By Jason McKeown
Ryan Sparks has made a bold first major move as Bradford City’s CEO after the club has announced Stuart McCall’s contract is being extended by an extra year, keeping him and assistant Kenny Black at Valley Parade until the summer of 2022.
The City manager was out of contract at the end of this season and has come under pressure following recent poor results. The new deal is a statement of confidence from the club that McCall has the ability to revive Bradford City. And it allows him the space and stability to properly rebuild.
Ever since McCall was sacked by Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp in February 2018, the turnover of managers at Valley Parade has been considerable. Only Gary Bowyer has retained the position for longer than 40 matches. And the result of a revolving door approach is an unbalanced squad and an ever-worsening league position. Each time a manager has departed, hopes of an upwards jolt have been quickly dashed by further struggle.
McCall was seemingly set to suffer the same fate. With City lying 20th in League Two after 13 matches, no one can argue the manager has impressed so far this season. Moments of promise have been overshadowed by a series of dismal defeats. City have failed to score in nine of their 19 league and cup matches. And they’ve only kept four clean sheets so far. A combination of goal-shy attack and leaky defence is having predictable consequences.
Supporter discontent has been growing and so the news of McCall’s contract extension will do little to ease the mood. But it is a show of intent from the club that they are trying to give stability a try and trust in a manager to get through a downturn. Make no mistake, sacking McCall is the easier decision to make right now. Or at the very least letting his contract run down. A parting of ways would not cause the controversy that reigned in February 2018 when McCall was dismissed.
But ahead of a couple of absolutely huge transfer windows for City, tying down a manager on a longer deal suggests a clearer plan. McCall can bring in players and let others leave, to go further in truly building a team that fits his aims and ethos. There is no doubt that many of the worst-performing players so far this season are ones that he inherited.
Next summer, there are just seven players in the current squad whose deals don’t expire. It is a big opportunity to revamp the squad. And if it can be done with a longer-term plan in place, it might buck the recent trend.
Merely extending a contract does not guarantee long-term success. To succeed, McCall clearly needs help. Not just from his new CEO, but in the scouting and recruitment resources available to him. A DoF/chief scout figure has been talked about endlessly and the need for other people to support McCall is more evident than ever.
The club must be willing to financially provide what he needs, and the stability of his longer deal means McCall can bring in people to aid recruitment that he trusts and can work well with. We know that McCall’s best times as Bradford City manager – 2016-2018 – occurred when recruitment was a team effort. The balance wasn’t quite right, but the ethos worked well.
There has been lots of criticism of the summer transfer business, and it’s clear McCall has made mistakes. In his defence, he wasn’t helped by the fact his centre back squad positions were stocked up by players on longer contracts. Or that the well paid Clayton Donaldson had the option to extend his own contract. Or that James Vaughan had fallen out with Gary Bowyer and wanted no route back to play for the Bantams.
The pandemic also had a detrimental impact. McCall was in charge barely a month when the season ground to a halt. Plans to fully evaluate the squad he had, and to look for suitable summer replacements, all went up in the air. With no lower league football taking place, and heavy lockdown restrictions, the opportunity for he or anyone working for him to get out and scout potential signings was completely gone. Much has been made of how recruitment leaned heavily on an ipad and contacts, but the options were clearly more limited than usual.
That’s not to say McCall is without blame – he clearly isn’t. As we wrote earlier this week he should have gone for a bigger squad, to fit the demands of this most unusual of seasons. He hasn’t replaced Vaughan to the same standard. The current limitations of the team, hampered by so many injuries, could have been better prepared for.
January will be huge. Ideally McCall needs a commanding centre half to play in the middle of his three-man defence – Paudie O’Connor is proving unreliable. He needs an experienced central midfielder. Another specialist right back option. A winger. And – of course – a striker or two. It is so important he and the club get it right. And work must be taking place now to captialise on the window.
In the more immediate term, City clearly need to move away from the relegation zone. The team has shown flashes of what it is capable of, but only seems to thrive when conditions are fully suited to it succeeding. Greater resilience is needed to grind out results in tougher moments. Defensively, the team must become better organised. And attacking wise, they must be more of a threat.
If City get sucked closer to the bottom two, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out. A run of wins and draws is needed to pull clear of danger and calm everyone down. The next few weeks are really important.
This is not a new situation for McCall. In his first year in his first spell, 2007/08, the team had an awful start and were near the bottom 13 games in. McCall turned it around then, aided by some good bits of recruitment in January (Lee Bullock, for example) and finished 10th. With what has gone on so far, we’d all take that now.
What McCall’s new deal, and the promotion of Sparks to CEO, also offers is a chance to imprint long-term thinking. This is not going to be a season of glory and promotion, but that can offer breathing space to really plan and get stronger. For the first time since McCall’s last tenure was brought to an end with six straight defeats, there is an opportunity for a City manager to get to the other side of a bad run of form. And to hopefully emerge stronger for it. If City had not stuck with Parkinson when he won only two of his first 15 league matches as manager in 2011/12, or six defeats in seven later that same season, the rewards of 2012-2017 would not have happened.
McCall has many weaknesses but strengths. He should not be beyond criticism or impervious from the sack down the line, but the recent uncertainty his future is not helpful to anyone. This deal gives him a surer platform, but he still absolutely has to deliver over the duration of his new contract.
The club is at such a low ebb. And whilst McCall is far from blameless for where it finds itself, he is now firmly the man who is entrusted to rebuild it on the field. It’s a big, big call from Bradford City to extend his deal – you just hope for everyone concerned that it works out.
How changing managers hasn’t changed the tide at Bradford City of late
Games in charge
Pos in 92 when left
* As it stands
Since Stuart McCall returned as manger on the 4th February 2020, there has been a significant turnover in League 2 managers. So ‘explanations’, such as, ‘he hasn’t had much time to build a squad’, ‘he has inherited a group of players’, ‘the players have not had time to adapt to the change of manager’, ‘the EFL salary cap/reduced squad size has had an impact’, ‘the lack of fans’, ‘Covid-19’, apply to many clubs, and not many of them are below City in the league.
Personally I wonder if the current job is a bit too much for the McCall/Black duo and that additional management staff are required.
The comment about not seeking ‘free agents’ as they would need time to ‘get up to speed’ is worrying. If the club is going to recruit in January, who is going to want to come to a struggling League 2 outfit? Will they be untried young loans, or aged pro’s (often with injury/motivation issues)? We are hardly going to appeal to a player at the peak of their career.
So I genuinely hope that McCall and the club have more to offer than has been shown during this season and the past two.
List of managers/clubs who have been appointed after McCall.
Barrow-David Dunn-9 Jul 2020
Bolton Wanderers-Ian Evatt-1 Jul 2020
Cambridge United-Mark Bonner-9 Mar 2020
Colchester United-Steve Ball-28 Jul 2020
Mansfield Town-Nigel Clough-6 Nov 2020
Oldham Athletic-Harry Kewell-1 Aug 2020
Salford City-Richie Wellens-4 November 2020
Scunthorpe United-Neil Cox-7 Aug 2020
Southend United-Mark Molesley-13 Aug 2020
Stevenage-Alex Revell-16 Feb 2020
Tranmere Rovers-Keith Hill-21 Nov 2020
Good luck to Stuart!!
I hope he gets assistance in recruitment and scouting. Disappointed we’re not hiring a Director of Football.
Who says that we’re not hiring a DoF?
I really really hope that we are!
I understand that Sparks known for a couple of months that he was getting the CEO job. If a Director of Football was a consideration he would have made that announcement in tandem with Stuart’s contract extension. I had hoped that the financial savings from promoting Sparks would have assisted in hiring a D of F. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.
‘I want the works
I want the whole works
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
Don’t care how
I want it now
Don’t care how
I want it now’ (Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)
I think you need to let the guy get his feet under the table first Woody. He will have spent the the last couple of months familiarising himself with the very responsible roles and responsibilities of his new CEO position. He will also, no doubt, have spent time formulating his own strategy and then had to convince and get the backing from Rupp to implement his plans laid out in a timely process with the cost and benefit factors estimated. Anyone who has had to implement changes to even fairly basic procedures and processes will understand how much detail and time is taken up before it can be let loose on the employees. Be maybe you have never had that experience?
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear news from RS in the near future on the subjects you mention (but possibly with differently named job titles).
Now we know where we stand. Onwards and upwards hopefully.
OK, famous last words, but I don’t see a downside to this – stability is so important in the longer-term. Changing manager has never worked (short-term at least), McCall and Black are desperate to turn this terrible run around, and no one knows the club better than them. The message of managerial stability and backing from the club that it sends out to the players is perhaps the most important I think, and with decent January transfer business I think we can finish strongly. I agree with the view that a transfer committee/director of football makes loads of sense for the longer-term stability and progress of the club, irrespective of who the manager may be, so I hope this happens soon.
Same number in terms of back room staff and therefore a reduction in cost. Definitely Stuart needs to be helped in the recruitment of new players. An appointment is needed now. Potential signings need to be assessed for the criteria of players we need well in advanced. Leaving it until late January will leave us wanting again. So Rupp put your money where your mouth is and support Stuart with the resources he needs.
now we don’t know where we stand ,we need a statement from the owner of intent ,what his plans are for the next few years ,and his he going to back Stuart both on the field and off the field . Or are we up for sale.
The article suggests we need at least 5 players in different positions in this window. Do we really think he will get that? Indeed how could we operate within the cap to get 5 players of decent quality? Thus I believe we will be entering the loan market most likely. Having said that i would love those positions stated to be filled and they need to be even with loans if required. If Rupp does not back Stuart even with a cap we have seen how the quality of squad determines results. We had 3 times more shots by half time than Orient the other night but are severely lacking in a finisher. The tactics enabled this stat but sadly he doesn’t put the ball in the net. Same at the other end. How many times in the past have we willed and dreamed the chairman to ‘speculate to accumulate’? Arguably Rupp did that once already but the Rahic factor meant that it wasn’t done to add to the squad at wembley.,but later to satisfy Edins ego to disastrous and wasted effect. Imagine that budget been allowed to expand on the wembley side and the chances of promotion would surely have been very high. Rupp knows that he needs to be more successfull in the league to attract buyers and lesser his loses. Will he do that though is anyone’s guess and now the cap is in place at least for Stuarts contract length it would seem, will Stuart still have the chance to rebuild a squad that he’d like.
Dan, your clearly putting the foundation (excuses) in place should Stuart fail by expressing concerns about Rupp’s financial commitment. Your anticipating a problem before it actually happens. Stick with the fact that this year’s payroll is one of the largest in the league and Rupp is not getting value for money spent.
I would love to know what each team has spent on their player budget Woody. It should give us an idea who the teams are that will have the money to bring in some quality players and which teams are likely going to have to offload their higher earners if they need to re-jig their squads. Seeing as you are in the know re each Clubs player wage budget costs to date, would you provide that information for us all to peruse please?
no i am asking questions. You are at it again with your insider financial knowledge. Have you any evidence to support your claim? The post asks for 5-6 players this window. We as fans would all like that but yep i have concerns whether that will be possible. Hence my post. The cap does indeed limit the future transfer windows for all clubs. I am merely hoping that for Stuart and us we get the best squad we can and hoping that Rupp will endeavour to provide that, even though we know that ideally he would like to sell. So it is a genuine concern and currently as i say “anyone’s guess”.
Are you still collating the information, details, comparisons, carried-over-but-limited-to-salary-cap-calculation type contracts etc etc to provide a ‘payroll’ league table as evidence in support of your post Woody? Surely you already had this sort of information or you wouldn’t have made your claim in the first place. Or would you?
I support this decision. I also share the worries about whether Stuart can turn things round, but think the stability and a more long term view are the better bet right now. I agree/ support there needs to be more support, such as on recruitment.
I’ve had some days following BCFC but today’s decision on Stuart beats them all. Didn’t believe it earlier but we are realistically looking at relegation. I know from his comments his hands are tied somewhat but it’s obvious that he cannot inspire/motivate this shower to even defend properly. Sick and tired of watching them back off against every team that attacks them. I could go on but this is so depressing.
We used to be the second best team in Yorkshire now we would struggle to be the best team in Bradford.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the cheap season tickets for next season. Unless McCall manages to miraculously turn this season around the uptake on ST sales could plummet and at £150 an adult ticket could be disastrous.
Fantastic news! Some longer term thinking. Hopefully Stuart, Kenny, the players, the non-playing staff and the Board can all pull in the same direction and we can start to climb the table.
Absolutely spot on decision. Club has been run by social media decisions for too long…No one cares more than Stuart about the future of this club and we have had a procession of “ big” name managers who have failed. Time for supporters to support and stop crying at every set back like children. Man up…upwards and onwards. If your not happy Ikea re opens next week….
I’ve read some stuff on here but the club being run by social media decisions has to be one of the funniest. Pray tell, where is the evidence to back up this ludicrous claim that the club has made important decisions based on opinions posted on social media?
Completely the right decision, now the club need to back Stuart in January.
I have been trawling my grey matter and unless I have missed something the last time that sacking a manager actually led to a prolonged improvement was when Geoffrey sacked Chris Kamara, a move that was roundly condemned at the time by nearly everyone (including me) but which led to Jewell taking us up. That was 1998. The only other upturn we have had was after Jacko quit and Parky came in, but that wasn’t a sacking.
McCall has failed in each of the key aspects of football management. He failed to recruit in the summer transfer window to address the shortcomings from 2019/20 season and yet claimed that he was happy with the new squad. This season the results have showed that he has also failed to get right team selection, tactics, player motivation and substitutions.
And the reward for these failings ?
He get a contract extension. I actually checked the calendar just in case it wasn’t 1st April.
When will Bradford City realise that whilst he was a great player and servant to the club, McCall is not even a competent manager. This is his 3rd go at the job and look where we are in the league.
‘McCall is not even a competent manager.’ I beg to differ Cheshirebantam as a manager/coach Stuart’s competence has delivered and helped deliver:
Played a key role alongside First Team Manager Neil Warnock at Sheffield United in gaining promotion to the Premier League in 2005/06;
Coached the Sheffield United’s reserve team to their league title;
Finished the 2008/09 season with Bradford City only one win short of the play-off places;
Won the 2012/13 SPL Manager of the Year award and came second to Neil Lennon in 2011/12
Finished 2nd in the SPL with Motherwell in back to back seasons (2012/13 and 2013/14), their highest league position since 1994/95;
Broke Motherwell’s record for their highest top flight points total (post war) three seasons in a row, with 62 points in 2011/12, 63 points in 2012/13 and 70 points in 2013/14;
Achieved a win percentage of 47.4% over four full seasons, becoming Motherwell’s most successful top flight manager of all time;
Reached the final of the 2010/11 Scottish Cup final to mark the club’s first appearance in the final for 20 years;
Qualified for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club’s history with the 2011/12 results, and qualified for the UEFA Europa League in 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14;
Named SPL Manager of the Month on three occasions – July & August 2011, October 2011 and April 2013;
Oversaw Motherwell’s longest top-flight winning streak since 1937, with six consecutive matches between Dec 2013 and Jan 2014;
The team scored the most top flight league goals in a single season – 67 in 2012/13 – since the 1960/61 season;
Beat Scottish giants Celtic twice in 2012/13 and once in 2010/11;
Went on to lose just one of the last 11 games at Rangers (having lost four of the previous 12 under the previous manager) to qualify for the play- offs, beating Queen of the South and then Hibernian to reach the final against Motherwell;
After going the full season unbeaten at home, led Bradford City to the 2017 EFL League One Play- Off Final at Wembley with a mid-table budget of the 11th highest in the league;
Sacked after 18 successful progressive months and one poor one, despite losing half the team and a reduction in budget, still managed to keep the Bradford City in the top 6 in the 2017 season.
He departed City with a record of 35 wins from 77 league games and a 45 per cent victory percentage that is the club’s highest since Roy McFarland’s ratio over 35 years earlier.
(Information collated from various national and local news media articles and football Club press releases)
Oh, and I forgot to mention his award as Clydesdale Bank SPL Manager of the Season award in 2013.
I posted on 2 separate occasions replies to “Lonnie” defending my criticism of the decision to extend McCall’s contract. Both were short, polite and grammatically correct. However, neither was “passed” by the moderator.
I do hope that this is not a form of censorship just because I am not a supporter of McCall the manager.
I didn’t publish the comment as I don’t think it reaches the debate standards we should be looking to maintain on WOAP.
Lonnie had written a long and measured list of managerial achievements over his 13 year career. Your reply was: “That is all history. But today I saw a pathetic display against Oldham Athletic. I rest my case”
If you want to take issue and debate with Lonnie’s list of McCall’s managerial career achievements that’s absolutely fine. But to try to argue that McCall’s 13 years of achievements are superseded by an FA Cup defeat to Oldham (“I rest my case”) is in my opinion the sort of comment you would get on a message board or on social media. It doesn’t address or counter the arguments that Lonnie had made.
So that’s why I didn’t publish it. Nothing to do with censorship. I just think we should aim the bar higher in how we all debate.