By Jason McKeown
The noises suggest this won’t be the busiest of transfer windows for Bradford City. Nor should it be.
With 17 players brought in during the summer, something would have seriously gone wrong for the City squad to require major surgery at this half way stage of the season. Given they are making promising strides in the race for promotion, minds can be focused on fine-tuning rather than overhauling. Finding that bit of extra quality that can perhaps elevate the Bantams from play off pushers to automatic promotion contenders, or at the very least cement a top seven finish by the end of the season.
And, perhaps, also trim some of the fat.
We’ve written plenty this season about the merits of Mark Hughes’ big squad approach. The summer window closed with 29 players in possession of a squad number, who were immediately available to Hughes. Despite all indicators pointing to squad rotation and fierce competition for places, it hasn’t quite worked out that way over recent months. And the earlier than hoped exits from all cup competitions means there’s even less need for a big squad going forward.
Players who Hughes might have envisaged having a big part to play cannot even get on the bench of late. Players who would have expected to play a good amount of football for City this season have found themselves frozen out. There are some interesting conversations to take place between the manager and fringe players over the coming weeks. Players who might want to push their way through the exit door, and who perhaps discover that Hughes is not hugely concerned about stopping them.
Reducing the size of the squad could help to free up funds that enable Hughes to bring in a player or two of higher quality, who could make a bigger difference to City’s overall prospects. It might mean sacrificing someone who could otherwise have a reasonable part to play, but who isn’t necessarily going to shift the dial upwards in the way that’s still needed.
If you’re Lee Angol – who hasn’t started a league game since August – you’re probably ready to move on. Angol hasn’t even made the bench since the Leyton Orient loss, and with Matt Derbyshire’s arrival, the promising form of Abo Eisa, the return of Jamie Walker from injury, the potential of Emmanuel Osadebe becoming available again in a few weeks, it’s quite a queue of players for Angol to overtake. And what about Dion Pereira? Such a big player towards the end of last season, and whose return on loan was cause for supporter celebration. Pereira hasn’t started a league game since Crawley in October, after a less-than-inspiring second coming. Left out of the 18 for the Salford game after being an unused sub in the previous two games, it looks a long way back for Pereira. Given he has played for both Luton and City this season, his options are very limited – he can’t join anyone else this season.
At least he’s had some action of late. Jake Young has not been seen since the Burton Football League Trophy defeat, and hasn’t had a single minute of league football since the September win at Tranmere. There are faint internet rumours of interest from elsewhere and, for his sake, he needs a move if only on loan. Ryan East might also reflect that if he can’t break into the team of late, when Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead endured dips in form, he probably isn’t going to fare much better over the second half of the season.
Timi Odusina – given a chance at Leyton Orient in December but once again failing to take it – faces even more competition with the arrival of Ciaran Kelly. Odusina’s three-year deal means it’s unlikely City could find a buyer even if they wanted, but a loan move to another League Two club would appear very possible. Finally amongst the decent-but-could-be-sacrificed group there is Yann Songo’o, who is performing a useful role coming off the bench to see out victories of late. An absolutely brilliant sub for City to call upon, but at 31-years-old, Songo’o may rightly feel he has more to offer and be interested in first team football elsewhere.
There are others who may also leave. Oscar Threkeld has returned from a low key loan spell at Oldham. Out of contract in the summer, will City and player strike a deal to terminate his deal so he can find another club? Fiacre Kelleher has already returned from a loan period at Solihull Moors and is about to move to a Football League club. Luke Hendrie is nowhere near the team and his versatility could be of interest to other clubs. And what of Liam Ridehalgh? First choice left back until his injury. Ridehalgh is closing towards full fitness but is highly unlikely to dislodge Matty Foulds. The 31-year-old is also out of contract this summer and may see the writing on the wall for his time at Valley Parade.
In terms of players coming in, the early window arrivals of Kelly and Derbyshire are a strong indication that current fringe players will move on. Kelly signed from Irish club Bohemians and though he may have to bide his time to break up the excellent central defensive partnership of Romoney Crichlow and Matty Platt, he will expect to push on. Derbyshire is probably not seen as a starter but certainly an impact sub who will play his part. Neither of these players are probably game-changers for City’s promotion hopes, but neither are they here just to add to the numbers. (Derbyshire probably wasn’t persuaded to move back to the UK unless he was given certain assurances about game time.)
Hughes will be looking for more goals, given the heavy reliance on Andy Cook over the first half of the season. This could mean another forward player comes in, depending on who departs. He will surely be wondering if he could boost the centre of midfield, especially if he wants to eventually return to the 4-2-3-1 set-up that he has favoured until recently.
Will there be any unwanted departures? There has been plenty of speculation that Crichlow might be recalled by Huddersfield. But the Terriers’ recent improvement in form, coupled with the old school style of manager Mark Fotheringham, would suggest a youth player who excels with playing it out from the back won’t be seen as the solution to Town’s struggles at the bottom of the Championship. Crichlow’s development is surely better served remaining at Valley Parade, and you suspect Town will see it that way too.
Other City loanees, Tyreik Wright and Scott Banks, are even less likely to be recalled by their parent clubs. Indeed, City would do well to start talking to Aston Villa about whether there is any prospect of making Wright’s move a permanent one. The young winger is a huge asset, and it doesn’t seem unrealistic that City could keep him. Wright has the potential to play at a much higher level, but the biggest thing his career needs right now is game time and the Bantams are in a strong position to continue offering him that.
Of City’s permanent players, there might be some interest in the outstanding Harry Lewis, but it’s probably a little too early for any offers that the player or club couldn’t refuse. Cook – out of contract in the summer – could be a concern given he’s lost his place in the team over the last couple of games. But there is absolutely no reason for City to sell a player whose goals would be so difficult to replace.
City have a strong hand right now. They have a number of good players on the books who other clubs would surely love, and can afford to let go those where there is a financial benefit, in order to fund moves for a quality player or two to come in.
It shouldn’t be frantic, or desperate, window. And huge questions will need to be asked if we sign another Nathan Delfouneso or Kurtis Guthrie on deadline day. Add in the fact the excellent Stephen Gent will have spent months scouting for potential players, and this should prove to be a window of shrewd activity that helps the club build on its promising league position.
A good summary of the state of play. The acquisition of Derbyshire suggests to me that there is not much money available for strengthening the squad. Currently we have far too many superfluous players. It is easy to talk about moving them on but much harder to actually achieve it. I can’t imagine many of those mentioned for possible transfer out will attract much attention in the current market. The best bet is to send a couple out on loan. For a permanent transfer to take place, the player would need the inducement of at least another year on the contract. Without that he might as well sit tight until the send of the season. I don’t anticipate many changes but we do need a dominant midfielder! That much goes without saying.
Wright is out of contract in the summer, and I’d be very surprised to see Villa offer him a new deal after the number of loan moves he has had.
Banks is also out of contract in the summer but I’d suspect with his age he may be offered another deal by Palace and loan to a higher division or move back to Scotland.
Crichlow is an interesting one, as I agree with the assumption that he won’t be called back due to towns improving status in the championship. But he is also out of contract in the summer (Town have the option of a 1yr extention however.)
Unlike precious years, I’m sure Stephen Gent & Mark Hughes understand all these scenarios and are working on their plan for the coming years with or without these players, but all 3 absolutely enhance the playing ability of the team, so here’s hoping they’re working on a way to tie all of them down permanently without the need of paying a fee if possible!
A good summary that covers virtually every eventuality. However , not all players are that hungry to be playing. Train hard , keep fit , run out the contract and pick up the monthly pay cheque. Happy Days for guys who hold all the aced.
Except you are then thrown into the hat with all the other out of contract players in the summer; except there will be a lot more who had recent game time and performances to point too who you will be competing with. As a manager I will be asking, why didn’t you try to get game time elsewhere?, as that’s what you want from a squad player, not just happy to bide time and take a wage.
Personally, I wouldn’t consider Crichlow to be a youth player, he turns 24 in a couple of months.
Jake is the interesting one for me, early on the season he showed an ability to create a goal out of nothing. Seems like the ideal sub to have on the bench at all times.
Forrest Green used Young as exactly that, last season, Mega. It’s puzzling that he was a valued member of their high-scoring, promotion-winning squad but can’t get a look in with us.
Thanks for this Jason.
Re Romaney Critchlow, the risk is not a recall for the Huddersfield squad, it’s to be re-loaned to a L1 team. Huddersfield did that last season taking him off Swindon, and sending him to Plymouth Argyle. I would have thought on his performances for us that is a high risk (albeit player & parent club would want assurance of regular game time there). I was pleasantly surprised to see Hughes play down that risk in the media a couple of weeks back, but you’d have thought that Ciaran Kelly’s signing was an insurance for that. I could see the pragmatism of a loan move for Timi Odusina, but think that’s a sad state of affairs for a player hailed as a signing coup (even if only from Hartlepool!) and unusually given a 3 year contract. I’m personally more positive on his very limited competitive opportunities, I thought he was good in his first outing v Sheffield Wednesday for the Pizza Cup.
I would support saying cheerio to Dion Pereira. We saw flashes of real skill last season, but he hasn’t hit the heights this season. Compared to Tyrek Wright, the issue is consitency. It would (as with Timi) be a pragmatic judgement to loan out Jake Young, but likewise a sad situation at this juncture. He’s also looked great in those early appearances, and I’m sure we’d dearly love our own contracted, young talent to flourish with us. It sounds as though he is losing motivation on the training pitch. As Levi Sutton’s comments in today’s T&A highlight, we can forget how young these guys are, and in our dispassionate performance assessments (or blunt social media comments) underestimate the impact and challenges to them psychologically.