Doherty finds out the risks of stepping down

On the day he signed for Newport County Tommy Doherty might have had pause for thought as to how he managed to go from the top of a football league to being a non-league player in the space of twelve months and wonder how well the risk he took stepping down to Bradford City worked out.

City picked up Doherty from Ferencváros almost entirely because of the midfielder’s close relationship with former manager Peter Taylor and excitement for his signing was massive. Doherty played at a higher level and – when he had been seen in League Two for Wycombe Wanderers previously – looked at a higher level.

Twelve months on and Doherty’s season at City peter out into a free transfer before the final game of the season and a series of spats with supporters in which the midfielder proved a more inventive wit than he did a player during the season.

Which is not to say that Doherty is, was, or will be a poor player just that he had a poor season, incapable of making the impact he would have wanted in the team, and held responsible for the lack of impact of the team.

And while City fans might debate that Doherty was a bad player or one which was too good for the division managers of League One (and League Two) clubs seem to have given their opinion and their opinion is that Newport County can claim the player.

Such is the risk of dropping down divisions for players, and the problem that Doherty has. If a player has a poor season for a League Two club – no matter how above them he might feel – then he is most often considered “not good enough” for League Two.

In football we cherish an idea – a false one in my estimation – that there are obvious gradation levels between the Leagues. That a League One player is better than a League Two player but worse than a Championship one. Players like Grant Holt who was playing in League Two for Shrewsbury Town three years ago and will be in the Premier League for Norwich next season make a lie of that.

It is my belief that most of the League One players – if they play well – could trouble the Premier League but if they play badly will end up in League Two or – in the case of Doherty – out of it. Has Doherty become a significantly worse player in the 18 months since he signed for the legendary Hungarian side? I would doubt it but which manager looks for the 32 year olds who has had a poor season in League Two as a potential new signing?

Footballers tend to be as good or as bad as their last season and that is often unfair but that is the risk that a player takes when moving down the divisions. That rather than stand above their team mates they will sink in to the sand.