By Gareth Walker
Stephen Darby on Monday committed his long-term future to Bradford City – and in doing so made every single Bradford City fan’s day. The three year contract signed by Darby, similarly to Rory McArdle, means he is committing his best footballing years to our football club.
Of all of the players who were out of contract this summer, Darby was the one who City supporters were most desperate to see sign up. The fact that retaining his services was seen as more important than keeping hold of Gary Jones or Nathan Doyle (who also left the club on Monday) shows just how far the right back has come during his time at City.
Signed from Liverpool in the summer of 2012, he started life as the odd man out in the City defence, as he was pushed to the bench in order to accommodate McArdle at right back with Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies playing in the central defensive positions. Nobody could have imagined that, two years later, Darby would sweep the board at the club’s player of the year awards, and would also be taking over the captaincy. The club has been on a tremendous journey during that time, and so too has Darby.
From a Bradford City perspective, keeping Darby represents something of a coup and a sign of intent, as there was known to be at least a passing interest being shown in the defender’s services from a couple of Championship clubs. This seems to have been combated by handing the player the captaincy and a long-term deal.
Three years is a big commitment for a third tier club to make, but it is one that City have previously shown they are willing to take in order to reward stand out performers. City’s number two was an ever-present last year, only being subbed once and captaining the side on two occasions. He now joins James Hanson (whose deal is four years long), McArdle and the management team in being committed to the club for the long-term.
There is a clear statement here about who Parkinson trusts. He has identified these individuals as key ingredients that are required if he is to be successful in his task of getting the club promoted into the Championship.
For Darby himself, it is also a big commitment. He will turn 26 during the coming season – and as such this can be seen as being his ‘career contract’. By the time the deal runs out, he will be almost 29 and might only have one long-term contract left in him. This deal allows him to put down roots and commit to a project with a club where he is clearly very happy.
Before coming to West Yorkshire, Darby had enjoyed somewhat of a nomadic start to his career in football. As Liverpool reserve team captain he only made one league appearance for the Anfield giants and was instead farmed out on loan a couple of times to Swindon and Rochdale respectively. If he sees his three-year contract through to completion, he will have been plying his trade at Valley Parade for five years in total.
Darby has finally found somewhere where he feels settled and appreciated, and that shone through during his interview when he spoke about how happy he was to sign his new deal. It was clearly something that he wanted to cling on to. It must be hugely rewarding for him to hear his name sung loudly and so often from the terraces.
The fact that he has been handed the captaincy shows how highly he is appreciated by Parkinson who sees him as the man to take over the reins from Gary Jones in leading by example on the pitch. Darby and Jones were known to be close friends at City and we can fully expect our new captain to mirror our old one in the way that he approaches his job with absolute professionalism. Hopefully this will continue to rub off on the rest of the team.
The bond between the two Scousers was briefly touched upon by Darby in his interview, when he described Jones as being the best captain that he has ever played under. That is some praise to give out, considering he was part of the last Liverpool side to play a Champions League game – a side captained by England skipper Steven Gerrard.
Indeed, Darby has decent experience of playing in big occasions. That Champions League appearance stands alongside being part of City’s 2012/13 cup and promotion heroics, as well as appearing in the play offs for Swindon – a so-far impressive CV for League One right back. If he can continue to enhance it further by adding another City promotion to it, Stephen Darby Baby could be well on the way to becoming a City legend.