Bradford City cut their losses as David Hopkin replaces Michael Collins

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Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Katie Whyatt 

It is a measure of what Bradford City have become in 2018 that no one can really pretend to be shocked by the news that their latest head coach has left the club after a grand total of 77 days. The season is six league games old and Michael Collins, who became the youngest boss in the EFL when he took up the post in pre-season, leaves at a time when, in any other job, he’d still be in his probationary period. The Telegraph and Argus have reported that former City midfielder David Hopkin will take charge, but Collins’ exit does little to mask the network of systemic and fundamental failings that have claimed their latest coach as collateral.

He departs with City 17th in the table, and the only real noteworthy accolade you can bestow on him is that his tenure has likely given us the last Bradford City team who will be able to say they were above Stuart McCall’s Scunthorpe in the table. Level on points, City are one league position higher, though it’s difficult to discern who, exactly, the dizzying height of 17th in League One is supposed to impress.

Not his employers, apparently, with Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp citing an “unsatisfactory start to the season”, with performances described as “not good enough” as grounds for Collins’ dismissal. It will be of scant consolation to anybody that Collins’ tenure lasted 33 days longer than Brian Clough’s ill-fated Leeds United spell, because even by the standards of the current managerial climate, this one is shockingly short. The average lifespan of a football manager in the four English leagues is 456 days: they got rid of Collins with 379 sunrises to spare.

In the 61-day search for Simon Grayson’s predecessor, you could have filled the Yellow Pages with all the names touted. From Paul Heckingbottom, dismissed by Leeds United while on holiday abroad, to Ben Garner, once Tony Pulis’ assistant manager at West Brom, the names came and went and vanished into the ether like a hushed confession dissolving in the wind.

To those on the outside, it would seem bizarre that City – who had finished in the play-offs for two seasons on the bounce before last season saw them hurtle into… whatever this dystopian reality is supposed to be – have struggled to not only hold down anything approaching a long-term relationship but also failed to attract anything like a suitable match. It was like Rahic was poring over the football managers’ equivalent of Tinder, iPhone in hand, mindlessly swiping through a list of suitors who would never, for all the will in the world, be able to bend into his elusive, uncompromising brief.  In another life, someone like Heckingbottom probably would have taken this job in a shot: instead, they all watched on as the powers that be contrarily huffed and bleated over porridges that were too hot, too cold and never quite right.

In the event, they went for a  man who didn’t even apply for the job, and you find yourself wondering how this came to pass. Was there, like, a staff AGM? Did Edin stand at the front of his employees and fill them in on the current situation? “If you’d like to manage this football club, raise your hand now.” Did Collins yawn, stretching both arms into the air? Did Edin respond with the words: “Michael! Well volunteered!”?

In all seriousness, it’s hard, in truth, to feel anything other than pity for Collins. It looks like he stepped up when seemingly no one else would. It was a brave thing to do at 32 – foolhardy, even. In time – again, in another life – maybe he could have made some sort of fist of this. He had his whole career ahead of him to discover the coach he would like to be, and it’s difficult to wish him anything but success given the problematic circumstances surrounding his first full-time role. The theory, after all, was admirable: you can’t go too far wrong if mental steel is your starting point. There was probably some part of him, in the deepest recesses of his heart, that yearned to emulate the club’s greatest modern-day manager in Phil Parkinson.

After all, Collins had waited all his life for a moment like this: a middling lower-league midfielder, he had started studying for his coaching badges at 25. As it was, he rarely came close to offering a passable imitation of the values – accountability being one – that worked so well for Parkinson. But when a chance like this appears, you take it. How could he have turned this down?

Perhaps the most damning thing about how ill-advised an appointment this was is that, even now, no one could really tell you anything about what the Michael Collins philosophy was. You can pluck terms out of the air but would any of them really fit? A high-press? Total football? Pragmatism? Can I get back to you in a week? More than half of their shots have been from outside the box this season and between the 59th and the 93rd minute against ten-man Fleetwood, they managed a grand total of zero shots. While losing. It’s hard to feel anything other than resignation when this team, inevitably, fall behind. The McCall team of 16/17 were the best side in the division at earning points from losing positions, yet their successors boast neither their mental resolve nor their on-the-ball flair.

This is a club that, on paper, was so attractive, so recently. There was so much for the right manager to make something of. This was a club that, in 2007, landed in the basement division with a thud that could rival all the Portsmouths and Wigans and Sunderlands of the world, still cash-strapped from maxing out every credit card going during their lads’ holiday to the Premier League at the turn of the millennium. There was hardly anything to get behind with any real verve or meaning. They lolled and staggered and stumbled from one plan to its polar opposite, desperately changing tact. It was by some miracle that Phil Parkinson – the club had rejected his first application, plumping instead for Peter Jackson – was unperturbed and came running back for a second shot at the job that will define his career for years.

Now, his handiwork has unravelled so spectacularly that the current situation genuinely satirises and parodies itself. Even the words of Parkinson, plucked from a WOAP interview with him in 2015, feel incongruous: “The day I leave, and Julian [Rhodes] and Mark [Lawn] leave the club, whoever comes in to replace us will see the fantastic structure we can get in place the club.”

One of the most disconcerting things about the head coach situation – and there’s a long list of things – is that Phil Parkinson was at Valley Parade for 4 years and 286 days. We are 246 days into 2018 and they have been through four head coaches this calendar year: McCall, Greg Abbott, Simon Grayson and Collins. And it feels, again, like Collins has become the fall-guy for myriad failings.

How can Collins possibly implement his own philosophy with a stack of players that arrived even before he did? Marcello Bielsa has shown the value of good coaching at Leeds, working wonders with the same unheralded players of last season, but we’re talking there about a manager Pep Guardiola dubbed “one of the best coaches in the world”. Guardiola went to extraordinary lengths to get the goalkeeper he wanted and spoke extensively of how costly not having the right full-backs proved in his first season at Manchester City.

Josh Wright and Joe Riley and Kelvin Mellor and Jack Payne are not made of Play-Doh. There’s only so much sculpting and twisting and pressing them beneath a cookie cutter you can do before you conclude they are not the players for you. It’s not even an endeavour worth undertaking when you don’t have a concrete idea of the shape you want to turn them into. It’s no coincidence that Parkinson’s most successful season at the helm followed a summer in which he had placed such a strong emphasis on recruitment, building a side that reflected his own values in every way.

Collins’ vision lacked similar clarity, but what, really, could he have done? How could he have built his own vision within parameters that look, from the outside, so constraining, so stifling, so predetermined? At some point, something will have to give at this club. There has to be some semblance of a compromise soon. Rupp’s assurances at last season’s Player of the Year Awards – that he and Edin had “learned their lesson” – already ring painfully hollow. The same mistakes are being repeated. It is difficult to remember a time when the Bradford City experience has been so riddled with anger at best and disillusion, apathy and indifference at worst.

Hopkin needs to prove an astute appointment. In the eyes of many, City have already sleepwalked down the path of no return.

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Categories: Opinion

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24 replies

  1. Too stunned to properly understand what is going on. Seems like a decent appointment but will he be allowed to manage? If not, then same old, same old. Poor Bradford City, never had anything like this since I first went in 1969. All the best to Hopkin, an honest guy.

  2. Apparently Hopkin did everything at Livingstone. Changed the culture from the Board down to the tea ladies. Should be interesting to see what impact he has on Rahic.
    I expect a massive impact on the team organisation,focus and style.

  3. Don’t care anymore.
    We are a Shambles,joke,laughingstock club now.
    Until there’s a change in owners I won’t waste anymore of my time , emotions, energy, oh and MONEY.
    Bye Edin, I would loved to have said it’s been great, it’s not you it’s me, but……….well you know.
    Bye

    • I echo your thougths to the letter, Blake. I don’t even recognise the club as the one I’ve supported for decades. Hiring a new manager is like putting a sticking plaster on a cancerous growth. It probably won’t be long before Hopkin walks, finding it impossible to work with Rahic. I refused to renew my season ticket, stating I wouldn’t return until the current owners had gone. Such is my disconnect with the unrecognisable shambles the club has become, I doubt I’ll ever set foot in the ground again. It’s rotten to the core.

  4. At the press conference I hope Simon Parker will ask questions of the structure.
    Will Rahic still be involved with team selection tactics ?.
    Is Rahic aware of the total and utter unrest with the supporters over the direction the club is taking.
    Hopkins must be given the opportunity to do things his way.
    I don’t hold my breath with any of us getting answers.
    I expect more from the telegraph & Argos I spend money buying the paper .. But so far I do not see them representing the fan’s

    • Unfair. The reports on matches have been unfair and if the management refuses to answer questions then the paper cannot report those answers you want. T&A does a decent job keeping fans (or fan’s as you call them) in the picture.

  5. It is OUR club. MINE, YOURS! Players, Directors, Managers, Coaches, Coach drivers come and go. We, the fans, those that part with their brass for season tickets, yes still great value, year in year out are the constant. Let them play their millionaire silly financial games. Club owners, as they have become known, are not motivated in the same way as us. whether their motivation is a tax deduction, passing fancy or whatever is irrelevant. We the loyal did not make Bradford City our club of choice by picking from a list or from a map. The cliché goes summat like, “you don’t choose your football club, it is chosen for you!” Those at the top will come and, ultimately, go but we go on (so long as they leave us a club) forever. We keep turning up but it is not us who are the bad pennies!

  6. Hopefully, if David Hopkins is the new man, we have seen the last of the spineless displays epitomised by the abject performance against Wycombe. From the brief statement issued by the club it is noticeable that Rupp has awoken. Was the decision his? Has he given Rahic the hard word to protect his investment? If so, it could mean that Rahic has to toe a new line and that would benefit us all.

    • If hopkins is not allowed to do the job his way .. sadly I can’t see any changes in performances or results .
      Rahic must accept he’s taken our club backwards.
      Alienated long standing and respected supporters.

  7. You have to feel sorry for Collins he was desperately out of his depth in a job he didn’t want and he never had the backing of the fans. Most managers get a honeymoon period whereas he was being slated before a ball had even been kicked.
    Hopkins hasn’t got that problem at least and he could turn out to be a good appointment if Rahic and Rupp let him manage the team. He’s certainly done well so far, albeit in Scotland and clearly wants to prove himself on a bigger stage, so lets hope he’s allowed to be his own man. If he isn’t then I think he’s a strong enough character to walk away leaving us even deeper in the mire

  8. Take a bow Edin Rahic! With all your superior knowledge of the beautiful game and legendary man management skills, you have single-handedly crucified our club. The fans despise you and are leaving in droves. Two of the best managers anywhere outside the Premier League refused to/were unable to work with you/under your control. You alienated players, lost the dressing room and any vestige of respect or pride. You sold off our best players and gave the others no choice but to abandon ship! The only good thing that has come from your dictatorial, stifling, oppressive regime thus far is that the pitch has been relaid! So obviously that cannot have been your decision, unlike appointing Michael Clllins as your puppet, which was a master stroke of ineptitude and ego!!!

  9. First, I don’t know how you managed to write such a good article so quickly.
    I was in total despair yesterday. Today, I am not quite so despairing.
    Rahic blundered when he appointed Collins. He has put that right. Whether he accepts that he must allow his manager to manage is now the crux. If he does, then Hopkin, possibly one of the unluckiest ever City players, could put it right.
    If he doesn’t, then we are just as bad.
    I look at the squad and see the makings of a good team.
    So please, Edin, accept that football is for the professionals, keep away from training, allow the manager to manage.
    It’s no good us calling for Rahic to go, because he will go when he wants.
    But if he learns, then there is still time.
    Good luck to the new manager. He needs it and needs our support.

  10. First move for me would be remove Wright as captain and it would’ve been to put Killa there but since he has left it would be O’Donnell or O’Connor for me

  11. The reality is we can’t do anything about these things, at least we actually have a proven manager now.
    Hopkins will need to implement huge changes if we have a change of promotion.
    The players need fire in their bellies and direction, I’m willing to bet Hopkins can deliver that.
    The fans need to get behind him and the team though, Bradford City is rife with negativity in the stands and I think that’s a big problem in itself.
    That we can do something about but I agree it’s a two way thing, the team need to show fight.

  12. So we are now managed by an ex Scottish International, tough tackling midfielder who has a history with the club and even has ginger hair!!! Who says Edin can’t learn from his mistakes??

  13. This is Rahic papering over the cracks again. Obviously by his post match comments Collins knew he was a dead man walking. He was obviously told that he would be out if we did not get a result at Fleetwood so did not care what he said
    I knew when he said “i can only work with what i have been given” that he was going. It also proves Rahic was running the show as Kilgallon had been taken away from him and this team needs players like him at present. So Rahic and the overall problem remains. Stuart once told me if he could keep Rahic away from the training ground that was a result. Rahic needs to.leave the football side to Hopkin now and he needs to try and get the fans back on his side. He needs to be questioning why he lost 4K season ticket holders and why fans feel such a disconnect with the club. Then but only then will we start to heal.

  14. When Parkinson left the club, we were short of a lot of players. He may well have laid a Foundation, but inactual footballers it was the ‘bare bones’. McCall came in and in a short period many new players were recruited. What came across was that in many ways they were the successors of Parkinson’s team. The final hurdle of Wembley, being one match too many. However the dismemberment of that squad and the failure to build on it has lead to the implosion.
    Prior to Parkinson leaving the club and indeed up until the end of 2017, I would have advocated a gradual evolution rather than revolution. Finely tuning an already impressive team. However the current shambles may well require radical solutions, and without him being hampered and indeed with him being aided, then I hope Hopkins is given the resources and space to start the process in motion.

  15. Edin Rahic use the door.

  16. I’ve just thought. Who will Rahic pretend is in charge against Blackpool? If Abbott has any sense he’ll refuse to take the blame. Rahic will obviously pick the team, and probably give the team talk; he is that kind of delusional megalomaniac; so will he force another patsy to pretend they are in charge?

    As for Collins, he needs to get a lawyer to work out if he’ll make more money by writing a true account of his Bradford City career; rather than living off the pay-off for his destroyed career.

    The gloves are off now. It’s Rahic against the world.

    • David Hopkin is the answer to your question

      • It shows how up to date I am with a club I’d watched for 35 years. Last time I stopped watching I was thrown out of the ground, and Rhodes lied about it in Monday’s T&A.

        If Rahic ‘keeps away from the training ground’. Then that may be enough for Hopkin to turn it around. It would be better if he did what the Chairman of Scunthorpe did, and admit he got it wrong, but just letting a manager manage will be enough to get me to start paying to watch the team again.

        Hopkin only needs to keep us out of the bottom four. If he can do better for almost any part of the season then Rupp and Rahic will have time to sort out their flawed fantasy of a business plan.

        If the team are bottom 4 come October then nobody will blame him, and Edin Rahic will probably not be watching City very often.

  17. Is anyone from width of a post going to the press conference tomorrow ?.

  18. It will be interesting to see how results and performances go from here. Initially I was upset that they had taken this decision after transfer deadlines etc had passed leaving no time for Hopkin to get his preferred players in.

    However, if the transfer comittee ideal that Edin have set up is working well, the theory goes that the coach has less influence here and the players should be good enough. A change in coach should not necessitate a wholesale change in playing personnel.

    If the players are of the right standard the team will start to look like the sum of the parts and results should improve.

    My worry is that DH will come in, decide that the players they have brought in over the summer are no good, and we’ll struggle to christmas before we get anyone in. If that is the case there’s even more wrong with the club than we thought.

    I think it would be possible, with the right characters, to get Edin to stay away from the training ground and day to day team affairs. Persuading him to abandon the transfer committee would really need him to fundamentally shift his approach to running the football club and would have thought it extremey unlikely.

    Currently the only positive in Edin’s leadership is the relaid pitch. Lets hope come winter that doesn’t let us down.

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