Callum Cooke rejoins Bradford City as gaps in midfield begin to be filled

By Jason McKeown

Bradford City have pulled off their most notable signing of the summer so far with the news Callum Cooke has signed for the club on a two-year deal.

The 23-year-old rejoins the Bantams after impressing on loan last season. With a pass success ratio of 84.5%, Cooke was the fourth best passer of the ball in the whole of League Two last season. City have beaten off competition from other clubs who offered more lucrative terms, with Cooke’s desire to continue plying his trade at Valley Parade said to be the deciding factor.

It is a big boost for Stuart McCall, who is rebuilding the team from a starting base of no senior central midfielders on the books, following the clearing of the decks of last season. Cooke played under McCall briefly, producing a strong performance in the manager’s first game back, against Grimsby, before injury ruled him out for three games. Cooke’s first start back was the dismal 2-0 loss to Salford – the last game before Covid-19 hit.

Cooke originally joined City towards the end of the August 2019 transfer window, on loan from Peterborough. He made four promising cameos from the bench, before earning a first start in a September 3-2 defeat at Cheltenham. Up until that point, early season performances under Gary Bowyer were laboured and unconvincing. City lost at Waddon Road but played much better football, with Cooke at the heart of things.

In fact Cooke’s inclusion in the starting line up led to City’s best run of the season, as they won four and drew one of their next five games, climbing up to the promising heights of second. But Bowyer began to play Cooke in a deeper, defensive midfielder role that was less suited to his attack-minded strengths. After making a bad mistake in the last minute of a home defeat to Port Vale – costing City a goal that resulted in a 2-1 defeat – Cooke’s confidence took a dent. He was sent off in the next game, a 2-0 home win over Exeter, which earned a public blast from Bowyer.

From there Cooke’s performances failed to hit the same heights. The increasingly pragmatic style of football did not suit his performances. And he didn’t especially gel with the finally fit again Jake Reeves. Nevertheless, there was something admirable about Cooke’s bravery for the ball and willingness to make things happen. Ultimately, he was playing in a side not suited to his strengths.

You would expect that Cooke will prove better suited to playing under a more attack-minded manager like McCall. He will also enjoy linking up with someone like Billy Clarke, who will probably play just in front of him. With strong rumours young midfielder Elliot Watt will also be making a permanent move from Wolves, the midfield for next season is beginning to take shape.

For Cooke, this represents a really important career move. The Peterlee-born midfielder emerged through the youth ranks at Middlesbrough, but his first team opportunities peaked with CheckaTrade trophy appearances for Boro’s under 23s side. A loan move to Crewe over the second half of 2016/17 saw Cooke net four times in 18 appearances. Cooke spent 2017/18 on loan at Blackpool, playing under Bowyer, where again he did reasonably well – leading to Peterborough signing him for an undisclosed fee on the eve of the 2018/19 season.

Peterborough – with their reputation for finding, improving and selling on gems for large fees – seemed like a good fit for Cooke. But he only made 10 starts for Posh, and was quickly deemed surplus to requirements. When on loan at City last season, Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony repeatedly made it clear Cooke was available on a permanent deal.

The problem for City was they were only able to pay a portion of his sizeable Peterborough wages. So when his loan at Valley Parade ended, it appeared that would be it.

Cooke will be attracted by the lure of first team football at City, which is exactly what he needs at this stage of his career. A clever passer with a decent shot within him, Cooke’s next stage is to turn potential into greater reliability. To show he can play week in week out, and can continue to grow from there. At his very best for City last season, Cooke looked a player far too good for League Two. This move is his chance to really grasp regular football, and begin to fulfil his potential.

For City this is a coup without question. There have rightly been fears over the quality of players coming in this summer, and though rumours have persisted the Bantams were chasing him, his wages appeared too high. Yesterday’s revelations about salary cap changes have probably allowed City to push the boat more than they thought they could – and so Cooke is now a Bradford City player again.

Categories: Opinion

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14 replies

  1. I would like to think that the success or failure in this season’s recruitment will define which direction City should take in restructuring recruitment and scouting going forward. Currently, I understand that there are about 1,400 L1/L2 players without a contract. That represents a lot of choice for a club like City which claim they want to spend more than the salary cap.

    • I would agree that where there are improvements to the ‘scouting and recruitment’ to be made and that it is cost effective for the Club to invest money they should do so Woody. The thing is I don’t know where specific improvements should be made regarding the ‘restructuring’ you refer to. Could you define in what way you believe the existing structure is sub-standard?

  2. Ideally, no professional sports team should be relying on the manager/coach’s personal contacts for recruitment. A lack of support staff puts the onus on Stuart and his past contacts for recruitment. All five City signings have played for Stuart in the recent past. I seriously doubt he is doing an effective job of reviewing the 1,400 players currently available. This situation clearly highlights where any future surplus funds should be invested, recruitment and scouting, for starters. Ideally, I would like to see a Director of Football hired but currently City can’t afford both a CEO and a DoF so that is likely wishful thinking on my part.

  3. Thank you for response Woody,

    I am not convinced that a lack of support staff is the reason Stuart signed the 5 players I believe you are referring to. I think it is more to do with Stuart being far more confident -because he has experience of working with them- that those players meet the vast majority, if not all, of the requirements he is looking for in a player.

    Reviewing 1,400 available players by Stuart or his support staff might eventually be ‘effective’ but it is far from an efficient way for a manager to use a company’s resources. To use what is probably an extreme example to make my point: I counted 27 premier league players whose contract is up at the end of this month. Would there be any point in in using up resources to perform assessments of their footballing strengths and weaknesses and whether their personality and character would fit in with the philosophy of the manager and culture of the Club?

    There will also be (in that 1400 figure) around 200 Championship players who will be free agents at the end of this month. I am extremely doubtful that you could convince me it would be a good idea for Stuart to approach the CEO to argue for extra investment to employ extra support staff so that they could spend time assessing those 200 players. There may also be the opportunity to take on loan players from premier league clubs, the Championship and League 1 who are not going to be identified as available by ‘support staff’ on any ‘free-agent’ list.

    Assessing such a large number of players in that way -when just a little knowledge, experience and common sense would lead you use other methods of approach that would be just as effective yet far, far, more efficient- seems a bit like using a sledgehammer to swot that annoying fly in the living room, after a lot of time and effort you might just hit the target you have been chasing. But at what cost!

    On June 27th(T&A), Stuart shed some light on making use of agents to supply more specific details for a more focused approach to identifying the right type of player he might want to bring in.

    Here is what he had to say:

    ”There have certainly been a lot more discussions and I’ve had a lot more agents coming on.

    “I’ve spoken to three or four players and agents but there’s been not one mention of pennies or money. It is still vague.

    “But again, we’re hopeful as more information comes out and there are more meetings.

    “I’m probably spending over an hour a day now looking through people that have been sent to us.

    “I’ve got a big dossier now from all the agents who have sent details of certain players – young, old, experienced, foreign, the lot.

    “You’ve just got to be ready and then hopefully we’ve got things at this club that can sell it to people if they’ve got three or four after them…….“A couple of Premier League clubs have come on to me about players they’d like to get out on loan next season and whether we might be interested.

    “It’s a balancing act. You’ve got to weigh up whether it would be right.”

  4. I seem to recall that when Phil Parkinson left Valley Parade he took his database with him. Maybe if that had been inherited by his successors it would have been to their benefit.

    As regards a manager relying upon his network of contacts to identify potential signings, so what? If he has an extensive network then all the better. We all talk about wanting players with the right attitude but that is not always going to be apparent from a database. Instead, personal knowledge of players and character references win hands down to gave a better chance of getting the right chemistry. This is not unique to football but is par for the course in any business where a new CEO or Sales Director will be appointed on the basis that he has established and readily accessible contacts.

    Time and time again we have had big name signings at Valley Parade which looked brilliant on paper but which failed miserably. We’ve also taken a chance on more than one occasion in recent years with managers who looked good on paper and look where that has got us. Failure has resulted in money being wasted. If we could afford failure then that’s fine, but a club on its arse cannot and needs to be lucky every time.

    Of course in an ideal world we would develop an extensive scouting network, an academy and have superb training facilities. We would all want it but the chances of the club miraculously achieving all this without a considerable investment is close to zero. Historically the club has been constrained by lack of capital – right the way back to 1903 – and as a consequence has had to juggle its finances, make choices and prioritise. Time and again spare money has been invested in either new signings or more often than not funding losses or ground repairs. The same has been true in the modern era where supporters have demanded a quick fix in preference to the long game of investing in infrastructure. The quick fix / big name signings have flopped, invariably because the chemistry didn’t work out.

    You could recruit a director of football, a new CEO, new admin staff and a professional scouting network which would probably amount to the thick end of a million pounds. Anyone looking at the club can see this for themselves as they have during the course of the last twenty years. Potential buyers have seen a club devoid of assets, a massive rental burden and inadequate infrastructure and that’s probably why we don’t have a queue of people looking to buy BCAFC.

    In the absence of a financial windfall there is no easy solution to be applied but we can do worse managing the risk and looking for safe signings where there is a greater assurance of success. That assurance comes from familiarity. The bottom line is that I’d feel far more comfortable relying on someone who I trust and to rely on his judgement in recruiting new players. For those who want Stuart McCall to be replaced, you can bet pound to a penny that his successor would be recruiting players who he had managed previously.

    • Traditionally speaking, City managers have relied on their network of contacts for recruitment. However, does that make it right? Absolutely not. Rightly or wrongly, I am anticipating a potential surplus of funds going forward due to the £1.5 million cap. Remember, last year our payroll was rumoured to be £2.7 million. The potential £1.2 million surplus would go a long way and then some re. recruiting a Director of Football, new administration staff and a professional scouting network. You even confirm that yourself in your post. So John, what would be your priorities for where to invest the “theoretical potential” surplus funds?

      I’m saying “theoretical” because with all the uncertainty, nothing is guaranteed.

      • Your theoretical surplus assumes that income remains static 2019/20 to 2020/21 and that is indeed a theoretical assumption.

      • Very true. So let me rephrase my question, eventually this Covid virus will become a nonissue and assuming revenue similar to last season generating a surplus of £1 million.
        What areas would be a priority for investment??

  5. *Anyone looking at the club (ie to buy it)

  6. My priorities would be (i) funding to buy the freehold – I doubt you’d get a 100% mortgage; (ii) infrastructure investment for player development; (iii) investment in back office personnel / facilities. You’d also need to commit to pitch maintenance and ground refurb / maintenance – neither of which are luxury items.

  7. Buying the stadium would require a high ratio mortgage and likely a 25% down payment. In addition, I seriously doubt Rupp would be interested in adding to his current exposure.

    John, I think you consider a Director of Football to be a luxury item for a L2 club. Interesting to note, Bolton have Director of Football but no Director of Communication. Don’t you think it’s a luxury to spend money on Sparks because Rhodes doesn’t want to speak to the media??

  8. I wasn’t aware I had suggested that a DoF was a luxury item – you choose to take liberties with your interpretation of what I wrote. You asked what I would spend surplus profit on and given we are not already employing a DoF my logic is that he / she would be funded from the ‘surplus profit’. For the avoidance of doubt I am assuming that pitch spending is a must do.

    Ryan Sparks has a wide remit beyond communications and I suspect that Bolton’s back office staff probably exceeds that at Valley Parade. However I am surprised that anyone chooses to work at VP given the online abuse they are subjected to. I also think that if there was a prospective buyer and he looked on social media as part of his due diligence it would be sufficient to dissuade him from progressing an interest.

    If BC related social media chat was evidence based, you can guarantee there’d be a 95% reduction in noise.

  9. Your right, you didn’t say it but generally implied that a Director of Football would be considered a luxury item. After all, we both seem to agree that it’s very traditional for L2 managers to be responsible for recruitment and relying heavily on past contracts and you have no problem with that format.

    Back to the Director of Communication. We both have extensive business experience. Have you ever come across a small business with less than £10 million in revenue who employed a Director of Communication (who’s responsibilities have recently been expanded). Honestly, you don’t consider that position to be a luxury item? Surely, one of the prime responsibilities of a CEO is to provide leadership that includes talking to the media.

  10. Anyway, I liked what I saw of Callum Cooke. I thought he looked a decent playmaker whenever he was given that role and I am pleased he’s returning.

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