Why the past means nothing to Graham Alexander as Bradford City 'reset' ahead of a sixth season in League Two

IT was a curious 2023-24 season for Bradford City, in truth.

At its conclusion came the realisation that a sixth successive year of fourth-tier football beckons.

For a club with the cachet of City, that remains stark and sobering and the bottom line.

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Scratch beneath the surface and there was a modicum of encouragement at least, going forward.

Bradford City manager Graham Alexander, pictured during the League Two game at Harrogate Town in March. Picture: Tony Johnson.Bradford City manager Graham Alexander, pictured during the League Two game at Harrogate Town in March. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Bradford City manager Graham Alexander, pictured during the League Two game at Harrogate Town in March. Picture: Tony Johnson.

The Bantams’ excellent late-season form saw them just miss out on the top seven. Their record in the final 12 games was the fourth best in the division.

Given that their campaign had lurched into crisis on and off the pitch ahead of Easter - City were in an unacceptable position of 17th after a desperate derby defeat at Harrogate Town in late March - it constituted progress, albeit with a small ‘p’.

Graham Alexander remains nobody’s fool. City may have finished just one point behind the side who occupied the final play-off place - and were ultimately promoted - in Crawley Town, but that is now consigned to the history books.

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As someone who boasts colossal experience of the EFL as both a player and manager, it was ever thus. Alexander quickly moved on.

His maxim is a shrewd one, especially given the hangover that City suffered – in the words of CEO Ryan Sparks - last summer and beyond after reaching the play-offs and going close to promotion in 2022-23.

Critically, it culminated in the sacking of Alexander’s predecessor Mark Hughes by mid-autumn.

A workaholic manager - he admits to rarely having ten days off in a summer - Alexander turned his attentions to 2024-25 soon after the final ball was kicked in late April.

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Ahead of the official opening of the summer window on Friday, four new signings have already been confirmed, with City among the busier League Two clubs.

Players return for pre-season training later this month. City were ultimately close to the top seven last season, but not close enough.

Alexander said: “You always have to look forward. As a coach and manager, I’ve had a couple of promotion-winning teams and I remember 48 hours later talking about recruitment for the next season and unfortunately having to make changes to the players who have won us promotion and stuff like that.

"It has to be that way. You can’t sit back and look back too often.

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"Listen, it’s important - if you have been successful - to enjoy it. (But) I just think the nature of the game now and life is that it’s the next thing.

"I think that’s how it should be. It’s about the next event and next campaign.

“You learn a lot from it and use it as a reference point, but carrying it on your shoulders - whether it’s a negative or a positive - doesn’t help you going forward. You have got to reset a lot. In this sport, you are constantly looking forward."

On the recruitment front, City’s work has been pragmatic and strategic so far under the auspices of head of football operations David Sharpe, who has worked alongside Alexander and head of recruitment Stephen Gent.

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Tried and tested promotion winners in the lower divisions have arrived in the shape of Antoni Sarcevic, Aden Baldwin, Niall Byrne and Callum Johnson.

Three of the quartet were involved in sides who went up from League Two last season, while Baldwin was promoted to the EFL with Notts County in 2023.

The addition of Baldwin, Byrne and Johnson will compensate for the departures of senior defenders Matty Platt, Ash Taylor and Liam Ridehalgh.

It points to a club conscious of the need to get the foundations in place at the back, first and foremost, ahead of a long and demanding season. Joined-up thinking is the phrase.

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The experience of the defensive trio is an obvious tick as is that of Sarcevic, who has achieved no less than five promotions from League Two throughout his career, including at each of his last three clubs in Stockport County, Bolton Wanderers and Plymouth Argyle.

The impact of the creative midfielder has been felt at all of the above clubs.

City’s business has yielded early fruit, but Alexander is equally as happy to be patient with other targets.

On the value of early inroads, he added: “I think it’s important. But I also think it’s important you have patience to sign the players who you know will take you forward. There’s a patience here. We have a clear idea of the profile of the player we want to bring in.

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"If it’s a case of that (particular) player is still available and he’s our first choice, but he’s not here for the first week of pre-season or so forth, but we still have a really good opportunity to get him or we think that, then we are happy to be patient.

“It’s not about just making sure we have the 22 or 23 players in place from day one and that we’ve gambled on a few just for that purpose. We have to win games over a ten-month period.”