By Gareth Walker
On Saturday morning, City released to the public the names of the players who they intended to offer new contracts to for next season, and conversely the names of the players who would be released. This, as always, opened up a debate amongst supporters; and as such I have tried to summarise my thoughts on some of the decisions made by Phil Parkinson.
First of all, to look at who PP hopes will still be here next season. The club have offered new contracts to Simon Ramsden, Luke Oliver and Dave Syers. I don’t think that any fan will be too shocked or disappointed with these decisions. Oliver was the runaway player of the year which shows how valuable he is to the team. Syers was our best performer in the previous campaign and, as discussed recently by Luke Lockwood, we all know what he can bring to the side.
City supporters will be hoping that any issues surrounding his future with the club can be resolved and that we see a fully fit Syers playing in Claret and Amber next season. With regards Ramsden, we all know that on his day he is one of the best right backs in the division. Concerns over his fitness remain, but it is to be hoped that a deal can be reached to keep him at Valley Parade that makes financial sense to both the club and the player.
In terms of those being let go, Lee Bullock, who was City’s longest serving player, probably raises the most eyebrows. As someone who always came across as a consummate professional as well as being able to fill in a few different positions, Bullock seemed like the ideal utility man to have around the place – and in particular on the bench. “Bully” was far from City’s worst performer when called upon this season. He never let the side down, and as such I’m sure that most supporters wish him all the best in his next challenge.
Another three players haven’t been released as such, but have been asked to look for a new club. It is a situation that reminds me of the one that City found themselves in a couple of years ago with Graeme Lee, Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon.
Mark Stewart was a player brought to City with the help of Archie Christie and one which Peter Jackson seemingly had high hopes for. He came down from Scotland having been the top scorer in the Scottish first division with Falkirk. Renowned for being able to play anywhere across a front three, he was expected to bring the goals to City’s attack and work well in conjunction with James Hanson.
Stewart failed to score a single goal in Claret and Amber despite flashes of quality and lots of effort, and as such he hasn’t appeared much for us since Jackson’s departure. On loan at Hamilton since the turn of the year, City are hoping that his reputation up their will earn him a deal whereby he will leave City. If he does go, City fans might wonder if they ever saw the best of him.
Steve Williams is another player who has been on loan north of the border since January. A player who Stuart McCall brought to the club, more than one manager, as well as supporters, have been waiting for him to “develop”. He is a strange case in that at times he looks to have all the attributes to be a top centre back at League Two level, and has been scouted by clubs from a higher division, yet he seems unable to cut out the lapses in concentration that haunt his game.
Some hoped that working under the tutorship of Terry Butcher at Inverness Caledonian Thistle would see him reach the standards that he is believed to be capable of. It now seems that PP has decided that this isn’t happening and has asked him to move on. A deal was thought to have been struck to make his loan arrangement permanent, but we were told this week that such a deal has fallen through. As such Williams is another player with a question mark over his future.
Guy Branston was clearly a Peter Jackson signing and was seen as a key part of our former manager’s plans. He was in last season’s League Two team of the year (while at Torquay) and was made our captain at the start of the season. Unfortunately, he had something of a shaky start in trying to live up to his billing, and was quickly dropped from the team and then loaned out by PP. Since his return to the club, we are told that his professionalism has been top notch and his performances have certainly impressed since his got back into the starting XI. It is therefore a little bit of a surprise that he is being asked to leave.
Maybe PP sees him as a higher earner whose wages are better spent elsewhere in the squad. Whatever the case, Branston has commented on Twitter that he intends to stay and fight for his place – typical of a man who has become somewhat of a fans favourite, and I don’t expect to see him leave quietly.
Dominic Rowe, Dean Overson, Andrew Burns and Darren Stephenson make up the youth element that have been told that they are no longer required. Previously members of a Development Squad that Julian Rhodes now tells us was not “cost effective”, their days appear to have been numbered since the departure of Archie Christie and the seemingly systematic dismantlement of said squad.
The Pros and Cons and the fall out of this, as well as how well various individuals have played in the reserves and the potential that they had, is a topic of debate in itself. The most surprising of the decisions however, appears to be that regarding Rowe who was given a two-year contract by Parkinson earlier this season. We are also told that he impressed whilst on loan at Barrow and some fans saw him as one for the future. Possibly because of the club’s change in strategy, this will no longer be the case.
Two other players that have been released by City and have not yet been mentioned are Marcel Seip and Rob Kozluk, both were brought in by PP and played their part this season and, as such, I would like to wish them all the best in their future careers – apart from when the encounter City again of course!
I wouldn’t like to finish without mentioning Michael Flynn, who was released along with Chris Mitchell and Craig Fagan before the season ended. Flynny was another of the longer serving City players and, although he never quite reached the same heights after his first season with the club, he endeared himself to the VP faithful in the way that he always gave 100% and always applauded our support after matches.
The big shame about him being released when he was is that we didn’t get our chance to applaud him back one last time.
In summary, after discussing with Jason McKeown a few days ago, concerns persist about the size of the squad overhaul, which now looks inevitable. Only a couple of months ago we were told by Mark Lawn that City would be looking at keeping the main part of the squad together and making only approximately four signings. It now looks like we are looking at another clearing of the decks. The players that have been offered deals and those that are already under contract adds up to a total of 12. Parkinson has spoken of having a squad of 22 for next season, and that would mean ten new signings.
Amongst these ten new recruits, one would imagine that some will be first teamers and some will be squad players. Either way, they are going to need time to gel and fans are likely to have to be patient. The original plan seems to have changed and I’m not saying that it is wrong to change it. The hierarchy at the football club obviously now feel that more sweeping changes are needed amongst the playing staff for City to progress.
In my opinion, Parkinson’s permanent dealings in the transfer market so far have been good, and as such there is reason for optimism that next season might finally see the good ship Bradford City changing direction and progressing back up the league ladder.