By Jason McKeown
As Bradford City slumped to a disappointing defeat to Cheltenham Town on Saturday, much of the talk before, during and after centred around the unexpectedly early beginnings of manager Phil Parkinson’s summer clear out. Michael Flynn, Craig Fagan and Chris Mitchell have departed the club, with Mark Stewart and Steve Williams expected to follow suit. There is also a worrying question mark over David Syers.
It is a great shame that Flynn – a player who has always made such a big deal of applauding supporters at the end of matches – will apparently not be part of the end of season lap of appreciation around Valley Parade after Saturday’s match with Swindon. Three years at the club, and after 104 appearances where he never once gave anything less than 100% – that we fans will not even get to say goodbye and thank him for his service is a damning statement of the lack of sentimentality football clubs carry towards their employees.
Flynn was a great signing by Stuart McCall back in 2009 – exactly the kind of experienced head that was needed as a younger City team looked to take the club forwards, following cut backs during the summer. At 28-years-old, the energy and drive Flynn provided quickly made him popular with supporters, with a number of inspirational performances and collection of great strikes to remember.
Similar to Lee Bullock, the longer Flynn has been at the club the more withdrawn his role became. The Michael Flynn of the 2011/12 season was very different in terms of responsibility to the Michael Flynn debuting in 2009/10. Now it was Ritchie Jones who was the man to bomb forwards, with Flynn protecting the back four. He excelled in this new role and was one of the club’s best performers during the first half of this season.
Indeed when I was fortunate enough to spend 15 minutes talking to Parkinson back in September, the recently installed City boss made a point of outlining his vision of building a squad with strong characters who preach good habits and ethics to the younger players. It is hard to imagine a finer senior pro to have in the dressing room than Flynn, but now that experience will be lost and another club will benefit from it.
Testimony of that character and attitude came from Flynn’s recovery from a difficult second season (Syers take note). Out injured for months, he struggled to find his form during the second half of 2010-11, after he eventually returned. Peter Jackson looked to offload him during the summer, but the Welshman turned down a move to Bristol Rovers and didn’t allow the demotion to the Development Squad for a friendly with Silsden to push him out the door. Instead Flynn proved over pre-season what a good player he is – and how much he still had to offer – to change Jackson’s mind and stay at the club.
However, Ricky Ravenhill arrived at Valley Parade in November looking every bit a replacement for Flynn, and – after an injury-hit second half to the campaign – he has ultimately lost his place in the team, and at the club, to the 31-year-old. The writing was on the wall in recent weeks, but whether releasing Flynn is a call you agree or disagree with, surely no one can argue that the way he has departed is fitting. Get him at Valley Parade and on the pitch after Swindon on Saturday, he fully deserves that honour.
The next time Fagan sets foot on the Valley Parade pitch, he will probably be booed. Departing alongside Flynn, Parkinson revealed that Fagan is the subject of interest from clubs down South and so has left now. That could easily include League One clubs – he has the talent to play at that level – or a team who will visit this part of West Yorkshire next season.
What to make of Fagan’s time at the club? His pedigree suggested he was an outstanding signing by Parkinson, even though a quick look at his goal record hinted that he would not be prolific up front for the Bantams. He was not, and ended up moving to perform a wide right role which provided balance to the team and ensured Parkinson also had the added defensive covered he craved.
Fagan did not do a bad job at City, in my opinion; but, in return for his likely high wages, we expected more. Ultimately it is hard to re-sign him for next season if he is going to continue receiving a considerable salary while not performing a role to the team that befits being a high earner.
Yet you still shake your head at seeing him leave, and wonder what was the point of signing him in the first place? One obvious affect from his time at Valley Parade was it also ended the Bantams career of Chris Mitchell. A player of real potential early season who was quietly impressing, Fagan took Mitchell’s right midfield spot and the 23-year-old has not featured since the Oldham JPT defeat in December.
The argument rages that City were in too desperate a league position to invest time and patience in players like Mitchell, who are not the finished article but could clearly become very effective by receiving that support. Moving to City could ultimately prove very damaging to his career – it appears no one has tried to sign him on loan, for example – but hopefully he can re-establish himself somewhere next season and build on his obvious potential.
Former Falkirk team mate Stewart looks set to join Mitchell in moving elsewhere this summer. After the Cheltenham defeat Parkinson stated he will look to move Stewart on – apparently this was news to Stewart, hinting at poor man-management. Williams too is on his way out, with the former hairdresser apparently enjoying a successful loan spell with Inverness that the Scottish club are keen to make permanent.
Williams was at Valley Parade for the same length of time as Flynn, and the first 18 months of that period were full of great personal promise which included speculation of Championship club interest. Williams was a very assured, composed and intelligent player under McCall and Peter Taylor, but he struggled under Jackson and never seemed to be in Parkinson’s long-term thoughts.
You can’t help but feel that – like Mitchell – City have wasted rather than nurtured Williams’ talents. They had a very promising player with some rough edges, yet ultimately didn’t have the inclination or the ability to build upon them. That depresses me, because Williams 18 months ago was a silver lining on top of ever-darkening clouds. He was supposed to eventually leave for better things.
Which leads us on to Syers – whom Parkinson claimed has rejected a new contract, which the player himself has denied via Twitter. The first instinct is to criticise the manager for risking Syers walking out of Valley Parade this summer, but the more I think about it the more I believe the player should be careful over his future.
First, what is Syers’ role next season? Over the last few weeks, Ricky Ravenhill and Ritchie Jones have proved themselves first choice central midfielders, probably for next season as well. They are very well balanced together, with only the lack of goals a slight worry. Bullock is probably third choice and – right now – Syers fourth.
Will this change next season? And if not, just like with Fagan, will Syers be earning a wage that reflects his status in the squad? Width of a Post is going to cover Syers and his contract situation in greater detail this week, but for now it’s worth noting that the young midfielder’s stock has fallen over the season and he will not be as in demand from other clubs as he might have been if he was a free agent a year ago.
Whatever is the sticking point over the contract dispute, it’s to be hoped an agreement can be reached so Syers can stay. If Flynn’s unemotional booting out demonstrates the lack of respect football clubs can harbour towards players, and if City indeed are an outfit who cannot develop their own to the next level – we might one day look back with huge regret if Syers is allowed to leave the Bantams this summer.