By Jason McKeown
This is a new era for Bradford City, and on Thursday evening a number of supporters groups were given a chance to meet the new non-playing team. Within the comfy confines of Valley Parade’s 2013 suite, owner Edin Rahic, manager Stuart McCall and his new coaching staff mingled with fans and took part in a riveting Q&A session.
The new chairman
Edin Rahic is not Mark Lawn. The softly-spoken German’s accent is a real contrast to Lawn’s Yorkshire bluntness. He seemed confident, walking around the room and stopping to talk to everyone. “Be patient, we need to stick together,” he told me with a beaming smile.
James Mason began the Q&A session by asking Rahic why Bradford City? Rahic spoke English expertly and there was a genuine enthusiasm to his words throughout the night.
He explained how he and Stefan Rupp had decided to buy a football club two years ago, with England their preferred country. They looked at clubs in all four divisions, narrowing it down to a list of five, one of which was Bradford City. One of Rahic’s best friends is a Bradford City supporter (based in the Netherlands) and they urged him to buy the Bantams.
One year ago, he began talks with Julian Rhodes – someone he described as a tough negotiator. Rahic explained how he and Rupp had a great feeling about Bradford City, and that it was the right fit for their ambitions. Rahic is a Stuttgart supporter, and felt there are big similarities between the working class culture of both cities, mirrored by their professional football clubs.
In November, he and Stefan attended City’s home game with Coventry. It was a 0-0 draw, but they were both impressed by the “great atmosphere” inside Valley Parade. Later that season Rahic went to watch Man City vs Aston Villa in the Premier League and, even with the bigger Etihad crowd, he couldn’t believe how quiet it was compared to Valley Parade. “It was like a funeral.”
After more talks in May, one week before the play off semi finals with Millwall, they made the final decision to buy the club.
Rahic was very keen to stress that he and Rupp are here for the long haul. Both are in their 40s, and at a point in life where they are ready for a long-term project. He is relocating his family to Yorkshire. Throughout the night he spoke of how the culture in Germany is to think long-term, and he is bemused by the short-term mentality of English football. He mentioned a couple of times his desire to get City in the Premier League, but does not see it as a short-term goal.
A huge part of that long-term thinking is the youth development side of things. He is keen to make big improvements in this area, as part of a more serious plan to bring in good young players who can play in the first team and be sold for a profit. Rahic added that he felt he has good ideas and experience from Europe, and wants to mix that with the knowledge of the new non-playing team sat alongside him on the stage.
In terms of transfer activity this summer, Rahic stressed he had the budget, but that we supporters needed to be patient. He is confident of getting the players in place for the start of the season, adding that he and the team will begin planning for the next transfer window, and even the one after that, as soon as this window closes.
Of the types of players he aims to recruit over the next few years, Rahic stated he wanted to bring in European players that can mix well with British footballers, but stressed this will take time. He promised that the next two-to-four years will be very interesting for us supporters.
The new manager
Stuart McCall is not Stuart McCall. Well at least not the same Stuart who began his managerial career at Valley Parade nine years ago. He told us that he feels he is a very different person now and has changed a lot.
On how his return to the club came about, McCall explained he had flown to Tenerife for a holiday with his family. Upon landing he checked his phone and heard a voicemail from Rahic, asking if they could meet up to chat about the job. McCall ended up flying back to Yorkshire, and the pair met for three and a half hours in Leeds-Bradford airport.
McCall returned to his holiday and posted his CV, and Rahic called a few days later to say they were impressed and that Rupp had even Googled Stuart.
At that point Stuart joked he thought his chances were over! If Rupp had indeed Googled him and seen a certain YouTube clip of McCall’s “twin brother” falling off a car, they would surely have been put off taking him on! As it was he was offered the job by Rahic, and he is really enjoying being back.
It is a hectic period, and McCall explained that they had been meeting with Premier League clubs earlier to show them the infrastructure at City, to see if they might be interested in sending good young players to the Bantams on loan. He added that he was busy looking to sign players as quickly as possible: a mixture of loanees and normal players.
Whilst he knew he was inheriting a small squad, McCall is pleased by the quality of the senior players still at the club, praising their professionalism.
The new fitness coach
Robert Lossau is not Nick Allamby, but the ideals of the latter, which proved so successful, have been retained by bringing in the German.
On his background, Lossau stated he had been living in Korea when Edin rang him up this summer asking if he would be interested in the fitness coach role at Bradford City. He admitted he didn’t know anything about Bradford City, but thought it sounded interesting and caught the next flight.
He is really impressed with the club, its infrastructure and the people he is working with. In terms of his background he has never played football but has always been connected to sports. He worked as a coach in the Bundesliga, with his roots in Wolfsburg – a club he remained at for a long time.
McCall went onto explain that he had told the players that, just as he will be different to Phil Parkinson, Lossau will be different to Nick Allamby. The players had certainly found his tough fitness routines painful at first, but are buying into what he is trying to do. McCall is confident that under Lossau the players will be just as fit as they were last season.
The new assistant manager
Kenny Black and Stuart McCall have worked together for five years, their manager-assistant partnership beginning at Motherwell and continuing at Rangers. As he lives in Sheffield, Black seemed happy to have joined a club that is South of the border.
Black revealed that the first few weeks at Valley Parade had been hectic, but he is very impressed with the attitude of the players already at the club. He wants players to look forward to coming in for training each day and to relish working hard.
He likes the signs of leadership he has seen on the training ground, with players pulling up each other if they’re falling short of the required standards.
The new goalkeeping coach
It’s 14 years since Steve Banks had a short loan spell at Bradford City, yet he is remembered for his strong performances that included two penalty saves.
Banks explained that he and his family have been living in Scotland but that he was desperate to return to England. Last season he took on the goalkeeping coach role at Blackpool whilst his family stayed in Scotland, but now he has secured this job they have all moved to Preston.
He described his time at Bloomfield Road last season as difficult, given Blackpool’s high profile struggles, but that the goalkeeper he was working with – Colin Doyle – was a positive. In his view, the 6ft 5 inch stopper was one of around three stars of last season; and relegation was the result of a lack of goals rather than Bradford City’s new number one.
On Doyle, Banks explained he is a big lad and a calming influence; an all round steady keeper.
Banks himself is really enjoying the move to Valley Parade. He knew Stuart and Kenny well from his time in Scotland.
The new head of recruitment
Greg Abbott has only been in the job one week, and joked about the hectic hours he has so far worked. Part of his new role is to support Stuart in bringing in first team players. He admitted the club are behind at the minute, but he is confident they will get there.
Abbott added that he didn’t want the club to go down the route of signing lesser players in a panic, adding you only get the budget to spend once – and if you get it wrong, supporters will hammer you. It’s about getting the right players in for the big kick off on August 6.
The other big part of Abbott’s role will be improving the academy. He fully supports Rahic’s plan to bring through young players who can later be sold for a profit, adding that for the players to become saleable they will first have to make a positive contribution to City’s fortunes along the way, which helps everyone.
He cited Stuart McCall the player as an example of this. In 1988 Stuart was sold for what was then big money (£875k). As rewarding as that transfer windfall was, McCall had given so much service as a player before then that he had already effectively earned the club every penny of that fee once over already.
On working with Rahic, Abbott explained that the chairman had already taught him a few things, and that he has bought into the idea of bringing in European players. They are both in agreement over the principle, and even have people watching international under 19 games on behalf of the club over the coming days.
With each member of the new team introduced, the floor was opened up for audience questions. A couple of these centred upon season tickets, and whether Rahic was committed to campaigns like £149 for the long-term, such as if City climbed up the leagues.
Rahic explained that he had agreed with Julian Rhodes to keep season tickets at £149 this season before the play off with Millwall, when there was still a very good chance City could be promoted to the Championship.
Rahic was clear that he wanted to have the best atmosphere possible, and his dream in future years is to have a sold out Valley Parade. If anything, he would like to have cheaper season tickets.
Another interesting – and topical – question was about Brexit. Would the UK’s decision to leave the EU end his plan to bring in young European footballers? Rahic responded that the biggest problem with Brexit is no one knows what will happen.
For the time being they will carry on as they are, which includes tapping into Bundesliga coaching contacts he has, to find players who might not be good enough for the German top flight but could potentially play for City. In the long-run, Rahic does expect a special solution to be found to the Brexit problem of European footballers playing in England, pointing out the high number of overseas players in the Premier League who would be affected too.
This moved the conversation onto youth players currently at City. What did the team think of them and what part will they play in the future? Abbott and McCall talked very positively about the likes of Reece Webb-Foster, Danny Devine and James King, only adding their slight disappointment that they weren’t inheriting more young players.
Rahic had plenty to say on the topic too. He referred again to the cultural clash of German and English long-term/short-term thinking, and believes Webb-Foster, Devine and King should be given a chance – provided they are good enough – and that we should let them develop. He was surprised that they haven’t been given more opportunities before, adding that he thought Webb-Foster should have played in the final league home game last season.
Rahic thinks it is the long-term progression of the club that is important. He would rather draw 4-4 with Webb-Foster scoring twice than having a scrappy 1-0 win.
McCall continued the theme stating that there is a shared aim to bring the average age of the squad down, but admitted it might not be this transfer window where that happens, more in the future. He does feel there is a place for good senior pros, arguing “you can be old and hungry”, but that he has a track record at Motherwell of giving young players opportunities and hopes to do the same here.
This did bring a comment from the audience that Rahic should not be telling McCall which players to pick. Both chairman and manager quickly denied this will be the case, stating that McCall will have complete say on line ups, tactics and subs. Rahic does want to involve himself in the running of the club and take part in discussions over which players to bring in, but his remit will not stretch beyond that.
Rahic does have a relevant background here. He was a semi professional player and worked as a scout for Stuttgart, before joining their board.
Moving on, the discussion turned towards if there were certain goals for this season? Not yet, other than always aiming to improve, but whatever targets are set they will remain within the dressing room.
Will there be a change in ethos after last season’s approach under Parkinson? McCall stressed he has no philosophy and will do what is effective to get the best results from the players he has. However, he added he is an attack-minded manager and would rather win 5-4 than 1-0. He does want to get more balls in the box and shots on goal, and the team might leave more gaps at the back than last season, as they look to be more attacking.
McCall is looking to sign two strikers and hopes to bring in the first of them very soon.
This was a really enjoyable evening, and what came across loud and clear was the spirit and togetherness of the new-look team, who will clearly be working very closely together to build the club on and off the field.
Perhaps, when the hustle and bustle of the season gets going, all of our focus will be on McCall and his players. But away from our public glare Abbott, Banks, Lossau, Black, Mason and Rahic will be working hard and developing a different vision for the club – one that is seemingly more focused on the long-term.
Rahic – who came across very well and is a lot funnier than you might have assumed – talked a lot about being in it for the long haul and of making lasting decisions. He does not strike me as someone who will sack managers after a five-game winless run, but instead remain patient and be keen to work with his people to get through the bumps. That said, he won’t be afraid to ask questions too.
The club are looking to forge links with Premier League clubs and across Europe. They want to change the ethos and build something more sustainable.
But equally the team’s collective eye is still on the immediate battles ahead. Do not write off this season before a ball has been kicked. Do not assume the period of progression is over. There’s a steel about the group, plenty of experience and expertise, and evident signs of shared confidence about the season ahead.
It hasn’t been an ideal summer, but the team is now in place and working very hard. This is a new chapter in the history of the club, and it could deliver some of the most exciting times yet.