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.

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