Combining Youth with Experience: Bradford City’s Key to Future Success?

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A little over a year since Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp jointly agreed to take over Bradford City following the conclusion of the 2015/16 season, they have wasted no time in beginning to turn their vision for the future of the club into a reality.

One aspect of this vision is to establish a squad of young and exciting talent developed by the club alongside good experienced players. Although at least for now some of these young players will be brought in from elsewhere and further developed by the club (which is not necessarily a bad thing), it is hoped that investment in the academy will begin to provide the foundations for long-term success through nurturing home-grown talent into the first team.

Looking Back
Without wanting to dwell too much on the past, the departure of Phil Parkinson and his backroom team not long after the takeover of Rahic and Rupp was a bitter pill to shallow for some fans at the time.

Yet, fast forward 12 months and it appears as though this was somewhat of a blessing in disguise, despite the club’s progress under Parkinson. Although it was no doubt a difficult period for the new owners, it gave them freedom to structure their own management team headed by the return of club legend Stuart McCall as Manager as well as Greg Abbott as Head of Recruitment.

The first season under the new owners was about building stability following the departure of several first team players. However, with the likes of Rory McArdle, Tony McMahon, James Hanson, James Meredith, Stephen Darby, Mark Marshall and Billy Clarke, McCall inherited an experienced squad which was further bolstered by signings such as Nicky Law, Colin Doyle, Timothee Dieng, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Romain Vincelot and Matthew Kilgallon.

With the additional loan signings of young prospects Josh Cullen (West Ham) and Jordy Hiwula (Huddersfield), the promotion of Daniel Devine and Ellis Hudson from Bradford City’s youth academy, and the addition of Jacob Hanson, Alex Jones, and Charlie Wyke in January 2017, the owner’s vision of combining youth with experience started to gradually take shape and reap its rewards.

This contributed to a season which is likely to have surpassed many expectations with City being undefeated at home in the league (which is no mean feat) and only narrowly missing out on the championship.

Looking Ahead
Going into Rahic and Rupp’s second season at a helm, the departure of the remaining ‘history makers’ that were so integral to 2013/13 League Cup run and playoff success (Stephen Darby, Rory McArdle, James Meredith and James Hanson – departed in January 2017) felt like the end of an era.

However, the renewal of Tony McMahon’s contract is likely to prove crucial, especially considering his ability, professionalism and character on and off the pitch. Coupled with the signing of Paul Taylor, Adam Chicksen, and links to players like Gordon Greer, City’s squad is likely to retain its experienced spine going into the 2017/18 season.

One of the most exciting aspects of the 2017/18 squad so far though is the influx of numerous younger players, which includes Callum Gunner (Swindon), Tyrell Robinson (Arsenal), Omari Patrick (Barnsley), Daniel Pybus (Sunderland), Alex Gilliead (Newcastle on loan) in addition to City academy products Daniel Devine, Ellis Hudson, Reece-Webb Foster, Curtis Peters and Alex Laird.

Alongside this are the signings of other young, but experienced, players in the Football League, including Shay McCartan, Jake Reeves and Dominic Poleon, which encompass the philosophy of combining young and experienced players.

Although only early days in the tenure of the Rahic and Rupp, there are plenty of promising signs. The way the squad is currently shaping up with its mixture of experienced and youthful players is already beginning to reflect their ambition for the future direction of the club, which is reinforced by the recent appointment of a new under-18s manager (and assistant) and a Professional Development Coach.

There is a feeling that one of the keys to this growing success is the strong working relationship between the club’s staff, especially Abbott with his eye for signings, McCall with his knowledge of the game and willingness to give youth players a chance, the owners Rahic and Rupp, and Chief Operating Officer James Mason who provides the critical link between the owners and management. Together, they appear to share the same vision for Bradford City’s future.

A special mention also to previous owners Mark Lawn and Julian Rhodes in helping to provide the foundations which will only assist Rahic and Rupp in taking the club to the next level.

With time, patience, and no doubt some challenges along the way, there is a feeling that the fans, management and owners could together build something special at the club.