By James Storrie
How to solve a problem like Mark Yeates? It was a conundrum often muted around by Bradford City fans during the course of last season.
Brought in to complement the existing players from the history making season before, Yeates joined on a free transfer from Championship side Watford, where he appeared in a large percentage of their games as they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League.
Yeates, previously known to Phil Parkinson from his time at Colchester, presented an immediate dilemma to the manager in how to fit him into a side and formula that had served the Bantams so well over the 12 months prior. The problem stemmed from the diminutive Irishman not being really suited to the high energy and intensity wingplay as a replacement for Kyel Reid. and neither possessing the stature or goal threat of Garry Thompson on the other flank.
Yeates’s style of drifting around the park looking for gaps and spaces in-between the lines didn’t seem to fit in with the more structured and rigid style of City’s play, despite his talent being evidenced as he started the season in place of Reid and scored from 30 yards against Carlisle. This early promise didn’t last, as Yeates’s influence on the team waned and he found himself on the bench as Kyel Reid found blistering form and his extra pace and dynamism gave the team more in terms of counter attacking prowess. Yeates became the nearly man, his little flicks nearly paid off, his set pieces nearly went in, however his overall impact on games was minimal.
His next chance in the side came when Nahki Wells limped off against Shrewsbury at Valley Parade, thrust into his preferred position playing off a striker Yeates toiled and tried for the next few games. Despite the positive results, he didn’t grab the headlines. Wells returned and of course Yeates made way. He found himself and the other summer signings labelled as underperforming by Parkinson, it was a damming but true criticism from the manager – as the summer signings didn’t seem to have the drive or determination to push the established regulars for their place in the side.
This ‘nearly man’ conundrum continued for the rest of the season, and was highlighted in particular away at Sheffield United where Yeates skitted around the periphery of the game and infuriatingly pulled out of challenges (a sin in a Yorkshire derby). He came under heavy criticism from the Bantams’ following.
The end of the season marked the start of the mass change to come in terms of both playing style and personnel, and Parkinson steered away from his favoured 4-4-2 formation to a new diamond style, with a player having license to have an almost free role behind the two strikers. Surely this was tailor made for Yeates? Initially, however ,this was not the case as the impressive Adam Reach enjoyed a new lease of life in this role and was outstanding in the home victory over Peterborough. The conclusion of Reach’s loan deal gave Yeates a chance in his favoured position away at Tranmere, as he ended the season in the Bantams first eleven.
This summer has seen a wind of change blowing through Valley Parade, as familiar and much loved faces have departed for pastures new and their replacements although short in number at this current time have a youthful, combative edge, handpicked by Parkinson to deploy his new formation and new more careful possession style. One of the major summer additions to the side came from Crawley in the form of Billy Clarke, a classic ‘number 10’ who possesses the movement and clever feet to be a real success and fans’ favourite at Valley Parade.
What this means for Yeates currently is unknown. Thought to be one of the highest earners at the club he could see himself quietly pushed out along the same path as Matt Taylor and probable Jason Kennedy. However, Parkinson has remained tight lipped about Yeates and reports from fans attending early pre-season games have given positive vibes about both his fitness and commitment levels. It looks like Yeates has worked hard over the summer to give himself the best chance of making the most of his final contracted year as a Bantam. One of the most interesting lines from the ‘Width of a Post’s’ excellent recent interview with David Baldwin made it clear that more is expected of one of the top earners at the club.
“There has been a lot of talk about the budget being hacked back by half a million. The bottom line is that, over the last few years, we have had players in the building that have not come in on cheap wages, and yet their game contribution to the team has been sporadic to say the least.
“I recently did an article in the T&A about efficiencies. This budget is not a hack-back, it is still a very strong budget. And as part of doing that, we are checking the efficiencies of each transfer so that we aren’t paying, for want of a better word, dead money.”
Whilst not a direct dig at Yeates, it’s not hard to work out that he forms part of the group Baldwin talks about, alongside the departed Andy Gray and Matt Taylor. However, if there is a manager to bring out the best in Yeates then it is undoubtedly Parkinson – under whom he enjoyed his most productive years.
The injury to Aaron Mclean has been a hugely frustrating one to the club and fans alike as some of his lacklustre performances last year were put down to ‘needing a good pre-season’. Yet to not feature so far at all, it looks like it could be into September before we see Mclean take his place in the side. This could spell an opportunity for Yeates to start the season playing in his preferred position against Coventry City on the opening day, with Billy Clarke pushed upfront alongside James Hanson.
What is clear, however, is that Mark Yeates has a second chance at Bradford City and – from the outside looking in – it looks like he is working hard to become the diamond in the rough.
Categories: Season Preview