Pre-season gets more serious in Ireland

14 Jul
Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

Picture by Kieran Wilkinson

UCD AFC vs Bradford City preview

@UCD Bowl on Tuesday 15 July, 2014 

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City’s annual trip to Ireland occurs with the squad for the 2014/15 season largely formed, and with only a few obvious gaps left to fill.

As Saturday’s 3-0 friendly romp over Guiseley evidenced, Phil Parkinson has plenty of strength in most areas of the team. There are several options and combinations for the centre of the park, up front and across the back four that will ensure keen competition for places. Although the appearance of defender and striker trialists at Nethermoor suggests Parkinson is considering adding to these areas, his main focus will surely be on the positions where he is severely lacking.

Principally that is someone to play in-between the sticks for the Bantams. As it stands, there is no contracted goalkeeper at the club. With less than a month before the big kick off, that reality prompts some apprehension – given it is such a key element of the team.

The folly of placing goalkeeper recruitment at the bottom of the priority list can be observed in Stuart McCall’s final season in charge, where he had infamously budgeted just £600 a week in wages to tempt a competent keeper. Cue problems. (And though the player eventually brought in that summer, Simon Eastwood, promoted huge derision over his performances at City, it’s worth noting that he might be back at Valley Parade next week as Blackburn Rovers’ keeper.)

Parkinson will evidently be weighing more importance on filling the position than as to leave barely any of his reduced budget left over to sign the two goalkeepers needed, but he’s probably not going to splash out the cash on the number two keeper at least. Last season, with the larger budget, Parkinson relied upon loan keepers to sit on the bench for half a season as insurance for a Jon McLaughlin injury. There may have been some financial commitment involved in borrowing Connor Ripley and Aaron Jameson, but it would barely have troubled the salary cap. With austerity the order of the summer, it’s hard to imagine Parkinson dramatically altering that stance.

Which makes the situation with McLaughlin all the more curious. City’s longest serving player was offered a contract to remain at the club, but for one reason or another it wasn’t signed. Clearly the club wanted him to stay when originally offering him that deal, but something stopped the Scot from agreeing to it. Without any public comment from the player, speculation reigns as to why he didn’t take the offer. Was he holding out for more money? Would he have preferred a longer deal? Had he been told that he might not be number one next season and was therefore unhappy? Was he aware of other clubs showing an interest in his services?

For the time being, McLaughlin trains with the club, presumably unpaid. If he was attracting interest from other clubs, what has stopped them from signing him, or why isn’t he at least appearing on trial for them? For these reasons, you can only speculate that offers from elsewhere have not being forthcoming, or at least any previous interest shown towards him has faded, should the keeper have been holding out for this. McLaughlin may have appeared on other clubs’ list of targets, but if other names were ahead of him on those lists, and if the club in question succeeded in signing them, there would be no need to follow up any initial interest shown towards Jon.

Such a scenario would appear to have occurred with James Meredith. In May the Aussie was quoted in Four-Four-Two as saying that although City would offer him a new contract, there was interest elsewhere that he would also look at. “I’m obviously assessing my options…Before I got injured there was a lot of interest from Championship clubs, that interest has died down a bit but there’s still a bit there.” It would appear that, as Meredith stalled over signing the deal on the table, City opted to sign Alan Sheehan instead (and on the day Sheehan signed, Sky Sports revealed Meredith had rejected his original contract offer). However, Meredith ultimately came back and agreed a revised one-year deal.

If there was interest in Meredith, it never materialised or wasn’t sufficiently tempting enough to better playing for Bradford City. Yet had Meredith originally signed the deal offered to him, would Parkinson have signed Alan Sheehan? The net result is that City now have two excellent left backs for League One level, and Sheehan – who was probably given certain assurances when he signed – is set to be first choice. By seemingly stalling, Meredith is now left with a lot of work to do earning a place in the team and winning over a doubting public. He must now have regrets.

A year ago I was speaking to the late former City Head of Development, Archie Christie, who was working for Harry Redknapp at QPR and quizzed me about Meredith. Unknowingly, I was providing him a reference about Meredith (I’m sure he also asked better qualified people than me) as he was on QPR’s lengthy list of targets for that summer. Again, nothing materialised and – to the best of my knowledge – City never received a transfer bid from Rangers. But it underlines the point that, as clubs draw up their wanted lists every close season, appearing halfway down one is no guarantee it will lead to something.

If there was still a firm contract offer on the table for McLaughlin to be Bradford City’s number one next season, he would surely sign it. He would not be training with the club, risking injury by playing in friendlies unpaid, and travelling over to Ireland, if he wanted to leave and if there was a realistic possibility of him doing so.

He has being accused of messing around the club and that’s probably true (though he has every right to secure the best situation for his career, as are you and I in our careers), but it appears that he is the loser of the situation. Simon Parker has stated the player “is still no nearer to finding out if he will be part of the club’s plans for the new season”, revealing that the balance of power has shifted. McLaughlin must now wait to see if the club still wants him, when at the beginning of June they had offered him a deal that he chose not to take.

The two games in Ireland begin with against the University College Dublin AFC (UCD AFC) Tuesday evening, at the wonderfully named UCD Bowl (can a 1,500 capacity stadium really be called a Bowl?) UCD play in the League of Ireland Premier Division (currently sitting second bottom, midway through their season) and will offer a useful workout.

Having initially being ruled out of the start of the season, central defender Matt Taylor is expected to experience some action over the two-game tour and may be fit enough to appear from the bench in the second half on Tuesday. On paper, Taylor still looks an excellent acquisition and, if he can sort his fitness issues, will add competition at the back.

Aaron Mclean, who picked up a minor knock in pre-season training, is also expected to figure at some stage of the tour and will want to hit the ground running. Last season his partnership with James Hanson saw very mixed success, and these games should be the perfect opportunity for the pair to build up a stronger understanding for when the serious stuff begins. In what is a big season for Oli McBurnie, he can’t afford to miss opportunities to impress in pre-season friendlies and will hope to be fit enough to figure on Tuesday.

Beyond Angelo Balanta and Nick Arnold, who have travelled to Ireland, it is unclear if any of the trialists from Saturday will be offered another opportunity to impress, and indeed there may be new trial players brought in for a go. Beyond that, Parkinson has stated his intention to give half of his squad 60 minutes on Tuesday and the other a full hour on Saturday, as fitness levels are pushed harder.

This is the third year in a row that Parkinson has taken the team to Ireland and it appears to work well in developing team spirit. Those supporters who have been on previous trips – after they stop talking about how brilliant the nightlife is – have always commented on an enjoyable atmosphere of openness around the matches, with players and management mixing freely with supporters.

And though some of the new signings still remain unfamiliar to us, there’s a good opportunity to meet and have your picture taken with people who might in future become City heroes. Two of my friends went to Ireland in 2012/13, and approached Ritchie Jones in the club house, desperate to have their photo taken together with the midfielder. Looking around for someone to take the picture they spotted an unassuming bloke nearby, asked if he would mind doing the honours and handed him their camera. Snap, photo completed. “Thanks very much” they said to the bloke, before walking back to the bar. “Who was that bloke?” one of them asked. “Erm (long pause) – oh he’s called Stephen Darby.”

The diamond lights up Bradford City’s opening friendly victory

12 Jul

celebration

Guiseley 0

Bradford City 3

Clarkson 12+43, Dolan 26

Saturday 12 July, 2014

Written by Jason McKeown (images by Kieran Wilkinson)

This was a very early statement of intent from Phil Parkinson. In the midst of a growing clamour to change the playing style for next season, at Nethermoor the Bradford City manager trialled a diamond 4-4-2 formation that will please the purists. A slow but considered passing style was the result of the new approach; with the tempo deliberately quickened in the final third. This was an evolution to the way the Bantams ended last season – and a huge contrast to the high tempo strategy of a year ago.

Guiseley were game opponents but limited in their resistance, making it difficult to draw any conclusions beyond guarded encouragement about the effectiveness of this new approach. But it has quickly become apparent that Parkinson already possesses the types of players that will make this formation work – in fact, you could argue he has an embarrassment of riches in his available options.

Take the holding midfield role that is so pivotal to the diamond’s success. Matty Dolan and Gary Liddle were awarded 45 minutes each in this position and both excelled. The better days of Dolan’s loan spell at Valley Parade last season came when he was instructed to protect the back four, at Leyton Orient and Rotherham. And during the first half today, the young midfielder was hugely influential in either winning the ball or receiving it from the defence, and then setting up attacks. Liddle is more of a box-to-box midfielder than Dolan and might struggle to maintain the same positional discipline, but he is an excellent tackler and on first impressions looks an inspired signing.

The first half City team featured Jason Kennedy and youngster Sam Wright as the two widemen of the diamond, and both did well. Kennedy looked as though he had finally found his relevance in a Bradford City shirt and set up two of his side’s three first-half goals. Wright lacks stature but was comfortable on the ball, catching the eye with some probing passes.

Trialist Angelo Balenta – released by QPR during the summer – was asked to play the attacking midfield/deep lying striker role and impressed. Having made his name as a winger, it was surprising to see the Columbian playing in the hole; but much of what was good about City during the first 45 minutes involved him. Balenta was undoubtedly the most notable trialist of the six players who were awarded an opportunity.

baltanta

The first half diamond four helped the Bantams to quickly race into an unassailable lead. First Lewis Clarkson clinically half-volleyed a Kennedy cross home from close range, before Matty Dolan arrowed a free kick around the wall and into the bottom corner. Clarkson made it 3-0 following another Kennedy knock-down. Balenta’s crossfield ball into Kennedy’s path, during the build-up, was arguably the pass of the match.

It was a good afternoon for the young striker Clarkson, who was unable to make any first team impact last season due to a serious injury. Clarkson should have added a couple more goals, however, after spurning two excellent one-on-one opportunities either side of his opener. His movement and off-the-ball running was noteworthy, and he linked up well with the ever-fantastic James Hanson. It will be interesting to see if Clarkson can make an impact over the coming season.

After 11 changes were made at the interval, the revised diamond four was made up of Liddle in front of the back four, Billy Knott in the hole, and Mark Yeates and Rafa De Vita as wide players. It quickly became apparent why the signing of Knott is considered such a coup, as the former Sunderland man made a strong first impression.

Knott’s intelligence and confidence were the most striking, as he attempted all manner of tricks and clever passing that easily out-witted Guiseley. His best moment was a mesmerising dribble from deep and audacious chip attempt that the home keeper scrambled back to tip over the bar. In this formation, Knott should be a huge hit this season. That said, on this evidence there are question marks about how well he would fit in with a more conventional 4-4-2, similar to the questions that Yeates was unable to answer last season.

sheehan

The other two permanent signings making their debuts – Alan Sheehan and Billy Clarke – also performed well. Sheehan is expected to begin the season in the side ahead of James Meredith, and brings a similar attack-minded style of play. Clarke played up front alongside trialist Callum Ball, yet most of his best work came outside the box as he dropped deep or out wide. This is why Parkinson seemingly has an embarrassment of riches to make a diamond formation work – even if Balanta doesn’t sign, Clarke looks ideally suited to compete with Knott to play in the ‘hole’ position.

Although there were no further goals in the second half, there were numerous opportunities to have at least matched City previous two pre-season visits to Guiseley, where they rattled in four goals. Clarke was played clean through on goal by De Vita, but saw his low shot scrambled off the line by a defender. Sheehan cut inside and fired a low effort that flew just past the post. After excellent work out wide, Clarke delivered a superb cross to Ball; but the former Derby striker could only head the ball onto the crossbar when he should have scored.

Ball became a second half talking point, but not in a good way. He has a sizeable frame, but lacks any real presence. There was very little pace on display, and very few effective touches. When late on he chased a 50-50 ball but couldn’t keep up with the defender, Ball could only resort to lamely grabbing their shirt. Sadly for his career, its next chapter will not be written at Valley Parade.

Of the other trialists, goalkeer Ben Alnwick (ex-Sunderland and Tottenham) didn’t have enough to do to form a judgement, whilst defenders Richard Bryan (ex-Aston Villa) and Nick Arnold (ex-Reading) looked reasonable. De Vita was nowhere near matching the impact he made in this fixture a year ago; but the door will surely remain open for him for the moment, and he will be on the plane to Ireland. Certainly De Vita’s best hope is that Parkinson was satisfied enough with the diamond formation to continue its development over pre-season.

Although two wingers are said to still be on the shopping list (loanees from Premier League or Championship clubs), these players are unlikely to arrive until just before the start of the season. In the meantime, Parkinson is building a way of winning matches without a reliance on touchline-hogging wide players. It is certainly different to before, but the greater time that the ball spent on the floor today would suggest it is an approach that can satisfy his public’s expectations.

City – first half: Alnwick, Darby, Bryan, Davies, Meredith, Dolan, Kennedy, Wright, Clarkson, Hanson

City – second half: McLaughlin, Arnold, McArdle, Heaton, Sheehan, Liddle, De Vita, Yeates, Knott, Clarke, Ball

benchdavies

kennedy

Pre-season preview part two: Back to Guiseley

11 Jul

NV2G9609

Guiseley vs Bradford City preview

@Nethermoor on Saturday 12 July, 2014

By Jason McKeown

Pre-season begins and ends against managers with Bradford City connections; as first Mark Bower’s Guiesley welcome the Bantams tomorrow, and Colin Cooper’s Hartlepool travel to Valley Parade a week before the season starts. In total there will be six friendlies played in the space of three weeks, all aimed at ensuring the team hit the ground running.

Cooper’s time at Valley Parade was brief. He was brought in by Peter Jackson to assist in 2010/11’s troubling relegation battle, and took caretaker charge of two matches – both won – following Jackson’s shock departure early into the following season. Yet from such a short time period, Cooper left behind quite a legacy which has being widely cited as a key factor behind the club’s success over the past two seasons: Nick Allamby.

Having known fitness coach Allamby during his time at Middlesbrough, Cooper invited him to assist with Jackson’s 2011/12 pre-season and his knowledge and expertise have really taken the club forwards in how it prepares for the season. Upon replacing Jackson and Cooper, Phil Parkinson instantly recognised the value of Allamby’s work and retained his services. When the manager’s contract situation rumbled on during the second half of the 2012/13 season, one of the main reasons for the delay was Parkinson’s insistence that Allamby and assistant manager Steve Parkin had their own futures sorted at exactly the same time. The trio sat down together to sign three-year deals.

 The benefits of Allamby should be obvious to even the biggest sceptic. 2012/13’s 64-game marathon is the stuff of legend and it is to Allamby’s credit that the team looked as fresh as they were the previous August during their play off final demolition of Northampton. Simon Parker recently provided a superb stat about City being League One’s fourth-best second half team of last season, and we saw it with our own eyes. Recall, for example, the recovery from 2-0 down at Sheffield United in January when the team had looked beaten. What could easily have developed into a 5-0 hammering was turned around in the second half as City claimed a useful point. Credit to Gary Jones and co for dogged determination, but equally such comebacks were the result of the scientific fitness approach that Allamby has instilled.

It has helped to give pre-season a more serious edge to the days of old, and the friendlies – particularly the week-long stay in Ireland – are all part of a tried and proven plan. We have come a long way from going to Guiseley under Stuart McCall, with the manager, his assistant Wayne Jacobs and Mark Lawn’s son getting a run out. Allamby is a key figure all year round, none more so during pre-season where City do everything on their terms without a fixture list dictating the schedule. Nick told Width of a Post’s Nick Beanland last summer, “I try to give them ‘football intensity’ so we get them straight into playing football – there’s none of the old fashioned stuff where you’ll just run for two weeks before you get to see the football.” As the previous two seasons have proved, the work taking place now will stand this group of players in good stead for the battles ahead.

Beyond that, pre-season can from the outside appear fairly chaotic. The gaps waiting to be filled by new signings, the early judgements to form on new players, the uncertainty over who will be in the manager’s first choice XI when the season begins, the youngsters given outings, the trialists, the endless substitutions. Games, especially early doors, lack rhythm and tempo. Goals are applauded rather than cheered. Inevitably, someone will get injured and it often sets back their entire season.

Tomorrow will be the opportunity to take a first look at the new arrivals, with Billy Knott, Alan Sheehan, Gary Liddle and Billy Clarke expected to make their first outings in claret and amber. Matty Dolan is another new signing, but a player we are familiar with following his low-key loan spell last season. By 5pm there will probably be much talk about names that, at this moment, we have never heard of – the joy of trialists.

Other players who figure will have a point to prove and will aim to make the most of the fresh start. Jason Kennedy and Mark Yeates have a lot of people to win over and will want to impress – whether it be to figure more in Parkinson’s plans or to attract interest from other clubs. We’re looking for signs of a sharper and more settled Aaron Mclean up front, and that Rafa De Vita – who made a big impact on trial in this fixture last summer – is worth awarding another contract to.

The focus will also be on the man between the sticks. Jon McLaughlin continues to train with the club but has still yet to agree a new contract. Is he hoping to secure a move elsewhere or simply unhappy with the terms offered by Parkinson? His presence – or lack of – at Nethermoor tomorrow will offer some indication. Either way, expect a trialist of some sort to figure for 45 minutes at least.

Beyond that, it will be great to re-acquaint with the familiar faces of those who have done the business for City over the past two years and who remain a part of Parkinson’s plans. Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, James Meredith and James Hanson – all know the Guiseley turf well from previous pre-seasons, and the journey ahead. As the warm up to a campaign full of unknowns begins, it is comforting to know that we have a core group of players who have consistently proven they can be relied upon.

For Guiseley – who over recent years have become a home for discarded Bantams players – there will be a few blasts from the past. Kyle Harrison and Danny Ellis were once in City’s youth ranks. Ben Parker spent the 2006/07 on loan at Valley Parade from Leeds. Danny Forrest made an explosive impact 11 years ago, scoring on his City debut. Andy Holdsworth was on trial at City under McCall in 2009 but was snapped up by Oldham before City could act. It will also be a special day for Bower, as he takes charge of a team against the club that he grew up supporting and represented for over 10 years. Last season, Guiseley were unfortunate to once again lose in the play offs.

At this stage of pre-season, Guiseley offer the ideal first test. Not least due to Nethermoor’s close proximity to Leeds-Bradford airport – last year the team flew straight to Ireland after the match.

Pre-season preview part one: the obscure world of trialists

9 Jul

Ireland 1

By Jason McKeown

It’s a good job that the Wi-Fi reception is good at Nethermoor, Guiseley – for Bradford City’s usual pre-season trip to their non-league neighbours, this Saturday, will no doubt provide reasons for us supporters to Google obscure football names who appear on trial.

Year after year, a number of trialists will take part in early pre-season friendlies in the hope of convincing the manager they are worth offering a permanent deal to. Although it seems most have no chance, a surprisingly high number are awarded a proper contract and some have gone on to make a huge impression. Witness the club’s most effective post-millennium strike partnership of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, or other ‘We Made History’ contributors, Zavon Hines and Carl McHugh.

Other notable trialist names over the years include Andy Gray, Mark Paston, Paul Henderson, Steven Schumacher, Steve Williams, Kyle Nix, David Syers, James O’Brien, Steve O’Leary and Scott Neilson. Last season’s 4-0 Guiseley romp featured four trialists – including Rafa De Vita, who ended up signing a one-year deal with the club. No wonder we all pay extra attention to these unknowns.

There are, however, many others who don’t impress enough to warrant a place in the upcoming season’s squad, and are cast off. Some names remain in the memory, others are long forgotten. Width of a Post recalls some of the failed trialists from the past seven seasons and what became of them.

Kyle Naughton

The pre-season: 2007/08

Background: Having emerged through the youth ranks at Sheffield United, a teenage Kyle Naughton was trialled by Stuart McCall but overlooked for a deal.

What happened next: A left winger at the time and with his Bramall Lane future in doubt, Naughton eventually established himself with the Blades thanks to manager Kevin Blackwell converting him to a full back. Naughton and team-mate Kyle Walker were eventually signed by Tottenham for a combined fee of £9 million. Although Naughton has struggled at White Hart Lane, he could certainly have done a job at Valley Parade!

Jevegeni Novikov

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: As Stuart McCall managed the cost-cutting measures from a failed promotion bid the season before, several trialists were given an opportunity, including Hanson and Williams. Another interesting figure was Estonian international midfielder Jevegeni Novikov, who auditioned in a 2-0 friendly victory over York City and looked fairly impressive.

What happened next: With no deal offered, Novikov ultimately ended up at FC Okzhetpes who played in the Kazakhstan Premier League, before moves to FF Jaro (the top flight in Finland) and Estonian side FC Levadia Tallinn. His career ended in 2011 at just 31-years-old.

Alan Mannus

The pre-season: 2009/10

Background: Part of McCall’s 2009 trialist search that summer included finding a goalkeeper to replace the departed Rhys Evans. Long-established Linfield stopper Alan Mannus, born in Canada and raised in Northern Ireland, played a couple of friendlies but was unfortunate that the poor quality of opposition meant he didn’t have a save to make. He left, and McCall ended up bringing in Simon Eastwood to keep goal.

What happened next: Mannus returned to Northern Ireland and signed for Shamrock Rovers. In two years at the Tallaght Stadium, Mannus played in the Champions League and was runner up in the PFAI player of the year award. In 2011, Mannus joined St. Johnstone, and he has largely enjoyed an impressive three years in Scotland. More European football, a third-place finish in the SPL and, last season, a Scottish Cup winners’ medal.

Seb Carole

The pre-season: 2010/11

Background: French winger Seb Carole was trialled by Peter Taylor in the summer of 2010, but the former Monaco, West Ham, Brighton and Leeds man was not offered anything concrete.

What happened next: Carole made a return to Brighton on a week-to-week contract, but was only a bit-part player under Gus Poyet. After a brief spell back over the channel with OGC Nice, Carole played for Knaresborough Town, enjoyed a short cameo back in League One with Bury, and spent two months at Guiseley.

Jamie Green

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: After foolishly allowing Omar Daley to leave Bradford City, Peter Jackson was left scrambling for wide players and trialled former Rotherham winger Jamie Green in several friendlies. Green was fairly impressive and it seemed likely he would be offered something, but in the end Jackson opted against it.

What happened next: Green signed for Grimsby Town on a non-contract basis, who had just been relegated from the Football League. He appeared at left back on six occasions but was eventually released, ending up in South Yorkshire’s non-league circles. Last season he was contracted to Buxton.

Jonny Brain

The pre-season: 2011/12

Background: Former Newcastle United youth product Jonny Brain was clearly highly rated during his four years at Macclesfield and linked with moves to bigger clubs – but to Bradford City fans, a succession of awful games against the Bantams meant he was a laughing stock. His most high-profile gaff was an air-shot that allowed pint-sized City striker David Brown to score on his debut, at Moss Rose in 2008. It was therefore a huge shock when Brain appeared as a City trialist under Jackson in a game at Silsden. He had little to do but conceded a late goal in a 7-1 win, and was promptly released.

What happened next: Brain was signed by non-league Nantwich Town and helped The Dabbers reach the FA Cup 1st Round for the first time in its history. He was voted player of the season and given a two-year contract in 2012, but was transfer-listed a year later as Nantwich needed to cut their costs. Brain played for Stafford Rangers last season but is currently without a club.

Michael Boateng

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Along with Anthony McNamee (ex-Wycombe), Michael Boateng was trialled by Phil Parkinson following a strong recommendation by Jamie Lawrence (the pair were part of his academy). The duo took part in City’s pre-season trip to Ireland but were not offered anything.

What happened next: Boateng – who had been on Bristol Rovers’ books – ended up moving into non-league with Bromley, Sutton United and Newport County (before they were promoted to the Football League), but hardly played for any club. After seemingly nailing down a first team spot at Whitehawk last season, Boateng was named in the match-fixing scandal and, last month, was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Javan Vidal

The pre-season: 2012/13

Background: Despite his exotic-sounding name, Javan Vidal was a Mancunian who came through Manchester City’s academy and undertook several loan spells at the likes of Aberdeen, Derby and Chesterfield, before signing for Greek club Pantolikios. After failing to make a single appearance for the Superleague Club, Vidal appeared on trial in City’s 7-1 thumping of Tadcaster United but was not offered a deal by Phil Parkinson.

What happened next: Left without a club for six months, Vidal eventually signed for Stockport County but left Edgley Park after they were relegated from the Conference. Amazingly, Vidal was given another professional opportunity and signed for Rochdale last summer. However, after making only three appearances at Spotland, he was released last January.

Gary Woods

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: After playing in all but four games of Doncaster Rovers’ 2012/13 League One title-winning season, Gary Woods was surprisingly released and ended up on trial at Valley Parade due to new goalkeeping coach Lee Butler’s South Yorkshire connections. Woods played in City’s tour of Ireland but no deal was agreed.

What happened next: Woods also went on trial to Championship club Watford and earned a one-year deal at Vicarage Road. Despite not figuring at all last season, Woods remains on the books at Watford.

Vincent Acapandie

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: The wonderfully-named Vincent Acapandie rocked up on trial last summer and played in the annual Guiesley friendly. The 23-year-old Frenchman had graduated through Auxerre’s academy but played only five times for the Ligue 1 club.

What happened next: After failing to impress Phil Parkinson, Acapandie is no longer playing football.

Brian Jensen

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: At 38-years-old and after 10 years at Turf Moor, Brian Jensen’s trial appearance for Bradford City last summer came as a huge surprise. ‘The beast’ looked solid enough in the 4-0 thumping over Guiseley, but surely City could do better?

What happened next: There was life in Jensen yet. He signed for Bury and enjoyed a strong season at Gigg Lane – sweeping up at the player of the season awards. Jensen wasn’t offered a new contract in the summer, and so has signed for City’s League One rivals Crawley Town.

Dimitrios Konstantopoulos

The pre-season: 2013/14

Background: Yet another keeper trialled last summer (in the end Jon McLaughlin was the only permanent keeper Parkinson had on the books), Greek stopper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos had quite a pedigree. He’d made his name at Hartlepool during the period where United were knocking on the door to the Championship, and after 139 appearances at Victoria Park went on to play for Coventry, Swansea and Cardiff. After two years at AEK Athens as back up keeper, Konstantopoulos was looked at by Parkinson but not signed.

What happened next: Konstantopoulos had no trouble finding a club and signed for Championship side Middlesbrough on a short-term deal that was extended last January. He made his full league debut in March and impressed greatly, ending the season attracting interest from other clubs such as Nottingham Forest. In May, Konstantopoulos signed another new one-year deal at the Riverside.

Let the left back battle commence!

7 Jul

 

By Gareth WalkerSAM_2850

This afternoon, James Meredith has signed a new one contract with Bradford City after attending training this morning. In doing so he put an end to a bizarre summer of speculation regarding his future.

Having been in Australia on holiday, Meredith had left his agent in charge of sorting out his future and it became a long drawn out process. Unlike Gary Jones and Garry Thompson he was not “released” by City in the early stages of the summer break, and it became clear from the onset that – along with Steven Darby and Rory McArdle – Meredith was a player that City wanted to keep.

However, whereas Darby and McArdle committed themselves to the club relatively swiftly, Meredith’s future continued to remain unresolved with no announcement either way for some time.

Eventually, news broke via sky sports that Meredith had turned down City’s offer of a new deal and was in fact attracting interest from Championship clubs. In turn, the Bantams’ signed fellow left back Alan Sheehan seemingly as a replacement for the Australian. Phil Parkinson revealed that he had told Meredith that, due to the shortage of left backs being available in the transfer market, he couldn’t wait all summer for a decision on his future.

However, time continued to pass and unlike what happened with Jones, Thompson and Nathan Doyle’s departures, there was no official announcement from the club that Meredith had gone. There was also no news of Meredith signing for a new club, unlike what had happened with Carl McHugh.

Last week there seemed to be a twist in proceedings as Simon Parker broke the news that City were still in contract with Meredith regarding discussions of him staying in West Yorkshire. This morning the rumours of him staying gathered pace – and indeed he signed a new one-year deal this afternoon.

There will be those that see the delay in the deal being agreed as a bad thing, and there are sure to be concerns that Meredith saw us as a last resort when that so-called Championship interest didn’t materialise.

However, with the player having been on the other side of the world for most of the summer, we can be unsure how much of a role his agent had to play in these negotiations of bluff and counter-bluff.

After being one of the standout performers in the 2012/13 promotion campaign, Meredith did struggle defensively at the start of last season – often being caught out of position and costing us a goal here and there.

However, he has also never had any real competition for his place during his two years at the club, with McHugh always looking more comfortable playing at centre back. Sheehan will definitely offer that competition, and the pair’s flexibility will also be key in what is likely to be a smaller squad next season.

Both are known to be able to play in a couple of other positions. Sheehan is adept at playing on the left side of a centre back pairing, and Meredith can cover in central midfield and on the left wing.

What is clear is that on his day, Meredith is a quality lower league left back, but on the other hand so too is Sheehan and there is bound to be a some fierce competition between the pair for a place in the starting XI next season. This ultimately can only be a good thing for Bradford City.

Peter Horne’s abrupt departure

7 Jul

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By Jason McKeown

The football industry has long been filled with abrupt goodbyes that are lacking in appreciation – but to an outsider, there seems to be something especially cruel about the manner in which Peter Horne has departed Valley Parade after 16 years hard toil, largely behind the scenes.

Two lines of copy at the end of a Telegraph & Argus news story, and as yet no official announcement via the club website. There are rumours and counter-rumours as to what has happened to cause a parting of ways, ranging from he was sacked, resigned or is suffering from ill health. Whatever has taken place and whether his departure is viewed internally by the club as a good or a bad thing, nothing can change his list of achievements since he joined the club back in 1998.

Over a decade and a half, Horne rose up through the youth team coaching ranks to take full control of this area of the club in 2011. When Archie Christie joined the Bantams that summer, his first action was to offer Horne a four-year contract and hand him the additional responsibility of Head of Youth Development (“Peter Horne has done a stunning and magnificent job”). Whatever the front-of-house failings that had caused the club’s decade-long decline, the youth set-up was evidently doing its bit – and Horne was a key reason for that.

It hasn’t always been obvious to us supporters, simply because the club’s brightest youth prospects have been consistently sold on before they reached the age of challenging for first team football. The players discovered and developed by Horne and his team, only to be sold early, would have formed the bedrock for a mightily impressive Bradford City side.

Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom and George Green. The money raised by selling these players has at times proven vital in supplementing first team budgets and keeping season ticket prices so low – and they have continued to pay. Delph’s 2010 move from Leeds to Aston Villa provided a sell-on windfall, Tom Cleverley’s loan moves to Watford and Leicester produced a five-figure sum of money, and Andre Wisdom’s first team outings for Liverpool generate appearance fees.

As supporters, there will always be a sense of sadness and what might have been, and in an ideal world all of these starlets would have been kept on and appeared in City’s first team. But you can understand the logic behind selling players of potential for what could ultimately prove to be lucrative deals – especially as there are no guarantees they will make it.

Witness Niall Heaton’s return to Valley Parade last summer after Liverpool released him, or goalkeeper Sam Filler, sold to Middlesbrough in 2008 but who ultimately never made it as a professional. In 2011 I interviewed Horne, who told me, “I get a lot of comments along the lines of ‘why aren’t we seeing any young players coming through?’ But it isn’t just about that. Our youth department is working in a different way. Yes we produce some players for the first team, but we’re helping to sustain things for the club.”

Horne and his team have also overseen the development of youth players who have made Bradford City’s first team, and he must have harboured his own personal frustrations that pretty much all of them did not go onto enjoy the sort of career they threatened. The passing of their care into the hands of a first team manager has often seen development stutter or reverse. The likes of Danny Forrest, Joe Colbeck and Luke O’Brien carried so much promise, yet none managed to sustain a career in the Football League.

Perhaps, with all the managerial changes over the years, it is to be expected that youth team graduates have stagnated. Whereas some managers like Stuart McCall showed a clear passion for the youth set up – he made sure he knew the name of every player across all ages ranges – others like Peter Taylor were said to care little. In his programme notes over the years, Horne would often convey his frustrations that previous managers had overlooked the youth team (Colin Todd and Taylor, take a bow), but in their defence they faced very different pressures that understandably caused them to look elsewhere for answers. (And besides, in Todd’s case he handed a lot of first team debuts to youth players.)

In Horne’s last season, 2013/14, the youth set up had never looked so strong. The under 18s won their league at a canter, and went all the way to the Youth Alliance national final before losing to an impressive Colchester United side. Oli McBurnie has become the latest flag-bearer for hopes of a youth team player making it, and his prospects look strong. The class of 2013/14 aren’t all going to make it at City (in fact some have already been released); but if one or two can complete that giant leap, Horne will deserve a share of the credit.

A Bradford lad and a City fan himself, it must have taken something extraordinary to prompt Horne’s sudden exit. But he leaves behind the commendable legacy of a much improved youth set up – and we can only hope that his fantastic work is continued by Alan Nevison and co.

Speaking to Michael Flynn

3 Jul
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Picture courtesy of Bradford City Football Club

By Jason McKeown

Some numbers become iconic to certain clubs, and at Valley Parade the number four means a great deal.

After Bradford City’s greatest-ever number four departed for a second time in 2002, the gap he left behind proved colossal. Many people subsequently tried to fill Stuart McCall’s number four jersey, often with very little success. Meanwhile the club continued to tumble down the leagues; at times seemingly sleepwalking its way towards oblivion.

It was left to the club’s greatest number four – by now the manager – to solve that conundrum. And in 2009, Stuart McCall unearthed a real gem in recruiting Michael Flynn. The experienced midfielder was exactly what was needed to lead a young team through some difficult times. Flynn played a key role in putting the brakes on the club’s decade-long slide. He gave everything to the cause and was warmly loved by supporters for it.

At last, a number four you could rely upon.

Across three seasons, Michael Flynn played over 100 games and netted 14 goals for the Bantams; it would have been more but for a bad injury picked up at the beginning of his second year. If you include caretakers, he played for six different managers over that period. Turbulent times for sure, and it is a shame for the player that he was not around to experience the club’s long overdue success.

Now playing for his hometown club Newport County in League Two and recently awarded the additional responsibility of managing the club’s youth academy, Flynn took time out of pre-season to talk to Width of a Post about his three years at Valley Parade.

WOAP: You joined Bradford City in the summer of 2009 after a season at Huddersfield. How did the move come about?

MF: Well basically once Stan Ternent had left Huddersfield that season, we had a new manager come in (Lee Clark) and he wanted his own team – even though at the point he came in I was the top scorer. They sent me on loan to Darlington at one point, but I returned and managed to stay at Huddersfield until the end of the season.

That summer, I heard that Stuart McCall was interested but, to be honest, I left it a few weeks. Eventually I came to an agreement with Huddersfield; and as soon as I spoke to Stuart, Bradford was the only place I was going. I had a couple of offers to stay in League One, but I decided to sign with Stuart. He was unbelievable; such a gentleman, and he seemed really honest. That and the chance to play for Bradford, who were a huge club even though they were in League Two, was too good to turn down.

WOAP: At the time it was a squad that had just been rebuilt due to budget cuts. What were your first impressions of the club and the players in the dressing room?

MF: It was hard times to be fair. During my time I think the club were close to administration a few times. It was a bit frustrating to be honest because I would have loved it to have been my time when Bradford got promoted. But it wasn’t to be.

We had a really good team spirit that first season, a good bunch of lads. It’s just unfortunately the quality wasn’t there. We were missing probably three or four players.

WOAP: What did you make of Stuart McCall as a manager?

MF: He was unbelievable. He was absolutely superb was Stuart. So honest, so determined. He loves the club inside out. Wayne Jacobs was great as well. Stuart had the same thoughts as I did when he went to Bradford – letting his heart rule his head. He wanted to get them promoted, as did I. Unfortunately we didn’t get our dream, but I guarantee that we were both as happy as each other when Bradford did actually go up.

WOAP: Peter Taylor came in and made it clear you were a key figure for the club. What was he like to play under?

MF: Peter Taylor was brilliant. He was a lot firmer than Stuart, but one thing I loved with Peter was you knew where you were with him. There was no airs or graces: if he didn’t want you he was honest about it.

Peter was very tactical and I’ve taken a lot of things that I learned from him into coaching. In terms of tactics and preparations, he was spot on.

In the summer that he was made permanent manager I had a chance to go back to League One with Leyton Orient, for more money. But I decided to stay and signed a new two-year deal. I wanted to carry on playing under Peter, and we both genuinely thought we could do something that season. But it was just one of those things, it didn’t happen.

WOAP: Why do you think that was?

MF: I think we were short up front, to be totally honest. We only really had James Hanson, and he had been playing in non-league only 18 months before. He has done really well and come on leaps and bounds, but with just him I don’t think we were good enough up front then.

WOAP: Taylor went and then in came Peter Jackson. What was your relationship like with him?

MF: It was fine, I got on really well with Peter. If I’m totally honest, I think Peter was there to be shot at. He wasn’t the choice of manager that everybody wanted, but he did his best like the man he is.

He’d never do anything half-hearted. But being brutally honest I think he was the cheaper choice of manager. Still, I’ve got a lot of time for Peter and I still keep in contact with him. He’s a top guy.

WOAP: The 2011/12 pre-season began with a Development Squad friendly at Silsden where you, Luke Oliver and Robbie Threlfall were involved – apparently all on your way out of the club. What was happening during this period? Were you being pushed out?

MF: Yeah, I was being pushed out. They wanted me off the wage bill. I had a bad injury the season before, which was supposed to be a three to four-month absence. There was a lot of messing about with injections here and injections there, when I should have just had the operation straight away. I was actually out for nine to ten months.

So it took me a while to come back. I wasn’t as good as I was in the first season, I’m happy to admit that. But I’m not one to give up and didn’t that pre-season. I obviously won Peter Jackson around and I won the chairmen around, and I went on to score another six goals that season. That includes the goal against Leeds, which was one of my highlights of my time at Bradford.

WOAP: Indeed that goal against Leeds is warmly remembered, as it was part of such a brilliant night for us supporters. What are your memories of that night?

MF: It was an unbelievable night. The Bradford fans were amazing, as they always were. Let’s be honest, Bradford fans had been through a lot. The fire, the administrations – but these things seem to bring the club and supporters closer together.

If only we could have held on against Leeds that little bit longer at the start of the second half, I still think we would have caused an upset. The last thing we said before we came out after half time (City were leading 1-0) was ‘do not concede early’, but then we go and concede after 30 seconds. It was just a bit of naivety in the squad: we had players from non-league, and it was a young team. But we were unlucky to lose.

As I said it was a great atmosphere, and the Bradford fans made that.

WOAP: And then barely two weeks later, there was yet another management change. From your point of view you had only been at the club a couple of years but were already playing under a fourth different manager – what was that instability like?

MF: Well we actually had six! We also had Wayne Jacobs and Colin Cooper as caretaker managers. All of the change was a nightmare to be honest. It was really hard. A lot of the players didn’t know if they were coming and going. The new manager wants to bring in his own players. It’s hard and unsettling.

But at least now, with Phil Parkinson there, it has all settled down. I know there has been some changes this summer, but Phil has got the players in that he wants and I’m sure they will do well again this season.

WOAP: What did you make of Phil Parkinson?

MF: Phil and I got on really well. There was talk of me extending my contract, but then I got ill and was out for a while (December until mid-February). It was a tough time for me. Even though I came back and did quite well, we had already signed Ricky Ravenhill. And then in the summer there was myself, Ritchie Jones and Ricky who were probably among the higher earners, and one of us had to go. Unfortunately I was out of contract, and so it was me who went.

But I do have a lot of time for Phil, Steve Parkin and Nick Allamby. I still keep in touch a lot with Nick. There were no sour grapes about leaving.

WOAP: It must have been bittersweet to then see the club go on to enjoy such an amazing season in 2012/13. Did you follow their fortunes?

MF: To be fair it was a win-win situation, because I wanted Bradford to do really well. I knew a lot of players. I have always wanted my old clubs to do well. The summer I left they seemed to clear their debts with the stadium lease and things, and they were able to get better players in. And they got their reward with the great cup run and promotion.

WOAP: And meanwhile you have been having a great couple of years at Newport County…

MF: That summer I made the decision to drop out of the league. I could have stayed in League Two, but I wanted to go home as my daughter had started high school. I had been away for 12 years, so I thought the time was the right time to go back.

Thankfully joining Newport has paid off because getting promoted (to the Football League in 2012/13) via the play off final at Wembley was unbelievable. I have had other promotions, but that was something special. I didn’t enjoy the day though, only when the final whistle went!

WOAP: You have recently being appointed manager of Newport’s youth academy, what does the future hold for you?

MF: I will play as long as I can to be honest. I imagine it will be a lot less this season than last, where I played over 40 games. I have just done my A licence (coaching badge) which is something I have always been keen on. I am looking ahead to the next chapter of my life, but if I can play for another two or three years I would be delighted. If not, I will put in everything I’ve got into coaching.

WOAP: Finally you have played for eight different clubs over your career, how did Bradford City compare?

MF: Being totally honest, my time at Wigan was the best of my career – even though I wasn’t playing regularly. The team spirit was the best I have been involved in. We got promoted twice and reached the Premier League. I played with some brilliant players such as Jimmy Bullard, Leighton Baines, Lee McCulloch, John Filan, Jason Roberts and Nathan Ellington.

Then I went to Gillingham which was great. I would say that Gillingham and Bradford were equal in terms of how much I enjoyed them. I felt wanted and appreciated, so I’ve got a lot of time for both clubs.

I loved my time at Bradford even though it wasn’t the most successful for the club. It’s great to be able to say that I played for a club like Bradford. I am very proud of that.

Click here to follow Michael Flynn on Twitter.

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