By Jason McKeown
The end is in sight. The secret is out. After weeks of speculation, it has been strongly reported that Edin Rahic will be leaving Bradford City. The 45-year-old has been under severe pressure for weeks over his dismal leadership of the club, and will officially leave after finalising terms with his co-investor, Stefan Rupp.
Rupp is expected to be in West Yorkshire next week. Talks between the pair might not take place then, as Rahic isn’t currently around. Rupp will be seeking to provide supporters with assurances that he will continue to fund the troubled club, with rumours of administration wide of the mark.
Rupp has plenty to prove in terms of his commitment. But in his defence, he has been badly led down by his partner. For now, Rupp will be heavily reliant on Julian Rhodes to continue running the club.
The imminent departure of Rahic will mark the end of an extraordinary 30-month period in charge. He will undoubtedly go down as the worst chairman in the history of Bradford City, after dismantling a successful club that was closing in on a place in the Championship, to the shell of an outfit today that is in all likelihood going to be relegated to League Two.
The scale of City’s implosion, under Rahic’s watch, is truly remarkable. When he and Rupp bought the club in May 2016 from Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes, City had just improved their league position for the fourth season in a row, losing to Millwall in the League One play off semi finals. Rahic and Rupp inherited the most successful City manager in more than a decade, and a group of players who had made stunning history with the club, and who were tremendously popular amongst fans.
It was hoped that the new investment would provide that extra push needed for the Bantams to take the leap into the Championship, and Rahic’s ideas and aspirations certainly seemed to marry up with that. He talked of a long-term, sustainable approach. Of investing more into youth development; encouraging the manager to bring through more young players. Even the transfer committee approach – a growing feature of modern football – seemed sensible.
Rahic was initially warmly welcomed by most and rightly so. It is all very well to act wise after the event, and to suggest there should have been a greater level of distrust. But would that really have been a good look for Bradford City? That we are suspicious of outsiders? The German approach, and with it the opening up of new contacts and ideas, was something to be excited by. And that’s how most of us felt. No one should feel guilty about giving him a chance.
Clearly Phil Parkinson saw what was ahead. WOAP understands he had only one meeting with Rahic before concluding his future lay elsewhere. So off he went to Bolton, with most of the club’s coaching staff, creating a true baptism of fire for Rahic and Rupp. The move to bring in Stuart McCall was a populist one, but absolutely the right call. No other candidate would have united fans to the same level.
And for a while the new-look Bradford City worked. On the outside, the arrival of Greg Abbott as head of recruitment, working closely with McCall, seemed a masterstroke. City began the 2016/17 unbeaten for nearly three months, and would only lose seven times all season as they repeated the previous year’s fifth place finish. McCall improved the playing style and the season was one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever watched.
Yet behind the scenes, whispers that not all was well cropped up on occasions. Rahic was said to be over-bearing in style, attempting to dictate tactics, penalty takers and training approach to McCall. It is also claimed he was also trying to exert too much influence over signings.
Some of Rahic’s training ideas were said to be farcical, but did at least help foster team spirit. Rahic, who had an office at the training ground (complete with tactics board) would regularly come out to watch the team train. The story goes that, when he did, McCall would get the players to pretend they were undertaking one of Rahic’s strange ideas, struggling to keep straight faces, before Edin departed and then they could go back to what the professionals thought they should be doing.
Crucially, Rahic put pressure on McCall to be more and more attacking. He grew increasingly frustrated by the large number of draws the club achieved that season, urging McCall to be bolder with the proviso that going for a win was worth risking losing the game.
It all came to a head at Sheffield United on Easter Monday. City were virtually guaranteed a play off spot, but travelled to the Champions with faint hopes of still being able to snatch second spot from Parkinson’s Bolton. To do so they had to beat Sheffield United, so McCall picked a bold, attack-minded team. Sheffield United took advantage of City’s openness to easily win 3-0. After the game, Rahic allegedly blasted McCall for being too adventurous.
It meant that even the enjoyment of securing a play off spot the week after, following a 3-0 win over Wimbledon, was tempered by the friction behind the scenes. Ultimately, City fell juat short of promotion after losing the play off final. Rahic asked McCall to quit. McCall understood, but did not want to resign. Fearful of how bad it would look to sack McCall, Rahic agreed a truce. From that point on, relations marginally improved.
Yet the seeds of the decline on the field began that summer. Rahic and Rupp had failed to tie down the club’s history makers on new deals, and they would all depart during the summer, their market value boosted by the excellent season under McCall. The replacements were inferior and the first half of the 2017/18 saw sharper ups and downs. Nevertheless, McCall kept City in the top six until he was sacked in February.
If the summer of 2017 wasn’t great from Rahic, the January window of 2018 only accelerated the implosion. He had talked boldly of City challenging for the top two and signing the highly rated Kieffer Moore for reasonable money, only for a long drawn out delay in strengthening the team that left McCall with Kai Bruenker as his badly needed striker.
Meanwhile Rahic’s actions were alienating the squad. The timing of the Luke Hendrie saga – where Rahic allegedly refused to pay a miniscule transfer fee to secure the long-term services of the on loan defender – damaged morale. There was a heavily rumoured fall out between players and owner over bonuses. Other behind-the-scenes staff departed under a cloud, with many complaining about their treatment from Rahic. In a close-knit organisation of relatively few employees, such a stream of departures was keenly felt.
An injury crisis left McCall without full backs and his goalkeeper. The loss of form on the pitch put everyone under pressure. And whilst McCall was not flawless it was nonsense to blame it all at his door. Despite having the best City managerial win ratio in 30 years, Rahic gave him the boot. The first genuine period of difficult form since McCall had become manager. It was a harsh call.
The sacking of McCall has clearly haunted Rahic. He never recovered from it. He was never able to get most fans back onside. His explanations for taking such action were unsatisfactory. And crucially, the team went into even more of a tailspin, with results getting worse and worse.
City were still in the top six when McCall was sacked, but would finish in 11th playing turgid football under Simon Grayson, who didn’t want the job. With actual attendances at Valley Parade falling drastically in the wake of a shocking 5-0 defeat at Blackpool, and commercial and season ticket revenue dropping, the season ended with dark clouds stuck over the club.
Still, the most recent summer offered Rahic a chance for redemption. For all the mistakes, for all the upset, he still had a chance to put it right. To appoint a proper manager and let them manage. To stop interfering with recruitment. To trust in staff across the club to do their jobs.
None of this happened. Instead, Rahic saw the clean slate as a chance to ramp up his vision and influence even further. A seven-week search for a replacement head coach looked desperate, but didn’t stop Rahic signing players while he waited. The utter nonsense of giving the job to the under 18s coach, who hadn’t even applied for the job, gave the whole thing a feeling of a huge gamble. Either Rahic was a genius and had got this spectacularly right, or we were heading for one almighty fall.
It was, of course, the latter that took place. Michael Collins struggled badly in the role of head coach, and was sacked after just six league games. David Hopkin was a more sensible appointment, seeking greater control, but the results continued to be poor. The lack of a fitness coach in the summer has been evident all season. The damage was done by a summer of woeful recruitment that Rahic clearly shoulders responsibility for. WOAP understands this is City’s largest playing budget in 15 years. Rupp certainly cannot be accused of under-funding the club.
By October, City had slumped to the bottom of League One. Rahic himself has not been seen at a match since he departed at half time of the 3-1 defeat to Accrington. At the time of his early exit, City were only a goal down but Rahic could probably see what was coming.
It is only in his prolonged absence that hope has started to return. This week’s Luton hammering aside, performances are improving. The return of Julian Rhodes – at Rupp’s request – has brought a calmness to the rudderless ship. Finally, there is some sanity at the top. It might have come too late to save the club from relegation and difficult times still lie ahead, but it gives us a chance to rebuild in the long-term.
Ultimately, Rahic’s tenure is a gross failure of leadership. He presented a vision, but lacked the ability and thought to deliver it. Instead of inspiring and entrusting those who worked for him, it is strongly claimed he micro-managed, marginalised and undermined them. His desire to be in control of everything robbed the club of its personality and character. And his poor communication skills meant there weren’t many people willing to defend him.
There are so many stories of Rahic’s conduct that have yet to come out in public. Little tales here and there of the madness of his approach. He did not know football. And his sheer arrogance of thinking he knew better than everyone else was ill-judged and destructive. He was given an incredible gift of a high-performing and truly special football club, and he tore it up.
It will take some time to fix the damage. For the club to get back to where it was. As the financial gap between the Championship and League One grows, it could also define our long-term future.
It is a story stranger than fiction. And one that, for Bradford City fans, would be firmly listed under horror. But at least this particular chapter is coming to an end.