Tag Archives: David Baldwin

Will Bradford City do business before the transfer window closes?

28 Aug

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By Jason McKeown

As many people in Bradford work up on Thursday morning with a sore head, an unsettling question was pushed to one side in preference for re-living the stunning events of the night before. But as the warm glow of pride in the Bantams finally defeating local rivals Leeds United inevitably dims, that question will ultimately need to be faced: We don’t want a second round League Cup victory in August to be the high point of this season, do we?

Such was the unbridled joy that emanated around Valley Parade on Wednesday evening, there is every possibility that the season may in fact have already peaked, just six matches in. But that cannot be allowed to happen, and for the joint chairmen, and manager Phil Parkinson, the focus should be obvious – how to build on such a memorable evening, and to take from it a legacy more lasting than supporter bragging rights.

It has been suggested that the Bantams have earned £250,000 for the derby cup match, due to a combination of gate receipts and Sky TV appearance money. With the August transfer window set to close on Monday evening, speculation is inevitably growing about whether this windfall will be handed to Parkinson to strengthen what remains a worryingly thinbare squad. He may be interested in signing another striker (Morecambe’s Jack Redshaw – who recently rejected a move to Peterborough for family reasons – has been linked with City). Or, after failing to bring in wingers during the close season, the manager may turn his attention to adding a wide player that would offer greater squad versatility.

Then again, the club has once again committed to a playing budget that is higher than its balance sheet break even point. Chief Executive David Baldwin has told Width of a Post, on numerous occasions, about the variants the club has in place to recoup this deficit over the course of the season – with a cup run amongst them. The lack of a cup run last season had some influence over the January departure of Nahki Wells to Huddersfield Town. Perhaps holding back the windfall now would mean there would be no urgency to sell a key player, such as James Hanson, when the mid-season transfer window opens up.

Potentially changing the picture completely, however, are the events taking place down the M62 at Old Trafford. Angel De Maria’s British transfer record move to Manchester United might seemingly have unlikely connotations at Valley Parade, but the Argentine’s arrival looks increasingly likely to push Tom Cleverley out of the door – causing West Yorkshire ears to prick up.

And the Bradford City youth player’s departure from United would trigger a sell-on clause that his former club would benefit from. The exact details are unknown (all I know, from interviewing Mark Lawn in January 2011, is that the terms are not as lucrative as any future Liverpool sale of Andre Widsom would prove), but it gives extra reason for City fans to scan newspaper gossip columns and keenly watch Sky Sports News over the coming days, hoping the England international leaves. Aston Villa are in the driving seat to sign Cleverley, reportedly for a fee ranging from £7-£8 million.

Clearly it would benefit City to see Cleverley move to Villa Park, and the windfall would likely clear the season’s budget deficit and potentially provide Parkinson with a tidy sum of money to strengthen the squad. It might all come too late in this window should the move only go through at the eleventh hour; but ultimately it could boost the club’s longer-term prospects, after a summer of supporters feeling anxious about cost-cutting measures.

With the opening month of the campaign coming to a conclusion in the shape of Saturday’s trip to Rochdale, it is still unclear what to expect from Bradford City over the coming months. An encouraging start has certainly eased the pre-season pessimism that a season of struggle lies in store, and it seems as though the Bantams have a squad good enough to be competitive in this most competitive of divisions. But it remains to be seen how City will cope with a couple of further injuries or suspensions – right now, you suspect that lack of strength in depth will hinder promotion aspirations – and, with a number of non-contract players in reserve who could leave at any moment, there looks set to be a heavy reliance on the form and fitness of a small group of first-teamers.

This is where the Leeds windfall – and potential Tom Cleverley transfer – could prove vital, giving Parkinson a stronger hand to utilise in the coming months. The August transfer window clock is ticking, and over the next four days we will find out if City are going to make their move.

2014/15 previewed: Parkinson faces tough challenges to deliver further progress

7 Aug
Image by Alex Dodd

Image by Alex Dodd

By Jason McKeown

“I think it’s a big season for Phil,” stated Mark Lawn in early July, although when is it not a big season for any football manager?

Unless you are the seemingly unsackable Arsene Wenger, every incumbent in the 91 hotseats up and down the country is just one poor season away from being dismissed. At Valley Parade, Phil Parkinson faces what on paper looks set to be one of his most challenging campaigns as Bradford City manager. He is tasked with continuing the considerable improvement he has delivered during three years in the role – yet for the first time must do so with a scaling back of the resources available. To achieve further forwards progress, he will need to make more from less; meaning that every move in the transfer market will be heavily scrutinised over the coming months.

To put it another way, Parkinson simply cannot afford a summer recruitment as poor as the last one.

And though the manager goes into the season popular amongst the majority of supporters, he is but a couple of poor performances away from a return of the pressure that he came under from a section of the crowd during difficult periods last season. In 2013/14 there were calls – from a vocal minority – for the club to sack Parkinson. A level of discontent simmered for a period, and it was only extinguished by a promising end to the campaign that resulted in a highly commendable top half finish. Nevertheless, the halo slipped somewhat on his high standing amongst supporters. It doesn’t take much imagination to envisage a re-emergence of grumbles about his performance as manager.

No matter what pressure there was on Parkinson at times last season, his sacking was never on the agenda. The signing of a three-year contract, in May 2013, provided him with a level of immunity from being handed a P45. It would have cost the club a considerably large amount of money – probably six figures – to have dispensed with him last season, with over two years on his deal still to run. As though he were Wenger, you could argue that City could even have been relegated and the job would still be Parkinson’s if he wanted it. As much as a manager can be, for 12 months he was bullet proof.

And he deserved to be. He really did. The modern day history of the club does not need retelling yet again, but it nevertheless continues to provide an important perspective when measuring the scale of Parkinson’s achievements. Turning around the flagging fortunes of Bradford City had eluded so many of his predecessors – anyone who can bring success deserved to be praised, lauded and loyally backed. That three-year contract was a reward for the unprecedented success the Bantams achieved in 2012/13, and it left Parkinson with credit in the bank that ensured he deserved ongoing support and security when bumps occurred during 2013/14.

The reality last season was that – when the chips were down and old familiar tales of on-the-field woes resurfaced – the vast majority of supporters remained calm, measured and understanding of the situation. Those who were calling for him to go found themselves vastly outnumbered by those who remained right behind him. The fantastic reception Parkinson received prior to the recent friendly at home to Blackburn Rovers dismisses any doubts over his popularity. The goodwill afforded to the manager endures and rightly so. Over a two-year period, Parkinson has pushed the club almost a third of the way up the 92 ladder.

Yet despite the majority verdict from last season, it’s highly likely that the fragmented lines will be redrawn over the coming season, and the debates about the manager’s worth will resurface. The downbeat pre-season mood perhaps helps the manager in terms of where the expectation bar is positioned; but if City are performing worse than they did last season, the excuse of a reduced budget (14th-best in the division according to Mark Lawn) may fail to wholly register.

And though it is fair to say that clubs on lower playing budgets than the Bantams finished above us last season, the correlation between resources and performances is generally a strong one. We must always live within our means, but budget cuts at Valley Parade in the past have not gone well.

Chief Executive David Baldwin told Width of a Post that the aim is to find greater efficiencies in the playing budget, rather than allowing for wastage. “The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least,” he noted.

Undoubtedly true, and the objective of not stocking the bench with, or leaving on the sidelines, unwanted players earning good money is a commendable one that no one would disagree with. The proof will be in the pudding however, and the reality at City – as it is up and down the country – is that managers make poor signings, or players who look good on paper are signed, fail to settle and under-perform. It has happened before, and it will happen again.

If the budget leaves very little margin for error in the players Parkinson has available – meaning any bad signings he makes will have to nevertheless be more heavily relied upon – the problems begin. That players who last season failed to impress are still part of the scene, and expected to contribute more this time, is also a concern.

Because in 2013/14 – with a larger playing budget – Parkinson’s good fortune was that he was able to get away with the fact his summer signings did not work out. He could continue to rely on the History Makers of the season before and, in January, made effective loan signings. Whatever criticisms were at times directed at the likes of Adam Reach, Kyle Bennett and Matty Dolan, the reality is these players all contributed more to City remaining in League One than the likes of Mark Yeates and Jason Kennedy.

And then there is the problem of Aaron Mclean. Despite an improved goal return at the end of the campaign, the striker has yet to convince in a City shirt and the jury is very much out. Rather like John McGinlay did for Chris Kamara, Mclean has the potential to make or break Parkinson. After Wells left in January, the manager was afforded a replacement budget considerably higher than any City manager in recent years has been given to bring in a striker. There is simply no way that Mclean could not be in the first XI this season, so he has to deliver. A pre-season stalled by injury is the worst possible start for the high earner.

In this summer – and like in 2012 – Parkinson has taken a radical approach to the squad. Letting go of numerous players hugely popular with supporters, and bringing in new faces who already it is clear will have a bigger role to play than the 2013 summer signings were expected to. The positive is that, in 2012, an even greater turnover of players reaped spectacular rewards. The business that summer remains conclusive proof that Parkinson has a fantastic eye for a player. He needs to reaffirm that faith, as it has been tested by the business of a year ago.

The other big question mark directed at Parkinson has been his style of football, which fairly or unfairly came in for criticism last season. As is sadly typical of these types of debates, it was over-simplified at times and the efforts of some good players was unfairly dismissed with the tag ‘hoof-ball’.

The fact is that – since Christmas 2011 – Parkinson had built a team around the immensely promising partnership of James Hanson and Nahki Wells, and he was spectacularly rewarded for doing so. At their best in 2012/13, and the first two months of 2013/14, the fast-paced nature of City’s attacking play was enthralling to watch. There was a real mixture of approaches, from the direct ball to Hanson, the attacking wide play of speedy wingers – who linked up so well with overlapping full backs – and the masterful passing of Nathan Doyle and Gary Jones. It was deliberate chaos at times, as opposition teams were attacked from all angles, sometimes not knowing what hit them.

When things started to go wrong last season and players’ confidence dipped, this style of play looked increasingly one-dimensional and easy to defend against. The attacking verve and high tempo waned, and the departure of Wells meant a key part of the team’s focal point was lost. It’s easy to criticise the football when things aren’t going as well as hoped, but the problems were more complex.

Nevertheless, last season saw a gradual shift to a new style of play, and it will be continued in 2014/15 with the diamond formation and greater versatility to change it around. I’ve never believed that Parkinson is a long ball manager, and a rewind back to his first few games in charge in 2011/12 – where he attempted to instigate a passing style of play with mixed results – demonstrates his adaptability. He built the high tempo 2012/13 side after learning the most effective way to prosper in League Two. And now, after a year in the third tier, he is adapting the playing style yet again.

This is the true pragmatism of Parkinson. He will set up his team in a way that he thinks will work in the environment that they play in. And ultimately his performance as manager will be judged on the results he gets. If playing more direct football continued to work past last October, no one would be complaining about him still using it now. If the football this season is more pleasing on the eye but leads to adverse results, no one will be happy and accepting of the playing style. Which would you rather have: principled football or three points? Both would be nice, but if we are forced to choose I don’t think there’s any doubt which would win out.

So some tough battles ahead for the manager. By the end of this season, he will have only 12 months left on his contract and become more easily sackable if the club is not progressing in line with expectations. A failure to match last season’s standards will see him come under heavy criticism. If his record in the transfer market is more 2013 than 2012, there will be no hiding place for him.

A big season for the manager, and a potentially difficult one, in view of the reduced budget and the rising demands. His track record of progress over the past three years continues to be relevant, but in the immediate term he will be judged in terms of how well he can manage his resources and further acclimatise to the division.

On his side, the summer signings are looking good in pre-season and – in view of the challenges around the cuts – he appears to have juggled the budget well. He should be applauded for what he has done this summer, because it has clearly not been an easy task. Even if time proves that he hasn’t got every tough call right, the circumstances around them should not be forgotten.

We fans, and the Board, owe it to Parkinson to support him throughout the season and not lose sight of the conditions under which he is working. This campaign won’t be easy and there will be times when the manager deservedly comes in for criticism, but we need to keep this season in context, and remember that, long-term, Phil Parkinson has the track record and know-how to ultimately build further on his list of Bradford City achievements.

2014/15 previewed: New season’s expectations must be judged against the three year plan

6 Aug

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By Katie Whyatt

Expectations. They’re the new elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about them, and can we? They’re a thorny enough issue anyway, without the spanner of an incomplete squad to wrestle with – you can’t judge the unfinished article. So don’t say anything, please – not now. We can’t talk about expectations yet.

Then, there’s that other thing: the budget. That infamous, obtrusive budget, engulfing the conversation, consuming the debate, dominating the discourse. And the expectations and the budget are so intricately linked. What we can hope for, what we’re allowed to predict, tied so intimately with the £500,000 cutback. For now, rightly or wrongly, these expectations go unuttered and unspoken, but, in the coming weeks, they will most likely form the lens through which this season will be judged. Undoubtedly, there is more than one way to measure success, but early expectations often become a barometer with which to gauge progress.

Setting out to define what’s reasonable to expect seems like a bit of a fruitless and difficult endeavour, given both the ambiguous noises from the club and the fact there are still gaps left to plug. Nonetheless, there are fundamentals to deal with, and what is OK to expect is dictated not only by the budget, but also by our wider position as a football club and where we see ourselves within the medium term. Within that, we have to maintain a culture of realism. Negativity can’t intrude here, but neither can fantasy. It’s about being balanced, sensible and realistic.

At the end of the 2012/13 campaign, Phil Parkinson and his backroom staff sat down, together, to sign three year deals, tying them to Valley Parade until the end of the 2015/16 season. This has been widely interpreted as a plan to be in the Championship, or at least knocking on its door, by the end of the three years – with, crucially, Phil Parkinson at the helm.

Year one was about consolidation, discovery and cementation. The team endured/enjoyed (delete as appropriate) the standard mixed bag of results inevitable for a newly promoted side, and were both hampered by injuries and helped by loanees in their quest to cross the line. Parkinson observed the way the division worked, concluded a new formation was needed and has subsequently tweaked his team accordingly this summer. Say what you like about the initial playing style or the one win in 21, but this objective was ultimately achieved with relative comfort. Phase one of the plan – survive, acclimatise and start to adapt – can now be checked off. Thus far, City are progressing in-line with, perhaps even beyond, the terms of the 3 year forecast.

Which moves us on to phase two, and the question of what this year entails as a part of the wider plan. With year three painted as the promotion season and City having already spent a year transitioning, year two becomes the bridge. At the end of this season, the strength and the position of the bridge will dictate how the Bantams approach next year. Year two will define whether initial aspirations remain feasible by the turn of the 2015/16 campaign. This might not be the promotion year, but this coming season has the scope to become the most important of the lot.

2014/15 is all about further progress. By the start of the 2015/16 season, City need to be in a position to look to seriously challenge for promotion. The foundations must have been laid by this point. The diamond has to work, but there also need to be alternative fallback formations that are just as strong and effective for when Plan A is nullified. The new signings must have not only adapted to League One, but have done so in a manner more convincing than their history-making predecessors. Because year two is about building up to year three sustainably.

The budget, although not ideal, is a necessary constraint to keep the Bantams above water – something that should resonate with our supporters more than most. The six weeks of madness might have been a completely different kettle of fish, but they still stand as a harrowing cautionary tale of what happens when a club spends drastically beyond its means.

To put City’s behemothic financial woes into perspective, I was three when the Bradford were relegated from the Premier League; fast forward eleven years, and the club were still grimacing from the scars of such profligacy, sinking in the basement division having just survived 3 relegations in seven years. The story of that decade of decline serves as a staggering recent reminder of what happens when a club enters the red, with the Bantams saddled with debts of £36 million.

Now, with the debts cleared completely, Lawn’s loan paid back and the finances stabilised thanks to the cup run and the sale of Nahki Wells, the focus turns towards making sure City remain in the black.

It’s fine to suggest increasing investment, but the bottom line is that Parkinson’s playing pot is determined by the tangibles and what’s salvageable. A larger speculative budget only works if you have fallbacks in place or the resources to avoid the darker side of the boom and bust cycle. The club have overspent again this year, but only by what can be recuperated before the start of the 2015/16 season through what David Baldwin termed “extraordinary income.” The reason, in Baldwin’s words, is “so we are not carrying debt into next year.”

It’s probably premature to deem this squad unequivocally better than the one before it, especially due to the relative unproven nature of this forward line in comparison to the prolificacy of the Wells-Hanson era, but there seems to be greater technical quality, man for man, within this latest version, plus the emergence of a style that should prosper in a league where much of the work is done in midfield. The lack of wingers and back-ups is worrying with less than a week to go, but Parkinson deserves to be applauded for how he has juggled the finances so far. He is recuriting a stronger core of players, but has managed to do so with £500,000 less to negotiate with.

That’s positive, but fundamentally this year’s warchest is, though competitive, probably not a promotion budget – and even if it was, there would always be the overriding danger of City running before they could walk. Regardless of whatever funds the club had at its disposal, I’d be wary if they were seeking promotion just a year after consolidation, especially while bedding a new team and a new style. The circumstances are different to 2012/13. The emphasis must stay on the words gradual progression.

The aim of the 2014/15 season is to lock down half the promotion team, ready for a convincing stab the following year. From the outside, it seems there wouldn’t be the scope for the club to head one make or break charge for the Championship – but would you want one?

I’m wary of clubs that pummel all their resources into one crack at promotion, because, if it doesn’t work out, where are they then left? Look at some of the budgets City boasted in League Two as managers failed to achieve the stated objective. ‘THE promotion season’ became ‘the nearly season’: a big budget had been set aside but, for whatever reason, the success we’d envisaged didn’t materialise. The consequences of that overspend stretched beyond end of season disappointment: bigger names had to be released and City finished 15th the following season, with a squad that, realistically, were never going to challenge. We need to be prudent.

Within this latest crop of players, the core of the ‘next generation’ is being assembled:

Rory McArdle – 3 years

Alan Sheehan – 2 years

Gary Liddle – 1 year, plus 1 year extension option

Billy Clarke – 2 years

Billy Knott – 2 years

Aaron McLean – 3 years

Stephen Darby – 3 years

James Hanson – 3 more years to run

The majority of those contracts stand for use within, or beyond, the allotted timeframe to be in the Championship. Lament the lack of a permanent goalkeeper, but it’s difficult to dislodge the above players’ places within the three year strategy. This window has been about gathering 50% of the promotion team, and then a supporting cast that will perform in a Bradford City shirt.

But even this raises wider questions about the three year plan: two years of consolidation and development, building up to that third season, places an awful amount of pressure on year three, doesn’t it? Undoubtedly true, but, because of how the plan is structured, much of that pressure has been alleviated.

The board haven’t released details about the budget for year three yet, obviously, but one would imagine the newer attitude to finances means that, while who dares wins, there has to be an element of conservatism and restraint in there, too. Julian Rhodes’ quote about using the League Cup windfall to run the club “like a business, not a hobby” springs to mind. The stakes will probably be raised, but not to such a degree that the following season is rendered futile as City recover. The board are finally in a position to allow City to grow in a financially safe way, but that requires discipline and dedication on their part. 2015/16 is huge, but it shouldn’t, and can’t, make or break Bradford City.

What all this means is that we are about to enter a season different to all the ones of recent history. With new aims and a wider plan to consider, the onus is on supporters to keep the season in context for the whole of the campaign, and not just the first few weeks. Last year almost had a feel of anti-climax to it because people interpreted the opening few games as ‘the norm’ and assumed the team just took a nosedive over Christmas, which is an over-simplification against a backdrop of other factors. The season’s ultimate significance was overlooked amidst the nadir of the one win in 21. Which is not to suggest the team and the manager were ever immune from criticism – far from it – but they arguably should have received more slack than some afforded them.SAM_1711

The diamond will work, but, as with any formation, it has its weaknesses. The new playing style means success will be measured not just in terms of the points haul, but how closely contested the league games are, and what glares out as the marked difference in matches. If City equal their 11th placed finish, and have dominated most games but just lacked that cutting edge, this is success of sorts, and the new weaknesses to address over the close season have therein been pinpointed.

This season will not be easy. For Phil Parkinson, this presents his biggest personal challenge yet. Tasked with delivering more from less, he will have to call on all his nous and experience to make sure not a penny is wasted.

He has to be shrewd in the loan market, bolstering the squad where necessary with footballers that will make a genuine impact – but leaving some of the recruitment until the eleventh hour has not rested well with sections of the support, and may herald problems as the season progresses. He has to get the best out of those players whose time at Valley Parade has, so far, been staggered – McLean, possibly the player who needed a full pre-season most, has spent the bulk of the prologue sat in the treatment room. The diamond needs time to be polished fully, and there will be times over the next nine months when that formation is rightfully shelved.

Most importantly of all, though, he has to make sure the club finish the 2014/15 season with a platform from which they can challenge for promotion the following year. And he has to do that within the confines of the budget. Accomplishing everything will be no mean feat.

Yet the perception of the season is dictated by our expectations. We will generate our own success criteria and will measure the campaign against this. It is likely these expectations will shift as the season develops, but we have a duty to make sure we are flexible and manage our expectations against what we already know. We cannot lose perspective like some did last season. Context becomes the new buzzword.

2014/15 is the frame for the bigger picture. New faces, new style, new hopes, new dreams. A promotion might not be on the cards, but that doesn’t mean we’re in for a bland ride. Depending on how you plan to assess the season, 2014/15 could still very much be our year.

2014/15 previewed: A busy summer for David Baldwin

28 Jul
Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

Picture courtesy of Bradford City FC

By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin used to be long retired, living a relaxing life in Spain. Yet whilst the West Yorkshire weather on the afternoon of Bradford City’s pre-season friendly with Blackburn Rovers would rival temperatures in Madrid or Marbella, for David there are no Sangrias by the beach to enjoy, and instead a meeting with Stephen Hawthorn-Emmott, the club’s Head of Marketing, inside one of the Valley Parade boxes, followed by a pile of paperwork to get through and a further meeting with a scout in half an hour’s time.

It is 2pm, and in the Valley Parade main stand outside, City fans are beginning to take their seats, but David is working up to the last minute, before he can take in the entertaining 0-0 draw – today’s task list including an interview for Width of a Post. The close season is a frantic and unrelenting period for the Bradford City Chief Executive – persuaded out of retirement by Mark Lawn in 2007 – who amongst the many plates to keep spinning has the small matter of helping Phil Parkinson to rebuild the squad.

During a summer of vast change in the playing staff, it is no small challenge. Two weeks before the big kick off, many of the holes have been filled but there still gaps to address. Those lazy retirement days must seem a lifetime ago.

The retained list

One of David’s initial summer duties included the negotiating of new deals for the out-of-contract players who Parkinson wanted to keep: namely Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and, initially at least, Jon McLaughlin. David explained how the process of offering new deals works.

“When you do an offer of re-engagement with a player, the player has one month from receiving the offer to make a decision,” stated David. “There are two conditions of the offer; firstly that it must be an improved offer or at least matching what they were earning. Secondly, we have to give them a month to decide on it. That is then their protection and, if they want, they can go and test the market to measure if it is a good deal for them.

“Rory McArdle was the first one back from holiday and we sat down with his agent to sort his deal quite quickly. Some amendments were made to the original offer, and he signed on those terms. Stephen Darby received his offer then went on holiday a couple of days later. So it was longer before he came back, but then he very quickly came into the building wanting to sign, which was good news.”

Yet whilst these two players re-signed relatively promptly, it proved to be less straightforward with James Meredith and Jon McLaughlin, who failed to sign the deals on offer before the 30-day deadline, meaning the club had the right to withdraw them. The bottom line being that the club have ultimately brought in replacements for these positions, with Meredith re-signing to take up what initially looks set to be a back-up role, and McLaughlin departing altogether.

Image by Mike Holdsworth

Image by Mike Holdsworth

“Jon McLaughlin’s offer had elapsed, because I don’t think he was happy with the offer we had made,” revealed David. “And that’s when the positioning with him changed. With James Meredith it was the same scenario; he didn’t come back to us in time, although later decided that he wanted to be here.”

On McLaughlin, Baldwin admitted that the decision not to make a further contract offer was due to finances and the manager’s choice to bring in Jordan Pickford as his new number one. “You are balancing the economics of a playing budget with the positions that you need to fill,” he stated. “And the dilemma for the manager was, who is he going to hang his hat on to be his first choice goalkeeper? He’s looking at all the permutations.

“What you have to consider is that, if you can’t afford two first team goalkeepers, it becomes an expensive thing to have one of them sitting on the bench. Now if the manager was in a position where he was making Jon McLaughlin his first choice, then the offer to him would be a first choice offer.

“From Jon’s perspective, his expectation will be that he would receive an offer as a first choice. And understandably so, he was an ever present last year. But the manager picks the team. From a Board perspective it is simple economics of saying to the manager ‘you can’t afford both’. So he had to make a choice. We don’t tell him which choice to make, it was a decision he had to make balanced against making sure there is money set aside for other parts of the team.

“We can’t afford to have a keeper on a first choice budget sitting on the bench.”

And what of James Meredith? “We made James an offer; obviously he was weighing up his options, like anybody would. It probably didn’t help that James was over in Australia, but once the offer period had elapsed, we then targeted Alan Sheehan, who we had been discussing as well.

“Alan obviously comes with a good pedigree and was being chased by a number of clubs, including clubs who are favourites to go up this year. We kept it very much under the radar and brought him in, which was very much a disappointment to James. He felt that whatever options he was considering elsewhere, they hadn’t come to fruition as he had wanted them to, so we sat down and re-negotiated a different deal with him. I think we now have good competition for that position.”

Another ‘We Made History’ player to leave, despite the club keeping the door open, was Kyel Reid, who has signed a two-year deal with League One rivals Preston North End. David confirmed that City were not in a position to offer Kyel a new contract as they were still evaluating his recovery from long-term injury.

“With Kyel Reid we hadn’t made an offer at that stage, because we were assessing what his fitness situation would be. But in the meantime, his agent got him a good deal elsewhere. We wish him well. But Omar Daley didn’t come back quite the player he was, and we can’t afford to be in a position of paying wages if a player isn’t going to play.

“Other clubs might see it differently and will take that risk, but it wasn’t a decision that we could make at that particular time.”

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Image by Kieran Wilkinson

The incomings

Beyond the futures of last season’s playing squad, David has also worked with Phil Parkinson in bringing in new faces, and he highlighted midfield as the key area of change. “The ethos was that the midfield needed more running power and a bit more craft, to play a different way when needed,” David said.

“The positive is that, of the players we have brought in, they have got good pedigree. You look at Gary Liddle. I spoke to the Hartlepool Chief Executive about him, and they could not speak more highly of him. We spoke to Notts County about him, and they obviously desperately wanted to keep him, but I think he was ready for a new challenge. He’s a player’s player and a fan’s favourite.

“Then there is Matty Dolan. He was only on loan with us because we missed the January transfer deadline by three minutes, because Middlesbrough were trying to sort out the international transfer of a goalkeeper at the same time. Matty came in last season and found his feet at the club. It takes time to adjust, as he is only a young lad and has only just turned 21. What he has done is listened very intently to the instruction of the close season fitness programme set by Nick Allamby. We’ve spoken with him at length about the benefits of the sport science side of things that we offer, and he has taken it on board and come back in fantastic shape.

“You look at the midfield now as having three fresh new players in: Gary Liddle, Billy Knott and Matty Dolan, who are all good footballers. There’s a decent amount of athleticism in there, and there’s a good amount of craft too.

“Depending on formations, we also now have the typeset of a typical number 10 in Billy Clarke. He can play up front, and he can play on the wings. He’s played at a higher level. I think he is a good addition to the squad. But midfield is certainly the biggest fundamental change.”

In contrast, the defence from last season has been largely retained, with the addition of Sheehan at left back and the replacing of McLaughlin with Pickford. “The seventh-best defence in the league, and we have retained the entire back four,” smiled David. “And we’ve added another quality player to it. And we’ve added a real up-and-coming young talented goalkeeper.”

On Pickford, David was keen to highlight the young shot-stopper’s glowing reputation within the game. “The people that we talked to – people with decent reputations as goalkeeping coaches and managers – have said that we have got a real starlet there.

“The bottom line with Jordan Pickford is that he is highly rated as the next young talent coming through. Sunderland have given him a long-term contract, and Sunderland want to see him playing. This is a good stage for him to demonstrate to them how good he can be.

“Is he motivated to deliver? Of course he is. People say he is a loan keeper, so how committed will he be? Well – with the four-year contract he has signed at Sunderland – he is committed to making sure that, a year down the line, he is knocking on the door for their first team. I think that is the reality of it, and it means we get a good player along the way.”

Despite the six arrivals, there are still other new signings needed and time is running out. So how is recruitment progressing? David explained, “The end of the transfer window is probably a more important measure than the start of the season, because you can rush people in, not quite getting the people you wanted, and they end up sitting on the bench. And then a week later the person who you really wanted becomes available, and there is nothing you can do.

“As we stand at the minute, I would expect three or four (new signings). Three at the absolute minimum, possibly four, maybe even five depending on the deals.

“No one is rushing into a panic and we are monitoring the situation carefully, these players and their availability. And some things are just worth waiting for.”

One of the key considerations behind the new arrivals is the planned change of playing style this season, which was first mentioned by Julian Rhodes in May. I have been intrigued all summer about how this new direction was agreed and whether this decision has been placed upon Parkinson, similarly to how the West Ham board have laid out certain demands of Sam Allardyce. David confirmed that the new approach was in fact a joint decision between the Board and manager.SAM_2083

“It’s a collaborative decision. We discuss it as a collective group. You digest what went well last season, what didn’t go so well, what things we need to improve and how we can go about it. Now I would highlight the Peterborough home game. We saw a change of system, and it was effective. Although ironically, in the Peterborough away game, the system change that day wasn’t as effective!

“We can still drop to the core 4-4-2 if needed. But the difference now is we have got players who can play both that and the diamond formation. Ultimately the one thing that came out of these discussions is that more mobility and versatility is needed in League One. And so, with the new players, what we are seeing is that coming to fruition. And it’s something we want to supplement further.

“There will be times when we want to go for pacy wingers, so that’s why we are looking for pacy wingers.”

The budget cuts

An ongoing talking point all summer has been the news that the playing budget has been cut to the tune of £500k – a considerable sum of money, with last season’s wage bill rumoured to be just over £2 million. David stressed that he believes the revised budget is nevertheless competitive, and highlighted a wide-ranging focus on delivering greater efficiency in how the club operates, which includes the playing staff.

“There has been a lot of talk about the budget being hacked back by half a million. The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least.

I recently did an article in the T&A about efficiencies. This budget is not a hack-back, it is still a very strong budget. And as part of doing that, we are checking the efficiencies of each transfer so that we aren’t paying, for want of a better word, dead money.”

But does that mean there are going to be further outgoings? “Never say never. What’s very important is that we still need to add to this squad. If you have a player leave, you’ve either got to bring in a better player or you’ve got to be in a situation of being made an offer that is too good to turn down that can create funds to improve the team further.”

This leads us onto the future of James Hanson, who has been the subject of tabloid speculation about a £300k transfer offer from Millwall. David confirmed that no bid has been made for James or any player. “There have been no offers. As far as I am concerned, everyone who is here is here and staying, but the picture can always change.

“As far as we are concerned, James Hanson is a good asset to this football club. And we would not want to see him go. However, somebody might make an approach that is too good a deal for him and too good a deal for the club to turn down. That could happen tomorrow, or it could happen in two years’ time.

“From our point of view, we are conscious that we only have 17 professionals in the building. There is enough to start and on the bench, but we are conscious that we need more players to strengthen this team.”

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Off the field matters

With ‘efficiency’ the phrase of the moment, I asked David for examples of where else this has occurred within the club. “We’re in a process of outsourcing to a third party the corporate side of the catering. The company has a good reputation out there in the market place. That arrangement starts on Friday. On a match day, what they will be managing are the Hendrie and McCall suites, Boardroom, 2013 Lounge, Bantams Bar and the boxes. They will also be running events on non-match days.

“It’s a better return for us without all the associated costs of managing it ourselves. I think they will drive the business on, and we – like with the shop – will be rewarded through greater turnover. We get a minimum guarantee and a percentage of sales on top of it, which is the way that the shop deal is structured.

“There is also the closing of the 1911 Club during the week. We haven’t closed it down, it just wasn’t running efficiently on a Monday – Friday basis, and however many people we get in there, versus the labour costs, it’s not going to generate enough income. And it can also detract from the service we offer on midweek match days, which is something we don’t want to do. Unfortunately there have been some redundancies as a result.

“The maintenance of the training ground has also been looked at, and the recruitment of the match day stewards. It’s all about counting the pennies, and no one has been immune to it.”

Another off-the-field developed this summer was the news that long-serving head of youth development, Peter Horne, had left the club. David was guarded over the reasons for this parting of ways but did reveal, “The facts are quite straightforward. Peter offered his resignation, and we accepted that resignation. There is nothing more than that. The reasons why people give their resignations I think it is private to them.

“From a transitional point of view, we have had natural progression of internal staff being promoted, with Alan Nevison taking over the academy. And I think that is testament to the quality of the people we have in the building.”

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The season ahead

Over the previous two campaigns, the Board has set a playing budget higher than the club’s true break-even point, with variants that can be considered for making up the shortfall over the course of the season. David confirmed that the reduced playing budget has again been structured in this way, although added that the difference between the budget and break-even point is lower this time, making it easier to claw back.

“We have another speculative budget this year. The break-even point, and the level we set the manager – there is a difference between the two. You make those decisions based on calculated changes that could happen throughout the season, which I call extraordinary income. Extraordinary income includes cup runs, transfer fees of existing or youth players, add on fees in relation to players who have left who are playing – there are certain trigger points, such as when they play and when they score goals. The other aspect is sell on clauses from other players sold who are further down the line.

“You look at that combination, and our expectation is that we will claw back the overspend from this year to give ourselves, in 12 months’ time, a break-even budget. So we are not carrying debt into next year.”

Earlier in the conversation David had joked about the ongoing speculation over former youth player Tom Cleverley – with any transfer from Manchester United triggering revenue for City through a sell-on clause. “Those things that may exceed the break-even point, we will want to give them to the manager to give him an even more competitive playing budget, without undue risk,” confirmed David.

So with the new faces almost all added, and the new playing style showing promise during pre-season, it just leaves one big, so far unanswered question – what, exactly, are the expectations this season? David declined making any predictions, but concluded the interview his own thoughts.

“My personal view – and the proof will be in the pudding – is that it is a more adaptable and better football team this year compared to last year. I think we have more versatility. We are not reliant on one or two players to score the goals. We are not sitting on laurels as we are not finished yet with building the squad.

“It is a moving beast, but I’m cautiously optimistic that we have a better footballing team in place now. I’m conscious that we have gaps, but it would be nice to think that we could make improvements on last year.”

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part two

29 Apr

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Following part one of our in-depth season review with Bradford City’s Chief Executive, David Baldwin, we move onto discuss with David next season’s plans.

By Jason McKeown

WOAP: How is the playing budget looking for next season?

We have been pretty honest in saying that we have given the manager a bigger budget this year than was actually the break-even point. And what we were using was the carry-over of the surpluses from the Capital One cup run. So going into next year’s budget, it will again be greater than the break-even point of the trading position of the business. It will be supplemented by extraordinary income such as transfer fees.

The bottom line is that the amount that comes through the turnstiles, the amount that comes through the catering and the amount that comes through commercial – minus the running costs of the football club – the figure we give to the manager is greater than that. It is at this point where you count in extraordinary income. This includes cup run money and transfer fee money. The extra income forecasted to come through will supplement the manager’s wage budget beyond the break-even point.

We have got a reasonable figure in for gate receipts, and that’s why I keep hammering home the point about the season ticket campaign. We could just up the prices on season tickets and still achieve the same income number, but we genuinely want to make sure that the price can remain as competitive as possible. Next season will be three years on the bounce at the current price, and it’s going to be hard to put in what we have for the playing budget if we don’t get the numbers through the door. We are hoping that we will get close to the same numbers as this season.

This is where the 12th man comes in. I need people to put things into perspective and think ‘we are staying in League One, we are back in League One next season and we’ve still got the same prices for the season we were promoted from League Two’.

The club is trying to be as fair as possible to get as many bodies in here, and to get the best atmosphere at the ground – so there is a whole army going on a journey together. This is more preferable than saying ‘oh well we will put the prices up to normal prices – some League One clubs are charging £350-£395 – as we will only need half the numbers to earn half the money’. And actually, halving the numbers would reduce our operating costs substantially, so we would only need 40% of the current numbers. So instead of 10,000 season tickets, we could have 4,000.

But it would destroy the atmosphere and it would destroy the journey. We don’t want to do that.

WOAP: Season ticket sales are obviously vital…

This is where we need the fans to do their bit. We need them to continue coming in numbers. And to consider it value for money. And to appreciate that it isn’t always going to be perfect and it isn’t always going to be the best performance in the world.

This is a club with an endeavour to keep improving itself. And I think from 2007, when I first joined, to 2014 today – this is a much improved football club.

It is much improved with its community engagement. It is much improved with its social responsibility in terms of the geographical area. We are engaging with over 2,000 people per week in the community, in terms of some form of coaching and educational exercise activity. And that’s excluding the partnership with the (One in a Million) school.

You look at the community stand, there are a thousand people coming every home game thanks to the community programme: that’s the next generation fans that we are encouraging. We are not just giving tickets away, it is not based on that. It is ticket incentive schemes, for different schools and organisations across the district. It’s not the same thousand people every game, it’s potentially a different thousand people on 23 different occasions. It is many more people bought into the potential of becoming Bradford City supporters for life.

I’m very grateful that some of the contribution to this community scheme is being provided by a private benefactor, who wanted to encourage next generations. I won’t embarrass him by naming him because that wasn’t part of the agreement, but the bottom line is that it was a fantastic gesture by him. And as a result, I genuinely believe that we will have another generation of die-hard Bradford City supporters.

That is progressive improvements. There are only 12 people running this football club full time. 12 people have to look after 14,000. People are committed tirelessly to their jobs. That £199 is not just going towards putting 11 players out onto the pitch. It is going towards building up a football club that has a sustainable future.

WOAP: So how are season ticket sales going?

They are behind schedule, but I do think that people will wait as late as possible. I expect there will be a late rush, and it will be a bit of squeaky bum time to get to those numbers. The offer runs out on 31st May, and then all season ticket prices step up by £100. No decision has been made on the Flexi-Cards from that point.

In order to be guaranteed the cheap prices, buy before the 31st May – and I don’t mind making the sales platter! I want what is best for this football club, and I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 people, cheering on this team and having a real go next year.

We are putting faith in the manager with the budget we are setting him; but we need the numbers in order for that to work, otherwise we would have to make adjustments later in the season. We don’t want to do that.

The easiest thing to do is to double the prices and go back to full market value. But that is not being progressive, that is not being socially inclusive, that is not being community-spirited.

WOAP: The Mark Stewart case has obviously hung over the club for over a year. What is the impact of its outcome?

We hoped that we would have it completely overturned. We were brave enough to go for it (with the appeal), because the fight was worth the fight.

Ultimately they wanted 330,000 euros under the compensation scheme, and they have ended up with 185,000 euros. So you would argue over the period between the start and the end, the saving in-between is significant.

It is frustrating, because you measure a player by his performance and we didn’t get a performance from Mark Stewart at Bradford City Football Club. So as a result of that, you think it’s a lot of money to spend for a low rate of return. Nobody likes to pay for something that they don’t feel they have had value of money from.

Ultimately the lessons have been learned. I do genuinely feel that we were treated unfairly, but you have to draw a line under it. It happened, but it will never happen again.

My role at the football club has migrated over the past seven years. My first responsibility was to revive the marketing and commercial side of the football club. Then it became operationally-driven. And then, over the last two years, my responsibility has increased to governance. Now, everything goes through me, and it has gone through me for the past two years.

When it comes to contractual situations and the budget control, that is now in my remit and I work very closely with the manager on that. I have been responsible for every single transfer in and out since 2012, and will continue to do so.

There was a time where we had to take stock of who did what at this football club – and the Mark Stewart case provided that moment. There are now very defined roles on who does what.

WOAP: A large proportion of the squad is out of contract in the summer. Have the Board and Phil started to plan who may be offered terms and who will go?

There are talks going on between the Board and the manager in terms of devising a plan. There are talks going on between myself and some of the players in the squad in terms of their activity for next season. We will reveal the outcome of those conversations in the fullness of time when they are dealt with and done properly. I won’t speculate on where we might be with them.

In addition to that there is a talent identification process going on, and a hit list of targets in all positions and throughout the whole squad. We are looking at who we have got in the building, who we have got in the building who is out of contract, and who is out there in the market place that could fit the Bradford City mould. We want the dynamics to be right in terms of if they would fit in with the team, ones that will wear the shirt with pride.

So we are having lots of meetings going on at the moment, and there is lots of tracking taking place. I was at the Guiseley vs Harrogate Town game the other day, and we are constantly reviewing players.

Other people speculate, and you see names on Claret and Banter with people saying ‘Why don’t we sign X? Why haven’t we looked at him’ Well I can assure you that they have not mentioned anybody who we don’t know about! And we know a lot about them all. We do our homework well.

WOAP: There are also a few players clearly not in Phil’s plans who have another year on their contracts to go, is this being looked at?

There is always a post-season review, and the manager will look into those players’ eyes and have a discussion with them about where they see themselves, and what they think they are going to bring to the table next year. Once you get that information you evaluate it and decide the best option for the club.

There is always a cost of moving out a player who is under contract, whichever club you are at. There’s also then a cost to bringing in a replacement. And so you’ve got to ask the question of what is the net effect of exiting a player and bringing in another one? With the budget, when it is gone it is gone, and you could end up making compromises elsewhere. If it costs you too dearly to take a player out, the danger is you weaken your starting point.

It is all up for discussion and no decisions have been made on any player. It has been difficult for the new players to break into the established squad, which had had a life-changing experience last season. But the one beauty about the end of the season is we turn that page and start with a blank canvas.

WOAP: A clear highlight this season has been the performances of the Bradford City youth set up…

For a lower league club, the youth set up offers the ability to realise the asset value of certain players at a younger age by selling them, and the funding of that contributes towards the first team running costs. The Fabian Delph sale to Aston Villa funded the Stuart season where we had a real go, for example. Without that money, we wouldn’t have had that opportunity and we wouldn’t have been in the top three until March.

The youth department is self-sustaining. It runs itself and it doesn’t lose money. It can also make a positive difference to the first team budget. You don’t plan for those youth sales, so once they arrive you can decide how this extra money will be used.

The youth team are all training at one site on Woodhouse Grove, and all of a sudden we are seeing 12, 13, 14-year-olds catching the eye of big clubs. We won’t necessarily see the benefits of these players, as people who step up to our first team, for three or four years; or we can instead sell them as assets earlier.

It is a healthy youth system, with a good crop of players throughout each age group. And good active opportunities for trailists to come in as well. There is no greater feeling than to see one of the stars of your youth team make the step up to the first team.

WOAP: And how is the RIASA link-up progressing?

There was recently a Bradford City friendly against Hull City – featuring several Hull first team players, who needed a game before their FA Cup Semi Final against Sheffield United – and eight of the City XI were RIASA players. We lost 3-0, which I would consider to be a moral victory!

The goalkeeper performed quite well, and Phil is keeping an eye on him. He is a North American, but he may have Swedish heritage which we are looking into at the moment. It is complicated, but we know what we are doing with overseas players.

WOAP: There has been a criticism that the failure of squad players to challenge first teamers for a place is due to the lack of a proper reserve team. Is this something the club would agree with?

I think that’s a big assumption. Whenever we have needed to have a game on we have set one up, and we haven’t always announced the games we have played. We can set them up quite easily, when we want them to take place rather than have a fixture list enforced upon us, and also control the level of football that you play against.

The danger you get with running the reserves is one week you can be playing an under 18s team who had a game the previous Saturday. And also sometimes, because of lack of first team players, we were doing the same with our youth team players. Now is that fair to their development?

I would say that our youth team has benefited substantially from not having the commitment to reserve team fixtures. It gives them an opportunity to grow and develop at their normal rate.

WOAP: Is there a vision for the club on where the Board expects to be over a certain timeframe?

It’s very dangerous to put a specific time on it, but we want to push to get to the Championship. We don’t want to be a yo-yo club that comes straight back down, we want to be sustainable there. People always ask the question ‘how are you going to be sustainable in the Championship if you can only just generate a budget for League One?’ Well the answer to that is you get an extra £6 million a year just for being in the Championship.

The beauty for us as a club is that our infrastructure is set up for the Championship. We have the training facilities, and the stadium is right, the fan numbers are right because the ticket prices are right. The corporate stuff we do is in place.

We have all the ingredients in place to be a successful Championship club, and we don’t have to make sweeping changes when we get there. And the extra funding required when we are there comes through the Football League’s distribution of money. It is such a massive jump up. 12% of the pot goes to League One clubs, and 8% goes to League Two. The other 80% goes to the Championship clubs. So that’s the golden goose to get.

And if we did get there, all of that money would be invested into the playing side of the club. It’s not going to go out in dividends, it’s not going to go to operational staff at the club – there isn’t that many of us. It would go onto increasing the playing budget.

WOAP: Finally, any plans for pre-season yet in place? Any tours to look forward to?

We haven’t decided on a tour as yet. We have two friendly games confirmed, but no dates yet. One of them is we will be going to Guiseley again. We have also arranged a game at home to a Championship club. It will be played somewhere between 26th July and 2nd August. Gate prices will be £10 adults and £5 concessions.

If you are planning your holidays, try and be back for the 26th!

David Baldwin on the 2013/14 season: part one

28 Apr

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By Jason McKeown

David Baldwin has a rather wonderful office during the week. He lives in Box number five of Valley Parade, adorned by photos of former claret and amber heroes and with a glorious view of the pitch out of the window. The Bradford City Chief Executive kindly found time in his busy schedule to speak with Width of a Post for an hour, to reflect on a challenging season for the club during which the stated objective of League One survival has been achieved.

This is the seventh season that David has been working at Valley Parade, a period which has coincided with some very dark times for the club. He is keen that people have perspective about the steps forward taken since, when judging Bradford City’s 2013/14 season performance. “Let’s focus on those positives that have been achieved, but rest assured the people in the football club won’t rest on their laurels and we continue to look at what we can do to drive the club forward,” he recently wrote in the matchday programme.

With that in mind, Width of a Post quizzed David on the previous 12 months and what the future holds for the club.

WOAP: What have you made of Bradford City’s first season back in League One?

The season was all about consolidation and maintaining our League One status. The most important thing is that we have achieved that and are continuing to take forward steps.

Things change and you have to adapt. And the adapting for us in the league this season was that people worked out what we are about. It is also a much better division. It is extremely easy to fall out of, and it’s also extremely hard to get out of the other end. So being somewhere in the middle, and being in a comfortable position, is a nice thing.

Avoiding relegation has been in our hands. We were always in a position where we could ensure our own safety, and that has to be a positive. People judge the season negatively against the great start we made in the first 10 games. But then you have to reflect on what has happened since that October highpoint. We lost Andrew Davies through a long-term injury. We lost James Meredith through a long-term injury. We lost Nahki Wells through an injury and then, upon returning, we went into the transfer element of the season. We then lost Kyel Reid to a long-term injury. We have also had to do without James Hanson for a period.

I would say to any fan out there: if you lose five of those players from your team, how much of an impact is that going to have on your ability to perform? These are all high-impact players. And at any one time, there have been at least three of them out of the team.

New players come in and they need time to gel. So there was then this morphing period in January and February. There was also the exact same morphing period two years ago, when we were struggling near the bottom of League Two – and look what happened the following season!

WOAP: Going back to last summer, can you talk us through the player recruitment and retention strategy? There’s a feeling from many fans that the recruitment side proved unsuccessful…

The strategy last summer was two-fold. First and foremost, we put faith in the players who got us into League One. And I don’t think that anyone could argue that point. Retrospectively, you might question if we did the wrong thing showing loyalty to these players. But no one could stand up and say that, last summer, they thought the 2012/13 team didn’t deserve that right to demonstrate they were capable of playing at a higher level. It’s very easy to be wise after the event, nine months later.

As the season progressed there was an effect to that establishment of players by virtue of the injuries you had with James Meredith, Andrew Davies and the like, plus Nahki being sold. These events will have an impact on your season.

In terms of new players, if you look at the situation on paper, what we signed last summer were four players. One player had been part of a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Swindon. One player had been part a promotion-winning team from League Two to League One with Exeter, and then part of a promotion-winning team from League One to the Championship with Charlton. One player had been promoted from League Two to League One with Rochdale. And the fourth player had played 32 games in the Championship and being part of a play off final match just five weeks before we signed him. So in terms of their pedigree of the new signings and what you anticipate they can bring to the table in terms of ‘have they achieved it at this level?’ The answer on paper was yes.

But these are human beings we are talking about. And there are all sorts of permutations for why things do and don’t work. Could we have seen a better return on the incoming signings? Probably. Are there mitigating circumstances in that? Probably. Were they questionable signings at the very beginning in terms of their historic pedigree? Not to any fan that I spoke to.

What you had to do was bring in players who you felt would complement the squad. But at the same time they had to break into the team. And I think that was the thing that happened during the early days. It took a long time for them to break into the team. But more importantly, probably by the time there were opportunities there was an element of being disaffected.

Finally to say on these players, three of the four have contracts for next season. Two of them have carried injury issues throughout this season. And who knows what a full pre-season will bring to the table with those players? With that in mind, we will see how they do. I think everyone should be given a fresh opportunity next season. When you turn that page over at the end of the season, they are all starting with a blank canvas.

WOAP: The season got off to a flyer but then October saw the beginnings of a bad run. What was the reaction, internally, to these difficulties?

It was frustrating for everybody. But the most important thing is you don’t hit the panic button. And if I was to read some of the fans’ websites, some people hit those panic buttons very early.

What you need in situations and scenarios when things aren’t going how you want them to is calm heads – who can think methodically about things, and put a corrective action plan into place.

The reality is that the actions that were taken in January to freshen up the squad is a typical, stand-back-and-don’t-panic approach. And if you take the results as they have been from mid-February through to the end of the season, barring a little bit of inconsistency, the return of points has been much better than the middle block.

So that is a perfect scenario of not hitting the panic button. It’s actually saying ‘we are not happy about this, we need to do something about it’. It was about looking at the reasons behind results and then determining what we can do to correct it. We put an action plan in place to correct those shortfalls.

WOAP: The Nahki Wells situation increasingly dominated the conversation around the club approaching the turn of the year. Was there a moment where, as a club, you realised there was no choice but to sell him?

We offered Nahki the opportunity to name his price to stay; and his agent told us quite categorically that it didn’t matter what we were going to offer, he was not going to sign an extended contract.

We knew the ramifications of letting his contract run from January to July – which was quite substantial – so what was then important was to consider what action to take and when to take it. The first thing was to get the saga settled, early on, so we had the whole of the transfer window to then reconcile what our alternative plan would be. We were working on a number of permutations of that.

There were other players where fees had been accepted, but ultimately that player choose not to come to us. For example, our offer for Dicko at Wigan was accepted. At one point, Nahki was potentially moving to Wolves. So as a result of that, they probably wouldn’t have gone for Dicko. It was all a bit of a domino effect, as Nahki going to Huddersfield meant Wolves were still in the market for a player. And just as Nahki made the choice to go to Huddersfield, Dicko made the choice to go to Wolves. So we had to act accordingly.

We were covering a few bases. And that’s a constant thing when you are moving players in and out. You have to have more than one plan in place. The reality is you don’t want to wait until the end of the month and have the transfer window close on you.

WOAP: January was a busy month with loanees coming in and late difficulties with Matty Dolan…

Matty was to be signed as a permanent player on an 18-month contract. As it was, the transfer deadline passed without the deal confirmed. The deadline came and went, and the activation of that paperwork required Middlesbrough to add their signature, and they were dealing with a number of other transactions at the same time.

The two clubs have instead entered into an agreement that we will take him on loan and then we will sign him at the end of the season.

In effect, as a player Matty is one of our own. It has hindered us because of the impact it has had on the number of loan signings you can include in the matchday squad. Unfortunately, there was no round it.

I was up until 1am the evening on transfer deadline day, trying to get the deal over the line. I was actually at Darren Moore’s house, having a Chinese with Darren and Wayne Jacobs! It was Wayne’s birthday weekend and he was coming as my guest to the Wolves game (the day after).

Thankfully they are two football legends who completely understood, because I didn’t spend any social time with them. I used Darren Moore’s office and I used Darren Moore’s fax machine. I even had him running across to his neighbour’s fax machine because we couldn’t get a document through in time! It would have made for a fantastic sitcom! We did everything our end, but couldn’t get the ball across the line in time.

I think it is safe to say that the bodies we brought in during January freshened up the environment. Yes, we would like to see more goals from Aaron Mclean, but I am confident that he will get them once he has a good pre-season under his belt.

WOAP: Other than Mclean and accepting the Dolan situation, Phil Parkinson has brought loanees in during the second half of the season. This is a policy that both chairmen and the manager have criticised in the past. What prompted the change of heart?

It is more a case of circumstance. Let’s put it into context. We didn’t at the start of the season find a back-up keeper, and the one we had on loan we couldn’t extend to the end of the season. There’s one tied in.

The second, Matty Dolan, was never intended to be a loan. With Adam Reach, he was brought in because we have a long-term injury to Kyel Reid. Kyel could be available to sign a new contract with us at the end of the season and we will have a discussion with him in due course. But at that moment in time, we needed someone to fill in for him for the rest of the season. If we had signed a replacement on an 18-month contract in January, that could have hampered discussions that we might want to have with Kyel Reid during the summer. Adam Reach coming in has fitted the necessity of providing cover for Reid.

Then with Adam Drury, we have proved that finding left backs is not an easy thing to do. And he was brought in, like Adam Reach, to cover for a long-term injury.

Chris Atkinson was to offer the team another dimension. Sometimes you do a little try before you buy. You will remember we brought in Will Atkinson on loan from Hull a couple of seasons ago and subsequently signed him for another year. Chris could fall into that mould. He is out of contract at the end of the season.

Kyle Bennett has been brought in as an alternative on the right-hand side because of Rafa De Vita’s long-term injury. He has another year left on his Doncaster contract, but he might be a potential year-long loan next season. Jon Stead is the same scenario of covering an injury.

It was all about freshening up the squad but also taking the chance to look at players. We have been able to bring in players that cover injuries, but who don’t expose you to contracts beyond a period after which you might not want to keep them. Therefore, we have not made any unnecessary spend.

It’s not a policy change, although I do think that a number of League One clubs, who have brought in loanees from the Premier League and Championship, have demonstrated the benefits of the system. You look at Alex Pritchard at Swindon and Patrick Bamford at MK Dons (now Derby) as good examples.

If the ingredient is right, having a loan player is not a bad thing to have.

WOAP: Phil Parkinson has come under pressure from a section of supporters. What would you say about the job he has performed this season?

I think that Phil is extremely methodical. He thinks about everything carefully, and boy does it hurt him when we don’t get a positive result. He really cares. I have got nothing but praise for him as an individual – that’s my personal view. I enjoy working with him. Under Phil, that panic button wasn’t getting hit.

You look at where we were two years ago. You make improvements because you learn from some of the things that work and the things which don’t work. And the one thing about football is it’s not about doing things wrong – because there isn’t a right and a wrong way – it’s about when you try something and it hasn’t come off as you hoped it would have done, you re-evaluate and then you decide whether that is something you want to consider pursuing.

We have to keep analysing what we are doing well and what we could be doing better. Everyone is doing that, and that is the nature of sport.

What I would say is there are lots of progressive improvements being made to this football club, and this place is a better place than it was two years ago. And Phil has to be given credit for that.

The path of progress is not a straight line. It sometimes goes up and then goes down. And at that dip, you rise again if you learn the lessons. If you don’t learn those lessons, you continue to go down. As a club under Phil, we started at a low point, have gone on up but have not then turned and gone all the way back down again.

In part two, David talks about the playing budget for next season, the latest with out-of-contract players and the long-term ambitions of the club.

David Baldwin: next season’s planning underway

26 Apr

SAM_1708

By Jason McKeown

The Bradford City Chief Executive, David Baldwin, has confirmed to Width of a Post that planning for next season’s playing squad has already begun, with talks commencing with the out-of-contract players about their futures.

City are also starting to look at new players to bring in during the summer. “There is a talent identification process going on, and a hit list of targets in all positions and throughout the whole squad,” David explained. “We are looking at who we have got in the building, who we have got in the building who is out of contract, and who is out there in the market place that could fit the Bradford City mould.

“We want the dynamics to be right in terms of if they would fit in with the team, ones that will wear the shirt with pride.”

Reflecting on City’s performance during the 2013/14 season, David admitted that the club has struggled at times due to the opposition working out City, and the higher quality of the division. “The adapting for us in the league this season was that people worked out what we are about. It is also a much better division. It is extremely easy to fall out of, and it’s also extremely hard to get out of the other end. So being somewhere in the middle, and being in a comfortable position, is a nice thing.”

Nevertheless, David feels the club has navigated the season effectively and that key to reversing the autumn/winter nosedive in form was not panicking. “The reality is that the actions that were taken in January to freshen up the squad is a typical stand-back-and-don’t-panic approach,” he added. “And if you take the results as they have been from mid-February through to the end of the season, barring a little bit of inconsistency, the return of points has been much better than the middle block.”

David also reiterated that the long-term ambition is to get back into the Championship, and how suitably placed the club is to thrive in the second tier. He said, “It’s very dangerous to put a specific time on it, but we want to push to get to the Championship. We don’t want to be a yo-yo club that comes straight back down, we want to be sustainable there.

“The beauty for us as a club is that our infrastructure is set up for the Championship. We have the training facilities, the stadium is right, the fan numbers are right because the ticket prices are right.”

A full in-depth interview with David Baldwin (two parts), reviewing the 2013/14 season and looking to the future, will appear on Width of a Post next week, from Monday lunchtime.

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