By Jason McKeown
Weeks of intense rumours reached the national media today. Sun journalist Alan Nixon – ghost writer of Stuart McCall’s autobiography no less – has Tweeted that the Bradford City manager was “close to [the] exit”. He signposted a Sun piece he had written stating crunch talks would be held this week between McCall and the club’s German owners, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.
The rumour/story – put up on Twitter by another Sun journalist, John Hutchinson, a few hours later – was McCall offered to resign over the club’s failure to tie down experienced heads, but “the board want him to stay”. He added that McCall, “doesn’t believe he can “do a job” without the backing to pay more experienced men to deliver success.”
A few hours later, it was McCall’s turn. “100 per cent I won’t be resigning,” he told the Telegraph & Argus. So is that the end of the matter then? Well not according to many on social media, including Nixon. The suggestion from them is McCall might not resign, but could soon be gone.
Remember when close seasons were quiet, boring affairs? I miss being able to switch off from Bradford City matters. For the second summer in a row, a break from football matches has led to a soap opera taking its place. In my position as editor of a prominent City website, every day involves hearing another rumour from someone professing to know someone in the know.
So just what on earth is going on? Well, rewind back to the aftermath of Wembley and not a lot should be. Less than 24 hours after Steve Morison broke Bantams hearts, rumours that Stuart would be sacked surfaced and the speculation about a parting of ways has never gone away.
I spoke to the club that Sunday and was told McCall’s dismissal was not on the cards. Indeed just a couple of days later Stefan Rupp was saying kind things about the manager in the Yorkshire Post. “There is not much room to complain. The team has done everything and the manager has, from my point of view, come on, and it was a massive thing just to be at Wembley. It was a great experience and I thank all our fans, supporters, manager and the whole team because they really delivered.”
In the same piece he admitted the expectation was for a mid-table season. So although everyone was disappointed by how the season ended at Wembley, the performance of McCall was certainly not in question. Indeed with everything about their approach geared towards long-term thinking, it would have been a shock had they deemed a play off final defeat worthy of swapping managers.
As we wrote on WOAP last week, McCall was desperate to retain the bulk of the squad that had come so close to taking Bradford City to the Championship – and this remains the crux of the recent uncertainty. Having already lost James Meredith and Billy Clarke, Rory McArdle is seemingly about to turn down the contract offer and sign for Scunthorpe United. The futures of Tony McMahon, Mark Marshall and Matt Kilgallon remain uncertain too.
Edin Rahic has spoken in public about how he won’t risk the club’s long-term ideals by offering silly money to these out-of-contract players; claiming that all have been offered enhanced terms compared to what they were on last season. “We’re not just thinking short term. We wanted to avoid that from the beginning and we don’t want to start now.” McCall said earlier in the week, “The majority of them will probably get financially far better ones elsewhere. I wouldn’t be over-confident of keeping many of them, if I’m honest.”
The perception remains – rightly or wrongly – that the owners have offered unattractive deals to players who have been a huge part of recent successes. And that is what the rumours have centred on. The owners have a clear philosophy of wanting to sign younger players with the potential to develop and increase in value, taking the club upwards with them. McCall believes that the experience and quality offered by the out of contract, older players is vital if City are to bounce back.
With McCall back in Yorkshire this week, after a week’s holiday and a trip to Hampden Park on Saturday, the stage is set for talks that will hopefully resolve the situation. If there has been a fall out, all parties can put it to bed and publically drive the club forwards. Hopefully.
For Rahic, there is a hell of a lot at stake here. It’s just over a year ago that the club’s most successful modern day manager, Phil Parkinson, departed Valley Parade, weeks after Rahic and Rupp took over. If they were to sack the most popular player in the club’s history – at the end of a season where he did such a good job as manager – the backlash would be huge. (Though if John Hutchinson was right in this tweet, “The board wants him to stay”.)
Under Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes, Parkinson enjoyed complete say over transfers. The Rahic-led transfer committee was never going to work for the now-Bolton manager, but is something McCall would have been aware of prior to accepting the job last summer. Nevertheless the wisdom-of-crowds mantra only works if everyone has their say.
McCall is justified to want to keep the players he believes are important to him, and Rahic should be willing to back that call as realistically as he can. Yes, if Scunthorpe have offered McArdle silly money there is not much the club can do and McCall should recognise this. But Rory has been a loyal, dedicated servant of Bradford City for five years. It should be really difficult for him to turn down the chance to remain at Valley Parade – hopefully Rahic has made sure this is the case.
Equally the manager should hopefully be able to count on the club providing a realistically competitive budget. If McArdle and others are to leave, they need replacing with equally as strong quality. Age matters, but it cannot define every decision. The strategy Rahic has started to implement is a very sound one, but it doesn’t have to be swept through. A gradual, sensible move in this direction would fit their long-term mantra. I think what Edin is trying to do sounds brilliant, but I don’t fancy watching a struggling team of inexperienced players slump in mid-table. Neither does Stuart (who would get the blame from many fans).
When the owners and manager do meet this week, Edin’s job is to sell this transfer philosophy. To be the leader who has the vision and foresight so no one panics. To convince McCall that the way forwards is one that can lead to success. If he can’t sell it to Stuart, how does he hope to sell it to anyone else?
The other key matter probably surrounds areas of responsibility. Just before the play off final, a piece appeared in the T&A (not online) where Rahic said, “(Sometimes) it’s difficult for Stuart to understand that I’m head of football. I will comment if we concede a goal because I know football. You have to take me seriously.” Mike Crowther wrote in the T&A today that Stuart, “admitted that it has been challenging working within a more hands-on approach under German owners Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp.”
Just like Geoffrey Richmond 20 years ago, Rahic is clearly a hands-on chairman who has a lot of involvement on the football side of things. History now shows that Richmond had some difficult relationships with the likes of Chris Kamara and Paul Jewell because of his overbearing style, but they achieved some great success over this period.
Rahic apparently has UEFA coaching qualifications and scouted for Stuttgart Kickers. The club’s transfer record since he took over and headed up football is very impressive. Rahic is not an amateur. He knows a lot more about football than you or I. He does indeed need to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, Stuart McCall has been in the game for nearly 40 years, made over 750 club appearances, earned 40 caps for Scotland and managed nearly 400 matches. That is a lot of experience and he deserves the utmost respect for that.
Hopefully Rahic knows that too, and if any boundaries were crossed during the pressure cooker of last season it can be solved amicably so that everyone can continue to contribute in the right way. Rahic has a lot to offer, but on a matchday and at the training ground McCall is in control and needs nothing short of the support of his chairman. (There is nothing to suggest this isn’t the case.)
There truly never is a dull moment supporting Bradford City. But hopefully the tabloid headlines have now been and gone. When everyone meets this week having had time apart to reflect, hands can be shaken and the path forwards agreed.
Edin Rahic is having a rough time from some fans right now, but the solution is there. Back your manager. In Stuart We All Trust.