Port Vale vs Bradford City preview
@Vale Park on Tuesday 5 March, 2013
By Jason McKeown
As York City manager Gary Mills was ordered to pack up his desk less than an hour after seeing his side lose 2-0 to Bradford City on Saturday, the lack of sentimentality in football was once again brutally exposed.
Mills’ achievements in taking York back into the Football League after nearly a decade of non-league wilderness – with two Wembley appearances last season – might provide the jolt needed to end a run of 11 winless games, but what then? York had a formula for progression that had worked. And though it might have run its course with Mills, the abruptness of the sacking suggests a lack of a long-term plan.
All of which has some relevance to the Bantams, as Phil Parkinson’s contract runs towards its conclusion with a new one yet to be agreed. Width of a Post understands that Parkinson is keen to sign another contract, but the noises from the club suggest their desire to retain the current manager is limited by how much he is willing to be paid.
And though no one should be suggesting Parkinson receive a lucrative contract the club cannot afford, the fact he is reputedly one of the lowest paid managers in the Football League would suggest there should be some room for negotiation (Width of a Post has been told his contract, but it would be wrong to talk about it publically; suffice to say it is nowhere near what John Still is said to have agreed to manage Luton). Parkinson joined in August 2011 with the Bantams at something of a low ebb, and the salary on offer reflected that. But having transformed the financial fortunes of the club over the last few months, Parkinson is surely entitled to feel justified in asking for greater reward.
I feel strongly that City should be doing as much as they can to retain Parkinson. I’ve read and listened to criticisms about league results dropping off and the argument that the remarkable cup run has covered his deficiencies. I have been accused by a few people of being too easily pleased and accepting of mediocrity. Fine, no one is suggesting we should be happy to sit 12th in the league. But the bigger picture should be there for all to see, and I don’t believe we should underestimate how vital Parkinson has become to the club over the last 18 months.
Recent history emphatically demonstrates why. Since Paul Jewell took the Bantams from mid-table in the second tier to a member of the elite, the list of managers is long. Chris Hutchings, Jim Jefferies, Nicky Law, Bryan Robson, Colin Todd, David Weatherall, Stuart McCall, Peter Taylor and Peter Jackson.
All of these managers either departed with the club in a worse state than when they had joined, or failed to achieve anything greater than keep it where it was. And though there were mitigating circumstances, in some of these cases, for failing to progress the club, the fact remains City have hired and fired whilst continuing to decline.
Parkinson is the first manager since Jewell to genuinely improve the club. That is not something that should be dismissed lightly. You can argue that Parkinson has been well backed financially and therefore improvement was inevitable, but then how do you explain Peter Taylor? You can claim that the improvement has not been considerable enough, judged against the league table, but it is improvement nonetheless. No one has progressed the club in over a decade. Dare we risk throwing that away?
Because if Parkinson is allowed to leave the club, by the Board and by a section of supporters, well they’d better hope that the replacement bucks the recent trend and delivers improvement too. Should Parkinson leave and we take another backwards step, there would have to be serious, serious questions asked of the judgement of those who make the decisions.
We are, in all likelihood, not going to achieve our target of promotion this season. But the benefits of the cup run – the cup run that provided the obvious distraction from this objective – should far outweigh this disappointment. Just remember the financial state of play in the summer. The club set a playing budget of around £1.7 million despite only being able to afford £1.1 million. The £600k overspend was a gamble, and that money had to be somehow retrieved over the season.
Speaking to Width of a Post in November, David Baldwin talked of four variants the club could use to claw back the deficit. The first option – and the one that ultimately more than covered the deficit – was a good cup run. Had City lost on penalties to Wigan in October, or lost on penalties to Arsenal in December, the other variants would have had to be acted upon.
These included selling the club office block to become a school (finally sorted after a wobble); selling first team players; and approaching the clubs that former youth players had been sold to, in order to see if they would be willing to buy out the contracts now, rather than wait to pay the Bantams the full add ons we would be entitled to if these players progressed. The latter two would have had worrying connotations over the short and long-term respectively. And in all likelihood we would have faced a summer of cut backs and reduced budgets, had we failed to go up.
The great thing about the cup run Parkinson and his players produced was it not only covered the deficit, but means the club can repeat the same approach next season with that deficit already sorted. Meanwhile the contracts of Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom and George Green can run their course, with City set up to receive the full benefits along the way. And Nahki Wells wasn’t sold in January. And the club should be in its best financial position – relatively speaking – since the Premier League years.
None of this would be possible without the job Parkinson has done. And though it might have eroded the Plan A of promotion somewhat, for what he has done financially (and, for us supporters, emotionally) there is no question in my mind that Parkinson deserves to stay on as manager. Yes, don’t break the bank; but make sure he is encouraged and feels wanted to continue the excellent strides forward that have been taken. The gripes about team selections and tactics will only be transferred to the next appointment. No manager is ever going to be perfect to us supporters.
The club has lacked stability for a number of years now, and it hasn’t helped our fortunes. We now have the opportunity to build the club upon more solid foundations, to reflect what’s been happening off the field with greater success on it. The squad built by Parkinson this season might have weaknesses and gaps, but they can be addressed over the summer. Some players out of contract may choose to leave, but the club now has the opportunity to become stronger than its best individuals and to survive losing them. Not least, because it can continue to afford replacements of equal ability.
I am very excited by what Bradford City have achieved this season. After the previous two years of dismalness, you began to wonder whether a fall into non-league was inevitable – the continuation of that slide – and the short-term punt last summer looked like one desperate final act by two chairmen who increasingly gave the appearance of not knowing how to take us forwards. Now we are moving forwards. At long, long last. That is thanks to many people, but no one more so than Parkinson. It’s time to settle the uncertainty and for the club to nail its colours firmly to the mast.
In Parky we have firmly trusted. I see no reason to change that.