By Jason McKeown
Stefan Rupp must wish he’d never bought Bradford City. But if the club can start to move forwards, there could be a positive exit strategy for everyone.
Have you ever bought something and wish you hadn’t? A recent survey found that nine in 10 of us treated ourselves during the pandemic – but one in 10 regret our splurges.
It’s fair to say none of us have rashly bought something as big as a football club, but regret must be the emotion Stefan Rupp feels at times. Back in 2016, Rupp was persuaded to buy Bradford City by Edin Rahic. The deal was Rupp would put up the vast majority of the finance and act almost as a sleeping partner, continuing to live his life in Germany, whilst Rahic would use his expertise to run the club.
We all know how that turned out.
It’s three years ago this week that Rahic left. But, for Rupp, he remains the owner of a club that plays a sport he would be the first to admit he knows little about. Since discovering the mess Rahic was making and removing him from the club, Rupp has had to clean up the financial problems, seen the club get relegated to League Two and then gone through a worldwide pandemic. All have slowed down any hopes he might have had of selling the club.
This season there are no clear obstacles to City recovering from a troubled few years. In Ryan Sparks, Rupp has a CEO running the club day-to-day and developing the business with promising signs, and in Derek Adams he has a manager with a proven track record of success. Supporters are back, and the division looks as weak as it ever has.
There is no reason for City to not be successful this season, yet so far it’s not looking too encouraging. And that has not surprisingly seen the spotlight fall onto Rupp. It’s very understandable that fans are questioning the aims and ambitions of the owner, and wondering what the long-term plan is. The fact Rupp never speaks in public doesn’t help.
It’s hard to imagine that – if a good offer came along – Rupp wouldn’t want to sell Bradford City. And, having invested a lot of money, he is entitled to try and recoup his investment. The question is whether that’s realistic if City continue to flounder. Or will acceptable offers only be forthcoming if the Bantams get back to League One, and start looking like the club they were when Rupp first bought it.
In some ways it’s like selling a house. Do you do it up to increase its attractiveness, spending money that you hope you can add onto the asking price? Or do you spend as little as possible in the hope a blanker slate proves appealing to would-be buyers, and sell for less. Clearly any interest in the club is going to remain low with its current position, just as Rupp was not the only interested buyer when City were faring well.
Ultimately, this is a season where we have to see some form of progress under Rupp, or fans could begin to turn. Every year since he bought Bradford City, it has finished in a lower league position compared to the year before. Given the Bantams ended up 15th last season, they should surely finish higher this time around and arrest that slump. But will there be enough progress to convince that the future is bright?
Rupp deserves criticism for the last few years – and for getting into partnership with Rahic in the first place – but he doesn’t seem to be a bad person. His failings are not malicious. And whilst he does not live and breathe Bradford City like the rest of us, he is trying to do the right things to restore it. The problem is he does not have the expertise himself – he’s relying on others to provide that and bring success. He could invest more of his wealth, but the lessons of 2018/19 – when City had a budget of more than £4 million and finished bottom – is that it’s how you use your resources that really matters. And that is the true failing of the last few years.
The bottom line is that Bradford City needs investment to become stronger. It continues to be hampered by paying huge sums of rent to play at its own stadium – and we’re not far away from a pivotal moment in the club’s history, where the 25-year lease that was agreed in 2003 comes to an end. The facilities at the training ground have been improved but could be better – rightly or wrongly, the fact City share it with a school isn’t the greatest perception. Recruitment continues to be inadequate, and City badly need a much stronger model to find better players. The lack of a cohesive longer-term strategy since 2016 has continually held back the club.
Success on the field, in the shape of promotion, isn’t necessarily dependent on these things happening now. But sustainable progress undoubtedly depends on having a much stronger infrastructure. As fans, watching our team drift aimlessly season after season, the lack of a long-term vision from the owner only adds to the frustration.
A club like Bradford City ultimately needs a more high profile owner. Someone who is willing to speak to fans and communicate a vision. Invest for the long-term by improving areas that right now are left make-do. Rupp is never going to be that person, but hopefully results start to improve and progress is made – so that, in time, he receives an offer he is happy with, and we can all shake hands and move on.
Will Manchester United’s new interim manager Ralph Rangnick call on his old friend?
Speaking of Edin Rahic, this week’s news that Ralf Rangnick is the new interim manager of Manchester United brought back some forgotten memories of City’s former chairman.
Rahic was quick to talk up his football background, and Rangnick was someone he would name-check. When Rangnick was in charge of VfB Stuttgart 21 years ago, he employed Rahic as a scout. Edin also claimed that Rangnick approached him about taking on a role at RB Leipzig in 2012.
RB Leipzig are part of the Red Bull programme that has seen small clubs across Europe taken over, renamed and who have made use of heavy investment to climb up their respective leagues. Rangnick has played a big part in this global programme.
Four years ago, before it started to go wrong for Rahic at Valley Parade, he publicly revealed that he hoped Red Bull would buy Bradford City to add to their global portfolio. In this piece that appeared in the Sun – full of mocking humour and suggesting a Red Bull takeover would see Bradford City playing Champions League football by 2022 – Rahic stated, “We don’t have too much money, so it would be great for us to get talents on loan and develop them…we could commit ourselves to the same style of play and a similar training philosophy.”
The credibility to such a story making the national press was the relationship between Rangnick and Rahic. And now, the former is about to take the plunge into English football.
Manchester United have confirmed that Rangnick can bring in his own staff. It’s a big rebuilding job after all. He’s going to need people he has worked with before. People with experience of the North of England. People who know football.
Come on Ralf, you know who to call…
Ollie Crankshaw’s superb form since leaving Bradford City does not reflect well on Derek Adams in the short-term. Especially given the struggles on the right side of the Bantams’ attack.
At the same time as Bradford City were struggling to better bottom club Scunthorpe United on Saturday, 190 miles away down south Ollie Crankshaw was netting a hat trick in Stockport County’s 4-1 victory against Wealdstone.
It means the winger has netted eight goals in 12 games for Stockport County since Bradford City elected to sell him to the National League side. Over the same period, the Bantams have collectively managed only 16 goals in 14 games.
But there is one stat that especially underlines the short term problems of allowing the 23-year-old to leave. Crankshaw still has more assists for Bradford City this season than the man who he couldn’t dislodge on the right wing, Alex Gilliead.
Given just 112 minutes of league action by Adams before he was sold, Crankshaw still contributed two assists (against Stevenage and Crawley). Gilliead has just one assist to his name so far (at Swindon) – from 1,600 minutes of action.
There are arguments to make that Crankshaw’s success is coming at a lower level than what City are operating at. And that’s true. But the fact he wasn’t really given an opportunity by Adams, and is now thriving, doesn’t reflect brilliantly on the manager. Especially as selling Crankshaw left him with just one right winger in Gilliead, and he is struggling to prove effective.
Ultimately, Gilliead is performing in line with his career to date. He is a busy player for sure and can be fun to watch, but his lack of end product holds him back hugely. Unfortunately, it has been like this for several seasons and at different clubs. It seems unrealistic to expect this to suddenly change.
Gilliead has never been part of a successful team. His two years at Scunthorpe saw 20th and 22nd place finishes in League Two. The season before that he played for a Shrewsbury side who ended up 18th in League One. In 2017/18 he helped Bradford City finish 11th in League One. And though his loan spell at Valley Parade, the season before that, saw the Bantams reach the play off final, Gilliead himself only started five games. The year before that, he was on loan at a Carlisle side who finished 10th in League Two.
When Adams talks about not having enough winners, he possible includes Gilliead.
Gilliead can play a big role in City’s season, but Adams needs to bring in competition for the right side of the attack. The Bantams are lacking a creator. And the limited goal return – they’ve only scored more than one goal in a game on three occasions in the last 21 games – shows they need more on the right hand side.
Ultimately, the wisdom of the decision to let Crankshaw leave will be seen over the second half of the season. If the proceeds of the sale are used effectively in January and a new player comes in and does well, it won’t really matter what Crankshaw’s form looks like at Edgeley Park. But if Adams fails to strengthen suitably in this area, it could yet come back to haunt him.
It’s not too late for Adams to repeat his heroics of last season, but it’s not getting far off.
Can lighting strike twice? On this day a year ago, Morecambe FC narrowly beat Barrow FC to climb up to 11th in League Two, with 22 points after 15 games. The 1-0 Barrow success was only their second win in 10 games, and a season of mid table mediocrity seemed to beckon.
Yet the unassuming win over Barrow proved the catalyst to better form. It was the first of a run of five victories in six, which in time became 18 wins in 32 games. This included a very strong end to the league campaign, with Adams’ charges winning seven of their last 11 games.
As City have stuttered over recent weeks, it’s clear part of Derek Adams’ confidence they can still earn promotion has derived from his experiences at Morecambe last season. When, suddenly, it clicked.
To better compare City this season with Morecambe in 2020/21, we need to do so by looking at each round of fixtures, rather than dates. This is because last season the fixture schedule was very different.
At the same point as Morecambe’s 2020/21 Barrow win (round 15), Derek Adams’ Bradford City drew 1-1 with Forest Green to reach 21 points, one point fewer than Morecambe were at after 15 games last season. At that stage, all seemed pretty decent for the Bantams.
But whilst Morecambe began to soar from that point in 2020/21, City have remained stuck in the slow lane this time around. At this point now, after 19 games, City have 24 points. After 19 games last season, Morecambe had reached 31 – that’s seven points better off.
It is this which will concern Adams right now. And why the last week of losing to Tranmere and only drawing against Scunthorpe feels especially damaging. Too many draws are clearly the problem – City have nine to their name after Saturday, whereas the 2020/21 Morecambe side only had seven ties all season.
If Adams is to repeat his Morecambe heroics at Valley Parade, City are going to need to go on a run of victories. They need to win three if not four in a row. And they need to do it sooner rather than later.
With just two league wins in the last 15, such red hot form seems implausible right now. But up until Morecambe’s sudden burst of form a year ago, the Shrimpers had only won back to back games once. When it goes well for Derek Adams, it goes very well. And his managerial career is full of streaky form. Long winless runs, and then periods of blistering results.
Take Plymouth Argyle under Adams in 2017/18. Just four wins in the first 20 games saw Argyle finish bottom. Followed by 14 victories in the next 20, which lifted them to 5th.
With the doubts beginning to grow over Adams, he could certainly do with that sort of upturn. And soon.
Stuart McCall’s new lease of life as assistant manager seems to suit his coaching strengths. It’s good that he’s not lost to the game.
Well that didn’t last long. Just 126 days after becoming Blackpool assistant manager, last week Stuart McCall chose to take up the equivalent position at Sheffield United. He is now number two to new Blades boss Paul Heckingbottom – someone who McCall was actually the manager of 14 years ago, when he brought him back to Valley Parade for a second spell as a player.
It is always difficult to accurately gauge the impact of an assistant manager from the outside. But it certainly seemed as though McCall’s short time at Blackpool was a success. The newly promoted Tangarines have adapted very well to the Championship, and are pushing for the play offs. Neil Critchley has done a superb job at Bloomfield Road and recently signed a new long term deal.
It appeared that – as far as job security goes in football management – McCall was in a good place at Blackpool.
It is in some ways a gamble to give that up, especially with Sheffield United’s recent problems. But it is a club that McCall has a huge level of affection for, and an easier commute from his Yorkshire home. As anyone who visits the seaside town will attest to, Blackpool is not the easiest place to drive to without enduring congested traffic. McCall probably won’t miss those long queues getting onto the M55.
A year ago, McCall was in the final knockings of his tenure in the Bradford City hot seat and – with it – seemingly the end of his managerial career. The last few years had clearly taken a toll – from the unjust sacking by Edin Rahic that sent City on its downwards spiral, an unhappy time at Scunthorpe, to an ill-fated third tenure in the Valley Parade dugout. It was hard to see what McCall would do next, at least in football. Not easy for someone with such an obvious devotion to the game.
But the assistant manager role would appear to suit him. Typically, an assistant will lead the training sessions, be the person who attempts to build confidence in players and coach them to improve. The arm around the shoulder. To some extent their friend. These are all things that Stuart appeared to excel at as a manager.
It is the other side where, towards the end, he seemed to struggle. Making those tough calls of leaving players out, for example. Dealing with the sharp focus that comes with defeat. And making ruthless calls on players to get rid of.
The fact McCall didn’t spend all of his playing budget at City last season – around a fifth was left over – said a lot about his confidence to sign players. And the risks he deemed to be of having a big squad to manage, where you have to make the unpopular decisions of leaving players out and deal with their disgruntlement. When injuries hit hard last season, it doomed him.
That’s not to say the role of assistant manager is pressure free. It will still have its tough moments of course. But for a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve at all times, as an assistant, McCall can be a little bit more dispassionate, and take on less of a public role. No need to face the media when he is feeling the raw pain of defeat, for example.
For however sadly it ended for McCall at City a year ago, and whatever your views on his managerial ability, everyone can agree that Stuart is a good person. It is great to see he is still able to put his vast experience and knowledge to use, as he has still has a lot to offer.