THERE are many times over the past year or so when Stuart McCall must have thought back wryly to his wife’s initial reaction when Bradford City came calling once again in the summer of 2016.
“You’re not going back there,” was the damning verdict when the former Scottish international first broke the news that the Bantams wanted him to take charge for a second time.
She knew what the job had done to McCall the first time, as the pain of being unable to galvanise the club he had loved since first walking through the Valley Parade doors as a teenage apprentice ate into his very being.
He looked ill during those final few months before quitting early in 2010. The smile and upbeat persona, which always belied a will-to-win every bit as strong as that of the much more taciturn Roy Keane, had been replaced by sunken eyes and a stare that, at times, bordered on vacant.
McCall never got that bad this time. He never looked ill. Nor, though, did he ever look truly happy. At least when away from the training pitch and the players he so enjoyed working with.
English football culture is different. It is difficult for Stuart to understand.Bradford City’s Edin Rahic prior to the Wembley final.
Tensions behind the scenes with the board became evident a few months into his reign and never went away.
Disagreements over transfers, team selection and even who took penalties abounded, with joint-chairman Edin Rahic shining a light on some of what had gone on when speaking to The Yorkshire Post in the dugout area at Fleetwood’s Highbury home a few minutes after Bradford had booked their place in the League One play-off final.
“English football culture is different,” said Rahic, who along with Stefan Rupp had bought the club a year earlier. “As an owner, CO and head of football, so to speak, I have another type of attitude to work to the manager.
“It is difficult for Stuart to understand. I am head of football. I will comment if we concede a goal because I know about football. You have to take me seriously.”
Amid the excitement of the impending visit to Wembley and, hopefully, the clinching of promotion, the words were rather lost at the time.
But, as the dust settled on Bradford’s subsequent 1-0 loss to Millwall underneath the Arch, Rahic’s comments revealed to supporters the teething troubles both men had experienced in a management set-up very different to the one that McCall had worked under in previous jobs.
Having seen McCall’s body language increasingly betray that souring of relations as last season reached its climax, I fully expected him to leave in the summer. So did many others, including those high up at the club.
It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise to see him still in situ when the players returned for pre-season. Maybe, with a year’s experience of working together under the pair’s belts, things would be more amiable.
The blocking of veteran defender Gordon Greer’s signing, a move for which McCall had strongly pushed, disproved that notion and from then on it felt inevitable there would be a parting of the ways next summer, when McCall’s contract was due to expire, regardless of how the season panned out. Or, if a bad run came along in the meantime, even sooner.
Sure enough, City slipping to a sixth straight defeat last Saturday was enough to prompt the club to look for a new manager.
Or, as many suspect, a head coach, with Bradford possibly switching to a more continental set-up with recruitment taken totally away from the man picking the team. McCall, it seems, is unlikely to be the last Valley Parade chief to respond to requests for a transfer update with the stock answer: “You’ll have to ask Edin”.
It is a big test for the club’s German owners. McCall was, to all intents and purposes, appointed by Julian Rhodes, the former owner who had agreed to stay on for a couple of months to help ease Rahic and Rupp into what was very much a foreign environment.
Phil Parkinson’s abrupt departure had caught the new owners on the hop, hence the reliance on Rhodes in an advisory role.
Now, Bradford are very much their club and this next appointment will reflect as much. It is a decision they simply have to get right.
As for McCall, he leaves with his head held high. Many managers profess to loving their club, but few, deep down, genuinely mean it. McCall has always been different. His love for City runs deep and, in return, the city loves him back.
This much was clear in 2010 when the League Two Bantams were toiling in his third season as manager.
Not once did the Valley Parade crowd turn on their man. It was the same this time. Whoever follows the 53-year-old has some very big boots to fill.