Since Simon Ramsden joined Bradford City in the summer of 2009, the Bantams have played 150 matches. Despite been first choice right back for each of the four different City managers over that period, the 30-year-old has only played 50 games. That’s just one in three matches that Ramsden’s fitness has enabled him to perform for the club. With his contract due to expire during the summer, a big dilemma lies ahead over whether to retain him.
When fit, there are few full backs in League Two that you would rather have in your side. Ramsden is not the flashiest of defenders in terms of getting forward, but for defensive positioning and tackling ability he never lets anyone down. He has a level of assurance and composure which makes a big difference to the rest of the back four, and he is clearly a natural leader – evidenced by the way he directs others. In theory he could be City’s first choice right back for another four or five years.
But those injuries. Persistent hip and groin injuries kept him out for all but three games of the 2010/11 season. Just as he was set to go this campaign, a calf strain two days before the big kick off ruled him out until November. And just as he got going again over Christmas, a nasty tackle by a Shrewsbury player on New Years Eve ruled him out for another six weeks. Two more games played in February, then a hamstring injury meant he was absent a further five matches. And last week, in the aftermath of the brawl against Crawley, Ramsden – rested for the game – was struck by illness and struggled through the Plymouth game.
Set back after set back. One step forward, and then one or two steps back. It never seems to be a reoccurrence of the same injury, but at the same time it can’t all be down to bad luck. Can it?
The problem for Simon’s manager is having good enough quality in reserve to cover for his frequent absences, on obviously lower wages. In Ramsden’s first season, former Blackburn youngster Jon Bateson was his deputy and showed solid potential – somewhat harshly, in my opinion, getting released by Peter Taylor at the end of the campaign after Stuart McCall had originally signed him.
Taylor went with the more experienced Lewis Hunt as back up the year after, but the former Wycombe defender struggled to impress and was relied upon far more often than would have been expected. This culminated in a contract dispute between player and club a year ago, where Hunt was entitled to a new deal by playing a 20th game. He wasn’t in then-manager Peter Jackson’s plans, so the club dug their heels in on this clause. But in the end Hunt won his new contract because City didn’t have a fit right back, with Ramsden out for the season (this unavoidable decision apparently cost the club £50k).
The time out, Liam Moore was the back up called upon more than envisaged. Moore settled down fairly quickly, but the 19-year-old soon found playing week in week out a big ask of his consistency levels. Rob Kozluk has come in as number two since January, but the problem has been similar to Hunt in that he has struggled to perform to the desired standard.
Without Ramsden, City look a weaker side. But the problem remains that they are without Ramsden too often. And so Phil Parkinson faces a big call during the close season over whether to award him another deal. The decision won’t be based on his ability – that’s not in doubt – but whether we can afford to retain him as first choice and have a deputy of sufficient standard, at a lower cost.
Could Ramsden be persuaded to take a pay cut and become number two, with Parkinson having the budget to go for a better right back ahead of him? It is possible, perhaps, but having a back up option with ongoing fitness questions is hardly ideal, as Ramsden is more likely to be unavailable when he is needed.
Much depends on the physio reports on Ramsden’s fitness. He could, plausibly, shake off these problems and become an ever present next year. The benefit of a close season resting up, he might at least become more reliable fitness-wise in 2012/13, with the promising Andrew Burns backing him up. It’s a very tough call.
In the meantime, the unavailability of Luke Oliver, Andrew Davies and Marcel Seip make Simon’s fitness over the coming games even more crucial. Ramsden has impressed greatly at centre back before and, with Lee Bullock making a big impact in the centre of midfield, Parkinson might be tempted to pair a fully fit Ramsden with Guy Branston over the Easter period, trusting Kozluk and Matt Fry as full backs. One things for sure, if Fry still isn’t fit enough to play on Good Friday, Parkinson can’t afford to be without Ramsden too. We are down to the bare bones.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, Ramsden is one of the most popular City players of the last five years and easily the best right back we have had since Nathan Doyle. The opportunity is there for him to become a true hero during the relegation run in, and we know that he has the mindset and determination to take on that mantle. It’s just whether his body is going to let him.
Categories: Midweek Player Focus