The demise of the Bradford City Development Squad?

Phil Parkinsons December Manager of the Month award may have crowned a period of significant improvement for Bradford City, but indifferent results in January have underlined how far there still is to go.

With the added distraction of the January transfer window which, just like every other City manager before him since transfer windows were introduced, has seen Parkinson questioned by some over every in and out the City manager has increasingly come in for criticism over the club’s recent and overall performance since he took charge. Perhaps this viewpoint doesnt merit much significance the majority of supporters appear to be firmly behind Parkinson for the moment but this soundtrack of grumbles demonstrates the challenges he faces merely keeping his job beyond the end of a two-year contract.

Something which doesnt necessarily correspond with the objectives of having a Development Squad. This weeks player departures included one member of this initiative, Patrick Lacey, and another who many assume was a part of it, Nialle Rodney (actually a first team summer signing). With Terry Dixon having already departed, and Parkinson so far favouring bringing in loan players rather than utilising Development Squad players – some of who were expected to be on the fringes of the first team by now – there has recently been much discussion about whether the Development Squad is quietly being scrapped.

Indeed Parkinson has already made some interesting comments regarding the Development Squad when asked about it during a Friends of Bradford City Forum at the beginning of January; offering the opinion that he thought it a good idea, but not in the current model. He felt that the high number of players at the club, as a result of having it, meant the backroom staff struggled to cope. This suggests a scaled down version of the Development Squad may evolve.

This is fair comment, but it is worth looking at some of the reasons for the problem of having too many players and not enough backroom staff.  For one thing, the first team squad itself has become top-heavy due to the high turnover of players we have seen this season. My matchday programme for the first game against Aldershot Town, back in August, lists 29 players – 21 of which have featured in the first team since, of which six have left the club. Parkinson has made 12 signings since taking charge, of which nine remain. 34 different players have played for Parkinson this season – 26 still employed by the club. With so many comings and goings, it is no wonder the backroom staff have struggled to cope with a Development Squad on top of the first team.

Archie Christie – brought to the club by Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn during the summer – was supposed to be in charge of the Development Squad. Since he departed in November he has yet to be replaced. Wayne Allison was supposed to be the Development Squad coach; he left in December, and Lawn revealed that – rather than recruit a replacement coach – Parkinson preferred the money be added to the first team playing budget instead. It is little wonder that the Development Squad has apparently become more of an issue to manage, because it no longer has dedicated support to operate it. Peter Horne is said to be overseeing it now, but has all the youth teams to focus on too.

All of which demonstrates the change in priorities that the Development Squad is left to suffer from. Christie’s departure from a role of overseeing the footballing side of the club means greater responsibility has fallen upon Parkinson’s shoulders; but his priority is understandably to make sure the team win on Saturday, the club ultimately avoids relegation and that he can keep his job.

There is much less incentive for Parkinson to spend time developing players, because if first team results aren’t fantastic – like in recent weeks – he is the first person to be criticised and come under pressure. So beyond even the Development Squad, short-termism is taking precedence even over using players on the fringes of the first team. Deane Smalley has rocked up at Valley Parade on loan as a proven League Two player, while Mark Stewart – a player of some potential – heads back to Scotland for first team football. Meanwhile Ross Hannah will now struggle to even get a place on the bench and Rodney is released.

The here and now is once again becoming the be all and end all; and this halfway through what was heralded last summer as a “building season”. And while the club’s relegation worries dictate that priorities have to adapt – because an exit from the Football League would be a significant set back threatening the very future of the club – perhaps there is also an ingrained culture at Valley Parade which means everything has to be about instant success. As supporters we have seen manager after manager struggle to revive our fortunes, yet still for some the cause of recent problems is the man in the dugout. Six months into its launch, the Development Squad idea is said to be a failure.

Whatever it is, there is a fear that – while the club should avoid relegation and as much as that would be something to be pleased about – we increasingly look as though we are going to end this season with not much greater promise about the future than we had at the end of the last one. Perhaps some of the short-term players Parkinson has signed will earn longer contracts during the summer and be a key part of our future; but if fringe and Development Squad players find they have to look away from Valley Parade for opportunities to further their career and the short-term players also leave, not a great deal will have been gained from this season.

Ultimately, the future of the Development Squad is down to the club’s Board and how serious they ever were about it. One of the reasons Christie was hired over the summer was to implement this strategy; and Rhodes and Lawn set aside extra cash to help fund it, along with Archie volunteering to go without pay so more money could be available towards it.

If Rhodes and Lawn still believe in the benefits of pursuing the Development Squad strategy – which has already helped to produce one first team player in Nakhi Wells, and sees Andrew Burns captaining the reserves ahead of out-of-favour senior players – they need to get someone in to manage it. That’s not a criticism of Parkinson, as it’s completely understandable that he has different priorities. But alongside the first team manager having a number one aim of climbing the league table, the Development Squad needs someone overseeing it with a single-minded objective of providing first team-standard players.

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6 replies

  1. Excellent piece, same mistakes being made year in year out, too many loan players, chopping & changing, when kamara & jewell were in charge a settled team of players were put together & it paid off on the pitch.
    Few setbacks & the panic button keeps getting pressed & yet more stop gaps are put in place instead of putting a bit of trust in the fringe players.
    More of the same for next year & smaller crowds I predict

  2. Great piece

    My worry is that people who have specialisms like Burns and to a lesser extent players like Rowe should always be given a chance at this level. When we are short of a right back. Parky would rather put Seip in there or sign Kozluk. What will he do now Kozluk is banned? Will burns play?

    What is the value of Atkinson, Haworth et al when we have Rowe waiting in the wings? Equally Mark Stewart who has proved he can be effective out wide due to his ambition, energy and hard work.

    I see we are a solid unit under Parkinson but Im not a fan of forcing people into a position unless we are on the bones of our arses. Surely, a better looking back 4 now Kozluk is banned and Oliver injured would be:

    Burns Seip Davies Threlfall

    2 recognised fullbacks – although Im not convinced on Threlfall. We seem to concede goals when he plays.

    I have nothing against Bully, and he has had some fine games at CB, but play people in their rightful positions. And give the kids a chance.

    We are going the right way with Parky, had the last 2 home results turned into wins, we would be “sitting pretty” in 18th. Instead we are now slightly looking over our shoulders again. We need to learn how to close matches out. I think Flynn in that is massive. Fagan does nothing for me as captain – you only need to watch Flynny when he is playing to see how much encouragement he gives everyone around him.

    • excellent observation of fagan,i see some city fans saying he is too good for this league, I saw him down at oldham in the jpt & he was laughing n joking like it was a knockabout & looked a bit to me like he was posing & looked like he didnt think he had to put too much of a shift in.

  3. It never seems to amaze me that the Archie Christie situatuon has never been properly investigated?.
    Archie came in quick and left the club quicker.

    The development squad had nothing to do with wells.

    Mark Ellis had this lad in his American stable.

    For years now bradford cty have gone on to use way to many players in a season

    I’ve counted so far this season the club have used 36 players.

    No wonder results haven’t been consistant

    Loan players should only be at the club to bring in a better quality player that the club would not be able to afford on a permanent deal.

    And these one month loan deals we have seen lately were a total waste of time.

    Mr parkinson has got performances up a level and the team are fighting for the ball everywhere on the pitch.

    But the fact remains only 5 wins since parkys arrival?

    His record is no better than peter taylors?.

    I honestly have no idea on how the club plan on moving forward for next year?

    Seip and Davis signed till end of season.

    Certain players contracts up at end of season.

    5th from bottom of league 2 , will not have supporters chomping at the bit to buy season tkts next year?.

    • Hi Wayne

      On Wells, we met Archie Christie and spoke to him a few times about the Development Squad. Nakhi Wells was part of the Development Squad (though like you say Mark Ellis found him).

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