Deal or no deal

They’re clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do enjoy listening to football phone in shows on the radio. There’s usually an entertaining array of views which build a picture of the current moods of various clubs and, while often the caller will be talking a load of rubbish, there’s a sense of satisfaction that at least they’re not spouting nonsense views about your own club.

One such emerging viewpoint which I don’t understand though is from those who want to see their manager sacked so badly they admit to wanting their team to lose. While often having good reasons for demanding a managerial change, hoping your team loses just so there’s a better chance of your wish being granted is a blinkered view.

Chelsea supporters have been the worst offenders with many of their followers recently blighting the airwaves to tell the world they want their side to lose, to hasten the departure of Avram Grant. One can understand their frustration at seeing the popular and successful Jose Mourinho given the chop to make way for the Israeli, who has done little to improve the dour style of football which is said to have cost ‘The Special One’ his job, but this season could yet go down as their most successful ever and no desire to see Grant booted out of Stamford Bridge should come before that.

Closer to home, similar thoughts of wanting City to fail have been raised by some supporters. Following the pathetic 2-1 reverse to Mansfield a month ago it seemed as though there’d be a large queue of players exiting the club this summer. With play off hopes all but over, some fans aired the viewpoint that they didn’t want City to enjoy a decent finish to the campaign in case Stuart McCall was fooled into offering any of the out of contract and underperforming players fresh deals. Such fears maybe realised because, after a month where City’s performances have greatly improved, deal or no deal decisions will be tougher to make for Stuart.

Is this a bad thing? There’s no disputing this season has failed to live up to expectations, but the picture isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. The old saying “the league table never lies” remains true, but the dreadful run of form last autumn, where City collected two out of a possible 24 points, has partially masked the improvement from the team since. By my rough calculations, City would currently be sitting in seventh, ahead of Wycombe on goal difference, had the season begun on November 6th. 29 games on from beating Chester that evening, City have lost only eight games. It leaves the question for Stuart to chew over, is the present squad as bad as it seems?

In the wake of the Mansfield defeat Stuart said he couldn’t wait for the season to finish. Clearly he felt let down by the players but they have responded brilliantly. Three wins, three draws and one unfortunate defeat may not be spectacular form, but the performances have been largely good. Some players like Barry Conlon, Tom Penford, Kyle Nix and Eddie Johnson must have feared their days were numbered; now it’s less certain. No one would argue significant strengthening is required to mount a stronger promotion challenge next season, but the near-total revamp of the squad some were hoping and demanding does not appear necessary.

The end of a season is a time where individual mistakes are less likely to be hammered by supporters and ambitions are lowered, unless you’re in for an exciting or worrying finale. It can be argued that those players who have impressed lately are only doing so with nothing at stake and that, when it really mattered, they choked; a couple of good games now does not mean they can do it for a season. This is where Stuart’s judgement will be so important in the coming weeks.

The question posed to the players after Mansfield was did they want to continue playing for this club, and at the very least their response should be applauded. There may be no prizes at stake, but their livelihood is and that undoubtedly leaves pressure on their shoulders in each remaining game. Everyone released will find a new club, albeit for some it will be in division below, but whoever among them is searching for new employment this summer, there’s little chance they’ll end up playing in front of bigger crowds or for someone with higher ambitions than The Bantams next season.

I’m not one who likes booing and was disappointed with the reaction of some fans at the Mansfield game, but if those players on the receiving end still want to play for this club we can only hope they learnt a valuable lesson that day in terms of the standards we expect them to maintain at this club and the consequences of dipping below it. If any of the players desperate for a new deal this summer are playing a big part in a promotion push this time next year, such booing will have been justified.

Before then an intriguing summer of deal or no deal will commence and no doubt a range of views will be expressed after decisions are made. Thank goodness there won’t be a special radio phone-in show about it.