By Jason McKeown
BBC Radio Leeds: “I thought Crankshaw made a decent impact when he came on today?”
Derek Adams: “Good. Well done. I didn’t.”
Blimey. Where do you begin assessing the escalation of Bradford City’s struggles? After such an impressive start to the season, it’s now five defeats and two draws in the last seven, just three goals scored and 13 conceded. The Bantams have dropped from 2nd in the early season table to the depths of 12th. The squad looks thinbare and the budget has apparently been used up. Oh, and now Ollie Crankshaw has elected to depart for non-league Stockport.
In the space of a week manager Derek Adams has:
- Stated the back-up players thrown in together for the Papa Johns Trophy cup defeat to Manchester United Under 21s have “had their chance” and no one can complain when they aren’t selected again
- Revealed that only 16 members of his 24-man squad have proved they merit starting in matches as “no one else has impressed me enough to get in that XI”.
- Blasted the players in defeat to Crawley, adding after the dismal defeat – “This club has been through difficult times last year, year before, year before that – I can see why.”
It has not been a good week, and Adams’ decision to publicly lambast the players – and, by implication, the culture of the football club – puts everyone under the spotlight going into Saturday’s game with Rochdale, a match identified by midfielder Callum Cooke as “must win”.
Adams badly needs a reaction from his players. A season of such huge expectations is falling apart. The storm clouds are firmly brewing.
The decision to allow Ollie Crankshaw to leave – just 24 hours after the player publicly vowed to change Adams’ mind that he was worthy of starting matches – raises serious questions. The words of Adams, contained in the club statement – “We would have liked to keep him at the club and seen him fight for his place in the side, but understand and respect his decision to leave” – strongly suggest it was the player who wanted to take up the Stockport offer, rather than Crankshaw being forced out. In that way, there are similarities to the Danny Rowe situation in April, when the forward’s lack of starting opportunities led to him choosing to move to Chesterfield.
The club will argue, with some justification, that any player who doesn’t want to be here should not be forced to stay. That if the club is going to move forwards, it needs a fully committed dressing room. But there can and must be some soul searching internally about what is going wrong with the culture, where players would rather move elsewhere than fight for their place in the team. If a player doesn’t want to be here, why is that? And what lessons can we learn about it for the future? Otherwise, the club is doomed to keep repeating mistakes.
From the outside it’s hard to disagree that Crankshaw is right to feel aggrieved. The lack of opportunities Adams has afforded certain members of the squad is curious. It’s all well and good to talk about only trusting 16 players, but if you’re told the door is closed on your chances of changing that – and the evidence of team selections only reinforces this – it’s no wonder you look at your options. How do you develop a squad full of healthy competition for places if you make it seem like a closed shop and those on the fringes are publicly criticised? Especially when players who are in favour are seemingly able to under-perform with no consequences.
Take Saturday, where despite an injury to Charles Vernam, Crankshaw was once again warming the bench with Gareth Evans pushed forward to the wide left position. Crankshaw ultimately came on after 60 minutes and set up a goal for Callum Cooke, only to be criticised in public by Adams, who said he didn’t think the player performed well.
Prior to that, Crankshaw has seen his path to first team football blocked by Vernam and Alex Gilliead. The latter has, so far, failed to provide any goals or assists – and his general performances have steadily declined. Yet it seems no matter what Crankshaw does, Gilliead would start ahead of him. And so at a point where City are struggling for results, failing to score enough goals and half a team is out injured, Crankshaw is still told that he has not done enough to start games.
It’s no wonder the offer from Stockport held such appeal.
At City, as with other clubs, we supporters have a habit of hyping up players not in the team. Mis-remembering their failings and hailing them as the savour, the longer they are not involved. There is an element of that with Crankshaw – he did struggle to make an impact after signing last January – but even so, he deserved more game time. The fact he has the joint highest number of assists this season (two, with Callum Cooke) from just 108 minutes of action shows he offered a goal impact that others have not shown so far.
That said, if Adams doesn’t see him in his long-term plans, there is a logic to letting him go. Abo Eisa is said to be back in a few weeks, and Lee Angol not far behind. Charles Vernam could be fit for the weekend. Theo Robinson can play in the wide forward position and will also return shortly. Crankshaw is 23. He joined Wigan in January 2019 and started just two games for the Latics. He had a loan spell at Dundee in early 2020 and started only once. And since joining the Bantams he’s started only 11 games. That’s 14 league starts in 20 months. At his age, Crankshaw needs to be playing first team football.
For City, the timing of the departure couldn’t really be worse. The mood is darkening and supporter unrest is growing. There is huge frustration that the summer transfer window again appears to have left them short, and that it’s only taken a few injuries to expose the lack of depth in the squad. The deadline day business that led to Robinson coming in, with far from warm platitudes from Adams, underlines the suspicion that something went wrong. Especially when Lee Turnbull departed as head of recruitment a few days later. There’s a feeling that results will continue to be poor until injured players are back (as though there’s no chance there will be further injuries), and that we need to get to January to strengthen. There’s even been talk this week about free agents.
It’s all a bit too much like last season.
There are many factors to explore and debate here, and at WOAP we’ll do our best to look at them over the coming days – not least with a podcast scheduled to be recorded next week. But perhaps the biggest frustration right now is that this all feels a bit predictable. There was so much hype in the summer. A feeling that, because Derek Adams was the new manager, the club would automatically improve and win the league – even though the summer transfer activity strongly suggested differently.
The club fanned these expectations. Perhaps, as unpopular as it would have been, it should have been dialled it back during the summer. Yes, there are season tickets to sell, but if the playing budget is similar or perhaps even lower than the one spent on a squad that finished 15th last season, we needed a more realistic outlook. The gap to make up was significant. That’s not to say promotion shouldn’t have been the stated aim – it absolutely should have been. But by the time the season kicked off, expectations had grown to the point where anything short of winning League Two looked like failure. This is not a squad that looks capable of romping to the title, with 100 points to boot.
Talking about ambition is difficult, when we’re punching so far below our weight. We’re Bradford City, by far the biggest club in League Two. Our crowds dwarf everyone else, and indeed clubs playing at a higher level. We should be capable of winning the league, and any suggestion otherwise provokes understandable anger from many fans. But the fact is no club has any divine right to win football matches. The clubs that succeed are often the ones who are best run. That’s what we need to focus on – doing better. Pushing Bradford City in the right direction, even if it takes longer than we’d like to get to where we should be. Offer me a play off spot now and I’ll bite your hand off.
The problem is where do we go from here? It’s obvious City need a win to calm everyone down, but any club talking about must-win games in early October is clearly in trouble. There is no magic wand that is going to fix these issues, and a bumpy few weeks and months lies ahead.
The club – from chairman, CEO, manager, players and other staff – has got to get supporters back onside. Give us reason to want to support them, rather than pointing our arrows in their direction. They appeared happy to let us get giddy with expectation in the summer, but now they’re feeling the full effect of the huge power that we fans have.
World domination might have to wait for now, But, please, at least give us something to believe in.