Bradford City vs Chesterfield preview
@Valley Parade on Tuesday 31 March, 2015
By Jason McKeown
Christopher Routis was seemingly destined to fail in English football. He’d impressed on trial, enjoyed a handful of promising first team appearances, but fallen out of the picture. And if he’d have been released this summer, Routis would have returned to France with a one-word summarisation of where it had gone wrong.
Boundary Park, on Saturday 25 October 2014, was a tough afternoon for the Bantams, and an absolute nightmare for Routis. In no time at all, City were 2-0 down. The defence – with Routis stood in for Andrew Davies – was a shambles. The Frenchman in particular was having a shocker, and as the mistakes totted up so did the anger of his team-mates, who rounded on him. Eventually Phil Parkinson put Routis out of his misery, hauling him off with the game just 39 minutes old.
That appeared to signal the beginning of the end for Routis, who has subsequently remained on the fringes, with no more than the occasional substitute cameo here and there. But suddenly he is back in the team, reinvented as a right-sided midfield and thriving.
Which brought him back to facing his Oldham demons on Saturday, and now ‘Oldham’ can represent a one-word summarisation of the high standards he has reached. Routis found another level on Saturday. He was outstanding. He broke up opposition attacks, brought the ball forward with pace and purpose, and always seemed to find the right ball. Some of his passes took your breath away.
This time he was subbed to a standing ovation and “Routis” chants. Those same Oldham players who embarrassed him last October would not have recognised the player he has become.
There has always been something about Routis, and his re-invention as an attacking midfielder represents Parkinson’s man management at its best. The rough and tumble of lower league football always presented a challenge for Routis’ cultured style, and that harrowing afternoon at Boundary Park brutally demonstrated how easily he could be bullied in the centre back role.
But rather than give up and allow Routis to return to France, or drift into non-league football, away from the spotlight a great deal of time has clearly been spent trying to find another route to success. Routis deserved to feel proud as he was subbed to a standing ovation on Saturday; so too did his manager.
Even for a club that enjoyed two years of Gary Jones’ fist-pumping persona, there is something striking about the passion Routis has always shown. Few players wear their heart on their sleeves so evidently, few players’ body language is so easy to read. Routis has clearly been desperate to make it in English football, and that has shown every time he has been on the field. Right now, he looks like he is really enjoying himself and rightly so.
That passion has at times threatened to spill over – remember his ding-dong with Port Vale’s Tom Pope, last September? – and it would not be a surprise to see Routis receive the occasional red card here and there; but if he can master that anger and show greater composure, continue to work on his positional play (especially when City don’t have the ball), City have a real gem here. And that should result in a new contract offer when his current deal expires during the summer.
Routis is not just making up numbers at the moment, he is making a difference. And as the successful promotion push two years ago demonstrated, you need players to come in at certain times and lift the rest of the team.
Nowhere was that more evident than the wide players in 2012/13. City ended the campaign with Kyel Reid on the left and Garry Thompson on the right, both playing some terrific football. But that wasn’t the full story of their respective seasons. Reid spent months out injured and, up until April, struggled on his return to the side. Meanwhile Thompson famously endured the most difficult first half to the season imaginable, before enjoying a better second half to the campaign than anyone.
And it meant that the contributions of the other City widemen, Will Atkinson and Zavon Hines, were somewhat marginalised in the final shake up. Both were on the fringes by the end, due to the blistering form of Reid and Thompson, yet both played huge roles at other stages of the season, where they were very influential.
These short-term boosts in player performances are needed over a successful campaign. Not every player will be as consistent as Gary Jones or, this season, Gary Liddle, Rory McArdle and Jon Stead. And though the player of the season will be selected from these three players, at other times, over short-term periods, others have been the most important player in the team. Lifting others with their performances, making a difference to the team’s results.
Mark Yeates is a typical example of this. As City struggled badly in autumn, Yeates was an all too rare chink of light. Filipe Morais and Billy Clarke took on the baton as autumn became winter, now Routis is having his own impact. And with Morais having his own problems at the moment, City are not disrupted by the Portuguese’s current absence.
Routis might lose his place before the season is out, but as this very important stage in the run-in he is playing a key role in driving the team and leading by example. City are benefiting from his current form, and the time and care taken re-designing him over winter.