The new blueprint

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

Timing is everything in football. And for Bradford City, the weekend announcement that Romain Vincelot has arrived from Coventry City could prove to be the turning point of the summer.

Prior to the weekend, a level of cynicism and pessimism had developed amongst many supporters over how deep Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp’s pocked really are. That the talk of developing young players and implementing a long-term strategy disguised the fact the playing budget at Stuart McCall’s disposal was a weak one. That hints of big spending from the club were no more than attempts to shift season tickets.

There had been nothing to disprove such a negative outlook. But not now. Vincelot rocks up at Valley Parade on a two-year contract, with the transfer fee potentially rising to six figures. Not since Andy Tod was signed by Jim Jefferies in 2001 has the club paid such a big fee, and that was before the first period of administration. 15 years we’ve waited for a buy like this.

It is a move that blows away the fears and demonstrates the new owners mean business. It’s not only the transfer fee, but the fact the club had the ambition and confidence to approach a promotion rival and rob them of arguably their best player. The complexion has changed and confidence about the season ahead can only grow.

With two weeks to go and as momentum starts to build, this was great timing to hear news of such a marque signing. What’s more, WOAP understands this is not going to be the last notable signing this summer.

For such a significant buy, it is right that we pin a lot of expectations on Vincelot. The 30-year-old Frenchman has been known to City supporters since the summer of 2011, when the club put in a transfer offer for the then-Dagenham midfielder that came from nowhere. It was all a bit of gamesmanship on the late Archie Christie’s part. An attempt to bolster his asking price with Championship Brighton trying to drive a hard bargain with Christie’s old club over purchasing him. Vincelot didn’t do a great deal on the South Coast, but has continued to prove his ability in League One with Leyton Orient and Coventry.

He can – and should be expected to – achieve great things for City. The comparison has been made between Vincelot and Gary Jones, and that type of impact would make a huge difference to the Bantams’ prospects. City badly missed a Jones type of leader and character last season, where at times during games they would fall apart under adversity, rather than demonstrate inner strength. The infamous Colchester home defeat in March, and more costly first leg play off semi final against Millwall, were two such examples of this.

Stuart McCall the manager needs a Stuart McCall type of player. Someone with experience, courage, assurance and leadership. A lot of hopes are pinned on Vincelot that he can be that player. Given that Rahic’s philosophy is to sign younger players rather than 30-somethings, Vincelot also represents a leap of faith in McCall’s judgement. If this one doesn’t work out, the inquest will be led by the boardroom.

Watching Bradford City’s opening home pre-season friendly against Burnley on Saturday, it was evident just how badly an authoritarian midfielder is needed. Whilst Nicky Law and Timothee Dieng impressed with their abilities on the ball, they both left an alarming gap behind them that a ruthless Premier League Burnley were able to expose and profit from.

The ease at which the Clarets ran through the Bantams and racked up three first half goals was deeply troubling; but with a more defensive-minded central midfielder marshalling the people alongside him and making sure there are no such gaps, these issues can be rectified when the real stuff begins. Vincelot will be tasked with doing just that, and the defenders playing behind the City midfield will be grateful for him.

Without that protection against Burnley, this was a dreadful day at the office for the home back four. Nathaniel Knight-Percival gave a first impression here that was as bad as Nathan Clarke’s introduction to Bradford City a year ago.  The summer signing from Shrewsbury appeared confident and composed on the ball, but was found badly wanting physically, not to mention routinely failing to track the runs of Burnley’s quietly impressive Ashley Barnes. Things can only get better.

Nathan Clarke too had unfortunately reverted back to the tentative, out-of-sorts player he looked to be when he first joined the club. Andre Gray exposed his frailties and dominated Clarke both on the ground and in the air. Clarke came good last season and made an important contribution, only to struggle in the play off tussle with Millwall. You don’t really want to see him a regular starter over the coming months.

And of course he won’t be when Rory McArdle is back; just as midfielder Daniel Devine – who battled gamely out of position here – won’t be first choice left back; and Tony McMahon – who played well up until gifting Burnley a fourth goal – is unlikely to play ahead of Stephen Darby. This was a City back four that might feasibly begin the campaign, but not for long. They won’t face tests quite as tough as this, but certainly still need to do much better.

But what was really interesting about City’s performance against Burnley was the intent. This was 4-4-2, but not as we have known it under Phil Parkinson. The ball was zipped around on the floor with quick-fire passing in the final third. With two wingers in Paul Anderson and Mark Marshall, there was a push to get the ball into wide positions – but it wasn’t the only approach. City tried to play through the middle, and they cut Burnley open on many occasions with clever intricate passing.

There was a real drive to attack and pour forward in numbers, which partly explained the big gaps at the other end.

What a contrast. Whilst Parkinson was capable of playing in a gung ho way – something he did more often than he now receives credit for – there was no doubt that his final season saw the most pragmatic and defensive-minded football of his reign. He found a way to win matches through keeping clean sheets and nicking a goal, and the results of that approach spoke for themselves. But it wasn’t great to watch at times.

Against Burnley, we clearly saw the new blueprint. The strategy that Stuart McCall will look to implement over the coming months. Perhaps today was a lesson in how far he should take it, because it left City soundly beaten in the end. But the manager will be encouraged by what his players produced in the final third. Especially as some of the key players to make the blueprint work were unavailable at both ends.

It would have been interesting to have seen how James Hanson would have fared in this game. With Billy Clarke and Filipe Morais paired up front, the attack lacked a focal point and several promising crosses into the box would have suited Hanson’s game.

Morais played well and impressed with his movement – you could see Burnley realise he was the home side’s key attacking threat. Billy Clarke took longer to get going but did well in fits and starts. He is still not the force of 2014/15, and you wonder if he can fit in with City’s new approach.

Because with Nicky Law and Paul Anderson in particular pulling the strings when City attack, they don’t need a striker who likes to play deep moving into their space – they need runners in front and bodies in the box to get on the end of through balls and passes. That is not Clarke’s game. If Stuart McCall asked me what should be on his shopping list now, I’d say a proven League One striker and another commanding centre back. Get those two players in, and we’re not far away.

Departing the field beaten 4-1 at home might have slightly dented morale, but this weekend has been a good one for Bradford City. They’ve just made a powerful statement to the rest of League One – and just as importantly to their own fans.

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Categories: Opinion

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22 replies

  1. Really looking forward to see who comes in at the back and up front.
    Get signings in those positions of the calibre of Vincelot and things look much more positive!

  2. Great read once again and exactly how I read the game today. Very positive and that was without the Vincelot signing. It’s gonna be exciting in tbe coming weeks and months!

  3. Good read. However on your summary of the game. In Anderson we only saw glimpse , average. No mention of Marshall, who worked his socks off and put in some good crosses. Also young Danny Divine did very well. Not a left back but looks like he has got talent and one of the “young ones” McCall will nurture through.

  4. The sting in the tail is that a certain Kyel Reid is trialling with the Blues and likely to sign for them this week. Fingers crossed then that we’ve got the better of the two!

    • As long as reidy doesnt sign for us, then weve definitely got the better deal.

      Who ever heard of a winger that cant cross…

    • Let’s hope so but by my recollection Vincelot was very influential in games versus City in recent years and I’m not sure Reid was in many games. Fingers crossed!

  5. I think that’s a very harsh comment to make about Nathan Clarke. He showed in the final months of last season that he’s more than capable of performing at centre half. Just because he’s not having the best of pre-seasons doesn’t mean he’s a bad player.

    • I’m not saying he is a bad player but he is not a first choice to me and last season ultimately showed that. He didn’t play well in play offs (though in good company)

  6. Great read again Jason you have been taking some stick in some quarters completely undeserved. Always enjoy your pieces some people appreciate it

    • Thanks appreciate it. Been questioning a few times recently if I should stop as people are getting too worked up about my ramblings.

      • It will be a sad day when you do hang up your public writing boots. Like most who do read the pieces, by you & the other WOAP writers, they’re greatly appreciated, whether we always agree or not. Personally, i read every WOAP piece and never read any other BCFC fan stuff.

  7. Let’s face it Nathan Clarke is a squad player. I was disappointed he remained as he was not consistent enough last season. He had a decent run at one point but cost us as well. He is reported to be a good influence in the dressing room and I hope can play a role in Kings development.
    My concern is the keeper situation 3 perm keepers but I do not rate Doyle who is the alleged first choice. Let’s hope he either improves or the other two replace him

    • To be fair Pickford had a poor start for City, he struggled with crosses and we had a couple of poor defensive displays at beginning of that season; but then went in to be a great loan signing for us.

      Ben Williams did not convince at first which was why PP made him second choice; again though he went on to be an excellent keeper for us with record clean sheets. Don’t get me wrong he still made mistakes…but hell Joe Hart makes them and he is probably the best English keeper out there.

      Brad Jones came in and did not do well at all at the start of his career here and things ended before he showed if he could develop.

      I think it’s a keeper thing. they take time to bed in. I look at high profile struggles by Arsenal and Man Utd over the years to replace great keepers (Schmeical, Seaman) over the years…even with all their resources scouring the globe they can identify a keeper who is playing well, but when they sign them all the guys struggled and it took a few seasons till they got the right one. De Gea looked poor at first and was not a guaranteed starter, but now is regarded as one of best three in the world.

      Give Doyle time and let’s see 🙂

  8. A commanding centre half required, out of sorts and lacking a leader at the back. Andrew Davies wants to leave Ross County but we are not interested… Peculiar to me!

    • He is on very good money and is injury prone, so whilst he is a great player and loved by all, it would probably be a step backwards and send the wrong message to rest of squad. McArdle has grown in stature since Davies left and really has been the new rock at the back.

      • Almost every game for Ross County last year, you don’t get in team of the year if you miss half the season with injuries.

        Reading Jason’s book it doesn’t seem like he was offered a huge package to go up to Scotland just a longer term deal and made to feel like he was wanted which PP didn’t.

        In my mind it is a no brainer to bring back the best CB in the league who we know already can form a very good partnership with McArdle.

  9. A few things to go through

    Firstly what a signing a player who has been in numerous teams of the year in this and the bottom league. Just the type of player we need for a promotion push.

    Jason 2 questions for you.

    When you went to the meeting to meet the backroom staff and you said you couldn’t talk about the transfers was this one of the names mentioned and was there also other names mentioned who we should look forward to?

    I thought we brought Dieng as that holding midfielder so does that mean he will be on the bench and it will be Law and Vincelot?

    Coventry fans are livid we have signed him so that says a lot really top signing

    • 1) No names were mentioned on the night other than Josh Cullen. They just talked about transfer plans in general terms. It would be foolish of the club to have given supporters a list of names as they would have easily leaked to other people.

      2) That’s a good question and the signs are it will be Dieng and Vincelot. What you have to remember is that if we are playing two out and out wingers, we probably need to balance this out with two holding midfielders. That didn’t happen against Burnley (Law was only concerned with attacking) and it left alarming gaps. So Dieng/Vincelot looks a possibility.

  10. I know we will be signing more players, and it is starting to look positive, but surely talk of us nearly having a competitive squad, and needing just 2 more signings/loans, is debatable?

    Coventry fans are in meltdown over losing Vincelot, but they still have a squad of 20, and I would have thought 20 was a bare minimum.

    We only have 17 experienced players, and 2 of the most experienced will be missing due to injury! We lack cover at full-back and forward; on the left; and if we need even more cover for central defence that makes at least 3 more signings. We have promising youths, you shouldn’t count chickens till they’ve hatched.

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