Simon Grayson leaves Bradford City – but was he really the answer?

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

In the wake of Simon Grayson failing to agree to stay on as Bradford City manager, the angle of criticism towards Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp writes itself. In two years at the helm, the German owners have managed to drive away arguably the second most successful manager in the club’s history, sacked the biggest City legend of all time, and now have failed to convince League One’s record promotion achiever.

Phil Parkinson, Stuart McCall and Simon Grayson is some managerial graveyard. There’s no getting away from the fact this turnover is hurting Rahic’s credibility. It’s a very bad look for the self-appointed head of football. And it all means the managerial vacancy that he and Rupp must fill, for a third time, is no longer as attractive an opportunity as it used to be. Just who will take it now?

But if you don’t mind, I won’t be picking up a pitchfork to go at Rahic on this matter myself. The truth is I find it hard to feel upset about Grayson walking away from Valley Parade. I am, naturally, concerned about the future and where this leaves the club. I just didn’t really view Grayson as the answer. And if, as the narrative suggests, talks over his future were a matter of whether Rahic and Rupp were willing to cede to Grayson’s demands, I’ve got some respect to them for not throwing away their own principles.

First of all, judging Grayson’s short time in charge of Bradford City doesn’t exactly encourage positive conclusions. He was brought in as a promotion specialist, handed the task of reviving the Bantams’ flagging season and getting them over the play off line. Just 15 points from a possible 42 wasn’t a particularly inspiring return, and ultimately City have finished eight points short of the top six.

Of course there were huge mitigating circumstances. The depths that the squad’s morale had sunk to, the negative atmosphere amongst supporters, and the absence for a time of Rahic, all meant that Grayson walked into something of a storm that was anything but his making. The spate of postponed matches, shortly after he took charge, was another momentum-stalling factor. You can argue, with conviction, that no manager could have turned the tide. And that it is unfair to judge Grayson harshly.

I get that view, I really do. But I still have concerns about the way he went managing the club. For a start, Grayson’s somewhat bold and borderline arrogant statements made him difficult to warm to. During his press conference unveiling he stated, “To get someone like myself is a coup for the club.” He was absolutely right, but should he have been the one saying it? It is strange to hear any manager speak so conceited.

Secondly, the way he went about trying to change the team’s style of play, mid-season, was perhaps ill-advised. Whilst Stuart McCall was not getting everything right, and could have benefited from being more pragmatic at times, Grayson moved the team away from their gung-ho attacking style into a defensive, conservative-minded side. Instead of going to win, it became about not losing. A huge pendulum swing.

The March home game with champions Wigan sticks in the mind, where Grayson and City tried to claim a 0-0 draw, losing to a last minute goal. There was logic to playing for a point – Wigan were the best team in the league, and the Bantams needed to stop the rut. But City had beaten Wigan on their own turf earlier in the season, by going all out to win at the DW Stadium. The attack-minded approach left some big holes, but it had kept City in the play offs for more than half a season. Clearly, it was working to a point. Did it have to be completely torn down?

The bottom line is that it is very, very difficult to change a team philosophy mid-season, in the midst of games (just ask David Wetherall and Peter Jackson from their stints taking over City mid-season). Pre-season – where there are weeks of training, and a clutch of pre-season friendlies to embed new things – is a more effective time to implement big changes. Grayson didn’t have that luxury. But perhaps by making more subtle alterations to City’s approach, he might have found greater success quicker. Certainly the players did not appear bought into his way of thinking until it was too late. In the meantime, Grayson publicly berated his players on too many occasions.

Thirdly, there is the style of football that ultimately emerged. After the Blackpool thrashing, Grayson got it tactically spot on in the 0-0 draw with high-flying Shrewsbury that followed – a game City could easily have won – and they followed it up with a commendable 3-1 victory over Portsmouth. But as results continued to improve, the approach remained direct, defensive and difficult to watch. Some strange line-ups – such as the persistence of Matty Lund on the left – added to the frustration.

There is very little, if anything, about what Grayson has done that you can’t understand. He was right to tackle the soft core in the Bradford City team, and with the players downing tools who can blame him for criticising them. It can also be argued Grayson would have improved the playing style after a close season of bringing in his own players.

I don’t doubt that with the right backing Grayson’s approach could bring success to Valley Parade. He is clearly a very intelligent manager, with an enviable track record. Had he decided to stay on, I would have been right behind him. But equally, I just found it hard to really warm to him. And struggled to believe his own motivations matched the club’s vision.

As for the talks with the owners, and the sticking points that couldn’t be resolved, it’s about balancing the club’s immediate pressures with the long-term strategy. When Grayson talks about how the owners need to learn to focus on the first team, rather than other attributes, alarm bells begin to ring. Whatever valid criticisms there is to be made about Rahic’s treatment of managers and players, he and Rupp have invested notably into the youth set up and funded a development squad. They want to bring through younger players, and either sell them for a profit or watch them grow playing for the club.

It’s not a perfect model and it is certainly not one that will deliver overnight success, but it can make Bradford City more self-sustainable in the long run. And that has to be a good thing.

Grayson words strongly a hint at a belief the club’s resources should be directed at the first team next season. Again that’s understandable given City’s ambition to get promotion to the Championship. But out-spending your rivals to gain success will only take you so far. It might earn a promotion out of League One, but what then? In the Championship, City would complete lack the resources to compete with clubs receiving millions of pounds revenue.

This weekend’s relegation of Burton and Barnsley from the Championship – the pair were promoted from League One in 2016 – underlines that point. We don’t want to get to the second tier just to fall back down within a couple of years. City need a better, more thought out plan to compete, the higher they get. They have to sign players in a different way, target areas of the transfer market undervalued by others. Bring through youngsters. Develop stars, rather than always buy them.

Stephen Warnock’s comments about the owners needing to dig deep help to frame the debate in a way that suggests Grayson not staying is because the owners won’t fund a larger budget. That may be true, and I’m as concerned as anyone that we might not have a budget to compete next season – especially to mount a play off push. But the financial lessons of 2002 and 2004 remain a vivid warning against speculating to accumulating. I don’t personally agree with the idea of throwing all resources into a promotion push next season. If it doesn’t work out – and getting promotion is a huge ask – you’ve got a problem. In 2008/09, City went for it in League Two, failed, were left short of money, and then struggled over the subsequent three seasons.

Like everyone else, I wish our owners were richer than they appear to be. That Stefan Rupp would chuck in more of his wealth. But we have to be realistic. I’ve been very critical of the way Rahic has operated over the past 12 months, and big concerns remain in place about the future. But I actually agree with many of his ideals and principles. He just needs to actually live up to them. Rupp too, with his statement about going for automatic promotion a year ago – only for the club to operate on a mid-table budget last season – also needs to start living up to reality.

Way back at his first fans forum, two years ago, Rahic underlined his belief that the long-term progression of the club that is important. He explained that he would rather draw 4-4, with Reece Webb-Foster scoring twice, than having a scrappy 1-0 win.  The clips from Matter of Heart, of Rahic looking angry when City can “only” draw with Port Vale and Millwall, make it questionable whether he has truly lived up to those values. But if that remains his outlook, I can’t see him judging Grayson’s approach to be the right one.

Clearly, Grayson’s record makes him an expert that deserves huge respect. His four promotions at Blackpool, Leeds, Huddersfield and Preston have helped him to develop a significant level of knowledge and confidence. He knows the tools he needs to bring success, and is clear in asking for those tools (WOAP understands the hiring of a full time match analyst was a key sticking point). You wouldn’t call him a chequebook manager. But Grayson’s approach requires a certain level of investment in the here and now, and ultimately Rahic and Rupp have not been able to agree to it.

Grayson will get another job. And if he is successful, it will be another stick to beat Rahic and Rupp with. But we’ve seen how this can go wrong, with Peter Taylor in 2010 in almost the exact same situation. Taylor came in for a short-term period, laid out a set of demands, and agreed to stay on. He couldn’t deliver success, stepping down before the season was over, with fans fed up by his dour football. If Grayson is going to remain pragmatic, he better win football matches. And even the best laid plans can’t guarantee that.

So City are left looking for another manager, and Rahic and Rupp will do well to target someone who better fits their model. A coach who can bring through players, a motivator who will get the best out of the hand he has. Someone who cares about the club and the role they can play in taking it forward. A Stuart McCall then, although obviously someone else given the personality clash issues. And while they’re at it, a proper director of football, to work with the coach, would be welcome. As much as anything, the club needs a buffer between manager and owner.

Whatever route City go down, this is another test of Rahic’s leadership – and let’s hope the lessons are finally sinking in. He is going to get a lot of criticism for not keeping hold of Grayson, but he cannot hide. People in football will question his high turnover of good managers, so he’s going to have to be persuasive in order to bring in a high calibre replacement. He has ultimately rejected the short-term pragmatic approach of Grayson, which `means he needs to re-affirm and re-sell the vision he and Rupp have to take Bradford City all the way to the top.

Categories: Opinion

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26 replies

  1. Grayson deserved his chance with his own players, simple as. This set of players were McCall’s (or Abbott’s). You can’t judge him when on a set of players who he inherited, and had also downed tools in January. he had just started to stop the rot.

    He may not play the best type of football, by like Parky, he gets results. He’s proven at this level. It looks like he’s going to Scunthorpe. If they don’t win the play-offs, you watch them get promoted next year.

    This is a massive loss. Have the owners learned from their mistake? Have they hell!!!

    • It’s worth noting that in 18 months at the helm McCall had a very limited say on recruitment. Other than Law, Taylor and McGowan, this was not his set of players either. There were mitigating factors, but Grayson got less out of this group of players than McCall did.

      The club has operated a transfer committee approach. I would imagine that Grayson would not have been prepared to work under it, and would have wanted full control. That may or may not be a good thing, but it’s worth highlighting it would represent a change of approach.

  2. You mention pitchforks and sticks Jason, I would dearly love to use them on our owners right now ? We are a mess.

  3. Grayson’s style of play has always been the same – tight defence, long ball, get the play upfront as quick as possible, harry the opposition players. It is not, and has not, been pretty on the eyes. He appeared to be demanding too much – training ground / analyst / bigger budget – which, as you say in your report, was probably too much for the owners.

    I feel the negativity towards the owners will now hit record levels – with the xenophobic (bordering on racist) comments aimed at them. Where has this all inclusive club that we strive for gone? Or has it always been there but simmering under the surface.

    We will have to wait and see what comes now in the summer. Expect a quick turn around for the new manager and then a summer of rebuilding.

    It is never dull watching City!!

  4. Well well well. I cant say I’m shocked and I still don’t know if I wanted him to stay or go.

    It tells a story when he says After conversations with the owners I have decided to turn down the option to extend my contract

    Was the contract not good enough, was it budget decisions, was it what the owners were saying or is it that he is going to Scunthorpe and they will back their managers?

    So many questions and unfortunately we will never get the answers.

    My only concern is who will replace him?

    This may go down well or not but we could do worse than Uwe Rosler, I would be willing to give him a chance

  5. I agree with most of you comments Jason and I’m not really bothered about Grayson leaving.

    I don’t see that as them major issue though – the major issue is that our owners wanted him to stay but he would not. That makes two very successful managers (Parky and Grayson) who didn’t want to work with them and one (Stuart) who only stayed because he loved the club so much.

    Rupp & Rahic really do seem to have anti-Midas touch with everything they touch falling apart. I genuinely cannot think of a single thing that is better now than it was under Rhodes and Lawn and I rue the day they decided to sell. Years of progress thrown away in such a short time.

  6. I for one am not sad to see him go, i’ve not been as bored watching city for a long time. Here’s a thought, maybe our owners have been cleverer than we are giving them credit for. Grayson does a 15 game audition, if it works and we get a play off place or maybe promotion they win and Grayson gets his chance to manage in the championship where he belongs, according to him. If he fails they get to pick his brains, take what they need and move on.
    Mr Rahic says he would rather watch entertaining football, we all would. The ball is firmly in our owners court and it will be interesting to see what happens next. Never a dull moment being a city fan.

  7. Great article and analysis as usual Jason. I did not like SG’s arrogance and he really delivered very little. I understand that he was told to take risks and go for the points to get a play off place, but this did not show at all? The only decent game was the win over Pompey, when we did seem to go for it. As you say though it is not a great advert for the club in terms of managers.

    One does wonder what SG’s reasons for “saying no” were? Lack of agreement with the owners on the approach / strategy? Lack of budget? Size of the task to turn it around? The generally toxic atmosphere around the club? Who knows but this may impact on other candidates?

  8. Spot on there Jason good read

  9. Jason, thank you for a very thought provoking article. I doubt many readers will agree with everything you have written and you can include me on that list. In no way should that be considered criticism for what you have written.
    I truly doubt anyone should admire the owner’s principles. They have had an hidden agenda since day one which started with Rahic’s ten year goal of Premiership and one pound tickets. They have been blatantly deceptive with fans and players with their numerous PR ploys. Because of this their credibility is totally destroyed.
    I truly doubt their vision for the club which includes a productive youth system can be successful in ten or twenty years time. Especially, when you note a lack of financial funding,management skills and structure.
    I am very disappointed to se the club being purposely dismantled and I fear ultimately destroyed.
    Rack and Ruin have no principles that I can admire.

  10. After Parkinson saw the writing on the wall and left I was always surprised Grayson took the job . As we know Stuart came because he loves the club and probably deep down he hoped he could work with these clowns. Alas it seems nobody can unless whoever comes in comes in not to manage in the traditional sense but to coach only the players that Rahic wants to sign.

    Rupp said the other day that they would learn from their mistakes…but the mistakes he must have been referring to are not the mistakes that we all recognised they made.

  11. A very good piece again Jason. Did you have another piece prepared if Grayson had stayed? Anyway, I would not have been disappointed if Grayson had stayed, nor am I bothered that he is leaving. He probably has other suitors (Barnsley anyone?) and would have only been prepared to stay at City if all of his demands had been agreed. However, if the joint chairmen had become unimpressed with results and style of play since he took over, then perhaps their enthusiasm to keep him had also waned. I don’t believe that Grayson won over the fans with his style of play judging by the fall in attendance for the final few home games. City will not be short of interested parties seeking the managers hot seat and I suspect the email in-box is already filling up. Let us all hope that they choose wisely.

  12. Grayson leaving ….as a manager am a bovvered? Nope… rather entertaining football and mid table than the dour dark age football and scrape playoffs … as a statement of the direction of the club….Mein Herr’s not for turning…good luck Edin…. gotta respect his stoical approach….but the pressure is stacking up and this appointment needs to be perfect for all our collective sanity

  13. Don’t tell anyone but Ive heard Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal, he might be available

  14. Good article, the club have plenty of time to make an appointment, sort out players and get them working together. Sorry that Grayson didn’t stay if only for the continuity, he’s gone, move on.

  15. Excellent analysis. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with. I am fairly sure Grayson wasn’t the right fit for City. The fans, given his style of play and the owners because of his approach.

  16. Completely agree with everything Jason. I was not enamoured with SG’s interview style & I suspect we’ll hear in six months the “real” reason from SG with no admission of liability/contrition on his part!?

    I sincerely believe, to win over the City faithful, that the owners need to reset everything & outline their complete vision.

    The alarming thing, if the true, is that the Directors refused SG’s proposal on a full time match analyst? I would have thought this is a must if you are reducing the playing budget?! If the team next year is going to be composed of younger players, which is not a bad thing given the age of our squad, they will need all the help they can get. I would be throwing money at the non playing element, technical & fitness coaches, to supply them with the competitive edge.

    I’m concerned for next year, the Parky & Macca legacy is diminishing and this will be Year Zero. My faith in Rahic has been shaken to arrange a conducive structure, delegate responsibility & secure the right appointments whether playing or non playing. I fear that we could go the way of MK Dons, nepotism unchecked with Winkleman Jnr heading up recruitment & Mrs Winkleman running the commercial side, and be back to the basement before too long.


  17. Like you, Jason, I am not happy with things at City, and worry that our owners are not on the right track. At least for the short term.
    But I think it is a bit unfair to criticise the turnover in managers. Parkinson left immediately, McCall was sacked, Grayson came for the rest of the season, then left. Neither he nor Parkinson were sacked.
    This is not a vindication of management style, it is in my opinion a statement of fact.
    Like you, I was not convinced by Grayson , and felt he rather thought the 1st Division was beneath him.
    I have no opinion on his replacement, but wish that Wayne’s suggestion could be true—–sadly, I think not.

  18. the whole club is crumbling and we hear nothing from the owners. this is why they weren’t allowed to purchase a club in their own country. I actually fear for us

  19. We now urgently need to hear from the owners. We need to know their short and long term vision, if indeed they have one. As many people have said, what are we supposed to BELIEVE? At the moment we cannot believe a word they say.

  20. Another great summary.The most telling summary is left to Grayson.Who in radio interview makes it clear he did not know what the owners wanted to do.Well if they and the prospective manager don”t know we may as well give up.

  21. biggest disappointment for me in all this is the likelihood that Poleon and McCarten will be nd up seeing their contracts out with us rather than being shifted on!

    Yes Grayson will have left a dossier on each player and recommendations for each one…but had he stayed he would most definitely have carried it through.

    Sadly any new manager will not be so drastic now in the clearout ……a clearout that is most definitely needed in my view….!

    • I see where you are coming from Simon but even if Grayson stayed I don’t think we can afford to end contracts early and paying players off.

      If our budget is similar again then unless people come in for them they will be staying.

      For me if McCartan stays I would give him another chance but if I could I would get rid of Poleon

      • I’m sure Grayson would have found a way to shift them on without oaying them off…or at least moving them on to other clubs without too much of a hit.

        Sadly won’t happen now and not sure I really want to see a season of misses from Poleon again or McCarten strutting round the pitch like a pigeon not being interested unless the ball is within an inch of his feet!

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