FOLLOWING a popular and successful manager is never easy, even when the new boss is a club legend.
But so far, so good for Stuart McCall on his return to Bradford City. Back-to-back away wins at Peterborough United and Milton Keynes Dons, two sides expected to push for promotion from League One this term, in the past seven days means the Bantams will host Coventry City tomorrow in buoyant mood.
Considering the upheaval of a summer that saw not just Phil Parkinson leave for Bolton Wanderers but his entire backroom staff, this is no mean achievement and one that reflects well on McCall. Not that the man himself is getting carried away.
“Two away wins inside a week has been great but I won’t be shouting anything from the rooftops,” the 52-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
“We have had a good few days but things can change very quickly in this game. The pressure could have been on with bad results against Peterborough and MK Dons. That is why we won’t be getting carried away with two good results. It has helped confidence but that is all.”
Parkinson’s decision to leave for Bolton Wanderers in June was a big blow. The 48-year-old had transformed City during a little under five years at the helm, as the 2013 promotion and stirring Cup runs that saw major Premier League scalps claimed at a regular rate vividly illustrated.
City also reached last season’s play-offs only to lose to Millwall over two legs in the semi-finals so when Parkinson quit it left the club’s new German owners with a big decision to make.
McCall’s subsequent appointment brought a mixed response from supporters who had idolised him as a player. His previous spell in charge had ended in February, 2010, with City languishing in League Two and amid the welcome that McCall will always receive at Valley Parade there were audible murmurings as to whether he was the right man to build on Parkinson’s legacy.
The former Scotland international made clear that he was a very different manager to the one that had taken on the Bantams job in 2007. Head had very much ruled heart, McCall made clear, when the offer to return to West Yorkshire had come from owners Stefan Rupp and Edin Rahic.
Two months on and City’s positive start suggests the right decision was made.
“I just wanted to be myself when I came in,” said McCall. “My personality is to try and be upbeat. The key, though, when you come to a club is getting the right players.
“If you bring good players in, you lift everyone at the club. I was also fortunate in that I inherited a lot of good professionals.”
For that, McCall owes Parkinson a big debt.
He has, though, also been busy in the transfer market with no less than nine new faces having arrived.
As if to underline the turnover in personnel, just five of the 17-man squad at MK Dons on Tuesday played for City last season. And one of those, Josh Cullen, only returned to Valley Parade on loan from West Ham United last week.
“We are getting there,” said McCall, who for the fifth time in as many games tomorrow is expecting to only be able to name six substitutes due to injuries.
“The response (of the players) has been great because, don’t forget, this is a new staff. The players are getting used to us and that is always a process. But what helps is getting results along the way.”
A feature of City’s opening games has been an intention to get the ball down and play. McCall, who as a player rarely wasted possession, is a big believer in this philosophy, though not necessarily in isolation.
“There will be certain days and pitches when it will be a different style of football,” he added. “I am not saying we want to be football purists.
“You have to be able to mix it up. Basically, in four games, we have had four different systems. We have to be adaptable.
“Sometimes, if we have to go long then we will go long. That is what I mean when I say we are not patting ourselves on the back, as if to say, ‘Don’t we play nice football all the time’.
“What we have, though, emphasised to the players is that we have good footballers in the team. And we have to try and get the best out of what they have got.”
When McCall was a player in his second spell at Bradford, tomorrow’s fixture was one that took place in the Premier League. Both clubs may be two tiers lower these days but a bumper crowd of 19,000-plus is still expected.
“Like ourselves, Coventry have only conceded one goal,” added the City chief. “Tony (Mowbray) is an excellent manager and it will be interesting as Coventry play slightly different to a lot of teams in this division.
“This was a Premier League game not so long ago. There are a few teams who have been up there in this division. Ourselves, Coventry, Bolton, Charlton, Sheffield United. That is what we are up against. But it is a challenge we are relishing.”