The 2016/17 season preview: change of people, change of mentality

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

And so now we step into the unknown. After a summer of such vast change at Valley Parade, it is difficult to know what to expect over the months ahead. The form guide of the last five years means nothing, the play off finish last season counts for little. Almost everything is different about Bradford City, and we don’t know as yet what we have swapped the old regime for.

The summer has been breathless. No quiet reflection or self-pity from the Millwall play off defeat back in May. Less than 48 hours later it was announced that the club had been sold to a pair of Germans. A month hadn’t passed and Phil Parkinson decided his future lay elsewhere. Almost all of his coaching staff went with him to Bolton. The squad left behind featured strong character and ability, but was lacking in numbers. Everything has had to change.

When City walk out in front of a packed out Valley Parade at 2.55pm on Saturday for the visit of Port Vale, another era begins. New owners, new manager, new backroom team and lots of new players. Even the most optimistic City supporter will feel anxious. For a club that has come such a long way forwards over the last four years, no one now wants to turn back.

Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp knew what they were buying. More than two years of research and talks with Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn led them to taking ownership of the Bantams. They have not said much in public but the words they have uttered have felt comforting and reassuring. There’s a sense that they understand the values of the club and an enthusiasm from Rahic to be here. And what’s more, they come with a plan.

Unless Rahic is lying, he and his silent partner Rupp have not come here to make a quick profit. They don’t have sinister motivations, nor unrealistic expectations. Rahic has spoken passionately about youth development and of building something more sustainable. He ultimately wants a team of European flair married with English grit. He wants to sell good young players for a profit, but only after the club has nurtured and made them into saleable assets, through their performances and achievements in the team.

It is a vision that Parkinson never tried to implement in his time in charge, and goes a long way to explaining why he has defected to Bolton Wanderers. Losing the manager and his coaching team was a rocky start for Rahic and Rupp – in the immediate wake of their arrival, the idea of Parkinson leaving was the number one supporter fear. Perhaps in time the clean break will look more logical than it does right now.

We can be rest assured that the fortunes of Bolton Wanderers this season will be keenly followed in this part of the world. How many times will we depart Valley Parade after a game, over-hearing someone muttering the words “Bolton won/drew/lost”? One of the biggest yardsticks this season will be how City are doing in relation to Bolton. The financial strength of the Trotters means it probably isn’t a fair comparison.

There are those who want to paint Parkinson as the villain right now. To re-write history a little, so that his achievements do not seem as impressive as they were. Even I have had a little dig about the immediate legacy he has left behind. It’s a short-term thing to talk him down. A confidence trick. A protective blanket for our sanity. If Parkinson was god and he was the only reason for all the good things that have happened over recent years, we’d be absolutely bricking it right now.

But of course no one can ever diminish Parkinson’s achievements, and he will be remembered and talked about for decades to come. And who is to say that he won’t one day return to the club and have another stint in charge. After all, who would have thought just three months ago that Stuart McCall would ever be Bradford City manager again?

The return of McCall has brought about a mixed reaction for sure. Everyone had their own opinion on who should have been the next Bradford City manager, but some of the names bandied forward were very divisive and sections of supporters would have struggled to get on board. Steve Evans would have won football matches but few friends. To huge relief, he wasn’t ever considered and when you hear Rahic’s plan you can see why.

And that plan will dominate the conversation over the next few years. Because make no mistake, we are seeing the beginnings of a change of mentality at the club and one of Rahic’s first tasks is going to be securing our buy-in.

I think that as Bradford City supporters – and football fans – there is a spectrum of views that is not unlike the political left vs right, in terms of why we follow the club and what we want from a Saturday afternoon.

At the one end of this spectrum we have winning as the all-encompassing factor. It doesn’t really matter how games are won, who is playing for the club and what the manager gets up to in his spare time, such people just want three points every game. At the very opposite end is a desire to see a certain style of football, with young players brought through, and entertainment far more important than results.

It’s obvious that Phil Parkinson was at the high end of one side of the spectrum – winning football matches. His teams did have style and could play entertaining football at times, but it was more reined back and cautious – the justification lying in the results. Parkinson did develop players, but was pragmatic enough to discard those who didn’t deliver quickly enough and was happy to find quick fixes in the transfer market to solve short-term problems. The football last season was incredibly dull at times, but not all the time.

We are now moving away from that. Rahic talked at the supporter club fans forum about preferring a 4-4 draw with young Reece Webb-Foster scoring twice to a scrappy 1-0 win. That is a very different philosophy and it will take a lot of commitment to make it work. It does not mean that results have to tail off, but when other priorities – playing more open, and blooding inconsistent young players – are thrown into the mix, results might suffer at times.

The problem is this: as supporters we want it both ways. The progress of Parkinson was terrific, and his plan going into this one was to target an automatic promotion spot to the Championship. If City go backwards this season, some people are going to find that difficult to take. They are probably those people more to the end of that spectrum of wanting instant results.

For this reason, there isn’t time for a big transitional period. If there was ever a season where a strong start was needed, this is the one. For people to buy into the long-term mantra, they need to be given early reasons to have faith. That doesn’t mean that if City don’t get promoted this season fans will turn; but it does mean the club has to look like it’s capable of getting promoted. If not this year then soon.

So the challenge is two-fold, and that’s where the new coaching team is so vital. Stuart McCall needs to get the team performing in the upper half of the table, ideally playing exciting attacking football that doesn’t leave gaping holes at the other end. Meanwhile Greg Abbott has to get to work building Rahic’s plan. Improving the youth set up, scouting Europe, signing players for the future and making sure they can figure in McCall’s plans sooner rather than later.

McCall is a close to a unifying presence in the dug out as it was possible to have. Even the people against his return or with reservations about his abilities as manager, there is no dislike to the person and no one could possibly want him to fail. If he can start to build something positive, he will very quickly win over doubters and benefit from our strong backing.

Looking back at his last time in charge, it’s hard to think of to many defensive signings he made that were successful. With the exception of Simon Ramsden and Steve Williams, his most successful additions were forward players. It is perhaps good fortune that McCall inherits from Parkinson the spine of a strong defence in Stephen Darby, James Meredith and Rory McArdle – all three with plenty of good years still to come, rather than being on the decline.

If McCall can continue to get the best out of them, and his new defensive and goalkeeper signings settle in well, the foundations remain strong. A lot of his summer signings are somewhat unknown but on paper seem sensible and clever – if Parkinson were still here and had brought them, no one would have batted an eyelid.

It’s obvious that City didn’t score enough goals last season, and ultimately it cost them in the play offs. It’s a balancing act, but if McCall can retain much of the principles of the strong defensive record of last season, and develop a more threatening and successful attack, there is no reason to dismiss City’s promotion hopes.

The proof is in the pudding. So much has been said and debated about the big changes at Valley Parade – now we start to see if it will work or fail. With another tremendous uptake in season tickets, it would be wonderful to think that everyone can come together and drive the club on, so we build on the achievements of the old regime and go to the next level.

It’s time to find out if that will be possible.

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Categories: Opinion, Season Preview

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11 replies

  1. I won’t ever decry what PP did and i’m very sad that he left, i did support him throughout his tenure but its just the way he left was a little like cutting us off at the kneecaps. Did he tell Jamie Procter to hold off on signing? Apparently the scout took all records with him although technically they were our property. Was he right to release players knowing he was leaving? I’ve said it before on here, Youth was PP’s blind spot and Jason has hinted at such with him jumping ship when Edin Rahic’s vision was of developing youth players. Thanks for the ride Phil, but there are certain things i can’t ever accept and sadly, you decided to leave your legacy slightly tainted in my eyes by the actions of your last month in charge.

  2. Another excellent article Jason – as usual.
    I’m inclined to agree with Ian about PP’s legacy and departure. It’s like a wonderful husband and father deciding to run off with another woman and taking the car and the best of the furniture with him. Yes, his departure has soured his memory somewhat, rather than his achievements.
    It’s going to be an interesting season. SM has made some sound, if uninspiring, signings and as yet, has not signed this 20+ goals per season striker everyone is craving. The crucial point is whether a more attacking style of play will create more chances in and around the box. We often looked clueless in the final third of the pitch last season and for a time, relied heavily on winning by the odd goal scored from a corner or set piece. Only time will tell.

  3. Lets now forget about PP and SP

    They have left its time to move on and all we need to concentrate on is BCFC.

    We need a goal scorer and until we get one we will be around mid-table. That’s fine this season and hopefully we will have someone lined up for next

  4. You again have taken so much of your limited time to scribe your latest article, Jason. And yes – a big change indeed. However, many things have and will continue to change…yet hopefully not us – the fans. I for one am staying onboard and looking ahead to a ‘New and Improved’ product.
    Oh yes, we were bare and exposed……… as your former colleague, Michael alluded to – the desks and filing cabinets were also empty. But these are new times, with fresh ideas, so perhaps no loss, afterall ?

  5. I’ve got to say the reaction to PP leaving is over the top. The man met the new owners obviously decided it wasn’t for him and left relatively quickly – he was probably on the phone to his agent asking him to find him a new job straight away but it’s not his responsibility to quit straight away – at this level of football people aren’t on the Premier League bucks and still rely on the wage just like you or I.

    Proctor was a free agent and available to do as he pleased – did Mccall want him anyway? Beevers was always a Parkinson target when he was here. Backroom team’s generally follow their manager if they have a good working relationship and Mccall probably would have want wanted Black over Parkin anyway so you can’t blame Parkin for following Parkinson out the door.

    I’m genuinely positive for this season. Most team’s won’t have a 20 goal a season they’re not easy to find. We need another striker either way and will get one – if he is a marquee then I imagine we will be right up there. If not the key is that goals will need to be shared around more this year. As good as they were how many goals did Evans and Cullen weigh in with? How many goals did Reid get? McMahon without penalties?

    I’d expect Hanson to get 15 in this side he’s usually close in PP’s pragmatic sides and will undoubtedly get better service from the left this year. So if the rest of the squad can share them around then we will score enough goals.

  6. Another great article Jason, prompting some good debate reading the comments above. I can see both sides of the story with regards to Parkinson leaving so for what it’s worth, I agree with some of Ian’s and Luke’s points.

    As always, I am looking forward to a new season. I think that we may get off to a slow start with Darby and McArdle out for the first few weeks of the season. However, McCall needs to be given time so it will be interesting to see how our new owners react to results if we aren’t winning games.

    I was disappointed that Proctor didn’t get another contract with us and I am sure that McCall is doing his best to sign a goal scoring striker. However, he may already have one at Valley Parade in young Webb-Foster. I remember a young Graeme Tomlinson coming into our first team in the 1990s and scoring goals before his departure to Manchester United.

    Maybe witnessing our team winning doesn’t matter quite as much as we get older? For me, going to see my team play is also about meeting up with friends and family. Yes, I am disappointed when we lose, however as we gain more life experience with age, maybe we realise that there are more important things in life than football?

  7. I read elsewhere that only 14 players across the 72 league teams scored 20+ goals last season. Players like this either go for big money, or the clubs they play for keep them on with improved contracts.
    As a team we need to score more goals. I don’t subscribe to the one guy knocking them in for you game after game. What happens when he is out injured? It also makes it easier to nullify a team if you can effectively mark the one guy who is the danger man in the squad.In my opinion its better to have goals from all across the team.
    Those with a long memory will recall John Taylor. Lenny Lawrence’s first big signing from Bristol Rovers for £300K. He was the much vaunted ’20 plus goals striker’ we fans were craving. He had been prolific at both Cambridge and Rovers and much was made of his potential impact. He managed to bag a respectable 11 goals in 36 appearances before we offloaded him a season later to Luton. Just because a player has done it elsewhere doesn’t mean he’ll do it again at another club. Lee Gregory didn’t hit the ground running at Millwall. He only started scoring on a regular basis in the second half of last season and I’m sure there were a few Millwall fans calling for him to be dropped when he was on a barren run

    • Totally agree. A 20 goal man is all well and good but the best teams have successful partnerships.

      Our problem is finding someone to be able to play with Big Jim. I personally think James is a good player for this level and im glad we still have him (not trying to start this debate again) but we need someone that can play alongside him and so far only Nakhi has been able to do that.

      If we can get that someone in then the rest of the league better be aware because we would be a force to be reckoned with but the age old question is who is that player?

      • As I stated earlier, Webb-Foster could score goals for us and he may possibly be the ideal partner for Hanson.

  8. The only way to find out Richard is to play them together for a few games but what is the likelihood of that happening?

    Unless Hiwula, Clarke and Morais get injured Webb-foster will be lucky getting on the bench.

    Also Stuart sees them everyday and im sure they will have teamed up in training a few times to see how they play. If Stuart doesn’t think they are good enough together to start ill take his word over your opinion who is only guessing

    • It’s back done to us having a very small squad though. As things stand I count 7 senior forwards, 3 central strikers and 4 wingers, with maybe Morais being able to play both. It only needs one of the 3 strikers to be injured and Webb-Foster has to be on the bench! In fact, with only 3, he really should be on the bench anyway; especially as we do not have a midfielder who has score for us regularly yet!

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