Stuart McCall departs amid a flurry of unanswered questions

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Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Katie Whyatt

It has happened. Bradford City confirmed this morning that they have terminated Stuart McCall’s contract, and if there is any scrap of consolation it can only be that it did not end in the ignominy – as, at one point, it looked like it might – of McCall galloping up the Valley Parade steps two at a time, still with a spring in his step – or looking for quick refuge, however you want to read it – as Wimbledon slotted four past City’s generous defence and left his career hanging by a thread. Instead, it ends at defeat 13 of the season, five days ahead of a home game against Bury – the team against whom McCall famously walked in 2010. This time, he vowed not to. But at least then he got to say a proper goodbye.

It is difficult to know where to start unpacking the litany of issues that have resulted in McCall – the club’s greatest-ever player, for one, and the Bradford City manager with the best win ratio in 36 years – arriving on Monday morning to find his contract terminated, perhaps not even with goodbye handshakes all round. It is difficult, at this stage at least, to even begin to envisage an obvious replacement – Uwe Rösler’s name will always be touted, but it is hard to imagine who could have possibly wrung more out of this squad, in the present structure, than McCall ultimately managed. This is a squad that, at least publicly, always backed their man, right until the end. They have spent a *grand total* of 4/96 games outside the top six. Their play-off position looked more precarious week-by-week, but was the answer outside the camp?

It is harder, still, to work out what this means for the rest of the season. City’s play-off destiny is out of their immediate control, Charlton and Peterborough each with two games in hand, yet the chasing pack had missed chances to capitalise over the weekend. The owners had publicly talked up their top two aspirations, but as the weeks wore on it felt increasingly like McCall had lugged his side to a position they had no real right to sit in. Is this it, now? Chalk off the play-offs with 15 games to go, and the top six race wide open?

McCall knew how lucky he was to manage his beloved Bradford City twice. He hasn’t done anything wrong – in truth, he probably deserves a third crack. Even this season, with five league defeats on the bounce, no blame has ever landed at his door. For a while – for eight glorious months, no less – it worked, almost from the get-go, despite the snags and snares that would have spelled bigger trouble sooner for a relationship  founded on less love than this one.

At first McCall made it look comically easy. He began his first season with eight permanent, experienced players. You can picture the scene. He looks at Greg Abbott look and the pair roll their eyes. Pur-lease. Give us, like, an actual challenge. It is intriguing the first summer window – the focus on simply having something they could field on the opening day, and thus banking on experience – was more successful than the second, the one billed, from the inside, as a window of youth, the realisation of the broader vision.

It was not merely the quality of the players recruited that first summer – the likes of Law, Vincelot, Knight-Percival, Kilgallon, Doyle, and the best of them all in Josh Cullen – but the verve with which McCall polished the old diamonds, revisiting all the old hits. He found concealed in some sequestered corner of Valley Parade Mark Marshall, disillusioned, long-forgotten, searching for a swift exit, and by the end of the season presents his winger with a slew of individual awards, a fitting symbol for a transformation brought about, in part, by the human touch of McCall’s personality. It is a mark of McCall that former City striker Billy Clarke took to Twitter: “Disappointing to see my old gaffer has been sacked. Very good manager and man..always had best interests of his players and the club at heart” [sic]. Marc McNulty was quick to follow: “Stuart Mccall sacked? Shocking. Run of bad games yes but still sitting in a good position! Great manager and great Asistant in kenny to” [sic].

He spoke with something verging on bemusement at times, when confronted with the praise, the stats, the numbers, like a man who didn’t quite recognise the force of what he’d done. “I think if you try to stifle them or play them like robots, you won’t get the best out of them,” he said nonchalantly, almost blithely unaware of precisely how good his football looked. Meredith – member of five (eminently successful) City squads – went as far as to dub McCall’s his favourite one. Billy Clarke found a new level. Even this season, as barren as the latest run has been, McCall has brought through Tyrell Robinson and developed Charlie Wyke. His strengths as a coach have always been obvious.

Within nine months he had them walking out at Wembley, barely stifling his delight on what was one header away from being the finest hour of his managerial career. Then he uttered the words that defined the following season: “It would be nice if we could keep the majority of the group together. I wouldn’t be over-confident of doing that, but we will see.”

They kept six of that Wembley starting XI. You might argue keeping them wasn’t necessarily the problem, but the quality of their replacements. You’ll give them Meredith and Cullen, whose paths were set the minute that Steve Morison header careered past Colin Doyle. Marshall’s departure was probably inevitable. Rory McArdle’s felt preventable. Even Tony McMahon, the only out of contract play-off finalist to stay, spent his summer fluttering his eyelids at Blackburn Rovers. Of all the players recruited over the summer, how many can say they have genuinely fulfilled expectations, let alone matched their predecessors? Only Adam Chicksen has really come close to rivaling Meredith. Paul Taylor – the oldest – has been the pick of the bunch.

McCall went through January without any bona fide full backs. Bafflingly, there simply wasn’t the squad depth for adequate injury cover, let alone to facilitate the squad rotation that was a hallmark of McCall’s first season. For all the talk otherwise – and it wasn’t their fault they didn’t get Blackpool’s Kelvin Mellor, after all – it did look like the club were caught cold in the January window. There were strange moves: why discuss a bid for Kieffer Moore while simultaneously stressing the importance of the retaining the wage structure? There are concerns the wage structure delayed recruitment, and, if this is the case, does this explain why McArdle was so reluctant to sign again last summer? The young players model is commendable in theory but does it make City less competitive?

The much-discussed transfer committee – a model gaining popularity throughout football – is not an inherently bad thing, but the concern for City is that so much of the accountability for signings has been obscured. Edin Rahic has stressed publicly that “Stuart was all the time involved”, that “we are all responsible”. “It’s not about, ‘Stuart doesn’t know anything about transfers,'” he told BBC radio Leeds. “He’s aware. If he doesn’t agree on a player, we will not sign him.” Yet McCall went on the record to say he had never seen certain players. ‘I don’t know much about him’ became a quasi-catchphrase for a coach whose remit, it felt at times, was exactly that – to coach. Someone was not on company message. “We must all accept responsibility,” the club said. But the ambiguity and mixed messages never really helped, and warranted a clarification that never really came.

Whatever happened, it didn’t work, and it now lends a chilling irony to McCall’s words from that first press conference, back in June: “This is the perfect fit for me. Last time certainly wasn’t the perfect fit – but it is now.” And it is such broken hope that, in part, makes this such a painfully bitter pill to swallow.

“We would like to place on record our sincere thanks to Stuart, who joined the club at a difficult time and restored the fans’ belief when the odds were much against us,” read this morning’s statement, and it could have been from McCall’s first managerial exit, eight years ago.

In 2007, McCall came to City when, frankly, they needed him more than he needed them. It wasn’t even the best thing for him. It was a heart over head move, the club legend returning to his spiritual home to find his old love had careered off the snaking slide from the top-flight, hit every fold and corner on the way down and had since landed in League Two, nursing the mother of all hangovers from that heady Premier League overspend, punch-drunk and terrified of checking their bank balance. Back then, he was too inexperienced to fulfill the prophecy that had been written in the stars. It is so typically McCall that his fatal flaw was something as innocent as being too wholehearted. This time, he was ready. Circumstance had other ideas.

Wherever the recent slump began, it is hard to stomach how suddenly and drastically City have fallen. In one sense, they haven’t – they’re only two points shy of their return from 30 games last season – but their Wimbledon capitulation meant they had conceded more goals by February than they had over the whole of last season, gave them a negative goal difference (last season they finished with + 19) and left them with more troubling questions besides. Depleted, the joint-second best defence in the league subsided into some bizarre parody of that Keegan team: you score two and we’ll— let you’ll get three. McCall talked at length about shaking his principles but it was hard to genuinely believe the galling ease with which the ball trickled under Rouven Sattelmaier two weeks ago could really be attributed to the manager’s sense of gung-ho endeavour. It was hard to see what else he – any manager, for that matter – could have done with the hand he was dealt. The Oldham performance was far from wretched: the desire was there. They were turning a corner.

Many managers have paid with their jobs after six defeats from six: the problem here is it disguises a vaster collection of issues. There have now been 28 managerial changes in the top four English leagues this season: eight in the Premier League, seven in the Championship and four in League Two, and McCall this morning became League One’s ninth casualty.

For a time, City were defined by just how far removed they were from that world. Now, after McCall’s first real bad run, they have twisted, and the cards are falling, and Stuart McCall – the one person this decision will hurt more than anybody – has been the collateral. It is hard to think of a recent Bradford City decision that has ever been as universally condemned as this one. The same ending comes to pass, and there is a widespread, almost unequivocal, feeling that McCall deserved better. It is that sentiment – expressed by Jason Thornton on Twitter this morning – that wounds and worries so deeply.

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Categories: Opinion

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21 replies

  1. I cant say I’m shocked but Stuart didn’t deserve the sack. I would have gave him a new deal has he has worked miracles bar this past month.

    I still believe the chairmen do have this clubs interests at heart but what they say and do are very strange and contradicting.

    For all the people who says McCall should be sacked we will see if your correct but I don’t believe anyone could have done a better job than Stuart in these circumstances

  2. First,I have to say that is a brilliant piece of writing.
    I feel very sorry for McCall, because, unlike most players and managers, he genuinely cares about the club. I wish City had not sacked him, I wish they had kept with him at least until season’s end.
    But Rahic and Rupp own the club. No one else put their money up. So they must be allowed to run it in the way they want. Again, that is a pity, but it is true.
    I really don’t think they are making a very good job of it at present, and hope they learn, and learn fast. But, if Rahic and McCall are not getting on, and have lost faith in each other, there can, obviously,only be one casualty–the manager, not the owner.
    I cannot, when praising McCall, get over my anger at the exhibitions against Northampton and Wimbledon. The tactics and game plan were wrong , and anybody could see it. In the latter game some players did not appear to be trying.
    Something has gone wrong with the motivation of the players, and it needs to be remedied.
    I support Bradford City, always have, hopefully always will. My support will not end because of today’s sad news, I shall be there on Saturday, I shall support them on Saturday, and I ask all City fans to support them, because there is no alternative, and we must support them.
    Please, do not demonstrate against the owners, it does no good, and can only do harm to the club we love.

  3. For the owners strategy to have any chance of working it needs a manager to be on board with their way of thinking, its clear from the start of this season that the cracks that were there from the beginning were getting wider to the point of being unfixable. I hope Stuart goes on to job where he feels he is able to work with the remit he is given and has a better input into the players signed. The one thing that guts me at the moment is seeing my lads face at Wembley at the final whistle of the playoffs, tears streaming down his face, saying ” It’s alright Dad, Stuart will get us up next year”.

    Some things just ain’t meant to be.

  4. Yes the results recently haven’t been great nor have the performances however I feel that Stuart should have been given until the end of the season to rectify the situation, It is doubtful that we would be relegated, contrary to some peoples post in the T&A. It is well documented about our league position over Stuarts tenure which has been excellent. Its a very sad day for BCFC. Good Luck Stuart and thanks for the ride.
    Messers Rahic/Rupp, I only hope you have got your decision right for the good of BCFC as you are the current custodians of OUR club, the fans deserve an full explanation as to your reasoning and the future direction the club is taking. Your track record at the moment leaves a lot to be desired, saying one thing and doing another. Backing Stuart in the transfer window, didnt happen, 100% behind Stuart, two weeks later sacking him. I’m afraid your credibility is being brought in to question.

  5. Sad day.
    The owners don’t have ANY credibility with the fans. We don’t believe anything coming out of VP anymore.
    Stupid PR stunts for players we never had a hope in hell of bringing to the club, statements saying we back SM. All a load of BS
    I will be there on Saturday and for the rest of this season, but next season……..really not sure.
    Feel badly let down and to be honest dissolutioned with our owners.
    Sad day!!!!!

    • Agreed. Everyone can have their say on whether McCall should have been given more time. For the record, I think he should have been. The torrid form of January was evidently due to the absence of key players through injury, illness, and (allegedly) ill-timed interventions by the Board to thwart transfer activity, plus all the off-field events at Yeovil. All of which is not down to Stuart and his tactical nous, which let’s remember has delivered the most consistent win ration and some of the best passing football seen at City for decades.

      But whatever you think of Stuart’s departure, his sacking demonstrates a problem with the fundamental narrative of the new owners that has always privileged patience, long-term thinking, and a desire for a more open/attacking style of play. Hit by injuries, with only youngsters to throw in, and with a message from on high to attack teams more, it’s little wonder we’ve shipped 3s and 4s of late with extremely poor investment in the transfer window despite outlandish promises in the press.

      The Board now have a massive job to do to win people round. They are yet to build any meaningful relationship with the fans at the club – something Stuart enjoys in spades and for very good reasons – so they have backed themselves into an extremely awkward corner. Whatever happened in the breakdown of relations between Edin and Stuart, the Board have not treated a hero of the club with respect (Stuart’s interview on Radio Leeds last night revealing how disappointed he was that news of his sacking was released before he had chance to tell the players in person), and this all adds up to some pretty amateurish decision-making by the Chairmen.

      You can’t appoint a club legend and not respect what that means. Of course, it doesn’t mean that Stuart is beyond criticism or that he should be unduly protected from the sack if that’s the objective decision reached. But it does mean you have to be extremely mindful of how you handle that, to take care of protecting that important bond between Stuart and the fans. There’s a suite in the ground named after him for Christ sake, it should have been obvious. Unfortunately, it seems there was too much subjectivity in this decision and it has led to some fundamental mistakes that have left the fans furious with the Board and doubting everything they say from now on.

      They had a chance to be different. They said they wanted to be and were different. But 12 days after a vote of confidence and 18 months on from preaching patience and long-term thinking, they’ve come across like nearly every other owners – impatient, petulant, and capable of misleading their fan base.

      • Spot on.
        IF the owners are to turn this around ….and its a big IF.
        The supporters need a TRUE statement setting out their intentions.
        At the moment, sadly it seems yet again they don’t have someone in place to take the reigns.
        The fans need to have something they can believe in otherwise what’s the point 😨.
        Sadly I think the majority of city fans don’t trust the owners, or whatever Statements they come out with.
        PS Mr Mason has been very quiet!

      • Your correct Blake

        James Mason has gone very quiet. On twitter he says he doesn’t hide. Maybe this is not hiding and he has been told not to say anything but the silence is very deafening.

        Will he be the next to go?

  6. Impressive analysis. Sounds like a sad story all around. Modern football sadly. Run of bad games, position becomes in doubt. Is club confident of doing better than McCall, or are they basically thinking the squad just needs a jolt through any change of sorts? Problem is those can often have only short term boosts.

  7. As a long standing supporter, I feel more indignation at this dismissal than any previous managerial casualty. There is some speculation about who’s next in the hot seat. At this point in time, I couldn’t care less. How can any Manager/Coach be expected todo the job properly, with one hand tied behind his back? Yes, Stuart’s made mistakes, but others have made more. It’s easy to see why Phil Parkinson wanted out, soon after the ownership change. Perhaps we’ll see Edin sat in the dugout on Saturday?

  8. I only hope for the this fantastic club & fantastic fans that this is resolved very quickly, it’s strange how this is the squad that we started with and got us in a good position, granted we lost our 1st choice keeper for a while and the 2nd & 3rd choice keepers have probably been chosen from a higher level, and looking at the video evidence their is questions to be answered there. I think something lost the dressing room, and I am not sure it was Stuart McCall due to a mass of respect from players and ex players who have departed saying what a Great Manager and a Great Man our ex Manager was. I think if I were the owners, I would ask Man United if they can borrow Mourinho for the next 2 months to turn this around, City fans are realistic and they know there was a lack of support in the early stages of the transfer window, yes we know it’s a game of chess, but when you have the bare bones through injuries, at least show some support to get a least one through the door early to give some sort of chance, this is Bradford City with passionate fans and I fear it could turn ugly due to recent events, and as my 17 year old Son as just said, when the owners & managers move on as they will in football, it is the same Loyal Fans that will be in the Stadium on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the next Circus to come to Valley.Let’s just run this club the great old fashioned way and move FORWARD.

  9. A sad day, and a wrong decision.

    My 9 year old son & I wrote 2 letters of support to Stuart over the last 3 weeks. Last Thursday, he rang us up to thank us for them. Tonight, we’ve written a third and final letter, wishing him well with the future, and telling him we will remain Stuart McCall fans, wherever he goes.

  10. That is a measure of the man. Class act. Interesting comparison to be drawn with the Bellenders currently. Similar disquiet with regard to recruitment by Orta and sympathy in that respect for the outgoing manager. Stuart tbh is well out of it hopefully he can move onto to work for a decent employer

  11. On 27th Jan, Edin on Radio Leeds chided us supporters for being negative saying we all needed to be real supporters, to stick together – fans & management. He claimed we had a very good squad (incl. the new big German lad!). His arrogance made me very angry at the time. It was clear then that he thought he had all the answers.

    On 5th Feb he sacks Stuart. I am now beyond anger. My family of 4 have decided tonight that we can’t stomach going down to VP any time soon.

    In contrast, Stuart today remains a class act issuing a balanced measured interview/statement. What Rahic will never see, blinded by his own unswerving belief in himself, is that Stuart will always be more Bradford City than he will ever be. Rahic wanted the passion of a working class English club but unfortunately he doesn’t understand he cannot bend English football to his will or that he’s not the Messiah we’ve always wanted.

    Right now I’m not sure what will get me back to VP while he’s in charge showing us how to do things “properly” in the German way. I wish Stuart all the very best and will continue to follow the balanced WOAP BCFC commentary until I can find a reason to return.

  12. Regardless of whether you rate McCall as a manager, and regardless of his history with the club, Stuart had earned the right – by virtue of our Wembley final last year and current 6th position – to be given the whole season to see where he could take us. So what if we finish 5th or 6th, or 9th or 10th this season; is the difference really worth the damage to the heart of the club? If we are now chasing success at all costs then that is too high a price for me. If we get promoted, this will still leave a bad taste. If we don’t, then this is pointless vandalism.

    Are we so desperate for a playoff place that we’re happy to treat a club hero this badly to achieve it? There is always another season, there isn’t another Stuart McCall. If Edin was so desperate for promotion this season, then why didn’t he back his manager in the transfer market this January? And to top it all off, it doesn’t sound as though he has anyone in mind to step in, there is no bigger plan. The whole thing stinks.

    What are the owners in this for? Because as the feel-good factor around City dissipates, as incremental progress goes into reverse, as the number of season ticket holders goes down, what are they achieving? If the owners liked the Bradford City story, then why are they seemingly operating as cluelessly and carelessly as the other Football League clubs who desperately change manager every six months with no regard for the fans, for values, for the bigger picture? Will they have the guts to stick it out now the going is getting tough and it isn’t just hashtags and scarf parades?

    The one slight consulation is that Stuart leaves with his head held high, with a great record as manager in his second spell and with the promise that we would have still finished in the play-offs. He sounded relieved in his T&A article to not have to put up with what he’s had to put up with anymore. He’ll get another job. He’ll no longer have to cover and protect the failings of others.

    But Stuart still has unfinished business at City. Thank you Stuart; I can’t wait for the next chapter.

    • You are absolutely right Andrew.

      This isn’t about us being “desperate to get in the play-offs” or, as you say, we would have reinforced during the transfer window.

      This is about Edin wanting to stamp his authority on the club. PP leaving left him with a huge problem when they took over and appointing Stuart was a wise move to get the fans on-side initially.

      Now it is time to get someone who can manage/coach in the way Edin wants to run the club. He clearly believes “he knows football” and has a lot to expertise to bring. The plan was obviously to do this in the summer but January’s poor results gave the opportunity to move more quickly.

      Sad as I am to see Stuart leave I am in some ways glad that it is happened now so he can leave with his head high and the owner’s motives are transparent to all.

    • Having been such a great player for us in two spells, having taken us into the promised land, having captained us, and having managed us twice Stuart McCall has done everything. He has even scored against us! His name is interwoven into the very fabric of the modern history of Bradford City.
      He came back as a player quoting he had “unfinished business” a reference to 1988 and the nearly season!
      Two terms as manager have not worked out but the second is not his fault and who would bet about a third spell at some future date when perhaps the club is in better hands.
      Unfinished business anyone?

  13. Just punched the air reading this Andrew S – extremely well said, sir!

  14. Yes it may be sad that Stuart is leaving – he a City legend, of course he is. But he was always going to at some stage and it was likely to be in a difficult way. How many mangers truly leave their clubs by mutual consent?

    Presumably the owners felt that to leave him in charge would have meant a slow slide down to mid table – given results that’s not an unreasonable assessment. So keeping him until the end of the season might not have been the best for the club, or for Stuart come to that. But in football you can never foretell the future. That’s the joy of it.

    I am pretty depressed by the comment on here about “the German” way. What on earth is all this about? Was “the English way” so marvellous?

    Did we love Geoffrey Richmond without thinking that he did things wrong, I seem to remember quite a bit of slating of Mark Lawn. Football fans never love their club’s owners. I just feel that we have lost sight of things here and need to get things in perspective.

    Stuart will always be our hero, this doesn’t change that, but as my Dad told me 50 years ago: no one is bigger than the club. Are we fans of BCAFC or of individuals who work for the club.

  15. I’m so proud of our readership. So many times the reader comments below our articles are full of intelligent, well-informed comments that really enhance the site.

    These reader comments are another example, some terrific points. We might not all entirerly agree on everything, but we can debate it in a constructive way.

    Jason

  16. Fully agree with Andrew S. The end.

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