What a difference a season makes: Stuart McCall departs Bradford City

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It turns out that Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Oldham ultimately proved to be the end of Stuart McCall’s second spell as Bradford City manager. The news came through on Monday morning and soon set in motion an intense debate among fans over whether it was the correct decision following City’s recent dismal run of form which has witnessed six consecutive defeats in all competitions.

In hindsight, maybe we should have seen it coming after Stuart received the so-called dreaded vote of conference from the Bradford City owners after four defeats. However, a failure to quickly turn the poor form around saw a further two defeats, the first being 4-0 at the hands of Wimbledon and the second being the most recent one against Oldham.

In this article, we explore the debates both in favour and against McCall’s departure, while reviewing some of the potential candidates which have appeared as early contenders to take over the reins at City.

The correct decision?

This is a question that will no doubt be debated for a long time to come, particularly depending on McCall’s successor and how well they do at City. Although answering this partly depends on looking to the future, it also crucially involves exploring the past and trying to determine where it all suddenly appeared to go wrong for McCall and Bradford City.   

Whichever side you are on (if any), there is no denying the intense debate which has taken place on social media over whether the dismissal of Stuart was the correct decision. Of those fans backing McCall, it is generally suggested that City’s current poor run of form is only a minor blip and something they were confident that Stuart could turn around if given more time (something which McCall himself hinted at). There is no denying the fact that City still hold a relatively strong league position by maintaining a place in the playoffs despite five successive league defeats (albeit teams below City have games in hand).

In addition, some adopt a much broader perspective by pointing to McCall’s excellent record during his second spell at Bradford where the club have been outside the playoffs on only a handful of occasions, while he also boasts one of the best win percentages of any City manager. Personifying this is last season, when McCall entered the club with only a few senior pros and no backroom staff and astonishingly finished the season by guiding Bradford to the playoff final at Wembley.

Although it was not the fairy tale end to the season that the fans had hoped for, there were signs this season that McCall’s team had picked up from where they left off last season by consistently featuring in the playoff places.

On the other hand, while fully acknowledging that Stuart McCall is a club legend, the old cliché that football is a results business did not make good reading for City after the team lost six successive games in all competitions. Arguably the main issue here being that the defeats were coming against sides fighting to stay in the league, games which (without disrespect), Bradford should have been comfortably winning.

Added to this poor run of form is the 13 league defeats already this season, which to put it into perspective, Rochdale in the relegation zone boast fewer league defeats this season (12). Valley Parade is also far from the fortress it was last season where performances have failed to largely capture the imagination of fans with disappointing defeats against Plymouth, Northampton and most recently a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of league one struggles Wimbledon, to name a few.

This would all appear to put McCall on shaky ground. However, I’m of the opinion that Stuart should have been given more time to turn things around as while five successive league defeats does not make good reading, City are still in a strong position where several wins in a row would soon make fans forget about the poor run.

Although it is all too easy to make such predictions as we will never know whether he would have turned it around or not, the fact players both past and present spoke out in support of McCall, shows how highly regarded he is as manager and the confidence players have in his ability to lead the team from the front.

No matter where fans stand on the matter, however, it leaves us with the question of why such a change in fortune compared to last season? One aspect that has been highlighted is recruitment where key positions the owners promised to fill – including another target man to share the burden with a Wyke – have largely underwhelmed, thus giving McCall limited resources to work with.

In this sense, it might well be suggested that Stuart actually overachieved last season, which in a somewhat twisted turn of events, has been the downfall this season with some cracks beginning to show in the team.  

Although there is merit in both sides of the debate, McCall’s departure still appears to raise more fundamental questions about the Club’s ownership, especially behind the scenes in their relationship with Stuart and control over various aspects of the club.

Although this is again largely speculation and/or rumours coming out of the club, this is something which continues to be reported, including the suggestion of joint owner, Edin Rahic, proclaiming that he is “head of football” at Bradford City. One thing is for sure, however, there are likely to be numerous candidates interested in steering Bradford out of their current predicament.

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The candidates

Bradford City’s co-owners, Edin Rahic and Stefan Rupp, have been open about their ambition to create a German model of football management at the club. Such a model involves establishing a clear hierarchical structure at the Club consisting primarily of (1) the owners; (2) a director of football (primarily facilitating the relationship between the head coach and owners); (3) a chief operations officer; and (4) a head coach.

The German emphasis mainly derives from reducing the overall responsibilities of the conventional manager and delegating these to the other members of the hierarchy. So, while a manager traditionally deals with a whole range of responsibilities, such as coaching and transfers, under Rahic and Rupp’s ownership, these would be delegated to other members of the hierarchy, such as the operations officer and director of football thus leaving the head coach with primary responsibility of managing the players on the training ground and on match days.

With Rahic and Rupp’s managerial vision in mind, it may not come as much of a surprise that several of the leading contenders for the role operate and/or have previously operated as head coaches for their respective clubs. Although McCall did function under a similar system, it was relatively clear from the outset that this was not something he was used to as a manager.

Hannes Wolf

The current favourite with some bookmakers, Wolf is a relative unknown among many English football fans but has soon started to attract attention as he is currently without a club. Having previously coached Dortmund’s second team, Wolf’s first notable success as a head coach came as recently as last season where he guided Stuttgart to the top of the German second division and with it a place in the Bundesliga.

At 36, Wolf is an example of another young and promising German coach and so has also been linked with the vacant Leeds United job. Although Wolf appears to almost perfectly fit the profile of Bradford’s owners, it remains to be seen whether Wolf would opt to coach a team in league one, while his link to Bradford remains largely speculation.

Uwe Rösler

Rösler is a lot more well-known to Bradford City fans as the current manager of fellow league one side, Fleetwood Town. His experience of coaching in England also includes the likes of Brentwood, Wigan and Leeds, although with relatively mixed results. His style of quick counterattacks and pressing have been notable when up against Bradford, while his role as head coach at both Leeds and Fleetwood is likely to again prove an attractive proposition for Rahic and Rupp.

With a contract at Fleetwood until at least 2020, Rösler is likely to command both a fee and tough resistance from the Fleetwood’s owner, especially as Bradford are a fellow league one competitor.

Simon Grayson

While currently unemployed and having achieved an incredible four promotions from league one with four different clubs, it is almost inevitable that Grayson has been linked with the vacant job at Valley Parade. With promotion being the clear target for Rahic and Rupp, they are unlikely to find a more perfect candidate in Grayson.

A notable issue, however, is whether Grayson would be willing to work under the existing structure, particularly if it means having less control over player transfers. Conversely, it could be argued that this would give Grayson even more time to focus on coaching the players. Although this would be my preferred option for the next Bradford manager, only time will tell whether he will be considered a realistic target by the owners, and if approached, whether Grayson would buy into the idea of heavy club involvement by the owners.

Some other names

Some of the additional names being mentioned include Bradford’s existing head of recruitment and friend of McCall’s, Greg Abbott, and current head coach of Stuttgart’s second team, Andreas Hinkel, with the latter again fitting into the profile of the Bradford owners. With Bradford City assistant manager, Kenny Black, likely to take charge until another head coach is appointed, fans will be eagerly anticipating news of the next appointment with league games coming thick and fast.

Concluding thoughts

Rest assured, Stuart McCall leaves Bradford City in a much better position than when he initially took over and so can leave strangely satisfied with what he has built during his year or so in charge.

Whoever the owners choose to succeed Stuart is likely to prove not only a pivotal point in Bradford’s season, but also in Rahic and Rupp’s short tenure at the club, where fans will be keen to see the impact the decision to terminate McCall’s contract will have on the players and the remainder of the season. Either way, the incoming manager can be sure to have the full backing of the Bradford City faithful.