A defining few days lie ahead for Bradford City, as its two leading strikers head for the exit

By Jason McKeown

When you’re a manager under extreme pressure of losing your job, the next logical move doesn’t appear to be to loan out your captain and top scorer, plus sell the leading marksman in Europe. But that is the route Gary Bowyer is said to be on the verge of taking this week, as James Vaughan and Eoin Doyle are on the brink of leaving Valley Parade.

Vaughan is heading to Tranmere Rovers for the rest of the season, who if the loan move is confirmed will offer him the chance of playing at a higher level and a base closer to his Merseyside family. Doyle, who was recalled from Swindon Town after netting 23 goals in 22 games, is set to return to the league leaders. Bowyer has just days to bring in at least one replacement. The manager’s own future is increasingly in doubt. His margin for error is wafer thin.

Whilst losing one of the pair might be forgivable, for both of the club’s leading strikers to depart at such a critical moment of the season looks utterly baffling and reckless. Almost nine years to the day, the unpopular then-City manager, Peter Taylor, all but confirmed he wasn’t turning back from taking City into a dark tunnel of pragmatism, by loaning out his only flair player – Omar Daley – and bringing in the workhorse Kevin Ellison. Taylor was effectively signing his own P45. And now Bowyer can stand accused of doing exactly the same.

Both Vaughan and Doyle are on their way out of Valley Parade with noises emanating of an unhappy dressing room. It is rumoured Vaughan and Bowyer have fallen out, whilst Doyle has simply not settled back in West Yorkshire. The so-called Ginger Pele has got his head down and worked hard on his return, but it is understandable if his heart isn’t in it. That has clearly created a problem for Bowyer, who is left with a difficult dilemma that in truth he can’t win. If Doyle leaves, goes back to scoring week in week out for Swindon, and the Robins get promoted ahead of City, Bowyer looks foolish. Yet keeping a disgruntled Doyle also appears self-defeating, if City are left with a well paid asset who doesn’t produce.

Either way, it seems Bowyer has failed to make a striker in red hot form believe that he has a future at City. Compared to the joyful experience of playing for a flying Swindon side that was built around his strengths, these last four, winless games in Bantams colours must have felt harrowing for Doyle.

Vaughan’s proposed departure is undoubtedly more disappointing. He is the club captain after all. No one should underestimate the importance of being closer to family, but Bradford is far from a million miles away from Merseyside. It hasn’t moved any further down the M62 since Vaughan was happy enough to sign a three-year deal to join City last summer. And let’s not forget, it was reported at the time that he turned down an offer from Tranmere to sign for City. What does it say about his leadership and commitment that when the chips were down, he apparently wants out?

The rumoured suggestion is that Vaughan would stay if the club sack Bowyer. But as much as most of us supporters want a change in the dugout, that is a dangerous piece of player power if true. It’s all very well for some to argue that we should dismiss Bowyer to keep Vaughan, but again what does it say about the player? Should Vaughan have a hand in choosing the next manager? I’m not going to jump to the front of any queue to defend Bowyer right now, but the rumours of Vaughan’s reasons for potentially leaving simply do not sit well. If he departs now and returns to City in the summer, he will have a lot of convincing to do.

There are far bigger and better reasons to sack Bowyer, right now, than simply to keep a player with a questionable attitude happy. Especially as that player is rumoured to be unpopular in the dressing room.

Of course, the squad disharmony reflects badly on Bowyer first and foremost. Over the summer, the manager received plaudits for the arm-around-the-shoulder approach to a group of players who had been unloved. Over recent weeks, it has looked increasingly as though these players are not playing for the manager. Frustrated, perhaps, by the rigid, safety-first approach that sees them operate with such little freedom. If the players are as unhappy as their body language suggests – coupled with the unrest amongst supporters, that has now stretched to even those who have spent months loudly backing him – Bowyer is all but finished.

One of his final acts as manager might just be to sign a replacement for Vaughan and Doyle. WOAP understands that around £6k pw in wages will be freed up by these departures, and the club is actively seeking to bring in at least one replacement striker of stature. They need to. This is not a time to sign yet another raw young loanee from a Premier League or Championship club. Accusations of a lack of ambition are now laid squarely at Stefan Rupp and Julian Rhodes. That charge can be disputed with a big name arrival, or confirmed if a cheap unknown rocks up through the door. And don’t forget, the club also needs a ball-winning central midfielder.

The clock is ticking. If the club still has ambition to get promoted this season, they must show it over the next few days.

All of which adds even more spice to a pivotal evening for City and Bowyer, as City welcome Cheltenham Town to Valley Parade. You would assume that Doyle and Vaughan will sit this one out, whilst their futures remain unresolved. After the fall out from Saturday’s wretched defeat, Bowyer must hope his players deliver tonight – or the backlash will only grow. The social media anger over the Doyle and Vaughan situation shows that Valley Parade will not be in a forgiving mood tonight. Defeat, and it’s hard to see how Bowyer can continue as manager.

Even with a victory, Bowyer will be hanging on and needing a result at Oldham on Saturday. And that would put him and the club in a strange position. As it stands, ultimately it will be Bowyer who sanctions the moves of Vaughan and Doyle, plus signs a replacement, when the manager himself might be out of the door before the ink dries on transfer deadline day contracts. It’s no surprise that some fans are demanding that Bowyer should not be making such crucial decisions. But unless the club sack him, what’s the alternative? The principle that the manager gets final say on incomings and outgoings has to be preserved right now, even when few of us have any faith in the manager.

In the long-term, the club would do well to seriously look at bringing in a director of football, rather than entrusting all football decisions with a person whose job security will always be flimsy. It would help the club to build a better football identity, and reduce this constant turnover of players caused by the ripping up of the squad every time a manager fails.

In a strange way, a City defeat tonight and Bowyer sacking in the morning might be the best thing. But then again, it would leave City without a manager during the crucial final moments of the transfer window. And that could prove just as costly. So it’s a really bad time to sack a manager, and yet increasingly there is surely little alternative.

It’s an almighty mess, really. When the dust settles, there needs to be an inquest into how a season of such promise has descended to this.

It is a shock to see proven goalscorers on the brink of leaving the club. But City’s recent history shows that this type of situation is far from unique. On the negative side, it’s 13 years ago now since top scorer Dean Windass was loaned out in January to Hull City, which sent the Bantams on a path to relegation. More positively in 2015/16, Phil Parkinson raised eyebrows for swapping top scorer Devante Cole with Fleetwood’s Jamie Proctor. That and bringing in Wes Thomas and Josh Cullen actually proved the catalyst for a stronger second half to the season, with a reshuffled City squad reaching the play offs. And then a year later there was the controversial sale of James Hanson to Sheffield United, with Charlie Wyke bought from Carlisle. Again, it proved a decent piece of business and City prospered.

Can Bowyer and City pull off something similar again? You wouldn’t bet on it, but equally it shouldn’t be ruled out. Right now, with the very real likelihood of Doyle and Vaughan’s exits, the club is receiving a huge amount of criticism – and they have to take it on the chin. Ultimately, City need to be judged by the full set of business that is done between now and the closing of the window on Friday evening.

But be in no doubt, the stakes could not be higher. Bowyer appears on the brink of losing his job, and he’s about to let go of two of his best players. This is a defining moment in Bradford City’s season. One they simply cannot afford to get wrong.

Categories: Opinion

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24 replies

  1. Looks to me like we are cutting costs and waiting for next season
    Trouble is – how many season tickets will we sell after another 3 months of this.

    • On the other hand, the word from within the club is that Rupp wants promotion, or else!!
      The ‘or else’ is likely to be no further financial support from Rupp.
      At present Rupp is said to be “into City to the tune of around £10m”
      This is made up.of initial investment, buying Rahic out, supporting the club through last Januarys window, and the.purchase of the Rahic house in Baildon. He has no interest in us or the game and ideally wants to sell but crucially wants his money back. Even more crucially he wants his £10m back!!!!

  2. Excellent summary! In 60 years of following City I can’t think of another club that has pressed the self destruct button more times.
    The club is an absolute shambles!

  3. parrells between the mccall sacking are startling.

    amble along at the top of the table.
    results start to turn a few weeks before christmas
    a shambles of a january
    sacked after a dismal defeat at oldham where we go Saturday?

  4. I shall not watch tonight because I cannot face travelling to Bradford at night to watch dross. I agree with every word Jason says. But there’s more. Julian Rhodes is the chief executive . Stefan Rupp is the owner. It is their duty to act to stop the evolving shambles.
    The similarity to Chesterfield is frightening. A very good stadium , loyal support, ineffective directors and owners, poor managers, relegation. City are heading that way.It frightens me very much.
    Getting rid of the best strikers in the league says it all.


  6. Bowyers football has been atrocious, and I am no fan of it, however in light of the fact he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and our style will not change at the moment, then I have to be honest and say I am not as alarmed as some at the news of the two strikers going, as long as they have an idea who they are bringing in.

    I wasn’t in favour of bringing Doyle back from Swindon unless it was to sell him back; the logic being that for a good 4-4-2 to work around him we would need two more industrious midfielders to allow the wingers and forwards to play freely. I never felt for a minute that we would:

    a) find those midfielders
    b) play in a free way
    c) play with two out and out wingers rather than full backs playing out wide

    It was never going to work bringing back in January. Happy to see him go and the wage budget freed up for someone who might be able to deliver within the constraints mentioned above.

    With Vaughan I am not too bothered for a different reason. From the first game I saw him he has looked like a sulker…sat on his backside complaining whilst the game carries on around him. If he is a captain he should be leading by example, and I am sorry to say he has never looked like a captain worth following. Yes he is our top scorer but I would hazard a guess that 4 of those 11? goals are penalties.

    I agree he has not had good service and that will have been hugely frustrating, but as club captain he needs to be more professional. Again if it reduces stress in the changing rooms and frees up budget then fine let him go.

    I am not happy about anything since the end of October and would happily have a different mgr, however I think if the club are sticking with him then getting rid of these two strikers is probably for the best.

  7. Am I missing something or what? Do Rhodes and Rupp just sit back and let this farce play out and then claim they were duped? First Rahic and now Bowyer is being given a free hand to do whatever he wants…a man on the verge of being fired. Unbelievable!!

    We are in crisis mode and this is likely not only a defining moment for the season but also Rupp’s ongoing ownership must be questionable. This summer, Rupp will likely be in-line to receive the final £500k from the McBurnie sale. That will leave the pipeline dry for any further financial windfalls in the foreseeable future. We are about to find out how truly honourable or maybe I should say patient Rupp truly is. Currently, is Rhodes not also looking for his own replacement?

    By this summer, potentially all three principal figures, Bowyer, Rhodes and Rupp could be gone. I must admit this is conjecture on my part due to City being ranked 87th out of 92 clubs for transparency and communication with fans according to a recent survey by BBC Sports.

    Uncertainty surrounds City but in my opinion, Bowyer should follow these lads out the exit door. An absolute farce for a so called professional organization who recently were claiming their goals of promotion to the Championship within five years and 20,000 season ticket sales in the near future. Absolutely laughable!!

    • Generally speaking, I tend to disagree with your comments but I think your first paragraph sums up the situation very well.
      As for the rest of your comment,I do agree, but wonder where on earth we are going to find a good owner, particularly as we don’t own the stadium.
      I think the future is bleak.

  8. If the departures lead to a more united dressing room all the better. We will have a very early indication of whether that is the case tonight.Not particularly fussed about either exit provided the replacements are well chosen. Would Vaughan give value for money at his age for another two seasons. Doubtful. I cannot imagine any scenario in which I would want City to lose. Strange days indeed.

  9. We have a team full of midfielders and not one of the type we need. Whose fault is that?
    Bowyer inherited Akpan and Reeves. The rest are his!

    • Agree. However I would add that he also had Reeves and Gibson on the books. He resigned Divine and Anderson! The former may well satisfy rules about ‘home grown’ players, but the latter has done nothing of note. I guess that McCartan is one of those players who fits somewhere between midfield and the strikers, so arguably he could be added to that cohort.

      If it is a finance issue, then losing some of the loan midfielders may well be of benefit. I query if Palmer really adds that much to the team. Cooke has shown some bright spells but seems to have drifted out of form. Devitt injured so will need time t adjust, and now sent off tonight, so will face a ban. Not sure if Connolly is a wide midfielder/winger or a striker. Devastating pace, but sadly little finish.

      We have signed Pritchard, who when fit seems to offer something. We also have signed Taylor. Add Ismail who seems to play about 1 in 5 so a costly ‘luxury player.

      If we have financial issues, then you have to query if Taylor’s contract should be extended And if two of the loan players should be sent back.

      I feel that the club does need a coach to improve the midfield, and perhaps money on a coach would be far better spent than on the midfield.

      One thing I would say of Parkinson, is that he spent time establishing the right ‘characters’ to bring to City. The current crop don’t seem to have the professional ’steeliness’ which is a positive underlying feature.

      Difficult times.

  10. Vaughan wants to win football games. We supporters are not shy of voicing our displeasure if he has reached 0 confidence in Bowyer he should raise that its up to the club to decide what to do with it but both certainly can’t stay.

    I’m certain he won’t be the only one voicing his displeasure and as captain might be the voice of the players?

    If correct that he is unpopular in the dressing room then that is different and goes against pretty much everything Phil Parkinson looked to build and created success upon.

    Also of your examples of transfer business, let’s not forget Wells that begun the run of 1 win in 21. Of those examples only Wells and Windass were truly prolific and look how they ended up for us… this is my biggest concern

  11. Only way to judge this properly is after tonight and Oldham…lose or draw both and he has to go…win both and he can stay until Grimsby..all depends on who comes in by Friday…at least something is happening/changing..but it could go either way…I will take a breath ready for tonight and a Clayton Donaldson winner!

  12. Simple solution. Sack Boring Bowyer and Dreary now. Hand the job, on a temporary basis, to Vaughan assisted by the Don. They are experienced enough in the game and should know how to set the team up and put fire in bellys.
    Then take time to appoint the right man.

  13. It takes two to tango. If Vaughn is a bad influence in the dressing room how come he has featured in most of the games this season? He is the captain and I guess the spokesman for the team. He and other players may have expressed views through Vaughn that things are not right re tactics and team set up. How can Rupp and Rhodes stand there and allow two players with 34 goals between them go and with no replacements guaranteed. This problem has been bubbling for a while. Performances have been poor for a long time. If Vaughn was the catalyst then again why wait until now to get rid him and Doyle? This could have happened weeks ago. Bowyer would have had more time to prepare for replacements.
    Bowyer has never accepted his responsibility with regard to the performances and results. He just chops and changes and persist with his bore-fest ultra defensive team set up.
    Rupp and Rhodes needs to provide a statement regarding this matter. In my view, Bowyer’s decision to get rid of these 2 players and bring in replacements that may or may not make a difference is a risk that could impact the club long term. Especially if we lose or not do well in the next two matches! Bowyer could be sacked within the next 2 days.
    We will be manager-less with a team with no direction. I would expect Drury to take temporary charge and I feel that in itself will be disastrous. God help us all!

  14. I think the WOAP have been spot-on with their assessments over the last 18 months or so – genuinely tuned in to how it feels to be a Bradford City supporter, which is something I don’t feel the club understands at the moment. I really hope Mr Rupp reads these articles because I don’t think Mr Bowyer quite understands how disliked he is amongst the fan base – this isn’t about a poor result at the weekend, it’s been months in the making. A poor result tonight, or even a poor start and it could turn toxic very quickly.

  15. The players are there. It is the team selection and tactics that are poor. Only one person responsible for that.

  16. Spot on Jason.

  17. Getting rid of Bowyer and Drury will cost us well over £200,000 to pay up their contracts. I don’t think Rupp wants to part with that money. The saving on wages surely has to be more than what you quote. If Doyle is signing for Swindon and we get a fee then they pay all his wages. That has to be £5k a week on its own. Vaughan must be on £3-4K per week minimum so surely Tranmere must be paying half at least?

    It’s a mess for sure and I don’t see how Bowyer can ultimately survive this.

    • Stuart where do you get the figure of ‘well over £200,000’ to pay up Bowyer and Drury’s wages? The way you make the comment, you seem fairly certain of this. If either of them then got another job, it could nullify any agreement (they wouldn’t be going on a form of gardening leave) or at least mean that City would pay a reduced amount. From some figures on the internet, then there was a suggestion that some League 2 managers could be on as little as £50,000 a year (published in January 2018, so may need inflation factoring in).

  18. I’m guessing that, from a how-to-strengthen-your-hand in a negotiation point of view, that Doyle was brought back in order to put pressure on Swindon to come up with some wonga. If so that appears to have worked. Of course, if Doyle had have been banging in the goals on his return then that would have looked like a great move by GB and the Club as well. This would have cheered Doyle up, he would be staying and we would have all lived happily ever after, maybe.

    As for Vaughan, I think he has been one of our better players. He has done well in winning many of the hoof-it-anywhere-as-long-as-you-hoof-it-long type of ‘passing out of defence he has had to deal with. If the ‘dressing room’ has got a sulk on because he has been having a go at players who are not delivering then I say ‘tough’! That is not an excuse for a professional football to be putting in below-par performances.

    I am guessing again here but I would expect Julian Rhodes to have had a chat with GB and said something along the lines of ‘right Gary, we can not afford you much more time. Your approach is not working and has to change starting with the Cheltenham game. Do whatever it takes but make sure we see a positive difference’.

    I am looking forward to tonight’s game. I hope to see a different Bradford City out there on that pitch.Let’s see if GB can save his job in what must be almost certainly his last chance.

  19. Lonnie, compared to Mansfield we had one shot on goal from open play. I guess you will consider that an improvement. A very gritty performance by both teams and a very fair result. i’m proud to say I was able to stay awake to the final whistle.

    • Well, if you choose to look at the game in such a ‘one shot on goal’ simplistic way for comparison, then yes, that one shot on goal alone could be considered as an improvement. However, if you go further than just one isolated shot on goal one could also take into consideration the overall effort, and the more positive attacking mindset in the first half -before going down to 10 men.

      One could also consider that we scored a goal more than we did against Mansfield, that we also conceded fewer goals than we did against Mnasfield and that we picked up one more point than we did against Mansfield. So yes, your guess is correct, I did consider Tuesday’s game to be an improvement.

      It would be interesting to hear any arguments that claim Tuesday’s performance was NOT an improvement on the Mansfield game?

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