Bantams can’t be the Christmas turkeys...
CHRISTMAS is make or break for clubs in the relegation zone. And if Bradford are still there when the decorations come down, I think they’re done for.
Since losing in the League One play-off final to Millwall in 2017, things have gone from bad to worse at Valley Parade.
Stuart McCall was rashly sacked in February. Simon Grayson arrived but rejected an offer to stay beyond the summer. Michael Collins was promoted from the youth team, signed a load of players and was replaced by David Hopkin after six games.
The Bantams were 17th when the Scot was appointed. Today, they are rock bottom of the table and nursing a run of six straight defeats. In fact, their record in 2018 is abysmal: won seven, drawn seven, lost 24.
Clearly, this is a bigger issue than who sits in the dugout. The ownership off the pitch is not healthy. There are persistent rumours that the chairman, Edin Rahic, is trying to meddle in transfers and team selection.
He denies it, of course, but there’s very rarely smoke without fire in these situations. It happened at Leyton Orient with disastrous results. It’s happening a lot more now in the lower leagues than it ever did in my day. And if it’s happening at Bradford, then it won’t end well.
A manager shouldn’t tell a chairman how to run a club because he isn’t qualified for the task, and the same is true in reverse.
Will that affect the players? Certainly. For me, though, the biggest problem is the size of the squad. Bradford have got far, far too many players - 38 in the first-team squad, which is absurd for a club in League One.
One side effect is that David clearly doesn’t know his best team. He’s used more than 20 players already.
Far worse, though, are the cracks and divides that inevitably appear when that many people aren’t involved. That’s why so many managers only want a core of 18 or so.
When you’re losing games, those cracks widen like you wouldn’t believe. It’s horrible being in a dressing room like that. Sapping.
People find excuses for everything. The professionalism dips. People turn up late or don’t train with the same intensity.
I always go back to my time at Bristol Rovers, when there was a massive divide in the dressing room. Nobody took responsibility, least of all the so-called match-winners who quickly went into hiding.
And ultimately, that’s the only thing that can save Bradford. They’ve changed the manager plenty of times now and got no kind of response. The owner is staying put.
They can buy players in January but more bodies is hardly the answer. Besides, will they really be able to attract anyone of quality if they’re bottom of the table? No - they’re now relying on the players in the dressing room to show some character and lead from the front. Right now, Bradford are a team who create chances but snatch at them. At the back, they crack quite quickly. You can’t keep conceding three or four and expect to get results. Those are confidence issues, and it’s up to good pros to dig in, do the basics and win ugly. But it has to start now. When I got relegated at Colchester, we were like ‘‘Oh, we’re only seven points off safety, there’s plenty of games yet’. But if you can’t hit form, the matches quickly vanish. Games that look winnable when the fixture list comes out suddenly look a lot more daunting. And by the time you’re left needing, say, three wins from the last 12, the pressure is crushing. That’s why the Christmas period is crucial to Bradford. Because the longer this goes on and the longer the players fail to take responsibility, the more trouble they’ll be in.
TIME FOR ACTION: Bradford City manager David Hopkin