Early preparations need to lead to a stronger Bradford City dressing room

Image by Thomas Gadd

By Jason McKeown

There was a curious build up of excitement and glee from many fans ahead of this week’s Bradford City retained list announcement. After such a poor season, supporters wanted to see heads on a spike. For underachieving players to be punished. And nothing less than a long list of departures would do. The news 11 out of contract players are being released went some way towards satisfying that anger.

But whilst some celebrate the lengthy list of departures, to me it all just seems very sad. The released list is effectively redundancy notices for footballers. A lot of this squad are now officially out of work. It had to happen, of course it did. What’s a real shame, though, is that it had to come to this. You’d rather these players were getting new contract offers as reward for good personal seasons, and for the club to be thriving. The consequences of failure are there for all to see.

It’s also not great business to have to make so many squad changes. We know from the era of 2006-2012 that summers of big clear-outs rarely work out well (ditto 2018). Large groups of released players were invariably replaced with a lengthy list of arrivals, only for the club to keep under-performing. During the Phil Parkinson glory years, the annual released list would be smaller in number. Players moved on when the time is right, usually as their powers were fading following previous strong performances. Parkinson was very good at evolving the squad and moving forwards.

That is where Bradford City must aspire to get to again. But clearly that can’t happen right now. And so we will see a summer of lengthy incomings to replace the outgoings (and we can expect more outgoings of contracted players now facing up to a relegation wage cut). The 2019/20 Bradford City squad will be very different. It must be a Year Zero moment, and recruitment must somehow settle down. The turnover of players over the past two years is simply too high.

There’s no major arguments with Gary Bowyer’s decisions over who to release and retain. Personally I’d like to have seen Paul Caddis stay. The Scot had a good season after signing in November, and played well. Crucially, his ability is matched by a strong character and work ethic that the squad as a whole is badly lacking. But with Bowyer clearly preferring Kelvin Mellor as his first choice right back, and the young Joe Riley on large wages that will make it difficult to shift him over the summer, the financial realities are that it’s difficult to afford Caddis as well.

With the other 10 players released, there are no surprises. The senior players have not done themselves justice over the past season. Even with a drop down a level, there would be serious doubts they could take the club forwards.

The most notable departures – Nat Knight-Percival and Adam Chicksen – best personify the underachievement. Knight-Percival, the club’s longest-serving player, began life at Valley Parade well in 2016/17, but endured a mid-season dip before a strong end to the Wembley season. The year after Knight-Percival had a good first half to 2017/18 before form fell off a cliff. This season was the opposite of his first year at the club – a bad start and ending, with a mini-revival in form during the middle part of the campaign.

It is a patchy three years in total. Knight-Percival was a player capable of strong performances, but lacks long-term consistency. This year, his powers have clearly begun to fade. There’s a few years left in him playing in League Two or the Conference, but he needs a change of scenery to get his career going again.

Edin Rahic was criticised in the local media for choosing to sign players who happened to have good games against Bradford City. To what extent this was a common occurrence is hard to know, but Adam Chicksen appears to be an obvious example. In December 2016, Charlton came to Valley Parade and Chicksen was awarded only his third league start for the Addicks. He was up against Mark Marshall, and had a terrific game against City’s player of the season. Rahic was clearly impressed.

And so in the summer of 2017, Chicksen was brought in to replace the long-serving James Meredith. For a player who had only once managed to play more than 30 games in a season prior to signing for the Bantams, it was asking a lot to expect Chicksen to fill the Aussie’s boots. And though he did well at times over 2017/18 – receiving an international call up to Zimbabwe – his form was dreadful this season.

For me, Chicksen is a major underachiever. On his day, he is a very good left back. A good tackler, happy to run with the ball and with a decent cross. His good days have been too rare. He is capable of better than what he has shown. And that’s what makes him so maddening to watch. If Chicksen was giving absolutely everything and falling short through ability, we’d be more forgiving. But it’s the fact he can’t or won’t match his potential with application.

Elsewhere, Billy Clarke’s departure is no great shock. Hindsight shows he wasn’t the player really needed in January, albeit an understandable eleventh-hour January window punt, when lacking other striker options. Clarke has had bad injury problems at Charlton that leave him lacking his sharpness. Perhaps, with a good pre-season behind him, Clarke can come back stronger next season. He should find a club with few issues.

No one expected Bowyer to keep the loaned out quartet of Alex Jones, Cameron Hawkes, Tom Clare and Callum Gunner. Jones has scored just once on loan at Cambridge, who have been amongst the worst sides in League Two. The young Hawkes has barely figured at Boston United. The Lincolnshire club did give Clare some game time to decent reviews – but it’s three divisions down. Gunner was brought to Valley Parade two years ago alongside Omari Patrick and Tyrell Robinson, but bad injuries curtailed his progress.

Calum Woods might have been worth a short-term deal, but his injury record makes it a gamble. There’s probably better value elsewhere. Ben Wilson hasn’t convinced in goal after getting his chance at the end of the season. Ryan McGowan has been missed in the dressing room, but apparently headed to Scotland for family reasons and can probably find a club North of the Border for next season.

It’s good to see Danny Devine get a new contract, but this is the moment he needs to kick on. He has unwittingly been victim of a Football League rule designed to aid him – that every club must have a homegrown player in the matchday squad. It means Devine has regularly been on the bench almost in token fashion, when he might have benefited from a loan move to the National League or League Two. Devine will be 22 in September. Now is the time he has to become a regular, or he risks failing to make a living in the game.

Luca Colville is three years younger and has more time on his side. His eye-catching goals at Macclesfield and Peterborough show there is some potential there. Expect him to figure more often next season.

Jermaine Anderson’s new deal is not a surprise but underwhelming to many. Although a different type of player, there’s a touch of Will Atkinson about him. In a squad of stronger characters, Anderson could kick on in the way Atkinson did over 2012/13.

Character is now the key element. It’s all very well demanding a mass clearout, but what really matters is who comes in. There’s no question that Bradford City have a weak dressing room. There’s no resilience or bravery. A lack of understanding or courage to play in a way Bradford City supporters expect. When the chips are down, this lot have gone hiding. As long as this keeps happening, City will never succeed.

So recruitment is as much about finding leaders as it is footballing ability. Bowyer has to bring in people who will set the standards in the dressing room. Demand the maximum out of themselves and everyone around them. Inspire others to achieve better. Relish the challenges of playing to a demanding Valley Parade crowd, rather than fearing it.

Of the 19 squad members still here for now (including Devine, Colville and Anderson, assuming they sign their deals), there is hope. Surround them with leaders and people with stronger character, and even these 19 players could yet thrive. In-contract players who we fans currently have no time for, right now, might actually prove themselves in a dressing room that simply will not tolerate players hiding.

We have a big advantage right now. As pathetic as it was to be relegated at Easter, the three teams joining us in going down to League Two have only just discovered their fate. Plymouth, Scunthorpe and Walsall all have uncertainty over who their manager is going to be, never mind which players to retain and recruit. And three of the four strongest remaining League Two teams that City will face next season are going through the play off battle, meaning they can’t turn attention to 2019/20 just yet.

So City have cleared the decks, have targets lined up and are rumoured to be likely to announce some new signings very soon. They have a head-start on planning, and in a year’s time that could be looked back upon as crucial.

But 2019/20 will not be defined by who City have released this week. It’s all about bringing in the right characters. Building that strong dressing room – that, just like under the Parkinson years, can take City a long way forwards.

Categories: Opinion


15 replies

  1. If we get a further announcement that Riley, Akpan, Wright, Anthony O’Connor and Eoin Doyle have all agreed to mutually terminate their contracts then we can call the clearout a success. For now though, the wage budget will be curtailed by those underperforming clowns for another season.

    Next season we need Connor Wood to get some decent game time at LB, Reece Staunton to come in more a CB, hopefully alongside a returning Paudie. A decent winger as it looks like Scannell is off, a decent engine room plus (if we can get him back) Lewis OB as the playmaker and a decent front duo then we’ll be on to something…

    sadly…. IF is a very big two letter word!

  2. We need big strong physical players with pace.
    That’s what is needed.
    11 men willing to go through brick walls when that claret and amber shirt is worn.

  3. ‘A lot of this squad are now officially out of work’

    I’d argue, based on past performances, none of them have been gainfully employed for sometime.

  4. Managers are notoriously reluctant to take a leaf out of the books of predecessors. my worry is that Bowyer will ignore Phil Parkinson’s dictum that the character, determination and never-say-die attitude matters as much as (if not more than) their technical ability of a potential signing. with the departure of Andy Todd (to be followed hopefully ASAP by Martin Drury) this at least leaves room for the recruitment of a Gary Jones type ex pro who knows the ethos of the club and what is expected at Bradford City.

    the list of out of contract players told they can leave is welcome (with the possible exception of Caddis) and I agree with the comment re Devine. as yet he hasn’t done enough to be a first team midfield regular, solid but uninspiring. I personally will be more interested in Bowyer’s comments concerning players still under contract. how many will be told that, although they are still contracted, they should try and find another club as they don’t figure in his plans. I will be VERY disappointed if this doesn’t turn out to be a similar number to those who have already departed. the likes of O’Connor, Wright and Doyle come immediately to mind. I accept Jason’s point about the normal close season need to maintain continuity but these are not normal circumstances. having supported City for over 50 years and watched the last 46 league games with growing horror, despair and disgust I simply cannot stomach any continuity of this.

  5. Jason, I enjoy reading your comments but the potential for the existing 19 man squad to possibly “thrive” next season with a few additions, is truly wishful thinking on your part. Anything is possible, but realistically most of these players need to leave due to cost and poor attitudes.

    • Agree totally with these comments Phil – no it wont be easy but we have to hope GB will be working very hard on getting some of the under contract players out of the club. They are a fundamental part of what has been wrong this season and Jason you yourself have been damning of their weak willed efforts. I think we are all realistic enough to know we are not going to be able to move on all the players we would like to but to say the existing 16 under contract ‘could thrive’ to me is unrealistic and would potentially mean we start next season off already on the back foot. Yes a few might come through but lets be honest, its from such a low starting point after their pitiful contributions this season – they could hardly be bloody worse! We have to try to aim higher than this and get everyone back on side

  6. I accept the inevitability of big change this summer, but really hope we can build a nucleus of players who span a few seasons. I struggle to keep my kids engaged when its a complete new crop of faces each season. And surely the better sides are those with some real continuity.

    • Agree Andy but from whats been achieved this season i wouldn’t be bothered should they all find other clubs.
      The rebuild may take time over number of seasons. Personally I’m very surprised GB recieved 2 year contract however Julian Rhodes must see something that enables that trust we have the right manager.

  7. The departure of Andy Todd is a shock. I’ve seen no information about plans to replace him. If it’s a cost cutting exercise then Drury as sole support to Bowyer, provides little grounds for optimism. What was the purpose of employing Todd for the short period?

    In terms of Managers/Coaches, the Rahic era was one of continual change, with consequent disruption for the squad and the merry go round continues with McElhone and Todd departing the club in recent weeks. The disquieting thing is that Todd was Bowyer’s choice and, for one reason or another, it’s another short lived, failed appointment.

  8. Thanks for the update, Jason. A few lines on the T&A website and I couldn’t even see reference to it on the club website. Such lack of information from the club will inevitably lead to conjecture.

  9. I think I may be in a minority of 1 but maybe just maybe, GB can get these poor overpaid to perform to their previously expected levels. Maybe a stable environment during pre-season with motivated and organised manager, staff and players could turn the corner.

    A few strong additions to a decent (if woefully under-performing) core and we will be in a position to turn things around.

    Give the manager a chance.

    • I agree.

      Jason used Atkinson as an example but you could also point to Marshall and Thompson as players who failed to prosper early on in their careers at City but went onto become integral to the team.

      For me the biggest disappointment is that Anderson remains. Clearly GB sees something in him that I cant.

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