The need for sensible planning

SAM_0350

By Jason McKeown

There are 21 games left for Bradford City this season, but increasingly thoughts need to begin turning towards the long-term. The sale of Nahki Wells has split opinion amongst support, but one of the main threads has been the damage to the credibility of the joint Chairmen, Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes.

There were six weeks before the January transfer window was due to open when Lawn first spoke to the local media about the possibility Nahki being sold. The noises that consistently came out of Valley Parade, throughout December and early January, were that there was a queue of suitors ready to take the striker off our hands. We couldn’t keep hold of our hot property, because the offers set to come in would be too tempting for us and for him.

The deal that was eventually concluded will continue to be debated. But whatever your view, it is now done and dusted – and cannot be changed. We move on, but by moving on that means getting to the end of a season that is increasingly about consolidation. If there were any lingering hopes of mounting a play off charge, they all but disappeared with the sale of Wells. City remain seven points off the top six and eight above the bottom four. A mid-table finish – something everyone would have settled for prior to a ball being kicked this season – looks to be the Bantams’ final destination.

And then what? For Lawn and Rhodes, the priority must be to restore the goodwill they built up last season and to convince supporters that they have a plan for taking the club forwards. City have made huge strides during the last 18-month period, but ultimate ambition continues to exceed the present circumstances.

No one wants to see us become comfortable at merely being a League One outfit forever, especially when both chairmen are on record in the past talking about the club’s aim to get the club back into the Championship. That is a worthy goal that, whilst not easy to achieve, is realistic. But just stating that you want something isn’t enough, there has to be a strategy behind it.

Prior to this January transfer window, there was a general consensus that selling Wells for a big fee had the potential to aid the long-term objectives of the club. A necessary evil. That belief has caused a fragmented reaction to recent events. The harsh reality is that the Wells’ deal isn’t the life-changing sum of money which many people were rightly or wrongly expecting.

The wage bill for this season, as high as it is, has not been enough for City to be competing amongst the promotion front runners, just past the half way stage of the season. If that is all the club can afford next season also, so be it. City have tried the speculate-to-accumulate approach with decidedly bad results – especially under Geoffrey Richmond in 2000. David Baldwin has talked of the Board having made calculated risks over the previous 18 months, with sources of revenue to fall back upon. The current playing budget overspend is probably the furthest that most of us would want to see the boat pushed out.

But if the club’s financial strength means that a promotion push next season is something to strive towards rather than assume, expectations need to be managed accordingly. That is the task of Lawn and Rhodes. They cannot raise supporters’ hopes beyond what is realistic, because the club, manager and players will subsequently be judged unfairly.

If results for the rest of this season and next aren’t fantastic – when measured up to some belief City should be mounting a promotion push – Parkinson will come under increased criticism. In many ways it will be like returning to the days of Colin Todd, where the financial realities and expectations were on completely different pages. Parkinson’s playing budget is probably somewhere in the top half of League One (particularly next season, if Wolves are promoted), which gives us the chance to challenge for promotion.

The challenge for Parkinson is considerable. He goes into the summer with all but Andrew Davies, James Hanson, Jason Kennedy, Mark Yeates, Matt Taylor, Oliver McBurnie and Lewis Clarkson out of contract. That’s potentially just seven players left in the building; and of the current squad whose deals expire at the end of the season, only Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle and Nathan Doyle would be almost certain to be retained.

Last summer, Parkinson’s budget was said to have been increased from £1.9 million to £2.5 million. He used much of that to retain the likes of Davies, Gary Jones, Kyel Reid and Garry Thompson – some of whom probably benefited from increased wages as reward for their achievements – and the majority of the rest of the budget seemingly went on Yeates. There is a suspicion – and it’s purely my view – that the likes of Rafa De Vita, Taylor and Kennedy came in relatively cheaply. The proportion of that overall £2.5 million spend attributed to summer signings (minus Yeates) is probably fairly low.

The decision to retain the bulk of last season’s squad looked a good one initially – heck, it still seems like it was the right thing to do with the benefit of hindsight. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the squad will need to be revamped for next season. For now, this team should be good enough to steer clear of relegation and ensure City retain their League One status. But to go forwards, Parkinson will need to use his £2.5 million playing budget on better players.

That won’t be easy, but it’s not beyond the man who did such a good rebuilding job in the summer of 2012. Over the coming months, he will need to have one eye on who he wants to retain and who he wishes to bring in. It will be a big, big close season for the manager.

If Parkinson subsequently under-performs as manager relative to his actual budget, he will deserve to come under scrutiny. But his two bosses have a responsibility to ensure that he is judged upon the tools they are able to provide him. Not on the sole basis that a club of City’s size ‘should’ be in the Championship.

Parkinson was given a three-year contract by the two chairmen last summer. I think it is absolutely right and fair that – to get another deal – he must have City within touching distance of another promotion by 2016, even if that promotion has yet to occur. The danger is that he isn’t afforded the right level of patience befitting that contract – and the goodwill built up from 2012/13. He deserves the support of everyone, and that extends right up to the Boardroom.

21 games to play, and it all seems to be about tredding water for the remainder of this season. After the stunning progress of the past 18 months, we can’t afford to stand still for too long. Yet the next step forward has to be a realistic one; miracles like last season don’t occur too often. And if, this season and next, a full on promotion bid is more aspirational than entitlement, we have to accept our reality rather than living another one.

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15 replies

  1. Think one thing that has to be taken into account this season is the quality of the league.. For me the three teams that go up out of the current top 6 will be/are better than the 3 teams that will come down.. Obviously we don’t know who the three are.. However I think we know 2 of the 3 coming down… I do.think lge 1 will look a lot different next year and be a little easier. And as long as we get our season ticket pricing right, this will aid in a bigger budget

  2. I found myself wondering today whether the Nahki Wells money should go straight back into the first team this January. I think we’re very unlikely to get relegated, but equally unlikely to get promoted. If we wait until summer the money could go further as some targets will be out of contract or into their last year, so we’d spend less (if any) on transfer fees. It also gives us time to scout extensively for some (cliché alert) young, hungry players who could progress their careers at City.

    Right now, we’re in a weak negotiating position. Everyone knows we have some money to spend, and both the board and the manager are under pressure. We’ve also been pretty up-front about who our targets are. The club needs to get a lot cannier in it’s transfer dealings, and learn to avoid having its hand forced by players or their agents when buying or selling. Now would be a good time to start.

    Sure, we need reinforcements in central midfield and cover at left back. But we can call on Andy Grey, Oliver McBurnie and Alan Connell up front, plus Gary Thompson and Raffaele de Vita, who can play as support strikers or wide forwards if needed. I don’t think another striker would be a sensible investment without offloading 2 of those (take your pick from Grey, Connell and de Vita).

    Also, I think more can be got from this team. James Hanson in particular could benefit from more patient attacking play that allowed him to play closer to goal. This might be a good opportunity for Phil Parkinson to show he can use his squad, whatever its deficiencies, and ‘do more with less’ until summer. Of course, that would require a clear understanding of what was expected between the manager, the board and the fans.

    • It’s not fair to judge Phil Parkinson on this season in lge1. When I had the chance to speak to Mr Parkinson before season started he wasn’t sure how well we would run as majority of our player’s hadn’t played at this level we found ourselves. Some player’s automatically got them selves a new deal as there contracts had that in place if we achieved promotion. The start we had gave me the courage to think we could find ourselves in the play-offs again this season. That’s still achievable but unlikely to happen.
      I feel the money will be spent in the summer only a fraction in January on one proven goalscoring striker at lge1 level.
      If some fringe player’s move on I’m sure we could find ourselves with loans till end of season. I was very disappointed with the fee we are lead to believe received from Huddersfield its undisclosed so we may never know. I think our chairman(s) and Mr David Baldwin will already be planning for next season and looking at way’s to bring in more income others than putting season tkt price’s up. It’s clear we need investment into the club’s finances but cheap season tkts the ground issues plus the cost of buying our owners out I’m sure would be millions thats before you even look at money for squad strengthening ? . I trust Phil Parkinson to get the best position possible this season then look at what’s required next season

  3. But you see you hit the nail on the head. I think our crowd will fall regardless of price of tickets as the passive stragglers decide whether they are real fans or just short term glory hunters. The 1,000 plus missing fans on Saturday spoke volumes to me.
    On your last article you wanted to use the Wells money to subsidise the cheap tickets, now you want an ongoing top half budget within our financial capacity.

    We can only become a competitive player realistically by having a pricing structure that brings in enough cash to cover those costs.

    We have no rich benefactors and a huge shortage in large corporate business willing to back the club through sponsorship.

    Our income has to come through the tickets, core business. Genuine fans will pay more, the shirt term fans are already on the way to the exit door.

    One thing is for sure, financially the club cannot progress unless prices rise. We have no more Nahki Wells’s to sell.

    So make up your mind as you can empty the cupboard now by maintaining the cheap tickets or put more in the cupboard to store for the future.

    Ridiculous that people would even question paying £12 a game for League 1 football but readily find £40 for a shirt or £35 to go to an away game from which our club benefit nil financially.

    • When City were last in League One, we had crowds of 6,000 – 7,000 and season tickets cost £295 – would that really have been better financially than what we currently have? I do agree that a small rise is fair, but I don’t agree with pricing out fans or returning to crowds of under 8,000. It’s a balancing act that we have to get right.

      The current playing budget can be maintained next season with season ticket prices round about where they are.

      • So, given that I believe we will lose 1,500 season ticket holders regardless of price, keeping prices the same and having a similar budget to this season will mean around a £1,000,000 deficit. We have list £750k this season so my maths add up.

        How do you fiscally suggest that we cover the shortfalls then?

      • But why will we lose 1,500? Yes, things not great now, but the season is not over. We will replace Wells. And even at a low ebb on Saturday, 13,000 showed up.

      • Our average attendance is 14,759 to date. Saturday was 13,000. Yes some fed up with the Wells fiasco but those fans are going to take some getting back.

        I suspect many of those who stated away are newish fans attracted by our recent success and watching Nahki.

        It’s now down to PP backed by the Board to get us winning again. That’s the only way we will get back to the 14,700.

        Why else other than a fairly big increase in season ticket prices do you think that there has been no early bird offer this season? It’s coming folks.

      • Our average attendance figure is slightly misleading given we had 18,000 gates against Sheffield United, Wolves and Rotherham. Certainly Saturday was not our lowest crowd of the season.

        I just think the mood can change very quickly and if City can get back to form things will improve.

      • Saying we lost 1,000 because of the Wells deal is a bit silly.. Don’t forget what month we’re in.. That 1,000 will have been flexi card holders and pay on the gaters… Due to Christmas and also the amount of games over Christmas, football is sometime unaffordable… I know if i didn’t have a season ticket I couldn’t have afforded to go.

    • while I am sure that the hardcore fans who probably number about five to seven thousand would be prepared to pay a reasonable price increase in season tickets . I think the last weeks public relations disasters from the club regarding the wells transfer, have put the club back at least three years ! with all last years momentum and feel good factor ,having evaporated , trust in the running of the club by the board is going to be very difficult to restore following the chairman rolling over to what nahki wants nahki has to have !.
      we all have to move on from the last week, and im sure with the return of Andrew davies to the team plus some decent short term loan signings phil Parkinson will ensure we finish safe in midtable.
      I hope we keep any money from the sale to cope with the mass exodus of players this summer and not go in for any panic buying of players on the ladder back down their career eg andy gray !
      am hoping and trusting in Parkinson that he can rebuild a hungry team that we can take pride in again.
      after we started the season with the most passion and enthusiasm since the premiership seasons, I think the majority of fans would be happy to see the season end anytime soon. I can only see that any ticket price hike would see our numbers fall off a cliff.
      like it or not even for the most sensible and rational bantams, the poor and novice looking handling of a great asset last week is likely to have a longlasting effect on the morale of the fans

      • Hardly say it was a PR disaster… And 3 years ago we were fighting relegation from the football league.. We’re nowhere near there now.. Talk about scare mongering

  4. I think I have been a City fan too long so I have a great sense of foreboding. One win in umpteen games is relegation form – ten games ago I though twenty points from thirty games is easy – not so sure now. We need twenty from twenty one and we can’t even beat 23rd at home and get thrashed albeit somewhat flatteringly by the bottom team.
    Without sensible replacements we are going down. We need an attacking left back (remember when Meredith was absent last season and his dip in form has also been coincidental to our drop down the league), a right hand midfield player as well as a dominant box to box central midfielder. The paper talk is of TWO strikers but we need someone to create opportunities for them.
    I do hope I am wrong but how long should one be patient with PP when quite clearly he has no plan B. 4-4-2 is outdated and whilst I think Jimmy Hanson has been brilliant he does not have the mobility (neither do most of the team!) in today’s modern game. The Coventry boss was perhaps right it’s football from the dark ages.
    My prediction is that we will lose Saturday, draw the weekend after and against all odds beat Wolves at Molyneux then similar to 2006/7 after our victory at Ashton Gate nosedive towards L2.
    Please please say I am wrong!

    • I find your comments rather negative Andrew but do respect your opinion. I think we’ve been unlucky with injuries with such a small
      squad, we haven’t been hammered by team’s tbh just the odd goal yes there’s a few games where we weren’t competitive. Yes our current form isn’t good however we are mid-table and had a great start to the season. 4-4-2 is our best formation I remember when Mr Parkinson changed formation and got absolutely slated by supporters for doing so?
      We’re staying up Andrew and I expect changes in the summer

  5. Would be Surprised if Kyel Reid is not offered a new contract in the summer, pace to burn and can chip in with important goals and puts in many dangerous crosses that the opposition struggle to cope with..

    I can only see a slight increase in season ticket prices for next season as the idea is surely to carry on building up the fan base of the club. There is so much more potential in the city of Bradford with it’s 530,000 population.

    I think it’s fair to say that Phil Parkinson ( who is a fine manager) needs to make better choices of players this month than he last summer and going back further to the acquisition of Gray, which in hindsight was a poor signing.

    I still think with a couple of quality signings this month we can challenge for a top six place.

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