

City have got Abel Thermeus on trial and will take the French/Haitian striker back to Fir Park where they called him The Flask and have a Bebo group about his “shiteness”.

Michael Boulding is going to join Cheltenham as long as they take his brother – the Chelt manager is getting it in the neck for agreeing to that – and I for one am glad that Stuart McCall is not taking City into the kind of bizarre deal that used to blight Melchester Rovers. “He will sign for us Roy but we have to sign his brother…”, “No Blackie, we could offer that chance to one of our youngsters who has earned it!”

Hard to argue with Racey and hard too look the parents of all the kids who you have promised a route to the first team if they sign for City when you give away squad shirts to someone’s brother. What do you say when Michael tells you that he things Thorney is feeling it in the legs and perhaps a younger player?

Nevertheless Stuart McCall has confirmed that City are no longer interested in Boulding and the talks for Luke Beckett are still “on hold” and seemingly declared dead as the Bantams put in an enquiry for Leeds United’s Anthony Elding.

Elding – a player tracked before – is a pint sized goal machine putting in a strike every other game when he is on form and Crewe are believed to have bid £150,000 for him which the player rather than the club knocked back. He scores goals at this level and were he available for the free transfers that has brought Paul McLaren or Graeme Lee to Valley Parade he would be a great recruitment.

But £150,000? That would be City’s biggest signing not since Andrew Todd (who – memory serves – cost £110,000 although I could be wrong on this and the next fact) but since £1.7m was paid for Stan Collymore. It is serious cash for a club at this level.

Nevertheless McCall’s summer has been about bringing in a striker – Beckett was the first transfer move – and his missed targets are all front men. Peter Thorne can get goals for sure but is has been clear from day one that he does not believe that Willy Topp and Barry Conlon would be able to mount a promotion challenge without an additional twenty goal a season man.

He has looked for proven goalscorers and gone to the lengths of the Boulding nonsense and the breadth of offering money for Beckett to get his man. McLaren’s wages and Lee’s signing on fee. Brandon’s recruitment and Arnison’s arrival. These things are for nothing if the ball does not go into the net at the right end at lot next year and Stuart wants someone proven to do that.

The £150,000 for one player is a chunk at this level but spread over the recruitment of the summer making all those signings worthwhile it could be a the snip of this or many seasons.

A proper pre-season

The new season will move a step closer this week as the pre-season friendly programme begins at Farsley Celtic. An almost annual stop-off point for Bradford City’s preparations, this Wednesday’s meeting will provide those of us attending with our first football fix in months and offer some clues as to what sort of season the Bantams may enjoy.

It’s been well documented that City was under-prepared as they embarked on their first few pre-season friendlies a year ago this week. On the day of the first game, at Harrogate Town, Paul Heckingbottom had become only the third summer signing, after Peter Thorne and Barry Conlon.

Having taken over with less than a full team of senior players on the books, it meant new manager Stuart McCall had to use a squad topped up with trialists. Some impressed and earned new deals, some were quickly released and a couple of those who were – Peter Leven and Simon Johnson – earned chances at clubs who performed better than City over the season. It was hardly the most ideal of beginnings and it showed during the disappointing first third of the season.

The lack of preparation undoubtedly influenced the subsequent disappointing midtable finish last season; and the traumatic pre-season the year before shaped the even worse 2006-07 campaign. Then, five the six pre-season friendlies ended in defeat – including two 4-1 thrashings to sides in the division below. Manager Colin Todd was badly lacking in players as the Peter Etherington investment was delayed and then terminated behind the scenes.

The majority of new faces arrived less than two weeks before the opening game – all loan signings. A good start followed but, as form collapsed cumulating in relegation, it was obvious from those pre-season thrashings that the warning signs had been there from the start.

The memories of both patchy pre-seasons have clearly been in the thoughts of many fans as this summer has unfolded. There still remains a degree of unrest that certain key positions in the team are yet to be recruited for but, compared to the progress at this stage last season, there are plenty of reasons to feel confident. It’s likely a trialist or two will pop up in City colours during the next three weeks, but the majority of the squad is already in place and Wednesday will be the first of six build-up games to hone an understanding.

Which, traditionally at least, is what pre-season games are supposed to be about. Will Chris Brandon be better in the centre or the wing? Should Mark Bower or Matt Clarke partner Graeme Lee in defence? Is Willy Topp going to be up to it this season? Stuart will be able to better decide on such matters during the next few weeks, rather than having to rely on the first few competitive games of the season.

The result on Wednesday won’t matter but, given the fact it’s the third year in a row City has visited Throstle Nest pre-season and the last two ended in disappointing defeats, there may be something to be read into the outcome. It’s likely the remaining signings will quickly follow and Stuart should have a very strong idea of the squad’s capabilities in time for the first game which really matters, on August 9.

The long haul

The news which broke this morning that Bradford City is considering linking up with a football academy in Mexico, to identify promising players, has been met with a mixed response from fans. While questions of where this leaves the present link up with Belgian outfit Royal Racing FC Montegnee – apparently not going as well as hoped – are valid, the argument against from some fans is that the likely resource needed to secure such a partnership should be spent on signing new players is both predictable and depressing.

Depressing because it is typical of the short-term thinking that continues to steer, and blight, football. Never mind considering a partnership that in years to come may bear fruit and bring possible substantial reward – why haven’t we signed another striker yet?

Coming in a week where City have baulked at paying a transfer fee for a player who would probably be considered back up in the coming season, to the annoyance of some, it’s perhaps unsurprising City’s Mexico link up has been received negatively be some. I read with some confusion that all of City’s efforts should apparently be centred on a promotion push this season, and that failure is not an option. It appears those in charge, at least, see a future beyond May 2009.

The reaction from some of our supporters is not unusual among football followers these days, as immediate success seems to be all that matters. Supporting a club which is well overdue some, it’s understandable newspaper articles about looking to the future cause frustration; but, as the club continues to move away from the difficult financial problems which have hindered progress in recent years, the possibility of them reoccurring shouldn’t be ignored.

News also broke today that the Football League are going to deduct another 20 points from Luton Town, meaning they are set to kick off the new season a whopping 30 points behind the majority of their League Two rivals. A quick scan at last season’s final table shows only the top seven would have survived relegation with a 30 point deduction – a stat which underlines how difficult it will be for the Hatters to avoid kicking off the 2009-10 season in non-league.

Rotherham and Bournemouth’s fates are still to be determined; the former having being told they will need to pay the Football League a £750k bond to continue – on top of trying to agree a CVA with their creditors. Next season’s League Two already hints at carrying a sense of farce.

It must be incredibly difficult for the supporters of these clubs to watch the Football League hit them with further penalties while claiming it’s, “to protect the integrity of the competition.” A worrying precedence has been set following the Leeds United saga last season and, while there’s a logic to clubs receiving some form of penalty for running up debts they can’t meet, the punishments don’t seem to be fitting the crime.

Are City immune? We may appear to be over some difficult times, but a quick look at the club’s history suggests it may not be the last. It’s vital we live within our means, build up the club on solid foundations and make decisions for the long term good of the club – not short term gambles. Refusing to pay £60,000 for Jon Shaw may be considered as lacking ambition by some, but compared to City’s activities in the transfer market since relegation from the Premiership in 2001 it would have been an extravagant signing.

Clearly money is still not awash at City, but the situation has improved significantly. It would be easy to sink it all into buying players, gambling on short term success and hope it then brings in money; but only four teams will get promoted from League Two this season and football’s competitive nature will mean if City are among them it will be an outstanding achievement rather than our right.

It may seem wrong to hear City talk of extravagant link ups across the world and it may ultimately be ruled out as a waste of time; but, as the lower reaches of the game experiences more difficulties and our local neighbours face up to going out of existence, now should be the time for ensuring we never again end up in such a situation. The merits of building ‘the brand’ in Mexico will be carefully considered – not for helping the club get promoted this season, but determining what it can bring City in the years to come.

I’m not losing any sleep over Jon Shaw

City have not gone for Jon Shaw the Halifax striker who ended up going to Rochdale for £60,000 and I’m more than happy about that.

Stuart McCall made it clear that he would have Shaw as a squad man but not for that price and I could not agree more.  For the cost of buying Shaw Rochdale could have paid a good League Two players wage.

That is the reality of football in 2008 in League Two.  You don’t pay transfer fees anymore cause there are loads players who want jobs and at least one of them will be out of contract so rather than giving his club the cash you might as well give some of it to him as a signing on fee.  Football has been like that since Bosman in most divisions.

We all know this so we can ignore the moronic calls that City should have paid for Shaw and that Rochdale are more ambitous than we are.  The £35,000 we paid for Billy Topp might come to something in the future but as a rule if you are paying for players you are wasting money.

It is not amibition that makes a club spend £60,000 on a player it is gambling.  Gambling on promotion, gambling on a resale, gambling that they have found the difference between a good season and a bad one it is a chance that I’m glad that City are not ready to take especially not on a kid forward who despite some noisey City fans saying was a proven goalscorer has only got goals outside the league and was rejected by Sheffield Wednesday.

Good look to Rochdale and that but I’m glad that City are putting the money we have into senior professionals like Graeme Lee and Paul McLaren and not throwing it after the latest kid to bang in a few goals outside the pro-leagues.

Stuart looks outwards for answers but may have his Beagrie and Blake within

The PA announcer predictably played Bob Marley to welcome him to Valley Parade and sporadically among the crowd were Jamaican flags. For half a season we’d been entertained by a speedy and exciting winger from the same country and now we were welcoming someone who’d been described as twice as fast and regularly kept his new teammate out of the national side. There was a sense of anticipation in the air that had been lacking when welcoming new signings in recent years.

His name was Omar Daley and the day was Saturday 27 January, with Yeovil Town the visitors at Valley Parade. Colin Todd had already introduced us to three Jamaican internationals who City fans had taken to their hearts, and now here was number four ready to go.

Damion Stewart had only enjoyed a brief stay, quickly earning a move to the Championship, while the Main Stand at Valley Parade that day included one particularly interested onlooker who would sign Jermaine Johnson a few days later. Bob Marley finished singing ‘no woman and no cry’ and Daley was cheered onto the pitch by his new fans. With City also on a three match unbeaten run, expectation hung in the air.

As is typical of City the occasion fell flat. Five minutes into the game Johnson dallied on the ball too long and Yeovil broke forward to score. A second goal followed soon after the interval as the original Jamaican, Donovan Ricketts, took up a woeful position to collect a low cross. Any hopes of a fightback were extinguished after Eddie Johnson had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside, a decision that so enraged Jermaine he was sent off for arguing with the officials. Daley had a quiet debut and was barely noticed.

18 months on and Ricketts’ contract expiry means only Daley remains at City of the Jamaican quartet, though his popularity has dipped lower than his country’s FIFA world ranking. Three games into his City career the manager who brought him back to England was sacked and Daley struggled to find form during a failed relegation battle. Last season bigger things were expected of him but form remained patchy. A good run of form before and after Christmas was rewarded with a new contract, but performances dipped again and he ended the season widely unpopular among supporters.

There’s no question Daley has some ability in his locker, as observed during some of his better games last season when he was a match winner. Yet for every performance like Lincoln, Accrington and Bury away there was Rochdale, Dagenham and Barnet at home.

Confidence appeared to be fragile and the laid back manner interpreted as lazy, with bucket loads of abuse flying in his direction from the stands clearly counter-productive. The line up and result will remain unclear for the opening game against Notts County, but what can be predicted is some fans will be ready to heap more abuse on anything City’s number 7 does wrong.

This sort of reaction is one Billy Topp is yet to be suffer. If Daley’s arrival was a big occasion, the full debut of the first player in six years to cost City a transfer fee was an evening soaked with excitement. Almost a year to the day of Daley’s first game, Topp took six minutes of his first start, against Shrewsbury, to show City fans what they had been waiting for since news a young Chilean was on trial broke the previous September.

Expertly controlling a long ball played towards him, Topp produced a great touch to twist past the defender and charge into the area before laying the ball into the path of the advancing Kyle Nix to score the opening goal of the night. Lack of fitness, which would become a common theme, saw him taken off shortly after half time but the potential was there.

Potential which has also yet to be realised. That night remains the high water mark of Topp’s time in England as performances failed to sparkle. There were some flashes of brilliance, but too often Topp looked a player still finding his feet and uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. His continuing battle with a muscular problem clearly didn’t help and his season was cut early so he could have an operation. Such problems haven’t stopped fans already writing him off and this week the club had to deny rumours Topp wouldn’t be coming back from a break in Chile.

In what is shaping up to be a big season for City, the contributions of Daley and Topp may prove more significant than anticipated. As the wait for new signings continues and supporters debate what next season’s first choice eleven should be, the names of City’s two overseas players rarely seem to appear. With Stuart known to be after another striker and new signing Chris Brandon classed as a midfielder/winger, this may initially be the case; but past history suggests neither will necessarily be consigned to a life in the reserves either.

As he builds a team he believes to be capable of delivering promotion Stuart will no doubt take a bit of everything he has learned during his playing and coaching career, and the events at Valley Parade 10 years ago will almost certainly feature in that thinking when City, of course, won promotion to the Premiership with a well-organised and talented bunch of players.

Two of its biggest stars were Peter Beagrie and Robbie Blake, but few supporters would have believed that would be the case the summer before. Both were considered enigmas – talented but inconsistent. Their popularity was generaly low going into that memorable season; with most supporters fed up with Beagrie in particular after a disappointing first season. His popularity was a bit like Daley now.

When we supporters fondly look back on events 10 years ago the memories are not that success came because manager Paul Jewell was given millions to spend in the transfer market, but the way he moulded his team and got the best out of so many. This particularly included Beagrie and Blake and, as Stuart scratches his head about how to bring out the best of Daley and Topp right now, a similar approach of good coaching, extra training and confidence building may just do the trick.

Playing with better players should also help as it did for Beagrie and Blake a decade ago. We know Daley can beat players and give full backs a headache, and by his own admission he prefers playing in front of a full back who’ll get forward. A strong midfield pair in the shape of a Gareth Whalley and Stuart will also help to get Daley the ball in the areas he can really hurt the opposition.

Stuart has already made the Topp-Blake comparison and the promising glimpses of Topp we’ve seen suggest he could be the tricky forward running at defenders and popping up all over the final third that Blake was that year. A pre-season of building up a good partnership with Peter Thorne could even see a replication of the Mills-Blake combination.

Improved fitness for both will also play a part and, as we impatiently wait for new signings and look forward to their big debuts, it’s hoped they will not just be better than those departed, but can bring out the best in those who can do better.

Doyle should be Stuart McCall’s Stuart McCall

I’ll admit it. I never saw it in Nathan Doyle.

Yeah, yeah, yeah I know what you are all thinking. Here comes Harris trying to be all controversial again but as honestly as we all realised it wasn’t in Bruno Rodriguez or Ashley Ward and just did not see what Doyle had that made him player of the season.

He was a right back and a decent enough one but he looked raw around the edges and it seemed that his greatest attribute was not being Darren Holloway and when he left around the same time as Dean Windass the Bantams had a massive down turn but it was more to do with losing Deano than Doyle and I think the way their Hull City careers have gone have proven that.

Doyle was very good but player-of-the-season reason-we-got-relegated? Not so much.

But Doyle did have some talent. He could use a ball for sure but he could use his body too and he had some positional sense although that needed a bit of experience. He had a cool head under pressure and he passed the ball using his brain as much as his feet. None of these skills were as polished as they should have been but he was learning and in his months at Valley Parade he showed visible improvement.

The longer he was in the side for City the more assured he looked as well and the more he looked like he was wasted at right back. Most good right backs look like they are wasted in that position on the fringes of the action.

Hull City’s reserves are the fringes of the action for sure. They are nowhere for a player who had looked like he was going somewhere. City’s moves in the Premiership transfer market don’t suggest that a place will be opening up for Doyle soon. The guy needs to get back to first team football.

And City have a place for him but not at right back where Paul Arnison has been signed but back in the number four shirt and in the number four role. Doyle has the attributes needed to be Stuart McCall’s Stuart McCall.

He can win a ball and uses it smartly. He gets struck in but is not dirty. His instinct is to attack when defending is done and not leave his back door unlocked just like Stuart did. He has all the attributes needed to take games in League Two by the scruff of the neck and be the main man in a City team that aims for promotion. Throw in the fact that he is a popular player and he could be a summer headline signing for City.

And then he might do something that makes you see why he is player of the season.

The waiting or popping the question

We wait, us connected with Bradford City, and we wait.

We have been waiting for Luke Beckett and Michael Boulding to decide who they fancy joining next season and Stuart McCall begins to tire of waiting.  The move for Beckett is on hold but one of the player’s other options – Chester City – have been knocked out of the running for the player.  It says much about the power of footballers in the modern game that guys on the bench at third tier clubs can keep everyone waiting.  Nevertheless Beckett can.

McCall is growing tired of waiting for Michael Boulding but the former Tennis professional turned footballer who went out of the league with Mansfield last season seems awash with options for next season and the ball is very much in his court.  He has knocked back City before back in 2001 when he joined Aston Villa rather than opting for to sign with Nicky Law.  Within a week the Bantams were in administration and 19 players were redundant.  One wonders how much this plays on the players mind when he deals with Rotherham agianst the stability seemingly offered at Valley Parade these days.

We wait for Boulding who has his pick of Yorkshire sides near his home and we wait for Darren Moore who is to talk with Leicester City before deciding his future.  In essence The Foxes are offering the same deal as the Bantams – to end his career in promotion – but a division higher and nearer to his home.

This waiting is a good think for City and the people trying to bring Moore to the club.  Without McCall, Wayne Jacobs et al then there is little reason for Moore not to dismiss the club in a division below out of hand.  The waiting is tribute and shows that Moore is taking City’s approach seriously.

The waiting is hard.  The waiting is torture as scribbles on bits of paper with “PA” and “CB” joining “PT” and “JC” in positions in elevens crop up on the desks of City fans everywhere.  The waiting is hard.

We wait for Rob Burch the goalkeeper McCall has talked to and we long to do as he did and pop the question in public view to get a binding yes or no.  Do you, we would ask Darren Moore, take this hope and manifest it in promotion?

Will Paul Arnison solve that right back problem?

Stuart McCall is making his second signing this afternoon when Paul Arnison joins the Bantams from Carlisle on a two year deal on a free transfer to play right back as the City gaffer looks to make the deals to bring in the players he thinks can play in League One.

Arnison played his last game for Carlisle in the play-offs against Leeds and you can see what Stuart is thinking in signing players like the former Newcastle United defender and Chris Brandon who joined from Huddersfield last month. Get a team of players who are League One quality together and then you will be a team good enough for League One.

Arnison has knocked back his old club Hartlepool United who are in League One to come to Valley Parade which suggests the ambition that McCall wants in his new faces not wanting any of them to get to used to the idea of playing in the bottom division.

He comes recommended by Stuart’s old mate Greg Abbott who is number two at Carlisle and replaces Darren Williams who only was at Valley Parade for a year after replacing Darren Holloway who never really had the best of times in the position. In fact it is hard to remember the last right back City had who looked the part.

Holloway got ripped apart more by fans than by left wingers but no one would say he commanded the position. Gus Ulhlebeek was nothing to get excited about and Gunnar Halle was not the sort who stopped people going by him. In fact the last time City looked like they had a solid right back was Stephen Wright.

Wright never played in the Premiership but the change of number two was probably not as important as the guy alongside him. For the last nine years City have struggled to get a right back to look good next to David Wetherall. Wetherall was a cracking player but perhaps he never supported the man to his right enough causing this constant problem with the full back?

In football you do what the guy behind you does.  Goalkeepers tell central defenders where to stand and central defenders tell full backs and holding midfielders and Wetherall always pulled his right back too far inside giving them too much work to do to close down left wingers.  It is probably something that has stopped goals going through the middle but the result is that we have been weak on the flank.

Left wingers have a field day at Valley Parade and they cross for big centreforwards who head in passes from the left.  Paul Arnison gets to be the first right back in a decade to play alongside someone other than Wetherall.

The silly season

A comment posted this week on one of the various City-related message boards read, “No wonder people aren’t buying the season tickets…how pathetic City, c’mon pull your fingers out…

It’s not the first time City have been labelled ‘pathetic’ by one of their own, and it certainly isn’t going to the last. The reason for this supporter’s particular anger was the lack of signings so far and belief that all targets should be on board before Sunday’s season ticket offer ends, to encourage floating fans to purchase in time.

They were not the only fan to state such views this week and, if he bothered to read these bulletin boards, Stuart McCall could be forgiven for scratching his head. Usually the role of a manager is to bring in the right players in time for the next season. It would be easier to understand why City were considered ‘pathetic’ if it was the week before the big kick off or if these supporters had only just started supporting the club and never experienced a close season, but when have City ever sorted even half of their summer signings by June 15?

Undoubtedly this a frustrating time of year for football supporters; by June most of us have forgotten the previous season’s frustrations and are anxious for the next one to begin. With pre-season friendlies not starting for another month, there is little to get excited about other than new signings. Each day I, as I’m sure do many others, anxiously check the City-related websites for news of who might be coming in, and the loading up of The Telegraph & Argus website to find a tame news story about something unrelated is unsatisfying.

One such piece appeared earlier this week, where Stuart McCall spoke about finding Holland’s first Euro 2008 match inspiration for how he’d like City to play next season. A comment underneath the piece complained that, “Instead of McCall watching the Euro’s, he should be on the blower to players and their agents he has already spoken to and firmed up his offers.” Imagine that, Stuart McCall being allowed to relax and watch TV in the evening instead of spending every second chasing his targets? Disgraceful stuff, hasn’t he just been on holiday?

Not that we City fans can even agree on what makes a good signing when they are made. It’s been amusing to read opinions of the various targets and types of players Stuart should be chasing. There are many fans who think we should be after, “young, hungry non-league players.” Sure there is a risk they might not be up to it, but they will be so grateful for the opportunity they will always give 110%, unlike some of the current shirkers in the squad. Clearly not everyone agrees and the signing of Harrogate Town keeper Jonathan McLaughlin prompted sarcastic remarks from some along the lines of, “ooh wow I’m sure that will encourage everyone to rush out and buy a season ticket!

It would be fair to assume that those calling for City to sign ‘hungry non-league players’ are the same people who, when City were in the two divisions, were calling for City to sign ‘hungry, lower-league players’; but now we are firmly stuck in the lower leagues, why don’t we look to sign those ‘hungry, lower-league players’ instead?

Then there are the former players, with calls from others to sign up any former Bantam potentially available. As great as it would be to see Nathan Doyle, Simon Francis or Robbie Blake back at Valley Parade, such hopes are largely unrealistic. Even if they were available would they want to play in League Two? I was particularly worried to read comments that City should sign free agent Gareth Edds, until he signed for Tranmere. Why would we want to bring him back? Wow, that would get people rushing out to buy season tickets (oops, it’s contagious!).

But it’s one definite former player City are targeting which leads to the other major difference of opinion over who City should sign. Darren Moore was at Valley Parade for talks this week and, while it seems unlikely he’ll be rejoining this summer, you would have thought City fans would be in universal agreement this was a good move. Forgetting the fact he was a hero of our last promotion winning side, here is someone who was playing Premiership football last season and is wanted by around 14 other clubs. But no, according to some, he’s too old.

In what feels like a jump back nine years to a time when our team was considered a laughing stock by the national media, our squad is suddenly too old and we need to, “lower the average age.” At 34 Moore is coming towards the end of a successful career, but like second summer signing Chris Brandon (33) and other target Luke Beckett (31), he is hardly over the hill just yet. One would have thought that, with Dean Windass and Peter Thorne both joining City at 34 years of age, this would be the one club who’s supporters appreciate that playing careers last longer these days, and age is just a number.

“Oh and don’t forget Darren Moore wasn’t really that good for us and left because he was a disgraceful money grabber.” The truth about these two criticisms is somewhat different, of course.

In our promotion winning season Moore was one of our stars, making over 50 appearances. He had one particularly poor game at home to Huddersfield and was dropped, yet he quickly won back his place and made the PFA divisional team of the season. Even if he was ultimately considered not good enough for a team promoted to the Premier League, it hardly makes him a poor signing for a League Two club now.

As for money grabbing, imagine if the organisation you work for started performing outstandingly, partly thanks to you, and they brought in new employees on larger salaries. Wouldn’t you expect to be rewarded too?

Should we get Beckett or Boulding to strengthen the forward line next season? Are Carlisle pair Paul Arnison and Zigor Aranalde the full backs to bomb forward in the manner Stuart wants next term? Is Lewis Emmanuel really worth another go? Whoever we sign it’s guaranteed some will be delighted, while others will offer reasons why it’s a bad move.

The wait for summer signings can be frustrating, amusing and exciting, but no matter how many different opinions are offered it should be remembered it’s one person’s view which ultimately matters – which the rest of us need to have faith in.

Bend It Like Beckett

Observing from a distance, it’s often felt there are two sides to City’s potential new signing Luke Beckett.

On the one part is his undoubted goalscoring ability, which sadly we’ve suffered from too often in the past. 163 goals from 346 career starts (+49 sub) is a phenomenal record and the majority of City fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of a Beckett-Peter Thorne partnership next season.

Yet there’s also an impression that Beckett is a player who struggles to settle anywhere. There are no hints of a disruptive character or stories of any bust ups, indeed some supporters have fought to keep him in the past, but since been released from Barnsley a decade ago Luke has been the subject of eight permanent or loan moves. At most clubs he has flourished, but he doesn’t seem to stick around for too long. The exploits of Dean Windass and Thorne may be helping City build a reputation as a place for ‘mature’ strikers to flourish and, if Beckett can replicate that success, it’s to be hoped he’ll consider Valley Parade more the happy home that he appears to have found elsewhere.

City’s unfortunate habit of conceding goals to Beckett began in March 2002, where his 10th minute strike for Stockport proved enough to inflict one of the most embarrassing defeats in recent history. Three years later the now on-loan Oldham striker struck the decisive goal that kept the Lactics up on the final day of the season, their claret and amber opponents fortunately having nothing to play for. Beckett was back on loan at Oldham the following season, his move to Sheffield United in November 2004 proving a major disappointment, and his temporary employers continued to prove City’s bogey team. 6-2 aggregate home and away victories were recorded – Beckett grabbed three over the two games.

That following summer manager Colin Todd infamously spurned the opportunity to sign Beckett in favour of Eddie Johnson. History could argue it was one of his worst decisions, but while Beckett ended up at Huddersfield he didn’t really set the place alight. Peter Jackson used his entire transfer budget securing Beckett, but his preference of playing 4-5-1 regularly left Beckett on the bench. Town’s number 18 still enjoyed a decent scoring record over his two seasons at the Galpharm, but the club’s progress has stuttered and his third Town manager in that time, Stan Ternent, has allowed him to leave.

The challenge for Stuart McCall, as it is with every player, will be to get the best out of Beckett next season. Their paths have already crossed at Sheffield United, so Stuart already has a good idea of the type of character he is. The season that has just finished felt familiar to recent others in the problems encountered up front. We seem to be able to get one regular goal scorer, but getting two fit and firing together is one reason why City failed to challenge for promotion again. Stuart needs to get the midfield supplying the ball to both strikers in areas they can hurt the opposition and work on discouraging performance levels dropping off.

With Barry Conlon, Willy Topp, Luke Medley and Omar Daley all capable of playing up front, Stuart looks more spoiled, relatively, in this department than any other City boss in years. A scenario similar to how his mentor Neil Warnock managed his strikers, heavy rotation, is easy to imagine. If this works, fine; but it can be a dangerous game and lead to loss of form and confidence.

Disregard an injury-plagued 2003/04 campaign and Beckett’s 12-goal haul this season is the worst of his career. Looking set to drop down a level and with a point to prove, we look set to finally be able to cheer at the sight of the Sheffield-born forward hitting the back of the net.

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