For this final week of the season, Width of a Post will feature two Midweek Player Focuses before this feature takes a break for the summer. First up, new Width of a Post writer Gareth Walker takes an in-depth look at Andrew Davies.
When Andrew Davies arrived at Bradford City in a loan deal on September 23rd 2011, it was somewhat of an eyebrow raiser. Before he had even kicked a ball in Claret and Amber, he appeared to be the most stellar of all Phil Parkinson’s additions. Parkinson was in the process of overhauling a squad not two months into the season. A squad described by Mark Lawn as one that – without change – was a worrying relegation candidate.
Davies is not only a former England Under 21 international, but also a former £1 million pound player, having transferred to Stoke City for that pricely sum in 2008, and it was from the Potteries that he joined us on an initial 3 month loan deal. Having previously played permanently for Middlesbrough and Southampton – where he is thought of in extreme high regard by supporters – he had Premier League experience.
He had also spent a large proportion of his career out on loan at QPR, Derby County, Preston, Sheffield United, Walsall and Crystal Palace. Yet this was the first time that he had dropped to the bottom tier, and it was considered to be somewhat of a coup by City supporters. Even the Macclesfield Town manager at the time, Gary Simpson, used Davies – even though he wasn’t playing – as an example of the quality in City’s squad, in order to express his surprise at our lowly league position before the two teams met last October.
Some supporters were so surprised at the capture, that they questioned not only how we managed to convince him to join us, but also how we could afford the signing. More of that later. However, City’s ability to pull off the signature was attributed to Parkinson’s connections in the higher echelons of English football. It is well known that our manager is considered to be in high regard by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, having worked for him in the past; and it has been suggested that City have the option to utilise The Gunners London Colney training base when on long southern trips because of this connection.
Parkinson’s contacts were believed to have been one of the factors that impressed our co-owners and helped to get him the job after Peter Jackson’s departure.
Back to Davies, and his qualities are there for all to see when out on the pitch. An excellent reader of the game, and by no means a slouch at League Two pace; his two most striking qualities for me are his communication with the rest of his defence and also his strength in the air – which City have utilised at both ends of the pitch during his time with us. This all goes without mentioning his vast experience which is a big quality at this level. One quality that I have not mentioned yet is his tackling – something which is obviously vital for any centre back.
This, although clearly impressive 99% of the time, has led to two of the three somewhat controversial moments that have blotted his stay at Valley Parade. Davies has been sent off three times in his short lived City career. The first two of these were for tackles during a game. Both were debateable. Firstly, in the home game against Torquay United he was dismissed for going in two footed on Danny Stevens. The fact that Davies clearly took the ball seemed to have little sway on referee Carl Boyeson’s decision and he was more influenced by Stevens’ theatrics as he rolled around on the floor.
The replays showed that Davies made absolutely no contact with The Gulls player and got lots of the ball, yet the fact that both his feet left the floor is a good enough reason for the tackle to be described as “dangerous”. And, as such, any appeal would have been frivolous. Hence a three game ban. Fortunately, City’s ten men went on to win that game 1-0.
The second red card received by Davies came on his return from that initial suspension at the County Ground ,when we played Swindon Town. This decision, made by referee Oliver Langford, from a long distance away, was even more questionable than the first. Although the challenge that earned Davies his marching orders did abruptly halt the progress of Swindon frontman Jake Jervis, anyone who was there that day – and indeed anyone who has seen the incident since – can clearly see that Davies slips as he makes the challenge and the contact was accidental. Not to mention the fact that the challenge occurred on the juncture of the halfway and the sideline, a long way from goal.
Nonetheless, a red card was shown, and Davies now had a four game ban to contend with. Again, the ten men of City fought admirably until the end of the game and earned a very respectable draw against a team who are now League Two Champions.
It was some supporters’ reactions that astounded me after this second dismissal. Many seemed to be of the opinion that Davies’ loan should be terminated, that he was “of no use to the team” and they had written him off as “a liability”. This all despite the player’s aforementioned qualities and, of course, the extremely harsh nature of the two dismissals – as we are all aware, many referees at this level can at the very best be described as inconsistent.
Having discussed two of the players more controversial incidents in Claret and Amber, it is only fair to balance that up with some of the outstanding performances that we have seen from him since, when his undoubted class has been on full show. Who can forget the superb free kick that gave us the lead at home to Burton Albion? The last minute header at home to Port Vale? The fact that he was the player who consoled Simon Ramsden after our right back’s own goal misery against Gillingham? These incidents all go to show that, with Davies, we don’t just have a top class defender, but also a top class footballer.
Unfortunately, Davies’ most memorable moment in a City shirt so far has to be his role in the post match brawl against CrawleyT own. This incident has been discussed to death and I have no intention of going over it again here, but I would like to consider where this leaves Davies’ City career.
Since “fight night”, while he has been serving his five match ban, City have used Lee Bullock, Luke Oliver and the rejuvenated Guy Branston in the centre back positions. Although this has seen a return to the personnel that Parkinson was so keen to replace when he first arrived at VP, it is hard to argue that they haven’t impressed on their return to the side.
Parkinson himself has spoken of the fantastic attitude demonstrated by Branston, even though he forced the former captain to spend time training with the Youth team after his return from a loan at Rotherham. Bullock has been the consummate professional whilst filling in across various positions all season and our newly crowned Player of the Year Oliver has continued where he left off following his return from his own suspension.
Whether all have improved because of what they have learnt from Davies or simply because of their own sheer hard work and Parkinson’s training methods, the question has to be asked: “How much have we missed Davies during this latest enforced absence?” Parkinson’s decision to leave Davies out of the squad which travelled to Cheltenham might go some way to explain how he would answer it.
This obviously leads on to the bigger issue of whether or not he will be a City player next season. Out of contract at Stoke and unlikely to get a new deal there, what are the chances of us keeping him, and do we need him? To answer this question we have to look at a number of factors. As discussed earlier, he has clearly had a big impact during his time here. Oliver, Bullock and Branston are all playing better now than they were prior to his arrival. But will this continue if the pressure is released by the departure of Davies?
Furthermore, although his class and individual ability is there for all to see, has Davies himself had a big enough impact on results whilst playing in the team? These are all questions that Messers Lawn, Rhodes and Parkinson must answer before they decide whether to make an attempt to sign him.
Then we have to look at what our chances are of keeping him. Would he want to stay at Valley Parade and continue to ply his trade in the basement division next season? Clearly there will be offers from higher up the football pyramid and undoubtedly these will offer greater financial riches than City could afford.
At a recent Skipton Bantams meeting, Lawn confirmed that Davies’ wages amount to between £500k and £1m per year and that, currently, City are paying 10% of it. Clearly a significant drop would be required if he were to stay with us. It’s a huge ask of anyone to willingly accept such a large decrease in income and, ultimately, Davies will have to decide whether it is worth it if it means he is playing regularly somewhere where he is appreciated by teammates, management and supporters.
Any mega bucks offer to try to tie him to City would clearly make him the club’s highest earner by far, and it has to be considered how this would be viewed by other members of the playing staff and whether it could be offset by, for example, making him club captain.
If City do decide to keep Andrew Davies, and Andrew Davies decides to stay with City, it would be a huge statement of intent ahead of next season. But before that decision is made, there are lots to consider – not least the priorities of the club and those of the player.