By Alex Scott
Phil Parkinson’s first signing at Bradford City, Kyel Reid immediately became the squad’s most important player. Last year, the squad’s primary ailment was their chronic one-dimensionality. Kyel Reid was that one dimension. In a perceived relegation battle with limited resources available, unconvinced of his other attacking talents, Parkinson decided to stick Reid out on the left, fill the rest of the side with defensive, pragmatic options, then hope for the best. That was the plan.
For the most part, Reid flourished. As one would expect. Playing below his level, as the first, second and nth attacking option, the pacy winger dominated the field. James Hanson appeared a focal point, but his primary functions were to bring Reid into the game after long balls upfield, and to be there to meet Reid’s balls into the middle. That was Reid’s team.
And this is still Reid’s team, although an errant start to the year has resulted in the beginnings of a backlash forming amongst the fan base. A backlash which may have been nipped in the bud by the winger’s dominant second half against Morecambe. That was the first time this season he has played at anything close to his level, and after his first Valley Parade goal curled into the far corner, a weight appeared to be lifted from his shoulders. For the rest of the game (against a team chasing a goal, leaving gaps in defence) he was rampant. He seemed to get his swagger back.
This was a welcome return to form for Reid, a return which bodes well for the short and medium term for the club. If he can maintain the level he reached in the second half on Tuesday in the upcoming fixtures, any debate on his worthiness in the team will be made to look silly. If he reverts back to the early season Reid however, the murmurings will resurface. Despite being one of the team’s most talented players, there is/was a growing minority who were unimpressed. I wrote here last week on Will Atkinson, and the expectations we place upon him coming to define the debate around him, and the same might be becoming applicable to Reid. The Reid debate came to a head with Joe’s match preview the other day:
“Kyel Reid needs to be dropped for me…He looks lazy, unfit and arrogant.”
Whilst I’m unsure whether this view would be generally representative of the fan base, I’m sure I’m not alone in having heard these sentiments sporadically around the crowd in recent weeks, with similar groans surrounding Nahki Wells. But are these accusations fair? And why are they being made now?
Fans want the team’s wingers to be beating men, hitting the byline frequently, whilst consistently making right decisions and rarely wasting a cross. Obviously we do, that player sounds great, he is also known as Antonio Valencia. If Reid could consistently do half those things, he would be playing in the Championship, he has the talent. The reason he has fallen to us is that he is a flawed player at this point, and (I imagine) the club are overpaying him. The sooner fans accept these truths and enjoy him for what he is, the better for everyone involved.
The ‘arrogant’ label is one which never occurred to me, but it feels like a criticism for the sake of criticising. Firstly, it is asinine to attempt to infer attitudes from players based on how they run around. Reid and Wells this year have been commonly labelled as being “too big for their boots” (or similar), an interpretation which is entirely fuelled by our own prejudices. Reid and Wells played in the same style last year but we had no outside stories through which to filter the action. Suddenly they hold out for more money in contract negotiations and the performances which were viewed as precocious last season are now arrogant. It’s silly. Criticise them for their play, not for the attitude which you interpret them giving.
For what Reid is, his work rate is fine. He’s no Milner, but he’s not that sort of player. Compare his tracking back to his predecessor Omar Daley, it’s pretty good. He swaggers around the pitch like he owns it, but since when was this a bad thing? Or a new thing? We want our attacking threats to play like that. It’s not like he’s falling short on his defensive responsibilities, or calling out other players on the pitch. He just shoots a lot, and has seldom seen a blind alley he wasn’t desperate to hurtle down. He did this last year too, this is who he is.
Each game, each flying run seems to be followed by a referendum on whether Kyel Reid is a star or a fraud. Is he a player who can lead us to promotion, or a wasteful outlet holding us back? But these debates shouldn’t be held up as an evaluation of Reid, they should be pointed back at us, and our desire to use these singular examples to definitively cast Reid as one thing or the other, when they are merely the ups and downs associated with his type of player. Kyel is going to be Kyel.
I’m not sure why it is we frame players like Reid as people we need to ‘fix’. James Hanson suffers from a similar ailment. Why can’t Reid just be that exciting winger who could take over a game at any point, but who also will only connect on 20% of his crosses? Why must he take a leap forward? Why is it his fault if he isn’t the player we want him to be?
Like most players currently in the squad, Kyel Reid comes with a great pedigree, a starter in the Premier League in 2006, he has represented England at all youth levels, the “foremost” player in England’s Under-17 European semi-finalists in 2004. (Nathan Doyle was also in that team, Ritchie Jones was captain of England’s Under-18 European finalists at the time.) He played over 25 times in the Championship for Barnsley at 19, then after sporadically playing for West Ham, helped Wolves to the Championship title in 2009. He met up with Parkinson a year later, setting up his move to Valley Parade. He is currently 24 years old. If you said to a fan in 2005 that our 2012 midfield would consist of Reid, Doyle and Jones, we could realistically have expected to be a strong Championship team.
Which is all just to underline the quality of Kyel Reid, and the squad in general. Andrew Davies, Zavon Hines and Stephen Darby have also played Premier League games as well as representing England at youth levels, in addition to Will Atkinson and Matt Duke’s Premier League experience. For those counting, that’s eight players with top level experience, in a fourth-tier team. (People may rightly be able to question Phil Parkinson on a tactical level, but his recruitment is beyond reproach.)
More than misplaced passes, or ill-timed challenges, errant crossing seems to elicit the most groans inside Valley Parade. I suppose that’s a function of the rising anticipation as the ball reaches the final third, and the subsequent letdown as we see it float into the Kop. The reaction implies an assumption of fans that crossing is a relatively simple art, one which is eminently repeatable. Which anyone who watches Match of the Day can tell you it isn’t, even for the best in the world. Regardless, this treatment doesn’t serve the wingers who frequent the parish.
Reid was the heir apparent to Omar Daley’s mercurial throne, and seems to have unintentionally adopted some of his predecessor’s stigma. My issue with our expectation level of Reid was far more apparent with Daley, with almost the entire crowd desperate for him to become something he never was, then criticising him for that. When Daley took over from Jermaine Johnson (a far, far superior player), I suppose it was assumed they were facsimiles. But they never were, and Reid is equally no Daley. But their treatment from the fans is similar.
“On Daley’s part, he apparently told people close to him that at City he felt it didn’t matter what he achieved, some people would always seek to belittle his contribution or fail to recognise his qualities. He felt pigeon-holed as a ‘lazy player’, no matter how hard he tried.”
Reid and Daley differ in many ways, the directness of the former contrasting with the headless chickening of the latter. Reid is also a better footballer. But they are being treated in the same belittling, sceptical manner by sections of the crowd, and that paraphrase from Daley could easily be applicable to Reid. He isn’t a lazy player, and never has been.
Whilst the summer has seen many arrivals, none of them have taken the spotlight away from Kyel Reid, who remains the team’s focal point.
The midfield has taken on a completely different persona this year with the arrival of Zavon Hines across from Reid, a true threat, and two new experienced, talented midfielders inside him. Last year’s lopsided approach led to Reid being consistently doubled-up upon by defences, with little in the form of managerial flexibility or nuance expended in getting him free. There were other, bigger, more porous fish to fry before helping Reid. He (like all pacy wingers) is most dangerous in a one-on-one situation with a couple of yards to pick up steam, something seldom seen last year, but this year has seen the creation of these situations as a priority.
With Hines stationed across from Reid, (again, an inconsistent, but real threat) one of the two will always be singled up against a full-back, and so far it has predominantly been Hines, (something which in itself should imply the educated perception of their relative abilities, Reid is still the focus) and Hines has been inconsistent in his exploitation of such situations. But as he settles in, especially at Valley Parade, opponents will have a tough decision to make. The two have also been switching sides frequently, especially early in matches, to try and prevent this doubling up whilst also affording them the opportunity to cut inside for a free run at the back four. (This would be immeasurably more effective if Darby and Meredith were allowed to play/overlap, but we can’t have everything.)
Reid’s stunning goal against Morecambe did potentially foreshadow a new wrinkle in the side’s attacking focus. After Will Atkinson entered for the more direct Hines, he linked up far better with the players around him, floating inside into the spaces to create triangles. After keeping the ball for a spell on the right with Atkinson, McArdle and the dropping-off Wells, Morecambe slanted their focus to that side, leaving Reid one-on-one on the opposite flank. Nathan Doyle received the ball at the base of the midfield, noticed this and quickly fed Reid with a glorious 40 yard ball. The rest is history. Maybe rather than Hines across from Reid to draw attention, the inclusion of Atkinson from the start could lead to greater control of the game, as well as freeing up Reid in situations such as this.
Connell has been recruited to drop off the front line, drawing out defenders to create space for the two wingers further up field. And with a base of four (usually five) players the manager can trust rigidly remaining in defensive positions, Reid and Hines have been able to attack at will, knowing the opposition will not be able to spring a counter attack if it fails. (Even Will Atkinson, not perceived as ‘that type’ of player, was free to run at his full back after coming on against Morecambe, and did so impressively.)
This development provides freedom for the wingers to play their natural game, but also leads to the perception of ‘greediness’ and ‘ineffectiveness’ amongst the fans. That is by design, and is kinda the point. Reid and Hines are statistically inefficient players, but that isn’t a surprise, they’re direct wingers, they are inefficient by nature. But they can win games on their own. That is why they play. They aren’t in for their tracking back abilities, the system has been designed to ensure they don’t need to. Let Kyel be Kyel.
Something which we all ignore in our analyses is that Kyel Reid is a really fun player to watch. Sure, you could argue a disciplined, militant, Kevin Ellison-type would be more ‘effective’ on the left hand side, but the team would be way less fun to watch. Why do you pay your money each week? It sure isn’t because you love winning. Getting to watch Kyel Reid each week is fun, just like watching Nahki Wells is fun. They’re exciting, joyful, electric. They have faults, of course they do, but they’re fun to watch. And their inclusion isn’t mutually exclusive with winning stuff.
Before entering these debates about the worthiness of Kyel Reid’s first-name-on-the-teamsheetness, we would be well served thinking back nine months to what the side looked like without him. That team was a mess. This squad is better, but take him out for his back-up, being either Atkinson or Thompson, teams will double up on Hines in the same way they did last year with Reid and we are back to square one, and if Parkinson insists on not letting his full backs attack, the side’s attacking quickly becomes stagnant. Whether it is nice to hear or not, this team relies on Kyel Reid. Without him everything falls apart. It would be nice if he was Antonio Valencia, but it’s a fantasy. For who we are, he is a fantastic weapon to have at our disposal, we should be grateful.
Just look at Tuesday night. Most of this article was written on Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve spent time trying to talk my way through this argument. But like the best things in football, you don’t need to talk it to death, just look at Tuesday. Don’t forget it. He won that game. Two assists and a goal. He took it over, and won it. That is why he plays. He doesn’t need fixing. Let Kyel be Kyel.
Kyel Reid is one of the squad’s most talented players, and equally one of the most important. But he’s also inconsistent. He’s going to make poor decisions, that’s the only reason this club was able to acquire him. Whenever the backlash regains steam later in the season, and it probably will, we would all be wise to take a step back, and stop trying to fix him. Leave him be. Let Kyel be Kyel, and just embrace it.