By Luke Lockwood
This time last year David Syers had just swept up at the club’s award night and deservedly so – he even pushed James Hanson close as top scorer. He probably could have held Bradford City to ransom over a new contract, but the club only took their option of a 12-month extension and now he faces a take it or leave it offer that the club has put in front of him.
As lower league football fans we often proclaim that our young players are destined for great things. It’s happens regularly at Bradford: Dean Furman, Luke O’Brien, Hanson, Jon McLaughlin and of course currently Nahki Wells, have all been touted as stars in the making, but only rarely do these players live up to the high expectations we place on them.
I remember suggesting that Simon Francis would be a Premier League player and he now plays for mid table, League 1 side, Bournemouth. Of course that then he was the star in a Championship side meant it wasn’t such a massive leap of faith to believe he could make it at the next level up. But if we are being really honest, the last Bradford first team player who moved on to relative stardom was Andy O’Brien.
Since my bold claim about Francis, I have been relatively subdued to hype up the potential ability of our players. Even with Wells, while not denying the obvious natural talent the Bermudan has, I am quick to remark ‘let’s see how next season goes’. Therefore I am a little surprised myself how taken in I have been by Syers in his time here. At the end of last season I thought either we will be getting promoted to League One or he will be going there without us – and probably the Championship not long after.
Two games into this season he removed any doubts I had about his ability to play at that level, when he controlled the game against Championship side, Leeds United at Elland Road. Syers drove Bradford on against a far superior side reminiscent of the way Steven Gerrard has done for Liverpool on numerous occasions over the years. You only have to look at the match report from that night on the Bradford website and see how many time the name Syers is mentioned. The fact that this game had been played in front of the Sky cameras only concerned me that so many others would now be alert to his brilliance.
I attended the fixture with a friend who unfortunately pledges his allegiance to our other friendly neighbours at Huddersfield. The line ‘I’m going to tell Dean Hoyle about him (Syers)’ was repeated with annoying frequency.
After the match I also met up with a number of Leeds fans – who I am ashamed to call friends – but rather than spend all evening winding me up about the result, they only wanted to talk about Syers. It was a momentous occasion; Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford fans all in the same room and all in agreement: Dave Syers was heads and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch.
Unfortunately, that evening Syers’ match was ended prematurely. Once again he drove forward with the ball but a heavy touch let him down and following a challenge with their goalkeeper he was left in a heap on the floor. As he hobbled off the pitch, supported by the physio, you could feel the concern among all City fans.
Early optimistic reports suggested he may be back in contention by the end of November, but in truth he was more likely to arrive in Santa’s sleigh at Christmas.
City fans must have behaved in 2011 as Syers returned to the bench on Boxing Day against Crewe in an impressive 3-0 win. Ricky Ravenhill picked up a yellow card in the match and would be suspended for the visit of high flying Shrewsbury just a few days later.
On their visit to Valley Parade Shrewsbury had won six of their last eight games and should have been full of confidence. However, Bradford turned on the style in the first half and had a 3-0 lead just after half time. Syers had been heavily involved in a typical all action display including creating an assist for Wells. In truth the game was already won, Bradford had put in possibly their best performance of the season with Ritchie Jones and Syers forming a very impressive partnership in midfield.
However – just as Syers restarted season looked as though it was going to hit the ground running – bad luck struck once more. After Syers made what looked to be an impeccable challenge just outside the Bradford area, and emerged with the ball, the referee halted play and showed him a red card. The New Year was only a few hours away, but Syers’ fresh start had gone already.
The red card was the end of any significant impact Syers would have on the outcome of the 2011-12 season. After the suspension he was reported to have another niggly injury and impact sub appeared to be his new role. In fact, in the latter stages he struggled to even feature from the bench.
Supposedly, during this period Syers was offered – and turned down – a new contract, as perhaps he thought he would once again prove he was worth more than what was offered. If we take recent events on face value, then it appears a misunderstanding occurred between player and manager over comments Phil Parkinson made to the press. Since January no formal talks have taken place between the player and club, but Bradford insist that the offer is still on the table and they will sit down with Syers once more. However, they will not be offering a better package. Therefore, it appears that the ball is in Syers’ court – either he accepts the terms that were offered to him in January, or he looks elsewhere.
Parkinson has defended his decision to leave Syers out as Jones and Ravenhill have developed a good partnership, securing enough points to keep Bradford safe. I completely agree with this – Jones and Ravenhill have proved a very capable pairing, and I would have no complaints to see them line up together in the first fixture next season.
My concern is how long did it take him to stumble across that partnership? How long was Jones out in the wilderness for, without getting a look in? And would they have even ended up being paired together if it wasn’t for the shocking scenes following the Crawley game that saw 3 players suspended and Bullock moved back into centre half?
Before that, Jones had featured once in seven games – the one win in this period against Oxford – and had struggled to even make the bench. Syers also had not had a run of games, only starting two and Parkinson seemed to prefer combinations between Bullock, Ravenhill and Michael Flynn. None of these players disappointed, but at the same time none seemed to complement each other’s style. In these seven games, Bradford took five points. Jones played 90 minutes in the victory and in the draw against Gillingham, where all fans agreed that the introduction of Wells and Syers inspired a second half comeback.
In the closing stages of this season, Jones and Ravenhill have deserved their places and Syers his on the bench. Parkinson has found a combination that is working and they are likely to have deserved starting berths next season. But I would not bet against Syers soon earning his place alongside one of them. Besides, with Flynn gone, are we realistically going to find a better option than Syers to compete with those two? What’s more, if we believe we can get cheap cover for Jones and Ravenhill, then what happens if one of them gets a Syers type injury?
Should we lose Syers, then I believe it will be another indication of the short-term approach that the club appear to be taking at the moment. As a young player, with his best years ahead of him, even if Syers was to spend next season as a bit part player the investment in his development would be worthwhile.
Ravenhill is 31, and therefore he is right at his very peak. He won’t improve as a footballer any further. He has played his full career in the bottom two divisions, and he is undoubtedly a very good player at this level; but relies on his work ethic heavily. Syers and Jones are already undeniably more complete players that could take Bradford onto another level, as they improve with experience.
Fortunately Hanson agreed an extended contract before his injury plagued, disappointing second season. However, had he been in the same boat and we failed to reach an agreement with him last year, then he may not have returned to be a very important reason as to why we have stayed up.
Furthermore Wells – similar to Syers last year – only has a 12-month extension. What happens if he struggles with injury next season and doesn’t score 15-20 goals; will we not push a little further to keep a player who has shown so much potential so far?
At this stage of his career Syers probably needs Bradford City more than they need him. He is likely to get patience from the fans, who know his ability and that he can prove he is still the player he was before his injury. On the other hand, two years down the line with four years of professional football behind him, Bradford are much more likely to need a player of Syers’ calibre.
We must keep promising young footballers at this club and develop them if we are to advance. Otherwise we will persist on replacing one League Two footballer with another and will continue to have a League Two side.