THE league table does not lie is one of football’s most commonly accepted maxims.
Gary Bowyer, the man charged with keeping Bradford City in League One, understands that as much as anyone.
But even allowing for the Bantams’ lowly position with just 11 games of the season remaining, the 47-year-old admits to being hugely excited at the prospect of working with a squad he met for the first time on Monday.
“There are some very talented footballers here,” said Bowyer, back in football after calling time back in August on his two-year reign at Blackpool.
“I tried to sign four or five of them in the summer, but they came here, instead. The quality that is here was a big reason for coming.
“I would not have come if I did not think we can get out of this. The pull of the playing staff, the pull of the supporters and the pull of the stadium. It was just too good to turn down.”
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Bowyer’s CV suggests he could be a glutton for punishment as a manager. Chaos reigned off the field at both Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool, his two previous jobs, while Bradford’s season has largely been a crash course in how not to run a football club.
Even handing Bowyer the reins until the end of the season smacks of the short-termism that has led City down a route that, on recent performances, may well bring a return to the basement.
“Not at all a glutton for punishment,” said Bowyer when asked about accepting a job offer that some would have regarded as a poisoned chalice.
This is a wonderful club. Not in the greatest of positions and I understand that, but this is a challenge I am really looking forward to.Gary Bowyer
“The opportunity to come and manage Bradford City is massive for me. I got the call on Sunday and I could not wait.
“We quickly got everything agreed. I was over here from Warrington and was buzzing on the journey here.
“This is a wonderful club. Not in the greatest of positions and I understand that, but this is a challenge I am really looking forward to.”
Chief among the tasks facing Bowyer is a need to lift a squad still smarting from last weekend’s 5-1 thrashing at Portsmouth.
It extended a slump in form that has seen just six points taken from nine games since City welcomed in the new year with a 3-0 victory over Accrington Stanley.
The Bantams rose to fifth bottom on the back of that result, but Bowyer’s reign will start on Saturday at home to Peterborough United with the West Riding club six points adrift of safety.
“It was definitely noticeable on Monday,” said Bowyer when asked about the downcast mood that greeted him at Apperley Bridge.
“I came in buzzing, but the players had got back from Portsmouth – with all that had happened down there – and it was a case of laying down a marker as to what I expect from them, and what they can expect from me.
“Trying to get them smiling, which, to be fair, they have been. It is important they enjoy their football. My job is to tell them what has gone is gone. We cannot do anything about that.
“We now have to focus on the next 11 games. I spoke to them individually and as a group. I have two or three to catch up with.
“I have listened to them and taken on board what they said. Those conversations are private and confidential, but what I can tell you is the players all have this collective belief that we can stay up.
“That is massive. If I had walked in and got a sense of any negativity whatsoever it would have made it even harder. That belief is exciting for me.
“We have to work very, very hard, but the players have that belief and that gives me confidence.”
Bowyer watched his new players yesterday in a behind-closed-doors match with Huddersfield Town.
A City side featuring Josh Wright, George Miller and Jermaine Anderson took the lead, but lost 2-1. Wright, who started the season as captain at Valley Parade, was among those frozen out by previous manager David Hopkin, but Bowyer insists he has arrived with no preconceived ideas about the squad.
“It is a clean slate,” he said. “I have said that to all of them. It is up to them to show me in training they are worthy of a starting place.
“And once they have got it they must keep that shirt. The players know what I want from them.
“I am excited with the squad and what we have got. We have got to work very hard on the training ground to put it right on the pitch.”
Bowyer’s reign starts with back-to-back home games, leaders Luton Town visiting Valley Parade on Tuesday.
“We want to get this place rocking again by putting in performances,” he added. “As long as the supporters see effort from the players they will be behind us.”
City’s league position is a perilous one. It is also one that several opposition managers have admitted to being mystified by, not least because of the quality that Bowyer admits to being excited about now he is at the helm.
“I understand where they (rival managers) are coming from with that,” added Bowyer. “In seasons gone past and certain leagues, the same applies.
“But obviously something has been missing for this group to win matches. We have to try and put that right. Very, very quickly, too.”