By Jason McKeown
There’s a tired cliche in football that the return of any player from a long-term absence is “like a new signing”. But that old adage could really prove true in the case of Eoin Doyle’s recall to Bradford City.
Doyle was last seen in these parts ploughing a lone furrow up front for the Bantams in a heavy League Cup home defeat to Championship side Preston North End. Doyle was starved of service. He looked disconsolate and desperately short of confidence. And when a few days later he was loaned out to Swindon Town for the season, it seemed like a sensible move for all parties.
To his immense credit, Doyle has rediscovered his swagger down at the County Ground. His return of 23 goals from 22 appearances is truly outstanding. Over the first half of the season, Doyle’s exploits have attracted national media attention, earned him the nickname ‘The Ginger Pele’ and fired Swindon to the top of the table, six points clear of fourth-placed City.
Within the corridors of Valley Parade, there must be considerable embarrassment about just how well Doyle has fared since his move to Wiltshire. WOAP has already written extensively about the sensible, squad-building reasoning behind the Bantams allowing Doyle to leave, but with City the second-lowest goalscorers in League Two’s top 10, it would be stretching credibility to suggest the 31-year-old hasn’t been missed. No City player has hit double figures this season. James Vaughan is top scorer on nine goals, but that total includes four penalties.
We also wrote in November that City and Stefan Rupp did have the financial capacity to bring Doyle back in January if they were really prepared to, and to their credit they have taken that decision.
It is a remarkable moment. City have effectively signed the top goalscorer in the division, whilst significantly damaging a major promotion rival at the same time. And all they have done is recalled their own player.
This has the potential to be the most pivotal moment of the season, but right now there’s still an awful lot of questions that will need answering. Via the extra press attention for his Swindon form, Doyle has made it very clear that he did not want to return to Valley Parade. What sort of frame of mind is he going to be in, as he reports back for duty in West Yorkshire? And given Gary Bowyer’s increasingly functional style of football is in stark contrast to the Swindon team that Robins manager Richie Wellens has built around Doyle, will The Ginger Pele be able to keep up his form?
It has the potential to go very, very right, but it also has the possibility of going very, very wrong. Firstly, for Doyle this represents a big test of his character. When he was loaned out in August, the majority of City fans were frustrated with his average performances in claret and amber, and more than happy to see him go. That he is now being welcomed back with open arms undoubtedly showcases football fans at their most fickle. But we also have long memories.
Doyle might not want to come back, but he was a significant investment for City. Signed for a six-figure sum and reportedly one of our highest earners, Doyle was not the worst offender of an apathetic 2018/19 squad, but we didn’t exactly produce a great return. Doyle suffered from managers not playing to his strengths, expecting him to play as a targetman. But at times his body language was poor. It felt like he had more to give.
Watching Doyle soar at Swindon has brought about mixed feelings. On the one hand, it certainly highlights how badly managed he was at City. But it also demonstrates he was capable of producing better last season. If Doyle brings his disappointment at being recalled onto the field, failing to maintain the high effort he has clearly being putting in for Swindon, the fickleness will lead to an angry backlash. He owes City some strong performances.
City and Bowyer will gamble that there is too much at stake for Doyle to not deliver. His Swindon record has put him back on the map, and when it comes to this summer – when he is out of contract at City – he will surely have a lengthy queue of clubs wanting to sign him. But if he now displays a poor attitude, that won’t go unnoticed by would-be suitors. He has a lot to play for, even if it is for his own career.
The cautionary tale for Doyle is his former City team-mate, Jack Payne. Having signed on loan for the Bantams at the start of the 2018/19 campaign, Payne was exceptional up until January and was rumoured to be attracting Championship interest. But after City arranged a deal to preserve his loan, Payne’s form fell off a cliff. Released by Huddersfield in the summer, Payne has ended up at Lincoln City. A clear downwards revision of his expectations.
Beyond that, the risk for Bowyer is that he can’t get the same tune out of Doyle that Wellens has been managing. It is difficult, half way through the season, to significantly change your style of play. But if Bowyer wants to get the best out of Doyle, he will have to adapt City’s approach in some way. The current set up does not obviously suit Doyle, although with wingers like Dylan Connolly, Harry Pritchard and Zeli Ismail, ball players Jake Reeves, Callum Cooke, Matty Palmer, Shay McCartan and Jamie Devitt, plus Vaughan, Aramide Oteh and Clayton Donaldson to partner Doyle, the potential is certainly there.
The obvious lesson, watching Swindon from afar, is that with the right service Doyle will thrive. If Bowyer fails to achieve a decent return from Doyle, it will only add to the current criticism of his conservative nature. I think we need to be mindful of expectations – Bowyer is not going to suddenly change his beliefs – yet if Doyle struggles it won’t reflect well on the manager. It will be another stick to beat him with.
But if Doyle continues where he left off at Swindon, and Bowyer finds an approach that suits his strengths, City are well set up to seal an instant return to League One. And if in May there are promotion celebrations in Bradford, Doyle’s whole season can be looked back upon in BD8 as a success. After all, his goals for Swindon against promotion rivals Exeter, Cheltenham, Plymouth, Crewe, Forest Green have been very useful. He’s scored against every side in the top seven, apart from City of course.
Doyle’s 143 days at the County Ground has seen a significant shift in the player’s value. And it is Bradford City who now stand to benefit from it.
One point nobody has raised but important.
If Doyle had been allowed to join Swindon.permanently then presumably we would have forfeited any exclusion from games against us which could potentially be the Play off semi-final games, or the Final itself. Imagine if he scored the goals for Swindon that prevented us gaining promotion!!!
Imagine, also, if we play Swindon in the play offs and he scores the goal that gets us promoted!
Well that would be hard to take for Swindon fans. Would Doyle celebrate?. His recall would then be regarded as a masterstroke by GB. Who would bet against it. Footballs a funny old game.
This has to be a water shed moment for the second half of the season. In recalling Doyle Bowyer has to rethink his conservative style and play a more creative and attacking style. Heres waiting.
How can anyone down tick that comment?
We have some great attacking footballers, some signed by Gary Bowyer, yet not unleashing them as an attacking force is deemed satisfactory by some!?!?
Reminds me of Colin Todd…
Mr Bowyer, there will be no excuses now for not gaining promotion. Large squad and payroll, plus now we have the Ginger Pele. What more could you ask for?
Hope we’ve seen the last of negative football!!
I think the Jack Payne example is a good one, how many players maintain this kind of form for an entire season? Very few, if any.
How many players could maintain that form for an entire season if it included moving to a different team, rebuilding all your understanding with new team mates, playing in a different environment, in worse weather and knowing the large fan base has ridiculous expectations?
I just can’t see it, his form would have tailed off for Swindon, we could have invested in a backup for Clayton
If Bowyer fails to get any joy when Doyle plays (in terms of goal scoring and contribution to the game), then questions would be asked regarding how he is being utilised. It is crucial that he is played in a way that made him leading scorer in all divisions. Swindon attempts to play the ball on the ground which suits him better. City must echo that approach. I hope he does carry on his form at city and we supporters, must give him time.
All I would ask is “Mr Bowyer please use tactics that suits Doyle’s way of playing”.
I am pleased that the management of City have given this statement of positive intent to our fans and to the rest of the league. I hope the move is a success and think it will be. Well done
This is my take. The leaks to the press that City were planning to recall Doyle could have been designed to draw a bid from Swindon, to take him permanently. That, having failed, led to City inceasing the pressure by officially calling him back.It was obviously less of a risk for Swindon to try and keep him than for City, in view of his prior under performing spell at VP. I can’t see Swindon sitting back now they’ve actually lost the nan who could virtually guarantee them promotion.
Don’t be surprised if they come back with an offer “we can’t refuse”.
That is an option. It will not go down with the supporters, especially if he carries on scoring and Swindon get promoted and we didn’t!
Or we could sign Wellans – the man who got him firing not once but twice 🙂
Twitter world is pretty confident he’s going back to them, the recall being part of the negotiation.
This is an important moment for Bowyer. He needs to get this right. I suspect the plan is to play Doyle for the next few matches to see how he reacts to the recall and to check on his form. Then at the end of the month, expect a bid from Swindon. Lets see how this one plays out….but for once, we seem to have the upper hand in a ‘play power’ move.
A big mistake to let him go back to Swindon. It could be just the impetus to.kick.on and win the league. He is better here, even if not playing.
Whatever the future holds it’s a win win for Doyle given he’s out of contract in the summer wen he will be in a strong negotiating position for wherever he decides to go.
He’s an experienced professional footballer and as such I’m confident that he will give his all to the cause despite any reservations he may have about returning to VP.
Hopefully all City fans get behind him and a return ‘debut’ away match at Crawley is perhaps the perfect game to stamp his mark on the team with a goal or two 🙏🏼
Every successful club needs a proven goalscorer and we are certainly ni different so well done to all concerned at City for taking the positive decision to recall Doyle. 👍🏻
An interesting situation. Our squad is large but very lopsided and imbalanced, we have:
Three expensive strikers but no reserve ‘big man’
Two number 10’s
Two steady Right Backs but neither are a proper wing back needed in a 352
Three ball playing centre mids – two of which are on loan
Three centre mids, two who signed new deals in the summer that can’t get on the bench
We don’t have – The ball winning defensive midfielder needed for a 442.
Very few teams play 442 with two wingers, the calls for it are over the top.
Under Parkinson it worked well because we had ball winning centre mids.
Easy to comment in hindsight but the signings of Devine, Anderson, both Palmer and Cooke and perhaps even Vaughn on 3 years have left us with a lopsided squad crying out for a Defensive Mid and another target man.
How we use Doyle is dependent on getting a system and team that makes the most of what we have in the squad – which to GB’s credit I think he has done well over the last month.
I don’t think you play on the fact enough that we are severely damaging a rival team above us. We are fourth. if they slip badly then that puts us into automatics. Sometimes think clinically. Not what he does for us, but what he won’t do for others now
The overall feeling is that its an impressive statement of intent from the club which runs from the board to the manager. Bowyer is clearly happy to see him back so the board are backing him to get us over the line.
In terms of what follows, I’m not expecting too much to change. Doyle is another of a decent list of attacking options that have returned to the squad or are yet to return to the squad. But I’d be surprised if Bowyer deviates too much away from what has us in the strong position we are in. I think Bowyer will allow for a more attacking style to feed in slowly. The likes of Doyle, Donaldson, Pritchard & Devitt can fit into how we are playing right now but improve the attacking intent. An easy switch would be to see Doyle come in for Connolly up front to allow Connolly to take up his more natural position out wide. Equally, a midfield that has Pritchard and/or Devitt in ahead of Cooke, Reeves or Palmer is more attacking. The challenge is for Bowyer to get this balance right because the likes of McCartan, Ismail & Oteh are also in consideration having made good contributions of late.
For Doyle, he only needs to look around him for inspiration. The Jack Payne example is quite accurate in terms of the effect that form can have running into a window where you will be available. But Doyle simply needs to talk to the likes of Anthony O’Connor to see how things can change here. There didn’t look to be a way back for O’Connor and he has worked with Bowyer and become a leading contender for player of the year. Doyle can have an even greater impact if his goals get us over the line.