The elusive search for a Bradford City new manager bounce

By Jason McKeown (with graph and stat support from Alex Scott)

Bradford City’s decision to sack Stuart McCall this weekend is very understandable looking at the League Two table. With 13 points from 16 games they are 22nd in the division. Their form over the last 10 games is the worst in the division.

It’s clear the Bantams need a short-term bounce. The type you typically associate with a change of manager.

Other League Two clubs have already made changes to the person in the dugout this season, with positive results. Tranmere were 17th in League Two when they fired Mike Jackson. They’ve subsequently climbed to 12th, with new manager Keith Hill winning four of his six games at the helm so far. Mansfield Town gave Graham Coughlan the boot nine winless games in, with the Stags third bottom. Nigel Clough has won five and lost just once in nine games since taking over, and Mansfield have edged up to 19th. Salford’s decision to sack Graham Alexander was controversial, but since Richie Wellens came in they’ve won half their matches and climbed a place in the table.

Bradford City desperately need a similar type of upwards improvement from the displacing of McCall. But unfortunately, when it comes to new manager bounces at Valley Parade, history is against them. The simple truth is that a change of Bantams managers has very rarely led to any immediate uptick in form. 

We’ve run the stats of the last 25 years, which neatly take us to pretty much the exact point of when Chris Kamara took the managerial reins from Lennie Lawrence. And the figures suggest that Kamara himself is probably the last time City benefited from a new manager bounce, at least mid-season.

Who has had the best start as Bradford City manager? The first 20 league games

Chris Kamara

32 points

Paul Jewell

23

Chris Hutchings1

7

Jim Jefferies

17

Nicky Law

24

Bryan Robson

19

Colin Todd

31

David Wetherall2

10

Stuart McCall 1st spell

21

Peter Taylor

31

Peter Jackson3

16

Phil Parkinson

23

Stuart McCall 2nd spell

35

Simon Grayson4

13

Michael Collins5

6

David Hopkin

21

Gary Bowyer

22

Stuart McCall 3rd spell

20

1 – 12 league games in charge, 2 – 14 league games, 3 – 18 league games, 4 – 14 league games, 5 – 6 league games

So over this 25-year period, Stuart McCall’s second stint in charge saw the best start of any new Bradford City manager, with an impressive 35 points from the first 20 games. That was less of a new manager bounce though. Firstly, because it came at the start of a new season. And secondly, as we will come onto explain, the form prior to when he took over had been outstanding.

For similar reasons we can also rule out Colin Todd’s 31 points from being considered a pure ‘new manager bounce’, given he took over at the start of a season (2004/05). Kamara’s 32 points from 20 games from the midpoint of 1995/96 is very commendable. And Peter Taylor started life well after replacing McCall (unfortunately, the eight league games that followed Taylor’s initial 20 yielded just 5 points, the beginning of the end). 

Digging deeper, we decided to look at how each the first 20 games of each Bradford City manager would have translated over a full, 46-game season. Perhaps a tad unfair on Chris Hutchings and Jim Jefferies, who at the time were managing in the 38-game Premier League, but it allows for a fairer comparison to model how everyone’s starts would look if they were maintained over a 46-game campaign. 

Stuart McCall 2nd spell

80.5 points

Chris Kamara

73.6

Colin Todd

71.3

Peter Taylor

71.3

Nicky Law

55.2

Paul Jewell

52.9

Phil Parkinson

52.9

Gary Bowyer

50.6

Stuart McCall 1st spell

48.3

David Hopkin

48.3

Stuart McCall 3rd spell

48.2

Michael Collins

46

Simon Grayson

42.7

Jim Jefferies

39.1

Peter Jackson

36.8

Bryan Robson

33.7

David Wetherall

32.8

Chris Hutchings

26.8

Using Statzone figures for average points that are typically needed to earn automatic promotion, finish in the play offs, stay up and go down, McCall’s 2nd spell is the closest we’ve had to a manager starting off with top six form over the first 20 games. The 80.5 points that the start to 2016/17 was projected to achieve would typically have been enough for a fourth place finish.

(City actually finished that season on 79 points, so the projection was a pretty accurate one. In that season, Phil Parkinson’s Bolton took the second automatic promotion spot with 86 points.) 

Kamara, Taylor and Todd would have just missed out on achieving play off finishes based on these season projections. But, wow, is there is a big drop off in how City managers started after that. Nicky Law, Paul Jewell, Phil Parkinson and possibly Gary Bowyer would have just about avoided the drop based on their managerial starts. For everyone else, it would have been relegation had their slow starts continued.

Chris Hutchings has the worst record, but what’s remarkable about his projected points of 26.8 – albeit it over a 46-game season rather than 38 – is that City ultimately ended the 2000/01 season with 26 points. So if anyone is clinging onto a long-standing view that Hutchings should not have been sacked in November 2000, some good news. The figures suggest his removal made absolutely no difference to City’s performance that season.

But looking at 20-game starts can lack a bit of context. After all, what events had transpired before the arrival of a new manager? So, next we looked at City’s league record for the 20 games before the next incumbent took charge (the back end of the previous manager’s reign, plus any games where there was a caretaker at the helm), to see if the arrival of a new manager caused any uptick in form. 

First, here’s the table – with the 20 games before and after modelled over a 46-game season. 

Manager

Prev Manager last 20 games

New Manager first 20 games

% change

Chris Kamara

59.8

73.6

23% improvement

Paul Jewell

48.3

52.9

10% improvement

Chris Hutchings

46

26.8

-42% decline

Jim Jefferies

39.1

39.1

0%

Nicky Law

41.4

55.2

33% improvement

Bryan Robson

32.2

33.7

5% improvement

Colin Todd

36.8

71.3

94% improvement

David Wetherall

36.8

32.8

-11% decline

Stuart McCall 1

36.8

48.3

31% improvement

Peter Taylor

52.9

71.3

35% improvement

Peter Jackson

52.9

36.8

-30% decline

Phil Parkinson

43.7

52.9

21% improvement

Stuart McCall 2

96.6

80.5

-17% decline

Simon Grayson

59.8

42.7

-29% decline

Michael Collins

32.2

46

43% improvement

David Hopkin

43.7

48.3

11% improvement

Gary Bowyer

52.9

50.6

-4% decline

Stuart McCall 3

66.7

48.2

-28% decline

It’s at this point that the start of McCall’s second stint begins to look less impressive. For the last 20 league games of Parkinson’s reign – the end of the 2015/16 – were incredible. Parkinson picked up 42 points from his final 20 league matches, as City made a successful last push for the play offs. Over a 46-game season, such a record would have seen City reach almost 100 points.

Against that context, McCall’s 35-point start to 2016/17 was a decline, even though it is the best start a City manager has made over these 25 years. What this really underlines is what an amazing calendar year 2016 was for City – add Parkinson’s last 20 games to McCall’s first 20, and City picked up 77 points from 40 matches. Oh for a repeat of that now!

What these figures also show is just how under-appreciated Colin Todd remains, with an initial improvement in results of 94% over what Bryan Robson had achieved over the final 20 games of his tenure. But there are lies, damned lies and statistics – Michael Collins was overseeing a 43% improvement on Simon Grayson before he was sacked.

Peter Taylor and Nicky Law also score well in improving results. Whilst Kamara’s 23% uplift is still good, it’s less of a notable bounce compared to others.

As if to further prove the Hutchings-shouldn’t-have-been-sacked theory, Jim Jefferies’ first 20 games saw absolutely no change in the Bantams’ fortunes. Hutchings, you were wronged! (Well, until you notice the 42% decline in results he oversaw from the end of Paul Jewell’s tenure.)

There have been plenty of new managers who have overseen a tail off in results after coming in, which very much tallies with the club’s post-2000 decline. A fact that is really brought home when you plot them on a graph. 

So the green bars here are where a City manager’s first 20 league games in charge were an improvement on the previous 20, and red bars are where the first 20 games in the hotseat saw worse results. 

Kamara, Jewell, Nicky Law, Robson, Todd, McCall (first spell), Taylor, Parkinson, Collins and Hopkin oversaw a bounce of sorts. Although some of them come with an asterisk.

In the case of Todd and McCall’s first spell, they began just as City were starting life in a lower division following relegation. So the fact they’re facing weaker opposition over their first 20 games, compared to the 20 that preceded their arrival, means an improvement would naturally be expected. Jackson and Collins also didn’t reach the 20-game milestone, so their records are incomplete. Especially Collins, who did after all only get six league games.

It’s hard to credibly keep Robson and Hopkin in these lists too. They took over at a time when City’s form was especially woeful, and only produced 5% and 11% improvements respectively on a very low base starting point. In both instances, Bradford City were heading for relegation when they took the reins, and both times the level of bounce they produced was still relegation standard form. Not what you would call a bounce.

So that really only leaves Kamara, Jewell, Law and Taylor out of the 18 instances of a managerial change who saw a significant improvement. With only Kamara and Taylor inspiring promotion-standard form over those first 20 games. (And even then, Taylor only managed to improve City’s league position from 16th to 14th.)

The big question therefore is – why don’t Bradford City benefit from a new-manager bounce? Perhaps, it’s because as some claim the whole thing is a myth. 2017 research by 21st Club argued 75% of it is down to luck. They analysed the top five leagues in Europe, concluding that clubs earned 0.8 points per game in the eight games prior to a managerial sacking, compared to 1.2 points in the subsequent eight. Yet match statistics, in terms of quality and quantity of chances created and conceded, were virtually identical.

Omar Chaudhuri, head of football intelligence stated, “What we see is that when managers are sacked, a lot of the times their teams have been playing okay, but without luck. It only needs one crucial moment per game to go against you and that is the difference between three points and one or one point and no points. In most cases sacked managers are unlucky.”

Hmmm – is this right? Well, let’s run those City figures again and see if they corelate. The following table is the average points per game City achieved prior to a new manager coming in, and the average after. 

How did average points per game change after new manager came in?

 

Prev. 20 games

New manager

First 20 games

+ / –

1.3

Chris Kamara

1.6

0.3

1.05

Paul Jewell

1.15

0.1

1

Chris Hutchings

0.58

-0.42

0.85

Jim Jefferies

0.85

0

0.9

Nicky Law

1.2

0.3

0.7

Bryan Robson

0.95

0.25

0.8

Colin Todd*

1.55

0.75

0.8

David Wetherall

0.71

-0.09

0.8

Stuart McCall 1*

1.05

0.25

1.15

Peter Taylor

1.55

0.4

1.15

Peter Jackson

0.8

-0.35

0.95

Phil Parkinson

1.15

0.2

2.1

Stuart McCall 2

1.75

-0.35

1.3

Simon Grayson

0.93

-0.37

0.7

Michael Collins

1

0.3

0.95

David Hopkin

1.05

0.1

1.15

Gary Bowyer

1.1

-0.05

1.45

Stuart McCall 3

1

-0.45

What all this means is that, over these 25 years, City were averaging 1.06 points per game before a managerial change was made (take out Parkinson’s high average, where the change to McCall was not for performance reasons, and it’s 1 point per game). In the first 20 games after a change, on average 1.1 points per game have been acquired. That’s a lot of P45s and proclamations of a new era, for an initial bounce of just 0.04 points per game.  

So what does all of this prove? Well, it strongly suggests that managerial changes at Valley Parade have made little difference to the club’s initial trajectory. It does not have the magic wand effect in transforming City’s fortunes, at least not overnight.

It’s easy to think that McCall’s removal will suddenly have the players producing better results and performances. Just as it was easy to think that Bowyer’s departure would rescue fading play off hopes last season. Or that Hopkin falling on his sword in 2018/19 was going to rescue the club from relegation.

In the last decade, only Phil Parkinson has managed to improve on what his predecessor had achieved at Valley Parade. But even he only picked up 23 points from his first 20 league games, boosting the points-per-game average from Peter Jackson’s ending by 0.2. It takes time. And Parkinson only brought success after some dark and difficult moments. Ditto Paul Jewell. 

That’s why the hunt for McCall’s replacement needs to be about long-term planning as much as it is improving the form guide. Our modern history suggests that City are not going to suddenly start winning lots of games of football in the short-term just because someone else is picking the team (let’s hope this gloomy forecast looks hopelessly wrong in a few weeks time!)

The aims that McCall was judged to be failing to achieve – rebuilding a weak squad, competing at the top end of League Two – have not changed. Bradford City cannot go on losing, but they also cannot keep hoping that when a manager departs they’ll stumble upon the next Chris Kamara.  



Categories: Opinion

Tags:

21 replies

  1. Great analysis. Thank you Jason.

  2. Very worrying times ahead. Poor chairman, poor board, poor squad, poor scouting, poor training facilities.
    How times have changed since Clarke raced through at Wembley…
    Great work again Jason. Thank you.
    People expecting this squad to bounce now McCall has gone are clutching at straws. Just look at that squad.
    We need to get recruitment 100% correct next month. Fingers are crossed but I won’t be holding my breath.

  3. What a great piece. Many thanks, I really enjoyed it.

    My instinct with Stuart, as with preceding managers, is that a change would be unlikely to yield a substantial improvement in results, and I felt the club had done the right thing in backing him with a new contract and a focus on the January transfer window. Pre and post January transfer window results might be an interesting comparison, weighted by the number of new players/amount spent maybe?

    The 21st Club conclusion about the difference they found in their research being luck based seems a strange one (although I haven’t read their report – it doesn’t seem to exist on-line anymore), to cite a statistic only to then dismiss it. If their data were large enough and representative, it should have been simple to test for significance and effect size to identify whether or not it was down to chance.

  4. Excellent BUT OMG makes you thoroughly depressed. Not one chink of light. What really worries me is who will make the appointment. Is anyone advising Rupp? Sadly, without knowing Sparks at all, he had hardly covered himself in glory.

    Why, oh why didn’t Stuart leave ‘by mutual consent”? He is unlikely to get another managerial job and even if he was, a sacking is much more detrimental on his CV. Surely it would have been a better spin for Club to have said “We are in difficult times (looking at Jason’s stats!) and we agreed an extension of Stuart’s contract to give him time to rebuild, recognising that he inherited many contracted players BUT Stuart came to us after the Oldham defeat and feels that he has given it his all and in the best interests of the Club we both decided it was better to have a fresh start.”

    This would have united fans rather than once again having to quash conspiracy theories regarding financing and a lack of support. Sadly Jason laid bare our inadequacies as a Football Club. The Richmond era is long gone but it probably shows you how any successful club needs financial investment. Of course, it would be too complex to put in that factor into Jason’s analysis – as I think Kamara and to some extent even PP had some money to spend – certainly Paul Jewell did!

    • Great piece Jason. Just shows the task ahead for the next manager in changing the momentum around from a downward spiral into upward mobility. It will be interesting to see what the projected points total for the 40 game mark is once city have played 20 games. Maybe 35pts? Relegation a racing certainty.

      The new manager will have at least the window and may use the non contract market to bring in 4 or 5 new faces. Obviously the players who are brought in will have to be better than the players they will replace and they will have to be up for a relegation battle and well drilled.

      We have to be set up to be harder to beat clean sheets will build confidence. Without this bounce and a change of personal on the field then relegation is a nailed on certainty. Here’s hoping for that new manager bounce.

    • Stuart came across in his passionate and honest responses, during his after-match interview, that he was confident, that given time, -players coming back from injury and then the January window- he would be able to improve the team’s performances and results. I don’t think he would have, nor should have, later agreed to a ‘mutual consent’ that he had given his all and wasn’t able to improve matters.

      Even the two temps in charge will have an advantage over McCall in getting a result against Crawley because of the availability of the experience of Clarke, Evans, (Novak’s second game back from a long lay-off) and Guthrie as an extra experienced forward to bring on later in the game if Novak or Donaldson’s legs tire.

      The average ‘half-life’ of a manager at VP since Rupp took ownership 4 1/2 years ago is 9 months. And yet Rupp appeared on the ‘Matter of Heart’ PR video and mocked the chances of any ‘medium sized business’, like BCAFC, having any chance of a successful ‘long-term strategy’ if they followed the same ‘business’ approach as the other league 1 clubs where the average ‘half-life’ of managers was ’10-months’!

      If luck does play a significant part in success and failure, as Omar Chaudhuri is suggesting, is it that we have just been on an ‘unlucky’ run choosing the managers we pick or, more likely it seems, is it the managers were unlucky that they picked BCAFC?

      Surely, it is way beyond time that, with the evidence of the long list of so many ‘failed’ managers behind us, the people who are running our club have to improve the chances of our future managers’ longevity. They need to be able to refer to and then perform the type of analysis (in support of any future pretence to commit and stick with a ‘long-term strategy) that Jason has done before they make decisions to either sack or persevere with the manager based on relevant supporting objective data and the context of the environment in which the manager is having to operate should be weighed as to how much responsibility should be heaped on the manager alone for the existing situation. I know that the league table and points tally is a pretty good objective way of measuring how well a team is performing but I also think that an average of 9-months in charge for six managers, in four and a half-years, is also evidence that supports the theory that it is the ‘process’, and not the managers, that is not capable.

      How lucky are we going to be with our next choice of manager?

      Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets. We are about to spin the wheel again.

    • I think SM blew the `mutual consent` angle right out of the water when he stated on the Radio Leeds post match interview when he said “I 100% want to be here”.
      I think he already knew what was likely to happen.

  5. Jason i am sure you have spent a long time mulling over the stats and trying to put it all together in order to conjure up a successful manager for us, But to me this is all past tense its what people have or have not achieved in their time. Its no guarantee of future performance, where does it take into consideration the urgency of earning points to starve off relegation, The impatience of the fans who will be baying for blood if the situation doesn’t turn round quickly The manager as you might call him will just be a person who is successful or a flop don’t give him a contract he may not stop long.

    • “where does it take into consideration the urgency of earning points to starve off relegation, The impatience of the fans who will be baying for blood if the situation doesn’t turn round quickly”

      Wouldn’t the situations of Bryan Robson, David Wetherall, Peter Jackson, David Hopkin and Gary Bowyer fit this question?

      I don’t think the current situation of what we want from changing managers is in any way unique, unfortunately. So yes, I think past performance is worth reflecting on.

      • Hi Jason, this is a fantastic research piece and I love the bar chart demonstrating the new manager impact. Out of interest, where were you able to get the data for managerial performance from?

      • Hi Glenn

        We used Soccerbase as our database to research all the matches and tally up the 20 game records before and after. I use the site all the time – it is a fantastic resource. https://www.soccerbase.com/teams/team.sd?team_id=234&teamTabs=results

      • Jason the only people i would give thought to would be Bryan Robson and Gary Bowyer these two are what i regard as proper football people who given time would create and blend a decent team. But Time has run nearly out there’s no-one at the club with the experience to look prospective managers in the Eye and soul to find a winner, Winning is something you have to earn not demand, In fact there is now no-one at the club i know or remotely have any affection for .So may be it should come down to your stats to find someone new a robot perhaps

      • I don’t really understand why this article has made you so angry. It is just a statistical analysis of how managers have started life at Valley Parade. It is not making any comment on who would or wouldn’t be the ideal next manager.

  6. I’m afraid too many of our fans lack the intelligence to allow for long term planning and start putting pressure within a few games of things not working.

    • That is a shocking comment Alisdair and just occasionally posters on WOAP take a superior stance which does it no favours. Of course we are going to have some supporters who are more impatient – every club does (you should see some of the postings from Arsenal fans today!), and some who express their feelings in a less than eloquent way.
      If the club actually showed a structure and plan for the longer term that the fans could by into it would be a start – I hope Ryan gets all the support he needs and it will be good to see an outline of the vision and progress he has promised is going on behind the scenes

  7. Thanks for the analysis, I would love to see a trend on the final 20 v next 20.

    Arguably, a new manager coming in and achieving a 0% improvement over Stuart’s final 20 may well be a huge improvement, when viewed against the last ten or the last 5…

  8. Moving on to the “here and now”, there’s not one name on those being tipped for the job, who I’d be putting any money to trouble the leaders on your “bounceability” charts. I doubt Stuart carried out due diligence on the squad he was inheriting and probably jumped at the chance purely out of sentiment. Anyone coming in will be lumbered with this, mainly, sub standard group and little time to establish the more glaring weaknesses, and the even harder job of attracting targets to join us.

    So, all in all, I’m fearing, business as usual, more of the same and more moaning and groaning on social media.

  9. I know that I am in the minority, however I would have been more confident if we had stuck with Stuart McCall and allowed him to make his own decisions on the transfer ins and out during January 2021.
    The lack of stability since McCall departed in February 2018 is astounding. I really do fear for our league status along with the future of our football club.

  10. I think Stuart should have been given longer.He inherited poor players on long contracts, was probably restricted regarding signings in summer with a view to spending in January if needed because like all clubs with no revenue coming in because of covid, that is the sensible to thing to do. A injury list that has sidelined some of our best players for several weeks has definitely had a massive impact on results. With his knowledge of the current players and a slightly less cavalier approach I am sure he would have added the required player’s that would compliment the poor squad and got enough points to make us safe. Any new manager now wont have time to assess who we have but more importantly who we need to add. He should have been given more time to sort out past managers poor recruitment. Parky was effective but in all honesty Stuart second coming produced some of the best football seen at valley parade for many a year, especially the first half of that season. In my opinion he Just needed to build his own squad of players as much as possible and I’m sure results would have improved.

  11. Not a single name suggested that hasn’t failed. Here’s a radicle idea…Billy Clarke as player manager..loves the club knows the lower divisions…might need to change his name to Van der Klarke to keep the millennials happy though!

  12. Those of us of a certain age will remember the spectacular bounce prompted by the sacking of Cherry and the appointment of Dolan.

    Let’s hope something similar happens this time around. I don’t know about anyone else but Parky aside I’m not particularly enthusiastic about any of the runners and riders in the hat for the job.

    Whoever gets the job has his work cut out. It’s a real poisen chalice but, as Parky proved, get it right and the rewards are there.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: