By Jason McKeown
Perhaps it’s just in keeping with a national media that has spent months obsessing over Leighton Baines, Luis Saurez and Wayne Rooney, but as the transfer window slammed shut with Nahki Wells still a Bantam, the amount of talk and coverage devoted to his potential exit seemed disproportionately high compared to its likelihood.
For however many clubs may or may not be interested in Wells, only one followed it through with concrete transfer offers. Peterborough United were willing to make the Bermudian their record signing and – Width of a Post understands – were still plotting how to prize him from the Bantams as recently as last week. But for all the tabloid tales of QPR, Watford, Hull City and Burnley eyeing up a bid, no club from a higher division apparently tested City’s resolve.
Which does throw up some interesting talking points. Within the Bradford City community, we have spent months talking, seemingly non-stop, about the inevitably of Wells’ departure and how big of a transfer fee he will command. Here is the brightest young talent Valley Parade has seen in years, destined for bigger things. We’ve seen him develop from raw trialist to local superstar – increasingly revered on his home island – and the day he leaves for a big transfer fee should invoke as much pride as it does sadness.
And no one wants him to leave, of course. But here’s the kicker – thinking that other clubs want him, are closely watching him and are prepared to spend big money signing him makes us feel good about ourselves. We want to believe that we have the next Ricky Lambert or Adam Le Fondre, waiting to one day explode onto the national stage. We want to believe that we are fortunate enough to have a footballer far too good for us, who other clubs are watching with green eyes. Made in Bermuda, developed in Bradford.
So what happened? Where was that 10-way fight between Championship and Premier League clubs? Where was that bid of £5 million? How come only a fellow League One club made a proper bid? Perhaps the club scared suitors off with talk of only selling for silly money. But perhaps the truth is a little more uncomfortable for the player, club and supporters: he’s not yet the proven to be the real deal. To would-be buyers, he still carries the tag of ‘unproven’ and ‘expensive gamble’. The scouts might be flocking, but they have yet to deliver conclusive judgements.
Nahki’s body language since pre-season has been that of someone desperate to impress, but also of somewhat confident of knowing what he needs to do to succeed. Banned from talking to the local press, we have no idea whether he wanted to leave now or has simply been preoccupied with proving himself at this higher level. Eight consecutive matches scoring goals has added a few more pounds to his transfer fee, and during the recent encounter with Sheffield United he was widely considered to be the difference between two good League One teams. We know that he is real deal, even if others don’t yet fully recognise it.
This is a crucial stage of his development. After his League Cup heroics in both semi final legs against Aston Villa, an unwelcome arrogance developed in Nahki that saw him pull out of tackles and unfairly berate team mates over the subsequent weeks – clearly, he had both eyes on the Wembley final. But in the aftermath of the Swansea thrashing it became evident Nahki had lost his way and, with it, his confidence. Having stopped doing many of the things that made him such a good player, it was a challenge for Phil Parkinson to restore Wells’ spark. After a spell out of the team and a worryingly long goal drought, Nahki came back to form and ended the season very strongly. A hero amongst a team of heroes.
Yet still, it seems to soon to move on just yet. Having got through that rocky patch, Nahki badly needs a spell of playing week in week out, scoring goals. A move to a higher level club risked that not happening, and if Wells did not hit the ground running at his new employers it would be difficult for him to recover. Getting over a confidence dip was great to see, but the fact remains he suffered from a confidence dip in the first place and it could easily re-occur.
By remaining at Valley Parade he is guaranteed of being the main man. During his first two seasons Nahki rarely completed 90 minutes – even if he was often taken off in matches to get a deserved standing ovation – and it’s noticeable that this year that has so far been different. Greater fitness, greater energy levels, and greater performances. Now is the time to build on that and score lots and lots of great goals.
Nevertheless, it seems Nahki’s time at the club still has months to go rather than years. By the January transfer window, he will have only 18 months left on his contract and – assuming he continues to find the net on a regular basis – have reached peak value. Wait until next summer, and with less than 12 months on his contract the would-be transfer fee will start to fall. It seems highly unlikely Wells will sign a new contract and no one would begrudge him not doing so, but it means the club will probably want to sell him in January, unless we have a realistic shot of promotion.
With Julian Rhodes revealing the club has over-spent by £1 million this season, selling Wells at this point might also be a necessity. A transfer fee of, say, £2.5 million would enable that debt to be cleared and leave plenty of change for Parkinson to sign a decent replacement.
By this stage, and assuming Wells continues to add to his 44 goals from 62 starts (35 substitute appearances), his potential fee will have risen and the list of suitors will have grown. This time, there would be fewer question marks over his ability to do it a higher level. The odds of him succeeding in the Championship or, who knows, Premier League, would be reduced.
So it seems clear that, as good news as it is that we still have Nahki, it remains business as usual. He is probably here for the short-term and, when he does go, the club is in line for a spectacular payday. In the meantime, it means we can continue to enjoy talking up his value and benefiting from the fact Nahki knows he is still very much in the shop window, needing to impress. The closing of the window with Nahki still a Bantam is great news, but it appears to have only prolonged the inevitable.