By Luke Lockwood
If City fans were asked to pick their favoured pairing in the centre of the team’s midfield, it is unlikely that club captain Michael Flynn’s name would be mentioned. In fact, was Phil Parkinson to prefer three central midfield players it is still unlikely that many supporters would include his name in the team. The fact that the sheet of paper Parkinson will hand the referee listing Bradford’s team on Saturday is not likely to feature a fit again Flynn supports the argument that the current City squad is a strong one – on paper.
Unfortunately for Flynn that piece of paper includes the names Ritchie Jones, Ricky Ravenhill and David Syers; and no side in this division would complain about seeing any one of those names on their team sheet. However, as they say football isn’t played on paper and Bradford are looking to find a combination that works on grass and Flynn may well become a part of that.
It is not so long ago Flynn and Lee Bullock were forming an effective pairing that many considered good enough to hold their own in a side competing in the top half of this league, but now they find themselves as 4th and 5th choice in the pecking order. Times have definitely changed and Bullock has even converted into a centre half to try and get a game.
Flynn is not the energetic midfielder with a habit of scoring a spectacular goal that he was when he first joined Bradford, but he has successfully adapted his game to be an effective force who can dictate play from a deeper position. He has been criticised by some for being less mobile and therefore not good enough; but the same could be said about Paul Scholes, who changed his game in a similar way, and recently answered a SOS from Manchester United to help them revitalise their assault for the Premier League.
Obviously I’m not putting Scholes and Flynn in the same league – after all, Flynny can tackle! Instead I use the comparison as evidence that it may be a little too soon to write off the Welshman. Jones and Ravenhill have received numerous plaudits for their performances together and when Parkinson – somewhat harshly – left Jones out of the side to accommodate Syers, the latter marked his return to the side with a goal.
However, these performances have not produced the results the side needs to escape the lower reaches of the table whereas, before Flynn was laid low with gastroenteritis, our results had started to turn a corner. Flynn appeared to add a steel core to the side, whether paired with Jones or Ravenhill. This could have been perhaps lacking in recent weeks as City have shown more of a soft centre when conceding late goals.
Of course there have been other notable absentees over this period including Simon Ramsden, Luke Oliver and Kyel Reid; which have also had an effect on the rhythm that Bradford had just starting to get into, but Flynn’s absence should not be overlooked.
Possibly it’s Flynn’s experience and leadership qualities that have been the missing ingredients over recent weeks. In last week’s Midweek Player Profile, Jason McKeown discussed how Reid’s absence from the first team may have highlighted how much he has been missed and something similar could be said for Flynn. Reid’s absence has been more evident by the fact his replacements – with the exception of Jack Compton – have failed to impress, where as those deputising for Flynn all earned highly deserved praise for their performances.
It may be the case that, although Michael Flynn the footballer may not have been sorely missed, Michael Flynn the leader has been. I’m not criticising the leadership abilities of Craig Fagan, but every manager Flynn has played under during in his time at Valley Parade have raved about his influence and the importance of his presence amongst the other players.
This raises a dilemma for Parkinson; should he sacrifice the work rate and pressing qualities of Ravenhill, or the added quality offered by Jones, or the energy levels and goal scoring threat provided by Syers, to include Flynn’s leadership and experience? Parkinson showed by bringing Syers straight back into the side, despite the impressive form of Jones, that he is not frightened to make difficult decisions.
It is likely that Parkinson felt City had become too reliant on their front men to score and, because of that, decided to include Syers. He may also consider Flynn to have the discipline to play the ‘holding role’ in front of the back four, giving Syers more of a licence to attack. The fact that this option could be considered shows how much Flynn’s game has changed since he was first signed under Stuart McCall.
On the other hand, the Bristol Rovers game was the first time that Syers and Ravenhill were paired together and, given more opportunities, they have the right qualities to become a superb partnership; but this could be said for any of the possible combinations available. Parkinson is likely to give Syers and Ravenhill the chance to develop an understanding and, if that is the case, Flynn and Jones will become frustrated spectators hoping to make an impact from the bench. I can’t imagine this is a situation that Flynn would be content with, and may see him move on at the end of this season.
Flynn can be held in no way responsible for City’s struggles in the basement division and the fact that he has survived the regular end of season player culls over the past two years shows that he has been of great value to the team. If it is to be the case that Flynn leaves, then he can leave Valley Parade with his head held high and all supporters will give him a fond farewell – because whatever criticism he has had in his time here, no one can accuse him of not being fully committed to the cause.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus