Carl McHugh and contextual positioning

The more I watch football the more I am convinced that the game is more about character than it is about positions.

That prefaces the following statement: that I do not know if positions are everything or nothing in football. I veer from one conclusion to the other.

When I was a younger man positions were simple. Goalie, right backs, left wingers and so on. It was easy to look at the teams of the 1970s and put a man in a hole.

Easy but wrong. Because there was an increasingly level of subtlety to those positions. You can blame Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley if you wish. In Mexico in 1986 they played up front together for England and by no means were they both just “strikers”.

And so terms like “drop off man”, “goalgetter” and “in the hole” started and those are functional but following them as a train of thought takes you to a conclusions which is that in describing the positions in which Lineker and Beardsley played one was actually describing the tasks they performed.

Which rendered the need to talk about positions obsolete. There was a task to do on a football field of getting the ball in the area between the defensive line and the midfield and that was what Beardsley did. That he did it from “attack” rather than “midfield” is largely irrelevant because on the whole he was spending his time in that position.

Add David Platt to the England team following Beardsley’s (premature) exit and you have a player in the same position who is titularly a midfielder not a forward. Have Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard Jnr in your team and it may say that one is a striker and one is a midfielder in the Panini sticker album but both are spending 90 minutes in the same square footage of the field. That is a problem that England never mastered.

And so these tasks became described as roles which and the notion of positions was refined with more granularity. Words like “holding midfielder” came into the lexicon of the modern football supporter and that was no bad thing.

But the more that tasks were named the less importance on the fact that those tasks needed to be carried out was obvious. Someone needs to win a ball back in midfield and that is described as a “holding job” and rapidly came to seem like an option rather than a necessity.

Which is where I veer. If described in enough granularity positions are everything in football. If thrown around they are meaningless and ignore the importance of the tasks that need to be performed.

Wayne Jacobs talks about Phil Parkinson’s use of Carl McHugh and Matthew Bates at left back and does so with an authority. “Matthew’s right-footed and that causes a problem when you try to link up and get down the left wing. He is obviously tempted to drive infield. I’ve been really impressed with Carl’s attitude… however he is a centre half and sometimes if you come up against a real out-and-out winger, agility and movement can be an issue when you’re playing in that role.”

Which was obvious when McHugh faced Jamie Murphy of Sheffield United who exposed those flaws in his game away at the Blades. At home to Port Vale and MK Dons had wide players who pressed less and were happy to contain. This let McHugh perform a different set of tasks, ones he was more comfortable with, and thus did better at. From that we might conclude that the statement “he can play left back” is – in some way – contextual.

Peter Jackson goes there and back again as City look for experience

Peter Jackson’s young Bradford City team are more passionate and hungrier than the squad he inherited from Peter Taylor. Take Guy Branston out the starting eleven and the average age of the players is in the low twenties.

The aims that Jackson – and the club – made clear in the summer is that in putting together a young team the manager is creating a future for the club. The last four season – three under Stuart McCall and one under Taylor – have seen four different teams with a half dozen players changed every time. These “overhauls” were the subject of Jackson’s close season planning. They were to become a thing of the past. That is the plan.

Or was the plan. Today news comes out of the club that City are looking for experienced players. Ignore, for the moment, the idea that the Bantams are talking about breaking the budget offsetting that mentally against the £200,000 raised by playing Leeds United which was offered for Romain Vincelot and consider the sort of signings which Mark Lawn is referring to.

Maybe bringing in a couple more experienced players to help the young kids out will help. That’s what we are trying to search for and do – Mark Lawn

Think back less than twelve months to Lee Hendrie’s short time at Valley Parade. An experienced player, one who performed well, and then vanished leaving us with a few more points that we had before he arrived but nothing we could take forward with us. The point of the plans of the summer was to stop short term recruitment. Has this plan really been reversed after five games?

If – as with Hendrie – bringing in old heads gets a few points what impact will it have on the players who were brought in with the promise that they would play

When some players aren’t performing, I know there’s back-up now. We might bring in a young player and put him out on loan. We can still keep a close check on him and bring him back ready to put in the team – Peter Jackson

Which is to say nothing about the fact that the problems that have caused City’s early season form is not the fault of the players but rather of the way they are playing. We could bring in Wayne Rooney but if we whack the ball at him over sixty yards and expect him to do pinpoint knock downs to a single team mate against six opposition defenders then we would get the same return out of him than we do from James Hanson.

Player for player you could swap out someone, and put in someone experienced and not make a massive difference with the players playing in the way – and in the shape – they were in the previous two 1-0 defeats (or rather at the time of concessions in the previous two 1-0 defeats, Chris Mitchell’s midfield role at Accrington was very useful.)

City’s best performance of the season saw a free interchange of the two midfielders David Syers and Michael Flynn with Jack Compton and Mark Stewart. Much of the play which has resulted in few chances has been static with players lacking any dynamics in their performances. Ross Hannah and James Hanson have been pressed against the back line constantly, the midfield has been a straight line, the full backs never getting past the wide men.

Of course Peter Jackson is not standing on the touchline screaming at Ross Hannah to not drop between the lines or Liam Moore to never go beyond Michael Bryan (we hope) but it is the role of the coaching staff to emphasise that need. Perhaps bringing in an experienced player, putting him on the field for a month, and pointing at him while telling Hannah et al that one should “do that” is a way for Jackson to educate his squad but it seems like a big turn around in a short space of time.

Everyone would be a football manager and everyone has their ideas on how a team should play. Mine involve supporting full backs, a drop off striker, one man wide and one tight in the midfield and a holding man to win the ball back. It is that last position – someone to sit deep in the midfield – which Jackson’s side lacks but every other position to play the way I would is covered in the current squad.

The same is true for Jackson. Bringing in Michael Bryan simply duplicated what Dominic Rowe was doing in pre-season. He has four different strikers: One who is superb in the air, one who is rangy and fast, one who drops deep and moves, and one who finishes well and has a stinging shot; but he has no supply to them. Jack Compton could provide that but seldom does he come have options around him when he gets the ball, nor does he get the ball in dangerous positions. Perhaps the players at City could not do the jobs that Jackson wants them to, but they should be given a chance to show what they can do in an organised team.

Poor early season form was expected and the manifestation of that is not especially enjoyable to watch but less enjoyable is the idea that the club is prepared to give up the plans of the summer because of a few bad results.

Years of refusal

A midfielder has refused to have a medical with Bradford City today seemingly ending the chances of his joining the club next season.

You can make your own mind up which of the players linked to the club is likely to be the man who has knocked back Peter Jackson in his chase for an experienced middle man. Gary Jones previous turned down City’s overtures, there is speculation that today’s refusal is Tommy Miller formerly of Hartlepool United. City seem to be finding that having finished a half dozen places above the bottom of the football league most players are finding that there are better offers, and plenty of them.

Jackson’s ambition in highlighting good players to bring in causes some consternation – the club missing out on targets in public is never good for morale – but there were few rivals for the signatures of Luke Cornwall or Robert Wolleaston and there was a reason for that. If you aim high, you get frustrated more often, but sometimes you get your man. After all it was Newcastle United who got the first bid accepted for Wayne Rooney from Everton, and the same logic won them the signature of Michael Owen.

Not all plans work out as you would want them to.

Jackson moves onto a another target and while some might worry about this one struggles to recall much of a difference in the success rate for players signed earlier to later in the close season. Ashley Ward was signed the day before City went to Liverpool for the opening day of the second Premiership season and turned out to be not much more use than a plank of wood, Dan Petrescu was signed in ample time and arguably performed worse.

There are – for sure – a group of players who you would like to snap up sooner rather than later like Brentford bound Clayton Donaldson but the idea of making all your recruitment before mid-July even when you have missed out on your top targets seems flawed. The fact that Jackson and City have tried to bring in unreachable players just underlines the need for Archie Christie and his scouting network to identify the right targets.

If City are serious about building a future rather than going gung-ho for promotion again then sixteen year old Scott Brown is a better choice than whomever can be scrambled in after all the players we want have knocked us back.

Jackson is understood to be switching attentions to Oxford United’s Simon Heslop or Anthony Grant of Southend United but that is just rumours and gossip. If only there was a way to get to Peter Jackson’s phone messages.

For Miller – if it is he – one cannot wonder if he had been signed by the club “subject to a medical” and has had second thoughts – or a better offer – which he wants to explore. The vast majority of people in the real world who accept a position at a company have a wait for contract to arrive through the post and before it goes back with a John Hancock on it are able to look for a better offer.

In the time after talking to City and agreeing the deal should the agent picks up the phone to some League One club who have shown an mild interest and tell them that his lad has a contract for Bradford City signed seal and delivered but can get out of it if that extra £200 a week they talked about might be found…

If the mystery midfielder turns up at Huddersfield Town or similar next week then City have been played for sure, but it is hard to see how one avoids that apart from going for players that no one else wants, and where is the good in that?

Post script Peter Jackson confirmed that Tommy Miller was the player in question, but denied that Miller had refused to take a medical.

Clayton Donaldson and Bradford City: head vs heart

To the unobserved, the battle to secure League Two hotshot Clayton Donaldson’s signature would place Bradford City as rank outsiders. Championship outfit Coventry City, newly-promoted to League One Chesterfield and moneybags league newcomers Crawley Town are among a host of clubs said to be chasing the 29-goal striker; and so the appeal of a failing League Two side which has recently struggled to pay their players would seem limited.

Yet the Bantams have an emotional attraction to Donaldson that no other interested party can match, and newly confirmed manager Peter Jackson is hoping romanticism can override career progression or opulence in swaying Donaldson to head to Valley Parade. Born in Manningham and having grown up in the youth set-up until being shown the door at 15, Bradford City has one distinct advantage over all the other clubs trying to secure his signature – he has actually dreamed of playing for them.

But will that be enough? The psyche of a footballer is one we supporters regularly struggle to understand. While we will all have shared childhood afflictions of wanting to play for our football club, somewhere along the line that passion for one team seems to disappear in professional footballers and an outlook that a club is an employer, rather than an institution, takes over.

Sure we supporters, in our own careers, can sometimes hold a special affection for our employers and be loyal enough not to move on, but a job is a job and ultimately it’s up to our employer to keep us happy or we’ll get itchy feet. Many footballers seemingly view clubs in a similar way.

Yes, it’s a privileged career and most decent footballers know and appreciate that, but one can imagine the sort of frustrations we have with our own jobs and employers being replicated by players: “The wages are rubbish compared to what we could be earning elsewhere”, “I hate the boss”, “I’m sick of how we’re treated.” However special it is to play football, it is, at the end of the day, their job.

So footballers who have gone onto truly live those childhood ambitions of becoming heroes for their club are few and far between. Wayne Rooney still talks of being an Everton supporter, but didn’t stick around at Goodison Park for very long. It’s difficult to argue with his reasoning either, as he prepares to take part in his third Champions League final for Manchester United this evening. But as he hopes to score the winning goal against Barcelona, who’s to say he didn’t harbour childhood dreams of playing in the European Cup final for Everton?

Meanwhile Steven Gerrard, Liverpool born and bred, continues to play for his underachieving team. He’s had some tempting offers to move on in the past and came close to doing so, but he’s forgone career progression and trophies to continue flying the flag for Liverpool – at times truly appearing as though he is walking alone with a bunch of average team mates. His had a great career for sure, but somehow the fact he’s arguably the finest English midfielder of the past decade isn’t widely recognised because he’s not at the summit of his sport. These days he doesn’t even get to play in the Champions League.

Does Gerrard care? Probably, but playing for his beloved team is more important to him.

But it’s not just about who you grew up supporting. Stuart McCall didn’t support City as a kid, but no one would dispute that his feelings for the club are as strong as any of us supporters. Michael Flynn will have even less reason to care, but despite failing to hit the heights last season the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch demonstrates 100% commitment to our cause. Jackson has recently stated he wants to find players who truly want to play for City, and although he wanted to release Flynn he probably has the ideal man to build this vision of a team around.

Disappointingly in recent years, it’s rarely been the case that City players have been bothered enough about playing for the Bantams over another club. Two years ago I personally felt hugely sad that Dean Furman and Nicky Law opted not to sign permanently for City, after successful loan spells. Furman in particular was very popular with supporters, and his reasoning not to stay on at Valley Parade – because he wanted to play at the highest level possible – seemed unfulfilling when he rocked up at Oldham.

Sure it was a division higher, but with crowds at Boundary Park half the size of City it hardly looked a glamorous step up. Instead he could have remained at City, built on his reputation and became a true cult hero at a football club who would be talked about for decades after.

Similarly Law – who was said to have been put off from signing for City by the reduced likelihood of a promotion push that next season (2009/10) – chose Rotherham for the Millers’ greater potential and more lucrative salary. Two years on Law remains in the same division as City – though in fairness he might have been part of Blackpool’s Premier League adventure after Rotherham turned down a bid from the Seasiders 18 months ago – and his career has only minimally progressed.

So what of Donaldson? If you were in his shoes, would you want to re-sign for a club who once rejected you and who seem unlikely to rise up the leagues in the near future, just because it’s your hometown? Would you not want to play in the sizable Ricoh Arena for Coventry against clubs like Birmingham and Cardiff, two divisions higher? Would the no doubt lure of higher wages at Crawley persuade you to move South, talking up how impressed you are by the club’s “ambition”?

There are a number of similarities to City’s chase for Donaldson and the hunt for Michael Boulding three years ago. Boulding had scored 25 goals for a relegated League Two side, and a host of clubs made advances. City, in a much stronger financial position and publically talking up achieving back-to-back promotions, were a leading club in the chase. Boulding signed, but it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. While Boulding argues otherwise, you wonder whether he cared enough about City when the chips were down. Certainly he was too often anonymous in games for my liking.

This time around City, with Donaldson, are somewhere near the back of the queue to sign him. If the decision is taken by the head overruling the heart, the Bantams have no chance. But if the desire to be a hero at the club he grew up supporting – in front of his family and friends – is more important, Donaldson will be coming home.

And for Jackson the pursuit of Donaldson is a no-brainer. Because, if he gets his man, he can be confident Donaldson will be signing for reasons he wants all of his team to personify next season.

Lewis the Gladiator

Stand at the base of the Roman Colosseum and look up and it is hard to imagine the position of the Gladiator and how he was so loathed by the populous.

The Romans considered Gladiators to be the lowest of the low – beneath contempt – and shunned them from society but as they did they venerated them. The digs of Roman sites in England or in Germany and so on and one will find evidence of the fame and adoration associated with those who were successful combatants.

That was life as a Gladiator. They would make a pot for you, the Romans, but they would never invite you for dinner nor afford you anything like the hand of friendship. Perhaps – with some reason – they thought it not worth the effort expected you to be dead tomorrow.

Perhaps in two thousand years there will be a dig that unearths evidence of Lewis Hunt’s time at Bradford City etched onto an urn but one doubts it. It seems that Hunt – who has played nineteen times for City this season – will not play for the club unless he agrees to drop the mechanism in his contract that awards him a new deal should he play twenty games. Peter Jackson has asked him if he does not mind signing a new deal on less money, and his refusal to do so and subsequent ostracisation from the first team squad, was gathered under the term “personal reasons” when that omission was talked about at the weekend.

Hunt moved to City last summer following Peter Taylor from Wycombe Wanderers seemingly set for a season of being the reserve to Simon Ramsden at right back and spending a good few months injured himself. He is 28 and City offered him a year with a year extension should he prove his worth which he obviously has. Having been given that offer, and fulfilled his side of the bargain, there seems to be very little reason why Hunt should agree that he should take less money from the club.

I recognise that Hunt is not everyone’s cup of tea and – like Luke Oliver – his honest endeavours are forever tainted by his association with the previous manager but while the right back is no Cafu he is a League Two player who has done what is asked of him and now has the club wanting to get out of the deal they made with him.

Why should Hunt be treated like this? The answer, seemingly, is because he is a professional footballer and as with his counterpart of ancient Rome is in a position where he is both lionised and loathed. He will be cheered and held to a standard in the arena but outside it he will not be extended the considerations offered to other men.

Football is full of examples of this duality. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is talked of as having a responsibly to be a role model (which is most often mentioned when he fails to live up to the standards other set for him, although is an example of how he is lionised) but when he does something that anyone else would take as a right and negotiates the best financial deal for himself he is greeted with a public reaction which says he has not the right to do so, or that if he does he should not avail himself of it.

John Terry is similarly lionised but is not afforded the right to a private life which those who do laud him take for granted. Sol Campbell expected to take any abuse given to him because of his “interactions” with this lionisation culture. That we have got to this situation where we will have a poster of a footballer up on the wall but would not invite one into the house is a comment on society rather than the game itself but in that situation we are and the results of it are manifest at clubs around the country.

Players are treated as disposable by clubs. They are to do what they are to excel when they are wanted and quietly disappear when they are not. When they are being courted by a club then they are made promises which – when they are not – they are expected to accept will be broken.

I believe that there is a competitive advantage to be gained by bringing together a stable squad on contracts of a good length rather than replacing them on a yearly basis. That when Lewis Hunt leaves he will be replaced with a player of similar abilities who is less settled, and that will effect his ability to put in a performance, and so underperformance continues. That is a side issue, but the last half a dozen years have shown how single season contract perform on the whole.

Lewis Hunt made a deal with the club and fulfilled his end of it. The club do not want to fulfil their side of it and by withdrawing him from the match day squad do not have to but it makes me uncomfortable to see by club putting pressure on a player to let them break the deal.

Outside of the game this would be condemned as highly questionable behaviour by any business but the footballer – as with the Gladiator – suffers from being loathed as much as he is lionised.

Well Done Omar Daley

Reading something on the official City website warmed my heart. The weeks top news has to be Wayne Rooney and his disgraceful attitude towards his current employers, and so my thoughts turned to players who really did put their employers before their own personal greed.

Take a bow Omar Daley.

Not everyone’s favourite player at City granted, but there are very few players at VP who can play with the pace of Omar. Peter Taylor has made no bones about it; a fully fit Omar contributing the way we know he can is a cert on the team sheet and rightly so. But whilst many City fans have given him stick in the past, no-one can doubt his loyalty to the clubs cause this time.

In the article Omar states how he has pulled out of international duty to play for the Bantams. This comes from his gratitude at the club sticking by him through last seasons injury nightmare, for not consoling him to the scrap heap, for committing to him like we hope he commits to us. And this refreshing attitude coming from a player we would probably least expect it from based on some of the body language he sometimes portrays.

This says a couple of things about City’s current situation; when your winning everyone wants to play, everyone wants the ball and everyone enjoys training. Is it the winning feeling that has ironed out the early season dross from our memories? Or is Mr Taylor finally getting through to his players as to what he expects and them all getting used to each other.

I haven’t been at any of the last 3 games due to family commitments, but from what I hear we look more attacking. Is this because Taylor has had attack minded players fit enough to play, or is it because he has decided that offence is the best form of defence?

Whichever of the 2 this is, Omar deserves a good reception at the next home game for his commitment to the cause. I for one applaud you sir.

The hypocrisy of loyalty in football

If you had a desire to you could have carpeted from one side of Manchester to the other with the column inches of talk about Wayne Rooney that accused the player of lacking loyalty to Manchester United before he his signed the five year deal this week.

It was not that the likes of Mark Lawrenson when taking a side swipe Rooney failed to see the irony in suggesting that a player who was signed from Everton in a transfer that gazumpt another club’s bid should be subject to loyalty it is that the notion of loyalty in football is evoked at all.

There is a harking back to some bygone age where it is supposed this loyalty in which players would remain with clubs for reasons of gratitude existed – it did not but pre-Bosman players had fewer mechanisms for exiting contracts – but even if that were the case it would be at most half of the story.

The loyalty demanded of players to clubs is seldom returned. At every level of a football club loyalty is demanded but not given. Chairmen, managers, fans. They all want a player to be loyal to them but rarely give that loyalty back.

Not given to the ageing pro who wants a contract to take him to 36 but is offered two years left. Not offered to the player who breaks a leg and comes back gingerly judged to have “lost it” and moved on. Not offered to the player going through poor form or poor performances on the field. The bellowing of “get rid of him” is heard up and down the land and has little to do with the loyalty which is demanded if Rooney now.

The brother’s Boulding

Take, if you will, the Brothers Boulding who left Valley Parade after a change of manager. Michael Boulding had taken a pay cut to remain with City at one point yet as the two faced up to a new face in the dressing room they were soon shown the door.

Whatever one thinks of the players as players would could not argue that that was a football club showing loyalty. Not the sort of loyalty which is wistfully discussed when talking about Rooney. That one side should ignore the financial implications and the transient nature of the player joining a club and carry on.

How does football reward loyalty anyway? The games does not even have the equivalent of a carriage clock that the player being put out to pasture could tell his former employers to take and shove it.

Off the field a reading of statistics makes a lie of the idea of loyal supporters who come season in season out. Statistician Simon Kuper illustrates that each season at a typical ground half the supporters will not have been at the equivalent game the season before.

Indeed when one looks at the millions of pounds that are put into Old Trafford by supporters and taken out by the Glazier family one could make an argument that Rooney done United fans a favour. Reports have it that Rooney talked to Joel Glazier before his Roo-Turn and got promises about how much money would go into the team and how much would flow into his chairman’s pocket. Manchester United – remember – have not stopped making money they have just started to give it to the family of American who own them rather than spend it on the squad.

At all clubs – and certainly at Bradford City – there are moments when one wishes a player or manager would have stood up to those who owned the club in this way. The £8m paid out in dividends at the start of the Premiership first season to the Rhodes and Richmond families has always been controversial at City. If manager Paul Jewell or captain Stuart McCall had told Richmond that they money goes back into the club or they walk would they have been doing supporters a disservice? Would that have been loyalty?

The myth of loyalty

Football loves the myth of loyalty, but it is a myth and it is so not because of the players but to suit the needs of clubs which are at the behest of the whims of supporters who demand action for improvement.

Changing players, or managers, gives the appearance of action but is seldom it. Where is the loyalty to Jon Bateson who puts in a good first season and then is cast aside in favour of a player the (new) manager has worked with before?

Few would say Lewis Hunt represents an improvement on Bateson so for the disregarding of loyalty – such as it is – what improvement is there? Is it change or the appearance of change?

Football has no loyalty and clubs want it that way. The ability to sack a manager or bring in new faces are – and always have been – a slight of hand that clubs employ to distract from the lack if a broader improvement.

Occasionally a Rooney is the focus, showing a disregard for what we would like to see as loyalty, but most often the players are cast away by clubs who consider that loyalty a disadvantage.

Me, Wayne Rooney and the entire Bradford City team

It is hard to write a 9,000 word user testing report on a website without the W key on your keyboard but nevertheless that was the situation your humble writer found himself in this week.

More of that later. Wayne Rooney, one time England and Manchester United star who has seen his stock and status fall to the level of simply “player” is angling for a move away from Old Trafford. Words like “betrayal” are floating around with United suggesting it had been harbouring – a curious choice of words – Rooney from many a storm for years and his exit is an act of disloyalty.

It is not know which of the Bradford City players stayed loyal in their hearts to Peter Taylor during the long weeks of defeat but a five o’clock last Saturday the team exited the field as one.

The 3-1 win over Cheltenham Town was as impressive as the plaudits suggested. One swallow, it is said, does not make a summer but to extend the adage when you start seeing the swallows you get a feeling the sunshine is not far behind.

There is a magic to football that is impossible to quantify but that was seen at City over the last two weeks. Players meshed together into the team that they could not have looked further from being in the 1-0 defeat to Morecambe.

What had Peter Taylor done on the training ground to take the hapless and bring back the, well, hap? What was the difference in those two weeks?

Over in Manchester Sir Ferguson has a similar problem with his want-away forward who for all his talk of million pound a month contracts has looked slovenly since the end of last season. The kind of turn around City have managed in performance is very much the one which Rooney and his England colleagues failed to manifest. Rooney, the Luke Oliver of the piece, is still in the hangover.

Ferguson’s talk of disloyalty from a player who was famous once a blue and thus always a blue falls on deaf ears. Rooney might have been marketed as Manchester United but like the vast majority of players up and down the land he is a hired hand.

United pay him, he puts in his effort. An amicable exchange and what can be expected perhaps. To care, not just work but care, instantly for a club simply because they pay your wages: only Jason Price can do that.

Which is not to say that players are not invested emotionally, Price’s roar as Lee Hendrie scored City’s second last week was heartfelt and perhaps he of the hair is on a mission to move The Bantams up League Two, but that the gap between what is expected from those who are hired and delivered by those people in situ is the stuff of management, or magic, or both.

Indeed the broken W key is not the stuff of motivation and, as a contractor and being the loan player of the web design world, one was left with the idea that money is paid on bringing one into an organisation but that that money is not most efficiently spent owing to a saving elsewhere.

Perhaps Jason Price felt the same looking at the training ground at Apperly Bridge and perhaps the small fix – I got a new keyboard for the not too shabby iMac – was heading for match day and a Valley Parade in impressive voice.

Certainly little has changed with these events over time. Rooney is neither a better nor worse equipped mammal for kicking a ball about and City’s training pitch is no better or worse than it was before the Morecambe game.

Nevertheless changes have been afoot and Peter Taylor will hope they are long lasting.

Taylor takes the team to Burton Albion in good form. Jon McLaughlin keeps goal, Burton have a keeper in Kevin Poole who is over twice City’s stoppers age.

Reece Brown is expected to carry on at right back while Oliver Gill and Steve Williams played well enough to suggest that that partnership will not be broken up. Luke O’Brien at left back enjoys a rare support for a hometown player, a stark contrast to the unfounded criticisms of last season.

Both Gill and Brown are due to return to Manchester after this game and while Peter Taylor has indicated that he would like another month from both should they go back they would to a changed Old Trafford. Brown’s brother Wes was considered a United stalwart but in the last month has fallen out with Alex Ferguson while Oliver Gill’s father David is facing increasing pressure because of the situation with Rooney. Gill Senior is seen fronting up the board who are using money which could keep Wayne to pay the interest on their own loans.

The midfield of Tommy Doherty and David Syers had guile and enthusiasm and keeps Lee Bullock and Tom Ademeyi out of the side for now.

Taylor drew Doherty to him at the start of the season with the same kind of loyalty which is talked about as being lacking with Rooney. The midfielder struggles through injury for his manager, does not let him down.

Doherty seemed to be City skipper in waiting but despite the armband floating around the dressing room freely the Ulsterman has yet to take it up. Rather Lee Hendrie wears it and performs in a way that befits previous owners Luke David Wetherall and (shhhh!) Stuart McCall. Hendrie’s goal last season was celebrated for many reasons one of which must have been the idea that the player who has lost years to injury would never enjoy that feeling again.

As Hendrie impressed on the left Leon Osbourne continued to be useful on the right. Osborne’s emergence as a reasonably exciting player pre-dated him as a useful one and Taylor, who seems to take a special interest in the winger, will be pleased the faith shown in him is being repaid with practical displays. Osbourne, more than any City player, seems to do what he is told most often.

A settled midfield four seems set to stay as is which a few weeks ago seemed a remote prospect as did the return of James Hanson – brilliant last week – who is likely to be paired with loan signing Jason Price.

The impact of Price is hard to understand. As a player he performed well but not so much to suggest he would establish near instant cult hero status. Expect to see a wig on every third fan soon and why not? Too often City fans allow the negative side to outweigh the positive and allow the fun to seep out of the game. City fans are not alone in that as the growling Manchester United supporters are testament too.

Sometimes you have to appreciate what you have and ignore, if you can, a broken W key.

How far with the lesson of Germany reach?

Self flagellation has always been popular in English football and when the national side returned home from a World Cup 4-1.5ing by Germany the press and players had already begun to whip itself in a freeze of internalised loathing showing the defining characteristic of the media approach to the game: That the game is played by England and other sides are the subject of that.

So when England play well – nine out of ten in qualifying – it is because of our abilities and when we lose it is the lack of those which is the problem and credit is never extended to the opposition. Watching Germany ram four past Argentina though could cause cause for a pause. However poor one might feel England were either Argentina (and Australia) were equal to that or – perhaps – there is something worth noticing going on in Joachim Löw’s side.

There has been a consensus that the Germans – who played a central five in the midfield with an average age of just under 23 years old – have stolen a march on the World because of that youth and freshness and there is much to be said for the way that they have blooded their younger players. 25 year old Schweinsteiger is on his second World Cup. So is Wayne Rooney, scratch that idea then.

Much is also made about the formation which Fabio Capello – and Diego Maradona – employed compared to Löw’s Germans and suddenly the word “fourfourtwo” is becoming something of a negative in the English game. One can almost hear now managers up and down the country being charged with the idea that they – like Capello – lack the imagination to play a more exotic tactic and one can expect three months of randomly thrown together formations up and down football.

Freakish results will mark the start of the season as teams who deploy something more “characterful” than the 442 which has fallen from fashion. As Clough said “There is a lot of rubbish talked about tactics by people who would not know how to win a game of Dominoes.”

Not that this will effect Peter Taylor who has signed the players and settled on a 433 at Valley Parade and City can make hay as League Two players are deployed in fanciful ways to little effect. Finding a way of playing and sticking to it is perhaps the most important thing.

On the fourfourtwo one can say that while it may have faults when playing three games every four years in the World Cup in the cut and thrust of two games a week for nine months the simplicity, adaptability and ease of the approach is the reason for its enduring popularity. Week to week football requires not a surgeon’s tool but a Swiss Army Knife, which is what fourfourtwo is.

The German’s 4231 – originally a formation played in Portugal because of the freedom it gives to the kind of attacking midfielder that that nation excels in producing such as Luis Figo, Joao Pinto and his brother Sergio – is nothing especially new.

The lesson of the Germans is not in tactics but in the deployment of players within those formations. The heart of the German side is Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira who play the deep set midfielder role in a revolutionary manner. Popular conception has it that the two in a 4231 should be holding midfielders and ball winners but Löw’s pairing are more box to box players capable of tackling and getting behind the ball for sure but also able to be used as a spring board for attacking play.

For Schweinsteiger and Khedira there is no need to look for a passer after taking the ball – the pair are equipped to play in the three more forward midfielder – increasing the speed of the counter attack and its accuracy. What they loose in not having a Claude Makelele they gain in rapidity of play creating a nod to total football ideology. As Schweinsteiger plays the ball forward so Mesut Özil or Lukas Podolski or Thomas Müller can drop back and tackle.

This is a stark contrast to the approach that many – myself included – have to for example the English midfield which agonises over the choice between attacking players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and ball winners like Gareth Barry. The roles are as split as centre forward and full back but not for Löw’s Germans.

There is a plan for sure and positions – this is not total football Dutch style – but the less rigid assignment of player roles gives a fluidity which England, Australia and Argentina have been incapable of living with. The jobs are done in that German engine room but – crucially – the players who do them have the ability and remit to do each other’s tasks.

Even Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano – as fine a pair of specialised players as one could see – looked old fashioned and stolid in comparison and as Schweinsteiger surged to the left touchline and set up a second goal it seemed obviously that if Germany could prevent Messi emulating that then Mascherano simply would not attempt it.

The granularity of positions – especially in the midfield – has become something of a mantra for modern football and one recalls Lee Crooks and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson but struggles to think of them both as “midfielders” rather one as a holder, the other as an attacker. The same could be said about Dean Furman and Nicky Law although perhaps not about Michael Flynn and Lee Bullock.

Indeed whatever lessons are emanating from the German side at the moment Peter Taylor seems to have adopted. His midfield trio next season are Flynn, Bullock and Tommy Doherty and none of them fit easily into the idea of being players only able to – or only ready to – performing a single role.

It remains to be seen what lessons the game as a whole take from World Cup 2010 and if those lessons create a path to success but City seem to be ahead of a curve that is coming and should that bring the same rewards for the Bantams as it has for the previously unfavoured Germans then next season could be a good year indeed.

What type of England team do we want?

One which beats Germany, obviously, but in the last two weeks the England team has been questioned and answered those questions on the field with a good performance that deserved more than the 1-0.

The adjectives directed at England after the win over Slovenia were muted in comparison to those tagged to the team when playing poorly. Most of these can be crossed off against each other with every “Worst. Team. Ever” being the opposite of “World Beaters” and cancelling each other out.

What we are left with though are comments like “overpaid” and “arrogant” of which there is are no counter-balances. After beating Slovenia no one said that the players earned their wages, that they seemed humble, that they were good value for money.

Which paints the picture of the England side we have. It is considered arrogant and over paid but as long as it does not under perform then we tend to be happy enough. Outside of World Cup years – and in the cases of clubs like Manchester United inside them too – no one much cares about the England side on a day to say basis. As long it can harbour optimism while the club sides wend their way on then everyone seems content.

Content but not happy. John Terry’s life over the last year has not be plain sailing either in or away from football. His tabloid exposure earlier cast him low and he had the England captaincy taken from him but he won the league and cup double with Chelsea and his rehabilitation was enhanced as he dove headlong for a face-tackle to put England into the second round.

While John Terry was putting his head in the way of the ball Wayne Bridge was at home counting his money. Not hard to see why Terry is coming back to the national heart, if not being held close.

Alas though the nation seems set to keep England away from its heart – the place where Cheryl and not Ashley Cole is, the place where Gary Lineker was and Wayne Rooney might hope to be – and continue with the adjectives.

Arrogant, over-paid, under-performing. The England side hold the same position in our culture that Gladiators held in Ancient Rome. They were cheered and lauded whilst being loathed and looked down upon. We are invited to look at laugh at Mr and Mrs Rooney and the gaucheness of their lifestyle but he is expected to perform for our delight and be a target for our anger.

Perhaps then – as Fabio Capello takes his team to play the Germans and hyperbole awaits regardless of the result – it is worth considering what kind of England team the national heart would want to see.

Firstly there is the count of being arrogant which would be easily solved by the FA adopting a behavioural code which would cover anything considered to be “unbecoming of an England player”. This code would be as changeable as the charge of “bringing the game into disrepute” but in essence a group of men in a room at the FA would pass judgement on the play and lives of the England squad.

So John Terry would be out – conduct unbecoming of an England player – and most probably Rooney would be too as a result of his fiery temper in Manchester United games. Frank Lampard left his wife for a younger woman and would no doubt also be guilty of conduct unbecoming of an England player should there be a sense of moral outrage and perhaps too so would Ashley Cole for his reported womanising.

A moral stand to render the squad of humble – or at least strike of those who are not – and as a result the quality of the side would suffer but the national heart would have a team it could invite round to tea.

Ridding England of the idea that the players are overpaid is tougher but not impossible. If we take the idea that £30,000 is a reasonable wage for a man on the street who is doing well and multiple that figure by four for the lifespan of a footballer then the FA simply make a decision that no player who earns more than £120,000 a year – £2,300 a week – can be picked for the England squad.

Pretty much all of the senior Premiership and the Championship players would be ruled out of representing for the Three Lions and to be honest a few of the clubs at the top of League One would probably pay more than that but probably half the way down the third tier of English football one would find no shortage of people who fancied paying for England – provided they behaved – and would be immune to the idea that they are over-paid.

One could add to that a good few young players from the top two divisions too and one would have an England side which – along with the behaviour rules – would be well behaved and paid what would be considered a fair wage and thus be immune to those criticisms. They would probably also be immune to World Cup qualification too with the majority of sides in Europe taking their players from the leagues we would ignore.

Nevertheless there would be a kind of glory in watching the honourable side battling to finish above Wales or Northern Ireland – who would provide good examples of the quality of squad we would have – and as a bonus the FA could offer centralised contracts which would allow them to loan these players to clubs and take them back for lengthier England meet ups.

The team would be unrecognisable but it would be free from the criticism of being paid too much, being too arrogant or under-performing although that would be largely because it would not be expected to perform nor would it have the capabilities to. Most games would have the feel of the third round of the FA Cup and any point would be hard won. Performances could be good, better than the sum of the parts, but it is highly unlikely the side would even get to a play-off for the World Cup.

Victory is the key – victory in qualifying, in friendlies, in the World Cup – and the accusation of under-performing will continue should these victories not be frequent. The English play Germany on Sunday and punditry has it that after that we will play Argentina and then Brazil which represent the only three teams in the World the English side are allowed to lose to, and only in the case of penalties with the Germans.

Everyone else England must beat or be under-performing so high are expectations although meeting those expectations. The glorious exit or – perhaps – the victory and we answer the question “What type of England team do we want?” saying “This one, for all the faults.”

Capello contemplates his choice of headlines

If the world laughed at the New York Post’s headline of USA Win 1-1 then one wonders what it will make of the booing, the dressing room invasions and the paraphrasing of Churchill that has come following England’s failure to beat Algeria?

Perhaps it was Wayne Rooney’s questioning of the booing as not being loyal support which has seen the morning newspapers give the nation’s side an easier ride than perhaps expected. A collective breath taken by editors who realise that having spent the best part of two months talking about how committed to the English cause they are Rooney is right to say that turning on the team at this stage is no definition of loyal support.

The agitator-in-chief The Sun opted for a photograph of a few of the players with the the phrase “Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered to so many” and there is – for once – some merit in the statement. England’s players stand accused of offering little, of performing poorly, of not achieving and while the counter to that – that the support was not up to much either – might be true the inter-relationship between the one and the other mitigates neither.

The French – who lost rather than drew and have not the luxury of a fate in their own hands as England do – woke up to the quote as headline too “Va te faire enculer sale fils de pute” in L’Equipe over a photograph of Raymond Domenech being talked to by Nicolas Anelka which translated includes some of the words that Zidane reacted to so badly in the last World Cup final and serves to put a further nail in the coach’s coffin and see Anelka sent home.

The German Kicker seemed less upset with the 1-0 defeat to the Serbs with the headline Deutschland Katerland which either means Germany Are Tomcats or more likely Germany’s Hangover. Perhaps there is a correlation between strength of the rebuke for the former two nations and the relaxed nature of the third that ties to the carefree opening performance of German and the stolid, disjointed nature of the French and English.

Certainly Capello – not enjoying his 64th birthday over much – is mystified by the way his team fails to mesh suggesting that perhaps the pressure of playing in the World Cup finals gets to his players turning Rooney from the best player in the World to a pedestrian in the side. There is much sports psychology which would agree that the fear of failure is the most significant cause of failure.

Mental problems though are the very stuff of international football management. A dozen sides are equally good enough to win yet only one does and it is a combination of luck and belief which selects that side. Fabio Capello has had none of the former but seems to have built little of the latter although it is worth noting that the two best performances for England came from two players the Italian had publicly thrown full weight behind: Jamie Carragher and David James.

Belief is a problem as are selection and formation. Capello has not addressed the recurrent problem with Frank Lampard’s positioning that sees the Chelsea man undisciplined and too ready to wander away from his duties. Perhaps Lampard has been detailed by the previous three England managers who wander away from his midfield team mate and is simply disciplined to a different role but that role clearly works less well and England are more effective when they have and hold possession in the midfield. Lampard’s arriving late in the box gets in the way of Rooney’s dropping off and there is room for only one in the side.

That Capello has inherited this problem from the timid Steve McLaren and not solved it is surprisingly ineffectual for a manager of his standing in the game and perhaps suggests an issue not with how well Capello knows football – that is not under debate – but how well he knows English football. The England manager is seen at a Premiership game most weekends which compares with Sven-Goran Eriksson who would often watch three matches and then catch some games during the week. Eriksson was brought up on English football, McLaren had played in the league but one has to wonder how well Capello knows his players and the strengths and limitations of them.

The manager has moved from club to club playing his 442 and winning trophies and the English game is built in tribute to that formation. England have the players to play it more effectively in the country and in the squad but to do that Capello must know his squad better and realise – even at this late state – which of them can be used in his desired framework and which cannot be.

This may mean he makes some headlines for dropping the very successful Frank Lampard but the alternative – one fears – is that the headline writers will have something far more damning and far worse to write about when England exit.

The problem with John Terry and the England captain

I don’t know the number of people who want John Terry removing as England captain and how that has increased since the confirmation that he might be – well – a bit of a git but I’m not one of them.

That is not because I think that Tezza and his wandering eye should be forgiven for his antics that seem set to lead to Wayne Bridge pulling out of his England role of being a reserve to Ashley Cole. It was that role Bridge perfected at Chelsea and one struggles to recall any player who has ever so clearly put being paid over being played. 129 games in the last seven years is a waste of a career and the fact that he has yet to play more games for the clubs who offered him the big money to leave Southampton than he did for the Saints is a damning statistic.

Bridge’s level of ambition aside it is not that Terry’s behaviour should be forgiven it is that I would never have picked him for the England captaincy in the first place. Steven Gerrard is a man who leads on the field, he near single handled won the European Cup one season and to me always seemed an outstanding candidate.

That said Gerrard was involved in a brawl in a bar and while he was cleared of any wrong doing legally had he been England captain would he have been called to account for the company he kept and the fact he was out drinking until the wee small hours? Others talk about Wayne Rooney as a potential England captain. If he had the job would he be required to curb his on field emotional outbursts to stay within the remit of skipper?

The problem with Terry’s role and the position of England captain in general – the position that Red Tops are calling for Terry to lose – is that for all the decrying over how poorly the Chelsea man represents the country neither Terry, England boss Fabio Cappello or the bosses at The FA could point to a job description for the position.

Naturally on a personal level we can all come up with a list of what we consider the most important things for the armband wearer to have and probably the vast majority of them would not include sharking on team mate’s better halves but there is no set of guidelines – as far as we know it – which the FA can point JT at and give him a cast iron reason why he should lose the position.

Should such a job description exist then the same people who are calling for Terry to be hoisted by the yard arm – The Red Tops – would have been the people who when David Beckham was England skipper would have been saying that the position should be all about the results on the field and the winning mentality within the dressing room and nothing about the personalities outside it.

As with the use of nameless “sources close to” Terry while objecting to super-injunctions the media are perfectly prepared to indulge in any double standard to sell newspapers.

Bradford City have had four captains this year: Peter Thorne, Zesh Rehman, Michael Flynn and – on Saturday – Simon Ramsden and most City fans have an idea of who they believe is best suited to the role although it might be worth noting that in Saturday’s 2-1 comeback all four were on the field when the goals went in.

In football leaders are Heaven sent while captains are often titular. Short of putting a rag in Stuart McCall’s mouth Rangers could not have stopped him showing the same leadership he did at City even though other players had the armband. Good teams have many people who are prepared to lead and taking the captain’s role from John Terry will not stop that ability coming through on the field.

Moving forward one suspects that despite the furore of the weekend this story is a seven day wonder and by the time South Africa comes around England will have largely filed John Terry and Wayne Bridge alongside the Steven Gerrard scrap, the Frank Lampard radio phone in and numerous other Earth shattering events that are supposed to have forced action from the national squad but in retrospect hardly wobbled the needle on a Richter Counter.

Moving forward – and before anyone else is given the armband and named England captain – it might be worth a set of guidelines emerging as to what the requirements of an England captain are and what is considered to be outside that remit. If the job is about representing the nation then why remove Beckham from the job? If it is about results then why even discuss Terry’s future?

Until a set of criteria exists that the occupant of the position has to work within then we are going to forever be trying the Captain accused in Kangaroo courts, deciding on an ad hoc basis what we want the job to be.

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