By Jason McKeown
“Don’t go to bed just yet!” Transfer deadline day is, amongst many things, a series of infamous pronouncements that trigger a rollercoaster of supporter emotions. And, at Bradford City, we’ve experienced plenty of transfer deadline days of staying up past our bedtime, anxiously pressing refresh on the #bcafc Twitter feed for news of an eleventh hour signing. As the minutes ticked by to the usual 11pm cut off point, excitement fades into panic. And, often, frustration and anger.
Kurtis Guthrie, Glenn Middleton, Nathan Delfouneso and Theo Robinson are amongst the inglorious names of players recruited in the final throes of a window, eventually unveiled with more than a whiff of desperation from the club. The late scramble damning evidence of a plan gone wrong, or of not having a proper plan in the first place. The ticking clock robbing the manager of sufficient time to really weigh up if this is the right signing – or if there might have been better options available.
This year’s transfer window closed without any last minute panic by Bradford City. The club used transfer deadline day to confirm two more captures, taking the overall window tally to 17 signings. But the business was done early in the day, by 10am in fact. As others sweated and fretted late into the night, the lights could be turned off inside the Valley Parade offices. Feet up. Job done. At least until January.
It’s very tempting to hail the smoothest Bradford City deadline day in years as a positive. And on paper, the lack of a late scramble certainly feels like a good thing. But the proof is always in the pudding. The success of this transfer window will ultimately be measured over the coming weeks and months, as we find out if this revamped Bradford City squad is good enough to fulfil heady expectations.
Nevertheless, it’s not hard to find a correlation between late night captures and players who turn out to be poor signings. When the last window closed, the club claimed Nathan Delfouneso was a planned target for several weeks. But the way he was unveiled so late on, and how poorly he played in a City shirt, suggests otherwise. Theo Robinson, it was said, was a player with a point to prove (not least to his manager, Derek Adams, you suspect, who didn’t exactly offer up the warmest of words when asked about his arrival). Well, Robinson didn’t manage to prove anything. And his struggle to make an impact last season was further evidence of the club’s approach to recruitment trailing behind others.
There is genuine hope that things are different this time. That the appointment of Stephen Gent has led to a more measured, analytical and considered recruitment strategy. The club has been very busy but did the bulk of its work early. Four signings have arrived since the season kicked off, but appear more in response to a developing situation of where improvements could be made – rather than a worrying realisation the overall activity had resulted in a squad badly lacking. Remember this time last year when the number 10 squad number remained tantalisingly vacant? The window shut with that number 10 spot still going spare. And a big problem was obvious. There are no gaping holes this time around.
It shouldn’t need saying but let’s do it anyway – of the 17 signings made, not all will be a success. There’s only 11 starting places in a team, and so some will struggle just to get a place on the bench, never mind play any significant role in a promotion push. But with a squad strong in depth and some decent players retained from last season, there is capacity for some new signings to fail without damning the club to the same fate. The key to success, as always, will be the ratio of signings who work out. Gent and Hughes will need plenty of hits.
At least one of the two deadline day signings would appear highly likely to prove a hit. Dion Pereira’s return to Valley Parade after last season’s loan spell had been much discussed, rumoured and speculated on. Many of us have spent the last few months harboring an unhealthy interest in Luton Town starting line ups. Fretting that Pereira was looking too good and too involved in the Hatters’ pre-season friendlies. Nathan Jones kept saying nice things about the attacker. Luton fans were buzzing about what they saw from him. The chance for City to get him back seemed to have gone. That said, Pereira’s lack of minutes in Luton’s games so far this season kept the door slightly open.
It’s amazing to think Pereira only actually started nine games for Bradford City last season. His impact was huge, and means his return has been greeted by widespread approval from supporters. Given City’s struggles of late without Jamie Walker and in generally being a goal threat, Pereira could be that missing piece that takes the team to the promotion-standard level it’s labouring to reach.
For Pereira himself, this could be a make or break season. This is a guy with less than 20 career starts. A player who began life at Watford, moved all the way to Atlanta, Georgia to be part of an MLS side, and whose return to England and Luton in December 2020 lead to just one first team start, now finally has the opportunity to play week in week out over a full season. Pereira will be 24 next March – an age where many players have already clocked up more than 100 appearances. This season and this loan move is Pereira’s opportunity, his stage, to start fulfilling his huge potential. It will be a big test – perhaps a bumpier road than all of us are envisaging right now – but if it goes well, the rewards are huge. For both the player and Bradford City.
In many ways Pereira’s career up to now has been a story of trying and failing to prove himself at a level he might not quite be good enough for, at least not yet. But now, for this season, he has the chance to become the best player in a team – perhaps even the best player in the whole of League Two. The sky is the limit. This is going to be really fun to watch.
Tyreik Wright, a 20-year-old winger from Aston Villa, is the other deadline day capture. Wright has some experience at this level with loan moves at Walsall (13 starts 3 as sub), Salford (7 starts and 9 as sub) and Colchester (5 starts and 7 as sub). He is probably here to provide cover and depth in the way Phil Parkinson used to bring in young Premier League loanees to operate as back ups. But again, in a squad that has struggled to breakdown defensive opposition and has at times lacked players with the ability to run between the lines, Wright could well have a part to play over the course of the season.
Hughes reflected on a highly productive transfer window by beaming: “I don’t think Bradford City have had the strength of depth that we have this season in recent years.” He is absolutely right, and it’s worth pondering just how strong it looks.
The WOAP squad list at the bottom left of your page has 28 players (that 28 doesn’t include those who have been loaned out, such as Oscar Threlkeld). 29 players, when you’re only allowed 18 in your match day squad. You could be missing five players through injury and suspension and still be able to name a strong starting XI and bench. That’s surely got to count for something in the battles ahead.
Taking into account different players’ known versatility, I make it we have four goalkeepers, three players who could play right back (with a further two out on loan), three who could play left back, six who could play centre back (with two out on loan), six who could play defensive midfield (with one out on loan), ten who could play out wide, seven who could play as number 10 (plus two out on loan) and five who could play up front.
On paper this has to be the strongest squad in League Two. And on paper we have the best manager. Football often doesn’t work out so simply. But this transfer window activity has certainly pushed the odds in our favour. There’s plenty of ingredients for Hughes to work with in cooking up a winning formula, and it’s one of the reasons why there was no need for a late night shopping trip that always seems to end in rash purchases and buyer’s remorse.