Right, it’s time to get this new save rolling, and outline my plans. Here’s my 70’s/80’s style manager on the right, sporting an untrustworthy smile, and stereotypical sheepskin coat (channelling his inner Don Revie). Complete with an abrasive attitude, unrelenting self confidence, a love of attacking football, and a burning passion that 4-4-2 is the best formation in football, he’s going to take English football by storm.
So, who is he going to be taking English football by storm with? In the last update, I hinted that I had a particular club in mind, and that club was Preston North End, over in the North West of the country. I went to University in Preston, and as such know the club fairly well, but in the end I decided against them, and went for a team that have been mentioned quite a lot in the football media over the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately it’s for sad reasons, but that club is Bradford City. In ‘The Damned United’, Brian Clough says ‘you can’t manage a team that’s not your own people’. I’m from the North East, but a short drive away from Yorkshire, and therefore the move slightly south to Bradford made sense. Much like Clough moved South to Derby, and Revie moved South to Leeds, my manager is moving South, to bring Bradford back up into the promised land. With all this 70’s/80’s nostalgia, I’ll do my best not to call the Premiership Division 1.
This leaves us in League One, two divisions below the Premiership, and a lot of work to do. Bradford haven’t been in the Premier League since the 2000-01 season, and since their relegation have dropped past The Championship (then called Division 1), followed by yoyo-ing between League 1 and League 2, far too low for a club and a city like Bradford. They’re not a sleeping giant in the same sense as a Leeds United or a Nottingham Forest, but they are certainly too big to be where they are right now. Bradford’s fall from grace was largely as a result of financial issues, and this is something important to consider as the save develops, in terms of keeping the financial stability of the club. I won’t be afraid to spend though (once I can), as back then, managers were still more than willing to open their chequebook, Clough being the prime example (who often got out of difficult runs by signing a few players).
I’ve assessed the squad, and decided who will probably feature heavily in my plans going forward, but for this first season I’m going to make minimal changes. During this period, managers did not make sweeping changes immediately, instead preferring to use the first season to evaluate the players, and decide who to build the team around. Even Brian Clough, who had a reputation as a wheeler dealer type of manager, followed this pattern. This is fine for me, as I usually make minimal signings in the first season, and if I do make any, they’re always to fill gaps in the squad. If we don’t go up this season, it doesn’t bother me. What I want to do is decide who the core of the squad is, and then build around that with future signings.
Initially, we seem to have a fairly good backbone to the side, in that our best players are a centre back, a central midfielder, and a striker. Classic British squad building too, focusing on the spine of the side, and then building around it.
Andrew Davis is our best centre back. He’s got some weaknesses though which is to be expected at this level, particularly composure which is only rated 10 and is one of my most valued attributes. I like my defenders to have composure, and not panic on the ball. We’ve also got Gary Mackenzie on loan from Blackpool, and together they should be a solid (if slow) centre back pairing for this level. Davies is the more comfortable on the ball of the two, so he’ll be asked to cover slightly deeper than MacKenzie and sweep behind the line.
Billy Knott is probably the best player in the team. I see him very much as our organising playmaking midfielder, much like the 70’s and 80’s players like Johnny Giles, Tony Currie, John McGovern, Terry McDermott etc. At 21, he’s still young with plenty of time to develop, and hopefully he can continue this development through to the Premier League. I said in the previous article that I plan to be very loyal to players, much like managers like Revie and Shankly were, and Knott is a prime example of this. If I can (and he doesn’t moan and whinge and ask to move), I’ll stick with him all the way through.
Our best striker is an on loan Jon Stead, and this is probably the weakest area of the team, and the area I’ll look to upgrade first, depending on performances this season. He’s a hardworking striker, and I intend to use him as a Defensive Forward to press opposition backlines, create problems, and lay on passes for his strike partner to finish. If you look back at the 70’s and 80’s, a lot of the strikers are extremely hardworking in terms of defensive pressing, and Stead fits this mould perfectly. Another squad management aspect of this save is I won’t be letting age be a deciding factor on signings. Again, Brian Clough signed a 34 year old Dave Mackay to play Sweeper for his Derby side despite general consensus saying he was done. I’ll be following this pattern. Stead’s contract with Huddersfield is up in the Summer of 2015, so if his loan goes well, I may well bring him in on a free.
For now, I’m happy with the squad, but the main areas that need work are striker and right back. It’s not a desperate need, but a pacy centre back would also help alleviate some of my concerns. However, all of that will come at a later date, because for now, I’ll stick with what I’ve got and see where our strengths really lie.
Anyway, now for some tactics. This is what we’re going to begin with on the right. I know this isn’t ‘4-4-2’ in it’s most classic of forms, but it is 4-4-2, and this fits our side the best, and should keep us strong in the important areas in the centre of the pitch where 4-4-2 can traditionally be exploited. I know it looks like there’s going to be a huge vacuum of space down the left, but there won’t be.
This is highly influenced by Clough’s late 70’s Forest team, particularly in the middle of the park where Martin O’Neill would sit narrow on the right, and feed the ball to the attacking full back Viv Anderson. Here I’ve recreated that on the left side (helped by having a talented attacking full back in Alan Sheehan), but given the Martin O’Neill role much more attacking freedom, as a Central Winger. With the added pressing, he will cover the left side, and if there’s ever any issues, I’ll simply ask him to mark wide anyway.
I’ve got a lot of my favourite roles in there too. The Central Winger, the Roaming Playmaker, the Complete Wing Back, and my favourite role on FM15, the CM-D, to sit deep, play the destroyer role like Billy Bremner and play the ball to our creative midfielders. There’s also a John Robertson like Winger out on the right, in Mark Yeates who is set as a Winger, but also has the ‘cuts inside’ PPM, which should cause havoc for opposition defences, much like Robertson did for Clough and Taylor.
Upfront, the partnership is very basic, and for now, it’s what I’m forced to go with, as neither are particularly cultured strikers. Zoko doesn’t look like a great goalscorer, and Stead isn’t very creative. Ideally, I’ll be looking to replace Zoko with a fast Michael Owen style finisher, and Stead with a creative Tony Woodcock type (Clough’s Forest), who can dribble, pass and unlock defences. I won’t be surprised at all if goals don’t fly in this season, but we’ll see. If they don’t work well, I’ll cut my losses and bring in a new strike partnership for season 2.
Again, I’m not banking on promotion this season, and if we don’t manage it I won’t be too bothered. This is a long term save and there’s no rush to get to the Premiership. The main aim is to start to develop the squad, figure out who the best players are, and more importantly, who are the players that I can take with me up through the divisions.
I’ll update the save once I get to January, hopefully doing well and progressing towards promotion with Bradford. Until then, thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask either in the comments section or on my Twitter (@JLAspey).