By Jason McKeown
For us Bradford City supporters, the tradition, at this time of the year, is to fret about the lack of signings and worry about the transfer business already completed by our league rivals. This summer looks set to be different, however, with the quality over quantity mantra of last year’s close season having proved to be a successful strategy that we all understand will be continued.
Indeed it is tempting to boldly predict that this should prove to be one of the most low-key close seasons that Bradford City have experienced for some time. The squad has not been dismantled, and the success of promotion to League One means there is not the usual need to introduce a new philosophy for the next season.
The extent of Phil Parkinson’s recruitment will be found in the resolution of the futures of a handful of out of contract players. Tellingly, only youth striker Adam Baker has been shown the door to date, although on the other side of the coin only Andrew Davies is definitely staying on. Garry Thompson, Jon McLaughlin and Kyel Reid have been offered deals and will all be expected to take them. When it comes to Matt Duke, Will Atkinson, Zavon Hines, Carl McHugh and Nathan Doyle, there is a curious ‘wait-and-see’ declaration that will be determined by the size of the playing budget.
Ignoring McHugh, who will clearly be offered a new contract, the dilemma over these players is one we can educationally guess at. Duke, Atkinson, Hines and Doyle were by no means certain starters during the second half of last season, and as such Parkinson will surely be contemplating whether this will prove to be different a division higher.
Are they good enough to be back up for their respective positions? Could they play a more important role? Or could the budget be better spent elsewhere? Perhaps spent on new signings who can displace current first choice players, so they move into the back up positions of Duke, Atkinson and Hines?
If the bar is to be raised – and a move up a division strongly indicates that it must be – then Parkinson must surely be looking for ins that are an improvement on what he has in the building. Without an unlimited budget, it may prove to be the case that some squad players no longer quite measure up to the raised standards and so are moved on. You suspect much of the wait is due to Parkinson assessing if there are better, affordable options.
Not that such dilemmas will be exclusively applied to out of contract players. The need for improvement – and finding the space and budget for that – could see Parkinson willing to let other players to leave. Alan Connell is perhaps the best example – though by no means the only – of this. Despite pledging his future to the club via the local paper, a scenario similar to Swindon last season – where the newly promoted Wiltshire club were prepared to wavier a transfer fee to unload Connell to the Bantams – could easily occur. Andy Gray is said to have a place in Parkinson’s plans, but you wonder where Davies’ new contract leaves Michael Nelson and even Luke Oliver.
Also potentially in the outgoing section are players who have impressed enough for higher league clubs to issue tempting offers. Nahki Wells has undoubtedly placed himself in the shop window and City’s resolve to keep him will surely be tested. WOAP has also heard of Championship level interest in James Meredith, though this may not come to anything more concrete than the Aussie appearing part way down someone’s shopping list.
As for the areas of improvement, Parkinson will surely be chiefly focused on midfield. Gary Jones’ heroics have seen the veteran deservedly earn a new contract, but at 36-years-old he is fast approaching his best before date and needs help. Ricky Ravenhill’s strong end to the season shows he still has much to offer, but would he be a starter in League One? There are so many rumours about Nathan Doyle that it would be a surprise were he to stay, though one hopes so. A central midfielder is an obvious target with the excellent Marlon Pack linked with a move.
A winger will also be on the shopping list, especially if Hines and/or Atkinson depart. WOAP has been informed that Burton’s Republic of Congo-born wideman Jacques Maghoma is a strong target. The 25-year-old produced a stunning performance against the Bantams in the play off semi final first leg at Valley Parade, and in total managed an impressive 18 goals from 50 appearances last season.
Up front, although a link to Calvin Zola has been denied by T&A journalist Simon Parker, WOAP understands that there may actually be something in it and that Zola was in West Yorkshire earlier this week for talks. Like Maghoma, Zola impressed greatly in the play off first leg but evidently lacks consistency. We might expect Parkinson to set his sights higher than the 28-year-old. Time will tell.
So change afoot, but not on the scale witnessed on an annual basis in so many years. That unsettling feeling, going into pre-season friendlies, of struggling to recognise half of the team should not be the case this time around. By and large, the squad who performed such heroics last season will remain in tact.
We may not know what to expect from the division we join next season, but from our own it should largely prove business as usual.