A SEASON that began for Bradford City with a rookie head coach in charge who had never applied for the job in the first place will end next week with a return to the basement division.
The two are inextricably linked. But the finger of blame for the Bantams’ demise is not pointed at Michael Collins, the youth team manager promoted to the top job only after a seven-week search for Simon Grayson’s successor had failed to dig up a decent candidate willing to work under Edin Rahic.
Instead, Rahic, the club’s chairman for two-and-a-half years until leaving in early December, will be forever regarded in the city as the true architect of a relegation that has been coming since the dying days of last season.
It was Rahic who took the nonsensical decision in February, 2018 to sack Stuart McCall with City sitting sixth in League One.
It was Rahic whose micro-management of all club matters so infuriated staff that many quit, and morale plunged.
And it was Rahic who oversaw a summer of recruitment that, with each new addition, more and more seemed to resemble a Championship Manager-style spree with little thought given to either the balance of a likely starting XI or the wage bill.
If you had played well against Bradford in the past, you were in. Ditto anyone who had previously enjoyed a good season or two at a higher level.
Which is how City came to kick off last August under Collins with a plethora of No 10s, one senior winger and no target man other than a German striker who was plainly not up to the job in League One.
Worse still, this haphazard approach to recruitment left Bradford with a £4m wage bill for the season – the fourth highest in League One.
To put this into context, the campaign preceding the 2016 takeover led by Stefan Rupp, now the sole shareholder and someone who needs to win the trust of supporters after giving one-time business partner Rahic free rein, had seen the budget nudged above £3m as a one-off.
This had only been made possible by the previous year’s FA Cup run, which had seen Chelsea and Sunderland beaten by Phil Parkinson’s side en route to the quarter-finals.
Parkinson, in fact, acts as a good pointer as to why things have gone so badly awry on the pitch. During his five or so years at the helm, Parkinson put much store in holding a face-to-face meeting over a cup of tea with any prospective signing.
Much could be gleaned from those informal chats, he felt, in terms of a player’s character and personality. Such an approach helped City improve their league standing in each and every season under Parkinson on the back of him assembling a team of fighters. Bradford may not have won every week, but those players invariably gave all they had for the cause.
Contrast that with the current sorry bunch, whose collective spirit has proved about as durable as a newspaper left out in the rain. The Bantams, under three different managers, have collected a solitary point from a losing position since the start of August.
It is a pathetic return and one that shames a squad who left David Hopkin, the second of those to take up residency in the Valley Parade dugout, so exasperated he felt no option but to walk away in February after one lily-livered performance too many at Walsall.
Gary Bowyer’s task is to clear out the shirkers and justify the remarkable show of support that just last week saw 13,500 fans renew their season tickets. Bradford City, on the evidence of the past 18 months, do not deserve such support. But it is there and the club simply have to reward this unswerving loyalty by bouncing back at the first attempt.
It will not, though, be easy. Any rebuilding job is likely to be dependent on clearing out the dead wood in a squad where no fewer than 16 players are contracted to the club for next season.
Money, too, will be an issue with another seven-figure deficit forecast next term thanks largely to the wage commitments taken on during last summer’s recruitment drive.
Possible salvation does come via Oli McBurnie. Sold to Swansea City in 2015 for an initial £250,000 that has since more or less doubled, the Bradford-born striker is in demand after bagging 19 goals in the Championship.
City are understood to have a 15 per cent sell-on clause, meaning the Valley Parade coffers will be in for a timely boost should McBurnie leave the Liberty Stadium this summer.
A small promotion bonus is also due from Lincoln City under the terms of Shay McCartan’s season-long loan at Sincil Bank, while Sunderland returning to the Championship would bring in a further six-figure sum as part of Charlie Wyke’s move to Wearside.
All are welcome at a club badly in need of a fresh start after nine tortuous months featuring 33 players, those three managers – or four, if Martin Drury’s stewardship of the 5-1 Portsmouth debacle is taken into account – seven captains and 27 (and counting) defeats.
Amid such head-spinning numbers it is no wonder fans have had enough. Come August, however, City have to be ready. Over to Bowyer and the board in this most crucial of summers.