By Jason McKeown
In what seems like the worst-kept secret in lower league football, Derek Adams has become the new manager of Bradford City after leaving Morecambe.
The 45-year-old has just led the Shrimpers to the play off final, where they defeated Michael Flynn’s Newport County to climb into League One. It is the best league performance in Morecambe’s history and has caught the eye of City CEO Ryan Sparks.
Adams was interviewed for the Bantams management position last December, before Sparks opted to stick with caretaker managers Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars. But after a poor end to the 2020/21 campaign, Trueman and Sellars were stood down and Sparks once again considered Adams.
It appears the deal to take Adams from the Globe Arena to Valley Parade was verbally agreed just days after Morecambe defeated Bradford City in the final regular league game of the season.
In the wake of the news about Trueman and Sellars, Sparks made it known the plans for the next manager were in place and that the club was not seeking applicants. Either Sparks was very confident he could prize Adams from Morecambe, or conversations took place privately to agree the move several weeks ago. In the meantime, Adams kept quiet at Morecambe, focusing on taking the Lancashire club through the play off campaign before moving on.
It is slightly out of character for Adams to leave in this way. In late 2019 he was inside Morecambe’s Globe Arena, about to sign a contract to become their new manager, when he received a phone call offering him the suddenly vacant Hearts job. It was a tempting proposition – certainly greater than taking over the-then bottom club Morecambe in the EFL – but Adams had made a gentleman’s agreement and felt the right thing to do was honour that.
Morecambe fans might be left questioning Adams’ loyalty today, but the integrity he showed back then is something their club has subsequently benefitted greatly from. He leaves them in a much stronger position than when he joined them. The unexpected surge up the League Two table was one of English football’s few romantic stories of 2020/21, and has helped Adams to restore a managerial reputation that had been damaged by an unhappy ending to his time at Plymouth.
At Morecambe, Adams has shown he doesn’t need to spend a fortune to achieve success. He also has a record of getting the best out of players overlooked by others. Given Bradford City have underachieved significantly in recent years – and have a more than patchy record in the transfer market – such qualities are extremely attractive to Sparks.
Morecambe co-chairman Rod Taylor praised the way Adams has changed the Shrimpers’ mentality, “Derek did a fantastic job during his year and a half at Morecambe, not only guiding the club into League One, but also acting as a catalyst for positive change and encouraging everybody at the club to aim higher.” It is this type of upwards mindset that has been lacking at Valley Parade in recent years.
Whilst it is obvious why Adams appeals so much to Bradford City, it is nevertheless a curious move for the Scot. Whilst there is no question over which club has the higher ceiling potential between Morecambe and Bradford City, Adams’ amazing success with the Seaside club has helped to restore his managerial reputation.
He is turning down the opportunity to pit his wits against Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday next season, and instead return to the basement league. If Adams had remained as Morecambe manager and done pretty well next season, it might have put him in the shop window to take over at a club higher up the ladder.
Even if that didn’t happen and Morecambe went straight down, he would still be able to get another decent job. That includes coming to Valley Parade. Gary Bowyer said on becoming City manager two years ago, “The opportunity to manage Bradford City doesn’t come along that often.” This was clearly not the case, and with six managers in just over two years Adams could have been reasonably confident that – if he had rejected the Bradford City job now – it would have been available again in the near future.
On that basis it feels like a coup for City that they have secured the services of arguably the best manager in League Two last season – and someone who has proven he can deliver success wherever he goes to.
Adams will work closely with recruitment director Lee Turnbull to rebuild the squad, and it could prove to be an interesting summer of change.
What about Trueman and Sellars?
Derek Adams is not a manager who has kept the same assistant manager at each club he goes to.
At Plymouth, he made long-serving Argyle midfielder Paul Wotton his first team coach and later promoted him to assistant, explaining he needed someone on board who knew the club. It was the same story at Morecambe, where he appointed John McMahon as assistant after the former Shrimps player had been coaching in the club’s youth academy for two years.
This all suggests that Trueman especially could have an influential role in Adams’ coaching staff. He certainly fits the Adams’ bill of being someone who knows the club well, like Wotton at Plymouth and McMahon at Morecambe. The T&A recently reported that the future of Trueman and Sellars would be resolved shortly, and a place for one or both in Adams’ coaching staff would not be a shock.
There have been no announcements made on this front yet, but it is telling that McMahon has not left Morecambe with Adams.
Whilst most managers will have a break during the close season, Adams will have plenty on his plate having just finished an intense end to the campaign at Morecambe and now going straight into a new role.
It is heavily suggested Adams has played a part in City’s retained list – not something that will sit entirely comfortably with Morecambe fans, if confirmed – and there is inevitable speculation already that he will look to sign some of his high-achieving Shrimpers’ players. Especially as it is reported that all but two players in the Morecambe squad are out of contract this summer.
City will go into their third straight season in League Two with their fourth different manager during that time. The club badly needs stability and it would be an achievement of sorts if Adams’ gets to see out the contract he has just agreed. Nevertheless, the success of Adams – and indeed the standing down of Trueman and Sellars – will be judged on whether City can get promoted next season.
It is a statement of intent for Sparks – who has clearly gone out of his way to secure Adams’ services, and with it has staked a lot of his own reputation on the Scot succeeding. Sparks has undoubtedly shown ambition in this appointment and that deserves to be commended.
After the failures to push for promotion in 2020/21, the Bantams have gone out and recruited arguably the League Two manager of the season. A manager who completely out-performed City’s efforts on a fraction of the budget. As Adams said in a recent interview, “We have got the lowest wage bill out of the 92 clubs in the league but that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be the worst team in the league.”
Now he is to take charge of the biggest club in League Two and will have one of the division’s largest budgets. The expectations of what Bradford City can achieve next season will inevitably rise. In a league that looks even weaker than last year, the arrival of Adams will surely make the Bantams one of the favourites to earn promotion in 2021/22.
WOAP coverage on Derek Adams:
- Everything you ever wanted to know about Bradford City’s new manager Derek Adams
- Watching Derek Adams’ Morecambe in the play offs