By Jason McKeown
Reality is biting at Bradford City. A summer of transfer activity that initially sparked waves of optimism has ended on a disappointing low-key note. The squad now at Gary Bowyer’s disposal has notable gaps that will likely hold the club back over the coming months. It just wasn’t quite the revolution we had been hoping for.
In some ways it ended how we’d cautiously expected it to fully play out. Last season’s under-performing squad had 16 players still under contract, most earning wages that were amongst the highest in League One, never mind League Two. It was obvious that most of these underachievers had to be moved on, and that a delay or failure to get enough players out the door would restrict recruitment.
When at the end of last May the club shared details of Gary Bowyer’s playing budget, the scale of the challenge was further underlined. Bowyer had £2.6 million overall, but as it stood £1.6 million was tied up with the contracted players (62% of the budget, or just short of two-thirds). He either had to rely heavily on a group of players who had badly let the Bantams down, or hope that other clubs would come in and take them off his hands.
In hindsight, the initial flurry of new signings probably distorted expectations. 10 new players arrived at Valley Parade before pre-season training began, including the unlikely-to-be-cheap James Vaughan, Clayton Donaldson and Paudie O’Connor. It fuelled hopes of a strong promotion push, and the mood of supporters was lifted.
However at that point, recruitment ground to a halt. Pre-season was strange, as two of the friendlies were used as an opportunity to field a deluge of trialists, the vast majority of whom looked nowhere near good enough to be worthy of a permanent contract. Meanwhile, the only departure was Josh Wright. Having made great strides, it became obvious Bowyer was now waiting for players to leave before he could bring in further reinforcements.
Even with the welcome news of Oli McBurnie’s Premier League move, earning City a sizeable windfall, it was made clear there would only be a small boost to the playing budget. Most of this money was ear-marked to repay Stefan Rupp, who had covered the unexpected high losses of the 2018/19 season.
Finally, as the season got underway and the permanent transfer signing window closed, a couple more high earners departed. Eoin Doyle and Sean Scannell probably wouldn’t have been top of Bowyer’s preferred list of players to leave, as they offered some value on the pitch. But the club’s position probably left them in no position to be choosy. Doyle, for example, was said to the highest earner and would in all likelihood have been back up to Donaldson and Vaughan.
It doesn’t reflect well that Doyle had made a flying start to life at Swindon, but City couldn’t really have a player on such large wages sitting on the bench. Swindon are said to have taken on more than half of Doyle’s wage. That means we’re still paying Doyle a portion of his wages to score goals for a promotion rival. It isn’t a great situation, but it’s difficult to see what else City could have done. They ideally needed other high earners to leave so Doyle could have been kept on, but there hasn’t been a queue of buyers.
If there are no willing takers for the likes of Hope Akpan – and there wasn’t even the faintest sniff of a transfer rumour that he would move on – you had to let others go to free up budget. It was also a major body blow that Joe Riley – on good money and seemingly not in Bowyer’s plans – was ruled out injured for the rest of the season. Moving him on would have been a significant boost to the overall budget.
So it was that Bowyer was left hunting in the bargain bins for late signings with the limited budget left over, and on the field City are undoubtedly weaker for swapping Eoin Doyle for Aramide Oteh and Sean Scannell for Harry Pritchard. Bowyer has failed to bring in a ball-winning midfielder that everyone can see is badly needed.
A long-term injury to Vaughan and Donaldson would now have major repercussions, as there is little experience in the other striker options. Finding an effective midfield has so eluded Bowyer, and he’ll have to find the solution from options that have so far struggled to impress. The defence is at least well stocked up, and there are now more wide options. But it is a squad lacking balance.
It’s a really difficult situation, and it once again brings us back to the folly of the 2018 summer transfer business. Unchecked and without anyone to resist his worst impulses, Edin Rahic signed players on weighty contracts that have since acted as a millstone around the club’s neck. It’s not just that these players performed dreadfully for the Bantams last season – they’re on lucrative wages that quickly put off other clubs from wanting to go near them.
We’ve been through this issue before. The six weeks of madness during 2000 – a much more destructive period of many financial mistakes – left City with a group of under-performing players on huge contracts that would push the club into administration twice. But even then, the year-on-year decline continued because City were still in a position of having players that the club’s reduced revenue streams were struggling to afford. A revolving door of well-paid, underachieving players dragging City down, eventually replaced by cheaper but inevitably inferior players who weren’t capable of turning the tide.
Until every single underachiever signed up by Rahic a year ago has left the club, we’re going to still be paying for those mistakes. Bowyer is earning a lot of criticism right now and much of it is justified. But in his defence, he is not far from managing with one hand tied behind his back.
Of that 16 players in contract at the end of last season, we can reasonably guess 12 were on high wages (including Shay McCartan and Jake Reeves, signed in 2017, and Tyrell Robinson and Omari Patrick who were awarded enhanced contracts in 2017/18). Of those 12, only two have left plus Doyle has been loaned out.
Bowyer can and must do better. He has to fashion an effective football team from what he has, even accepting he started out with a very poor hand. City have a budget and group of players who simply have to push for a play off spot this season as a minimum. But Bradford City can only truly build for the long-term when they’ve flushed away the expensive mistakes of the past.
Reality is biting. Biting very hard.
Personally i couldn’t disagree more with this article, top to bottom.
A quick glance at the league table shows Salford, Mansfield, Walsall & Scunthrope all below us, and I doubt any of those teams have had as much of an overhaul.
What’s wrong with pundits and commentaries? Pre season we make a couple of good signings, everyone is talking about automatic promotion, and lose 2 on the bounce and suddenly it’s all doom and gloom again?
City are undoubtedly weaker for swapping Eoin Doyle for Aramide Oteh and Sean Scannell for Harry Pritchard
Eoin Doyle is a fox in the box midget who was down on confidence, and needed moving on, we’ve got a good young lad in now with pace and is 6ft tall, and a pacey winger!
Harry Pritchard played 40 times last year? Sean Scannell even now when apparently fit hasn’t been starting every week as Bowyer has been treating him with KID GLOVES, he doesn’t want him getting injured and will have jumped for joy being able to offload him and bring in Cooke & Devitt.
As for everyone crying out for the new Gary Jones, and us to play 4 – 4 – 2, think about that for a second, maybe we’re not playing 4 4 2 because of that ?
Give the new signings a chance.
Let the gaffa try a few formations.
It’s night and day compared to last year, i reckon we’re still playoff contenders at the very least and if anyone wants to believe otherwise, fair play to them.
The doom and gloom is completely absurd !!!!
I’ve been frustrated with our start, and it doesn’t help peoples perspective when browsing the overloading negativity on social media about our results and transfer activity. But as I read Jason’s article above I actually realised I was beginning to feel sorry for Bowyer’s predicament, look at the odds that are stacked against him.
Your reply Matt is absolutely spot on.
time will tell but soo mnay formations in just a few games suggests even Bowyer isn’t claer what to do. His football so far regardless of results as been not very good to watch and offering to much respect to the opposition. Again, is this because he doesn’t trust the players he has got? He has played players out of position and what Doyles sudden goal spree is showing is that he should have been played in his correct position. If he knew he was off loading him then don’t play him at all or from the bench….
Indeed if Bowyer isnsists on havign a narrow pitch and not playing to the strengths of our attackers then i suggest he drop one of them and not try to fit Donaldson on the right…..very unerwhelming so far from Bowyer and his talk, not just that of some fans has not been matched on the pitch imo…..
Thanks for your comments and great to have on. I wasn’t intending the article to be negative so interesting you came to that conclusion.
On the Doyle/Scannell/Oteh/Pritchard debate. Like you I’m not a huge fan of Doyle and Scannell, but we’ve allowed two experienced players to leave with decent track records, and replaced them with players less proven. That’s for financial reasons and I’m not disputing the logic of us doing it. But whatever we think of Doyle and Scannell’s contributions so far, they’ve gone to clubs above us in pyramid right now. That tells us something.
I hope that both Oteh and Pritchard prove to be great signings.
Agreed. It is far too early to draw be drawing any conclusions with regard to GB.All (or most!) of the stars need to be aligned to have a successful season and there is plenty needed to be done yet before we get to that point. There are a number of well funded and WELL RUN clubs in this division who have a long term strategy in place and are ahead of the game. Not all GBs signings are going to come off and he will not get it right tactically in every game.
As far as the 4/2/4 debate is concerned i do not know enough to confidently pick apart the tactics of a competent manager with many years in the game.on a public forum. However it should be obvious to the most casual of fans that it is not the holy grail and not without its limitations. With the Ismail fit and The new lad from the Dons it may now a more realistic option.
If we are going to succeed we need to stick together and have confidence that a decent appointment has been made in GB. GB has made it absolutely clear that the support of the fans is a key and without it we are going nowhere.
Wow. What a depressing read. Due to work and holidays it’s my first City game of the season (apart from the strange encounter away to Brighouse) This grim article isn’t exactly persuading me to have a stroll along Manningham Lane on Saturday but I’ll know I’ll be there.
Hope we’re all proved wrong and Bowyer and his players can roll up their sleeves and get us back up that table!
That’s a perfect summary Jason we have to have patience maybe on Saturdays showing our new boys in midfield can settle down and start to provide the ammunition Vaughn needs. Paudie is a much better bet for a tackling midfielder than Akpan and he has height. As the old saying goes see where we are after 10 games
I completely agree about the unbalanced squad (or more accurately, the unbalanced distribution of wages across the squad), and think it’s fair to question Bowyer’s recruitment even before we’ve seen most of the new players play. Fans gave Hopkin the benefit of the doubt in January when there were similar glaring gaps in the squad, and are understandably reluctant to do the same again when we can see similar problems.
It’s been clear since the first game that we need a midfielder who can hold position and break-up play. The way we’ve lined up in recent weeks requires this role, to sit and protect the back 4 while our attacking midfielders and forwards push on, with a little bit of experience and nous for controlling the flow of games. I credit the lack of this player for why our defence has sat so deep in many games. We wouldn’t necessarily have to pay a lot for this player, we are not asking for a superstar, in fact someone grizzled and grounded in the reality of League 2 would have done perfectly. (Why did we ever let go of Jim O’Brien?!). But we go into the first chunk of the season missing this key part of our spine, just as we went into the end of last season missing a proper left back, a physical forward and some width.
Instead Bowyer has signed-on (or signed up) a number of midfielders who do not look to command a starting place. We have a lot of bodies but also a lot of similar players and a lot who look to be squad players but not definite starters. We rejigged to let Doyle and Scannell leave to presumably free up wages (neither of which I was too bothered to see go, and think Oteh fits the bill for what we need) but we haven’t really put those wages back into the starting 11. I can only think we must have already in deficit from the earlier signings of Donaldson and Vaughan. But for me, rolling up the wages of Anderson/Connolly/Pritchard/Cooke and spending these on one guaranteed starter would have been a better use.
It’s indecision from Bowyer. And as others on Twitter have pointed out, what effect on team morale when some of these players will not be even making the bench each week. Parkinson chopped down the large Archie Christie squad and showed that a small squad of good, close-knit players is the foundation for success at this level. But Bowyer’s career will live and die by these decisions, and it’s now for him to mould a winning team from the players he’s brought in.
The Elephant in the room, is the lack of a credible alternative striker if Vaughan and/or Donaldson are injured/suspended/ill/family issues or plain out of form.
There is no goalscorer on the bench as Patrick appears to be a ‘failed’ project.
We have 12/13 midfielders (depending on what position you see Connor Wood playing). Out of those we have no strong defensive anchor midfield player and are not able to control a match with the current ‘creative’ midfielders.
Now it may well click into place, but it does seem to be an unbalanced squad.
GB needs time, and lots of it, to turn this around. As Jason rightly notes, recovering from the Edin shambles will not happen overnight.
However, I don’t think that we should shackle ourselves to acceptance of mediocrity and merely be grateful to have a club post Bury/Bolton. Having dreams is part of the great football journey.
Balancing reality with expectation is a tough ask. But without dreams and expectation where is the progress? Where is the fun? Should Forest Green Rovers have said to themselves, ‘we’re only a village lads, let’s chuck the towel in at Valley Parade’. Should AFC Wimbledon fans have said in the wake of the formation of MK Dons ‘oh well, we’ve had a good run, back to the Southern League and we’ll be happy with that’.
Bradford City are a fabulous club, our club and we have every right to think that we should not be mucking about in this division, or even the one above it. I don’t accept this business about counting seasons in respective divisions to ‘know our place’. It not only stymies ambition, it fails to recognise the context of many of those years where we faced a split of support between two clubs within the city of Bradford. Times have changed and our expectations should change with them.
Our last sojourn in this division should have taught us that escaping will not be an unbroken party. But, at the same time, we should not meekly accept our fate. Football has always been about tempering expectation with reality. But, dull sermons will hardly inspire a charge up the table.
Dream harder folks.
What is this article trying to do? Usually I read these and believe there is some rational thinking used and brings a bit of perspective at times of concern, however I think this is trying to lower expectations.
First point: Bowyer needs further transfer windows
Come off it. That’s an excuse. Bowyer retained Devine and Anderson. He likes O’Donnell, A O’Connor, Wood, Gibson. He’s apparently a fan of McCartan and he wasn’t here last season so he’s effectively a new signing. He has his own squad. He’s also brought in 14 players and we have a squad of around 25. Yes we have failed to get a Gary Jones, Cullen, Doyle, Liddle type of player in, BUT we should have more than enough to get promotion. Ideally autos but the very least through the play offs. We have Donaldson and Vaughan and a good defensive unit. Bowyer has to find a simple game plan. Simple tactics get you promoted from league 2. It’s far less technical and skillful in this league than league 1. Goals are usually from terrible defensive errors in this league. (Crewe’s goals at the weekend.)
I usually agree with WOTP articles but this looks like an attempt to lower expectations. Like you have said we have let Wright, Doyle and Scannell go. This has allowed us to bring additional players in along with a top up in budget from the Mcburnie transfer (even if small.) So is it not reasonable to think (even with the players we have under contract) that somewhere between £1.5-£2 million has been used to strengthen the squad. I think that is more than enough to spend wisely and have a very competitive squad. And as I’ve mentioned some of the squad that is still under contract will still do a very good job, despite last season’s failures!
Pre-season: was unstructured
This I will agree with but only because players need structure and organisation and that is the manager’s job. Failure to work on a formation during pre-season has continued into the season. Bowyer has his squad now, no more excuses. Find a settled formation quickly.
I want him to succeed. And he’s actually demonstrated in the back to back wins that if we keep tactics simple are not only hard to beat but we’ll always have a few chances to convert into goals.
Other than resting Vaughan and Donaldson (for obvious reasons) he should play a strong team at Bolton. Get players up to speed and treat it as a practice match for the weekend game.
Time to stop making excuses. The Bolton and Bury fiasco has made some fans reassess what they want from their football club. That has led to some thinking we should just be happy to have a club. That’s wrong in my opinion. Football is a sport, it’s more than just taking part, it’s about wanting success. We overspent last season but this season our books will be back in order. Bowyer’s tactics and where we finish this season will be the biggest influence and the question of the budget. We have actually backed Bowyer and he has had a good budget. With a budget we have expectations should be high!
There is no sinister motivation behind the article, and it certainly is not an attempt to lower expectations. It’s a funny climate we are in at the moment where writing anything that slightly defends the club is deemed as an attempt to lower expectations/suggest we should have no ambition. Equally, this article has already annoyed a lot of people for being too critical of the club.
It’s a proper tightrope at the moment and it seems very easy to offend/upset both sides of the debate. All I can do is write however I always have – honestly and what I think. It’s only my opinion and I’ve certainly been proven wrong many times.
I’ve actually written at the end that with the squad Bowyer has, he has to be looking for at least a play off finish, so I’m not making excuses. I think it’s fair to say WOAP has been very lukewarm towards Bowyer over his time at the club, and that when it comes to people defending him at the moment we’re not exactly jumping to the front of the queue.
I agree that despite everything, we should be pushing for promotion this season. If Bowyer doesn’t achieve that, questions need to be asked. However, I think this does need to be balanced by the fact we have a squad that is unbalanced because of the legacy of last season’s underachievers who are still on the books and can’t be shifted. That’s not making excuses, it’s the reality of where we are.
Very fair response from yourselves at WOAP and I acknowledge everyone is entitled to their opinion. The usage of the word “tightrope” does sum up the current climate surrounding the club. I suppose it must be difficult to portray article that reflect the general mood when emotions and opinions are often fluctuating. No offence meant in my comment, just another opinion from another frustrated supporter.
None taken and thanks for adding to the debate 🙂
The lack of a controlling midfielder is my major worry. Also the players signed have a lot to prove quality wise.
Martin Drury sticking around like a bad smell isn’t ideal either. Bowyer deserves his own assistant and I wonder if having one would help him to get the formation right because currently we look all over the shop with the constant changing of our setup.
On a bright note, I make it only nine players who are currently contracted for next season so hopefully we are coming towards the end of the very dark “Edin Rahic road”.
Sadly Anthony OConnor and the aforementioned Drury both have another year left on their contracts after this one.
Drury is the only constant in the whole situation. We have gone through managers an coaches but Drury remains. In his time we have performed poorly (other than the purple patch last season). Even the matches we have played so far this season we have performed well below expectations. This includes the matches we’ve won. The coaching has been weak. Bowyer should be able to rely on his players to adapt to the tactics he plays. The coach has to play his part in this area and I do believe he is lacking.
The play has been slow and predictable. We lack bite and purpose. There are areas of strength and weakness. Even though we have numbers in midfield, that is our weakest area. We may have attacking midfielders but lack the grafters like Jones and O’Brien. I do believe a signing of that sort of player would appease most supporters and give us optimism moving forward. Unless we sign a non- contracted player I see little chance of sorting this problem out.
I understand where we are since Edin Rahic made total mess.
I’m more concerned over the tactics and lack of entertainment.
All I want is to be entertained with shots on goal and crosses. Shots and crosses win games it’s that simple. It all reminds me of the Peter Taylor farce.
I can accept lge 2 football next season but I just want to be entertained not say there on very cold mid week fixture freezing with boring tactics
As an exile in Cheshire I saw my annual City match at Crewe.Whist I thought City were the better team in the first half partly due to Crewe being poor in the tackle and some woeful passing.However they were transformed in the second half and ran out worthy winners.
I’m no soccer analyst but the one thing that stood out for me was that City lacked a playmaker and if’ I’m right a quick return to League 1 looks most unlikely-I hope I’m wrong.
Your article is spot on, Jason.
The season is panning out much as I expected.
I’ve lost count of how many contracted players we have. We’ve been signing similar type midfielders for fun. When you’ve such a large squad, and no reserve team fixtures, how do you keep them all interested/match fit? If we aren’t running a reserve team, surely we should have gone for a leaner, but better quality group?
I could go on at length, but, I’d be only reiterating your comments, Jason.
I think this summer was always going to be about getting rid of most of the high earners, but ensuring the squad still remained competitive, plus bringing in players who were desperate to play for the club, which by in large we have managed to do.
It might sound like a cliche, but it is going to take time for the squad to gel with all those additions.
You feel that process would happen a lot quicker though, if we started keeping a settled side and formation, with which we are comfortable playing.