No football manager would ever want their team to lose a game, but after two successive defeats the small consolation for Phil Parkinson is that his hand may have been strengthened during this January transfer window.
An improvement in results over the Christmas period had pushed Bradford City away from relegation trouble and looking upwards towards mid-table, meaning previous intentions to spend money in January – supported by the joint-Chairmen agreeing to provide additional funding from their own pocket – no longer carried such urgency. Parkinson, it would appear, disagreed, and last week spoke of looking to convince his employers of the need to still improve the squad now, even accepting that it could mean less money to spend during the summer.
While City were losing 4-2 to Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday, League Two’s bottom club, Northampton, were completing a surprise away win at Morecambe which lifted them to 23rd and only four points shy of the Bantams, having played a game more. Despite recent improvement over Christmas, City’s relegation fears are far from over just yet. Parkinson clearly feels that, in order to win that battle, he must strengthen in the right way now.
Perhaps Neil Warnock offers an interesting case study in why Parkinson is willing to spend some of next season’s transfer budget now. Sacked by Queens Park Rangers on Sunday, the 63-year-old found that past successes counted for little when a poor run of form in the Premier League prompted his Chairman to act. Warnock has been typically outspoken in his reaction; making valid points that the club’s summer takeover deal delayed the availability of transfer funds, until just before the August window was about to close – limiting the business he could do.
An agreement was apparently made that – as long as QPR weren’t in the bottom three by the reopening of the transfer window in January – Warnock would still be in the job and able to spend the money he felt was needed to ensure Rangers’ retained their Premier League status. QPR are not in the relegation zone, but Warnock still hadn’t impressed enough. Had he been able to spend the money in August, it could have been a very different story.
The short-term outlook, which so often dictates how football managers are rated, means that Parkinson will know only too well how quickly the recent goodwill towards him can change. He may have won Manager of the Month for December, but for a solid portion of the pre-Christmas period he was the subject of mutterings of discontent from many supporters. Past experiences of the fluctuating popularity of previous City managers indicate that it wouldn’t take much for Parkinson to come under fire again.
If City avoid relegation this season, would that be good enough? Would we consider Parkinson to be doing a good job and trust him to lead the club into the next season – where a promotion push will apparently be expected again? Or would there be calls, rightly or wrongly, for another change? That doesn’t mean the club would act upon any such demands – recent public statements from both Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes were extremely supportive of the job Parkinson is doing, and he is contracted to the club until 2013. Yet, like other occasions when a manager has been under pressure at Valley Parade, it could prove an unhelpful distraction.
Parkinson would not want to be in that position, and so needs to keep impressing – giving himself a better chance of doing so by spending some money now rather than waiting. The odd short-term signing might be made over the next few weeks, to go with Rob Kozluk; but if Parkinson is spending money that he knows will subsequently not be available to him for next season, it’s to be hoped he does so with a firm eye on 2012/13.
That seems an understandable aim. Year on year we’ve seen drastic changes to the City squad over the close season, which has meant a period of new faces bedding in and finding their feet, which is not always conducive to winning early season games. If the bulk of next season’s team can be in place before the end of this one – developing understandings with each other and building some winning momentum – it could make all the difference come August.
The other side of the coin is where the planned January recruitment leaves City’s fringe players, and particularly the Development Squad. Instead of Parkinson turning to the promising Andrew Burns to cover for Ramsden, Kozluk has arrived until the summer. If, as seems likely, Ricky Ravenhill’s loan deal is extended or made permanent, the likes of Chris Mitchell and Scott Brown are pushed even further out of contention. Another winger would block Dominic Rowe’s route to the first team. A new striker would pose question marks over the future of Mark Stewart and even Ross Hannah.
Steve Williams looks set to join Terry Dixon in exiting the club, albeit on loan for now. It seems likely that others will also discover their immediate future lies away from Valley Parade. It will be very interesting to survey the squad which Parkinson has to select from once the window closes.
For not only will it be the squad entrusted to keep the Bantams away from the bottom two between now and May, but apparently the beginnings of the side which will be expected to challenge at the other end of the table next season. Parkinson’s immediate priority is to preserve City’s Football League status, but it should be expected that – by asking to spend some of this summer’s transfer budget early – he is just as focused on the club’s longer-term ambitions.