By Jason McKeown
Stuart McCall is back at Bradford City for a third spell as manager, and a fifth period at a club where he enjoys a 40-year association.
McCall has swiftly being re-appointed in the wake of Gary Bowyer’s sacking, with an initial remit to get the Bantams promoted over the final 15 games of the season. There’s a heavy sense of irony that he comes in just after a defeat at Oldham did for a City manager. It is almost two years ago to the day that McCall himself was axed following a loss at Boundary Park.
That sacking was hugely controversial, given City were in a strong league position and the horrors of Edin Rahic’s leadership were starting to become known. It is true that the Bantams were experiencing really poor form under McCall, with six straight defeats and some very poor performances. However, the mitigating circumstances of morale hurt by Rahic’s overbearing style, a bad injury list and a very poorly executed January transfer window approach left some 80% of City fans still backing McCall. Even in defeat, and in what proved to be his final game, McCall’s name was sung throughout.
The decision to sack McCall pushed the Bantams into a downward spiral that they’ve still not recovered from. The club has gone through Simon Grayson, Michael Collins, David Hopkin and Bowyer, but no one has been able to revive City’s fortunes. The Bantams have fallen from being consistently in League One’s top six under McCall, to slumming in League Two. No one can say, with any credibility, that sacking McCall two years ago was a good decision. It seemed the wrong call then, and the perspective of time shows that to be even truer.
It’s wasn’t just McCall’s excellent record during his second spell as manager that many fans have pined for, but the bold and adventurous style that has been missed. He takes over a team that has recorded just 12 shots on target in eight games. That is not a cautious approach that McCall will maintain. Expect to see attacking play, at last.
I got to know McCall a little during his last spell in charge. And, indeed, interviewed him just days after his sacking, on the night where City were playing away at Charlton. McCall was devastated by what happened, but characteristically honest and humble about where it had gone wrong. The relationship between Rahic and McCall had not been good, and in the fullness of time the failings and problems of Edin have come to light to everyone. It is remarkable just how successful McCall was against a backdrop of interference and limited control.
What struck me so much that night of interviewing him was how much McCall was still hugely passionate about the team he had managed. He’d listened to radio commentary at home of City’s next game after his sacking, a 2-2 draw with Bury, and was anxious to get the interview done in time so he could follow the Bantams’ trip to Charlton. He talked about the team selected that night by Greg Abbott, and players he was backing to produce. Some managers in that position would quietly want the club to fail, but McCall was desperate for City to win. He was incredibly proud to be Bradford City manager, and his love for the club knew no bounds.
These facts alone don’t make him the right man to be Bradford City manager again. But that love and passion for the club – coupled with an enhanced coaching ability, compared to his first spell in charge of the Bantams – is a powerful force. And with the greyness of City right now, bringing someone who can instil passion into the players, and re-energise the fanbase, can only be a good thing.
McCall will look at a squad that is vastly different from the one he left behind two years ago, but will be encouraged by the attacking options at his disposal. He inherits a team with a strong home record and in a decent league position. If he can restore their confidence and set them up more positively, it wouldn’t take much to build some momentum and get City pushing for promotion again.
Above all else, McCall is a motivator. He has a track record of players relishing playing for him, and giving their all to the cause. Abbott has since revealed that the biggest issue Grayson had faced at City was the loyalty of the players to McCall, who as a group were devestated by his sacking. During his first spell as City manager, McCall struggled badly to lift the team after defeat, triggering losing runs. But second time around, it was only just before his sacking that City recorded back to back defeats.
Whilst some City supporters understandably have big reservations right now, McCall was the only realistic candidate that can bring fans together. Even if you do have misgivings, he’s not someone that any City fan wants to fail. And so he offers the potential to galvanise the club.
There is a fear that it could go wrong again, and that the emotional rollercoaster of his last two exits is replayed for a third time. But there is also a big chance of achieving long overdue success. Promotion, if it was to to come, would taste all the sweeter for having the club’s biggest legend in charge. And especially after the pain of what he went through last time.
McCall needs this. He was very unlucky to lose his job last time, but a less than brilliant time at Scunthorpe had seemingly placed him on the managerial scrapheap. It’s probably his last chance to prove a success as a manager. An opportunity he wouldn’t get elsewhere. But his experience in good times and bad stands him in good stead. He can lift a deflated Valley Parade. And get some belief and excitement back into the club.
A dull season has just got a whole lot more interesting. Welcome back to Bradford City, Stuart McCall.