What now for Bradford City’s recruitment strategy?

Image by Thomas Gadd

By Tim Penfold

So, we’ve finally reached the end of January, and have ended up with a squad that is a bit stronger than the one we came in with.  All’s fine, right?  Well, not really.  Before the late reinforcements arrived, we had a squad with large holes in it that contributed hugely to the recent slump in form, and even with the extra signings there are still some issues at goalkeeper and on the flanks.

This isn’t the first time it’s looked like we’ve had issues with recruitment – the summer had some problems as well, particularly with the much-delayed Rory McArdle replacement, and a few of the players recruited have looked somewhat sub-standard.

The squad has ended up lacking depth in key areas.  We ended up with only 14 or 15 players who are of a good enough standard to push for promotion in League One, and replacements coming in who were simply not good enough. This causes plenty of issues over a long season – players can’t rest minor injuries, which then become bigger ones, or can’t be rotated out when they are struggling for form.  And when major injuries hit, the poor quality of replacements badly harms the team’s performance.

We’ve been here before – remember when Andrew Davies was struggling with injuries?  With him, the defence was solid, but without him it wobbled badly – even with the presence of excellent defenders like Darby, McArdle and Meredith, the team was only as strong as its worst player.  When that player is someone like Matthew Bates or, more recently, Rouven Sattelmaier, the effect on results is awful.

So what has gone wrong with the recruitment?  How did we end up with a squad lacking depth and lower in quality than last season, and how on earth did we manage to go several games this month with no natural full backs?

The first major issue with recruitment is that City’s use of financial resources is wrong.  We have seemingly focused on fees over wages, spending around £400k this summer on the likes of Jake Reeves, Shay McCartan and Dominic Poleon, who haven’t lived up to their fees.  This is the wrong way to go about things – various studies have found that the biggest predictor of a club’s success is the wage bill.

Stefan Szyamnski and Simon Kuper, in their book Why England Lose, suggested that the correlation between wage spend and finishing position was as high as 90% when averaged over a decade.  Further work by Chris Anderson and David Sally in The Numbers Game reduced this figure to closer to 60%, because it took into account the likelihood that quality football managers will go where they are paid more and have a bigger budget to work with.  The key point here is that this is wage spend, not transfer spend.  There is a strong argument that we would’ve been better off putting most of this £400k into the wage bill in the summer – maybe then we could’ve kept the likes of McArdle and had a big enough squad to cover injuries.

The second issue is with the much-discussed wage model.  City are apparently using a wage model that is similar to the one used in Germany, where 50% of a player’s wage is paid up front, and 50% in bonuses.  While this works in Germany, it works because everyone else does it and it is ingrained in the football culture.  In the UK, players get paid around 90% of their wages up front and the rest in bonuses.

It may be that the German model is more sustainable, but unless you can get the rest of the football league to change their entire structure at the same time that you do, it will always put you at a disadvantage when bidding for players.  After all, a player accepting 50% of their wage in bonuses is a season-ending injury away from losing a large amount of money – why wouldn’t they take the guaranteed income?  This, combined with a focus on fees, leaves City bringing a peashooter to a gunfight in terms of wages, and hurts our ability to close out deals once we’ve identified our targets.

The final issue is the lack of clarity as to where responsibility for transfers lies.  There is no reason why a Director of Football/Head Coach model cannot work in English football – many of the top clubs do this, and it keeps things like budgeting and negotiation out of the hands of the Head Coach.  This means the Head Coach can focus on tactics and coaching while not having to worry about the finances – as they were probably recruited for their footballing knowledge rather than their financial knowledge, this could well be a good thing.  It can also ensure greater continuity when successful coaches are poached – a new coach can fit straight in without needing to rip up the entire squad.

However, we’re not using that model.  We have a Head Coach, but the role of Director of Football is split between Greg Abbott, who is responsible for identifying targets, and chairman Edin Rahic, who appears to handle the negotiations and the financial side of things.  This role split makes responsibilities unclear and removes a lot of the accountability for the recruitment process.  And when we have a January like this one, where targets were identified, offers are made but deals don’t get finalised, this accountability is vital.

If we are going to go with a Director of Football model, we may as well do it properly, and get in a qualified and experienced staff member to fill the role.  Give them the responsibility for identifying and recruiting targets, but ensure that the role is clearly defined so that it does not undermine the Head Coach, who keeps the responsibility for tactics, coaching and matchdays.

Edin Rahic doesn’t really fit this job description – his only previous publicly available football experience is scouting work at VfB Stuttgart nearly 20 years ago – and I think it would be better for the club if he took a step back from direct involvement in recruitment.

The chairman’s job should be to provide the overall strategic direction for the club and let the specialists that he has recruited get on with it, rather than getting too involved in the fine detail of each section of the club.  The chairman is a hugely important role for a club who’s only main ambition in my early years as a supporter was “survive”, and there is a lot that is right about our current strategic direction and our owners’ publicly stated plans for the club.

There is plenty that is good about our current setup – cheap tickets, James Mason’s twitter presence and the focus on developing youngsters all stand out.  But recruitment, and the reaction that it has caused, seems to be a major weakness that could damage the entire project.  Can those responsible fix it?

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10 replies

  1. A large salary doesn’t guarantee you better players as City have shown with Aaron McLean, Mark Yeates, Paul Anderson and Josh Morris.

  2. Spot on. Rahic needs to stop micromanaging and take a step back.

  3. Quite frankly our recruitment over both transfer windows has been amateurish. What happened to Edins promise of going for it this season and then stating that he would back Stuart if we were in contention in this window? I think Edin just likes to get his name in lights, well he has, for the wrong reasons.
    I cannot believe that Stuart has to take the rap for our transfer commitee’s lack of professionalism, he can only work with what he has got and lets face it what he has isnt a patch on last seasons resources. I am honestly disillusioned with our current policy and the poor execution of it. Lets all get behind Stuart and the team and try and make a good fist of the rest of the season.
    Can you imagine what Stuart could achieve with some quality signings?

  4. The other flaw in adopting the recruitment strategy that City have imported from Germany is the part played by UK based players agents.It is well known that British players need to get their clients/players to move clubs regularly to earn more hey themselves. They work on percentages in the classic way that other ‘agents’ often work. So getting a player to join City on a low basic-high bonus wage structure is not even attractive to the agent let alone the player. Given a choice the agent will ‘advise’ he client (the lower league player) to go where the definite earnings are higher. As the writer of the article says players are only a season long injury away from cutting their wage drastically if the majority of their wage is best just related. As stated if every club had adopted the strategy then it creates a level playing field.
    Without that City are ploughing a lone ferrow or swimming against the tide. So in essence it is unlikely that City have been able to attract their top targets for the above reasons.

  5. Should read ‘British players’ and ‘earn more for themselves’ plus ‘ bonus related’

  6. Some excellent points made in this article. I feel the leadership is taking the club down a blind alley and last seasons sucess was built on the experienced players left behind by Phil Parkinson with some good additions brought in and managed by Stuart McCall and support staff. Last season was a missed opportunity for promotion and with some real backing in the transfer market a top 2 finish couldve been achieved. Given this inflexible model there is no scope to to risk that little bit more as rhe owners want the club to be totally self sustaining. will this model keep us in the top 6? Will it earn the club promotion? Will it keep 19k season ticket holders interested?

    This seasons squad is simply not big enough for a 55 game season with the gaps been plugged by development players and sub standard reserves such as Sepplemier who has cost the team at least 6 goals sunce Doyle got injured. This season stratergy is built upon a German model that is simply about cutting costs and reducing budgets. How on earth can you let players go, replace them with substandard players or in McCardle’s case not replace him at all and expect promotion? Rahic certainly does.

    Signed club dvds by the co owner, statements from Rahic claiming we are top 2 material only 4 weeks previou to a madsive slump in form. No recognised full backs. Bids for a championship striker that realistically will now be earning 8k per week at Barnsley. That’s nearly 3 times the salary our top earners are currently earning and we end up in the bargain basement signing a 4th division German striker 4 days before the window closes. The whole stratergy is poorly thought out and poorly executed.

    For me the players have not been playing for the shirt and this feeds directly into how Rahic’s is running the club and interfering in signigs, transfer fees and wages. How soon will Rahic start interfering with team selection and tactics? Rahic and Rupp have totally underestermated what is needed to win promotion from this level. No team can win promotion with 11 home defeats in all competitions and a club built on payment by results whilst attracting the type of players needed to take us to the next level.

    The owners want promtion but are not prepared to finance what is needed in wages or tranfer fees. It wasnt suprising that Parkinson walked out on the club and starting to make sence. Unless McCall can breathe new life into the side with new tactics and the fresh faces I fear is second spell as manager will soon becoming to a sad end.

  7. A thoughtful and relevant article, but a couple of responses (and comments on other websites) indicate problems we must resolve. We are urged to get behind “Stuart and the team”, but I suggest a better mantra would be to get behind our club.The owners may lack experience in our domestic set up, and it will be a learning process for them, but I don’t think their actions will result in us stood outside Valley Parade with collecting tins.
    Recruitment has proved a problem, but it’s an issue that has been magnified by injuries – Chicksen, Jones, McMahon and now Reeves being examples. So the situation was worsened but recruitment strategy should have identified this and resolved matters.
    Many supporters seem to distance Stuart from our problems, but some on field/game management decisions have been questionable this term.Also I feel we missed a huge opportunity in the play off final – positioning Vincelot in front of our defence, flooding midfield and leaving Wyke isolated.
    But we are all better managers, coaches, owners etc than those who are tasked with those responsibilities…are’nt we? Our job as supporters is to back the club, not different factions within it, so lets do just that.

  8. With the exception of Trevor’s post I detect that many contributors here have been looking at City’s current problems on the pitch through ginger coloured spectacles.

    Let me state that I saw Stuart play for City during both spells and do regard him as one of the best we have ever had and a great servant of the club. However, both in his previous time and currently there are real question marks about Stuart’s managerial abilities – tactically, coaching, recruitment and man management.

    It is a truism that great players do not necessarily make successful managers. (How many of the England 1966 team became successful managers? Only possibly Jack Charlton – and he wasn’t the greatest footballer in the team).

    In my view Stuart must take some responsibility for this current situation. It is sad to see that his legacy with Bradford City is being tarnished by his performance as manager.

    • It’s a bit unfair to raise a question mark about Stuart’s recruitment ability, since it doesn’t fall within his responsibilities. Every player I’ve heard interviewed and asked about his qualiities, rate man management as one of his strengths. Colin Doyle highlighted this as recently as last Saturday.

  9. I’m afraid post McCall, the next candidate could very well be sourced from the continent and be used to working as a head coach rather than a manager. I can’t see any British manager taking a job where he will be coaching the team but not deciding who the players are. I’m not against this because of any jingoistic ‘British is best’ reasoning. Only because it’s a huge gamble and it’s Bradford City that they’re going to be gambling with. I’d look on with amused interest if it was that lot from the other side of Pudsey!

    I’ve read the ‘Soccernomics’ book that correlates success with wages. I expect the primary reason that they’ve used up a large % of the budget on transfer fees rather than signing free agents on higher wages is because they ultimately expect to develop and make a profit on these players when they’re eventually sold. Barnsley have been successfully applying this model for a number of years, but the prospects they’ve bought have cost considerably more than I expect City will pay, if recent transfer windows are the benchmark. Which we saw with Matty Pearson last summer. Good players aren’t cheap, whether that’s spent on transfer fees or wages. If anything, I think City have overachieved over the last 18 months, but the lack of depth in the squad has been there to see as practically every City fan has said. No club can hope to play the same 14/5 players through an arduous League One campaign and be successful. I’m now hoping Rahic won’t make the same mistakes again when the transfer window reopens. And the squad has some genuine depth, regardless of who’s in charge of team affairs come August 2018.

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