Five candidates to replace David Hopkin at Bradford City

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 25 February 2019, 17:31

David Hopkin's resignation as manager of Bradford City says less about the Scot, who left the Bantams in the relegation zone, and more about the club looking for a fifth manager in a year.

Who is up to the job of keeping them in League One with a three-point gap to safety?

We assess five possible candidates.

1. Michael Flynn

Why he should get the job

The Newport County manager’s most remarkable achievement in league terms was a survival mission in 2016-17.

Michael Flynn took the reigns at Rodney Parade within two months of finishing his playing career, after the team had just lost 4-0 at home to a Leyton Orient side that would end up finishing bottom.

In those circumstances, he cultivated an incredible fighting spirit that saw the Exiles bridge the 11-point gap to stay up on the final day.

It is the way Flynn thrives in adversity, which we have seen more evidence of based on his side’s impressive FA Cup runs over the previous two seasons, which could attract the Bantams board.

Why he shouldn’t

For Flynn to join Bradford, two things would need to happen.

Firstly, Newport would have to be happy to let the man contracted until June 2020 to leave for a compensation fee.

Secondly, Flynn would have to be happy to leave a club at which he currently enjoys legendary status in favour of a relegation battle and potentially a more pressured situation.

Neither of those things are guaranteed and thus Julian Rhodes would be taking a risk in putting time and energy into making that appointment.


The Sack Race’s Verdict

Flynn might be taken by the size of the club and has the advantage of being well-respected there during his playing career. If Bradford are willing to run the risk at this stage of targeting a man but not landing him, then the rewards could be significant.

2. Paul Hurst

Why he should get the job

After taking over at Shrewsbury Town, who were in a situation not dissimilar to the one Bradford are in now back in November 2016, Paul Hurst delivered instant results to secure survival.

Not only that, there is evidence to suggest Hurst has the credentials to take Bradford forward the following season, whichever division that might be.

In each of his last five full seasons as a manager, the team he has been in charge of has never finished below fourth.

Hurst’s most impressive achievement was to take Shrewsbury, pre-season favourites for relegation in 2017-18, into promotion contention, missing out on the top two to giants Blackburn and Wigan, before reaching the Play-Off Final and ultimately losing to Rotherham.

The key to that relative success was fitness.

Salop did not quite have the technical proficiency of some of their competitors, but they more than made up for that by cleverly co-ordinated, and at times ferocious, pressing, which meant they could control games without having much possession.

Why he shouldn’t

For a manager that relies so heavily on teamwork, there is something surprisingly individualistic about Hurst – his last two Play-Off Finals as a manager have been marred by controversial conduct.

After his Grimsby side beat Forest Green to achieve promotion to the EFL in 2016, he brought up the fact that certain fans had doubted him along the way.

Then, of course, the Ipswich situation.

When speaking on the Not The Top 20 Podcast, Hurst did not directly answer whether or not he had cleared his desk before the show-down with Rotherham and said that the initial contact from Ipswich came after that defeat.

Either the 44-year-old was dishonest in that interview, or he recovered very quickly from the pain to get a new job three days later.

In any case, it seems difficult to believe that, going into the Play-Offs, Hurst’s mind was entirely on those three games rather than his longer-term future.

A manager needs to be a reliable figure who people can trust because otherwise, there is a slight risk of relationships breaking down.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

On the plus side, Hurst is one of few managers who is available with, Ipswich aside, an excellent track record; however, it is important that those leading the recruitment process get a clearer sense of his character before deciding whether he is a suitable person to bring into the club.

3. Gary Bowyer

Why he should get the job

There are not too many better ship-steadier’s in the EFL than Bowyer.

Gary Bowyer worked under challenging circumstances at Blackburn, leading them into play-off contention in both of his full seasons in charge, during the Venky’s regime.

After being dismissed, oddly after a three-game unbeaten run, at Ewood Park, Bowyer then took the reigns at Blackpool, leading them to instant promotion from League Two via the Play-Offs, during the Oyston regime.

Bowyer is a very calm character and therefore, the strife at Valley Parade is not necessarily something that will faze him.

Plus, while Hopkin focused largely on improving the fitness of his players, he was found wanting in terms of organization and that is an area where Bowyer is strong.

Yes, he wants hard work from his players, but there is a very clear strategy behind that effort; we would expect Bradford to concede far fewer cheap goals if he took over, especially from set pieces.

Why he shouldn’t

Would he want to join?

Bowyer has arguably shown enough in his career to land a job, if not in the Championship, at a club with strong Championship ambitions.

Realistically, the wide range of issues at Bradford means, even if they stay up this season which is by no means certain, they will not be able to be confident of challenging for promotion in 2019-20.

There is a danger that the Bantams spend a lot of valuable time chasing a manager who does not end up coming in.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

A very good option. If there are signs that he is interested in the position, Bradford should act quickly.

4. Darrell Clarke

Why he should get the job

Darrell Clarke has achieved some excellent things in management.

Not only did Clarke’s Bristol Rovers side, in 2014-15, become the first team in the 21st century to go up from the National League a year after relegation, they then completed back-to-back promotions.

Clarke achieved those things by hitting the refresh button at the club and going back to basics, creating an honest atmosphere and ensuring that every player gave their all for the cause.

Should be able to get the best out of dedicated professionals like Anthony O’Connor and Paul Caddis.

Why he shouldn’t

It might not be especially co-incidental that Clarke’s biggest successes as a manager have come below the division Bradford are currently in.

The Mansfield-born boss appears to have a strong influence on humble, hardworking players who are very keen to preserve a career in professional football and he likes a group he knows he can trust - his success with Bristol Rovers came with the same core of players who won the National League Play-Offs in May 2015.

As that core began to break up, Clarke has either been found wanting in terms of recruitment (in which case one or two other people at Bristol Rovers are responsible for this), or he has not been able to motivate players who are based higher in the English football pyramid.

Quite whether he will be able to coax the best out of enigmatic talents, namely Jack Payne, remains to be seen.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

Clarke would seem an attractive option between now and the end of the season. For the reasons outlined above, he would be a more effective choice of boss for 2019-20 if Bradford were in League Two, than if they stayed up.

5. Gary Jones

Why he should get the job

He would have the fans onside.

Jones showed great leadership qualities at Bradford as a player during the Phil Parkinson era, inspiring the Bantams to reach the League Cup Final in 2012-13 and win promotion from League Two the same year, forming that iconic midfield partnership with Nathan Doyle.

When Bradford have been successful this decade, including the incredible 4-2 FA Cup win at Chelsea in 2014-15 and Play-Off defeats to Millwall in the subsequent two seasons, they have had a core of leaders.

Jones himself, Aaron Davies, Stephen Darby, James Meredith, James Hanson, during the Phil Parkinson era, all helped create a template of what to expect from a Bradford player – hard work, commitment, tenacity, strength of character…

After that, under Stuart McCall, we saw a smattering of leaders with the likes of Reece Burke, Nicky Law, Tony McMahon and Romain Vincelot doing a job while the quality of football improved.

Since McCall left though, the leadership has gone out of the club from top to bottom and that is why they find themselves in this current position.

Gary Jones wouldn’t be a long-term consideration, but he might just play a part in giving the club a sense of identity and re-establishing core values.


Why he shouldn’t

There is no coaching work on Jones’ CV which could be a massive problem.

As well as being able to connect with supporters and get players working hard, it is important that any manager can provide concrete ideas, in and out of possession, to take the club forward and Jones would fall well short in that department.

Plus, there is no evidence to show the 41-year-old wants the job – or even to get into coaching or management.

The Sack Race’s Verdict

We don’t think Jones should be considered as a candidate for the number one position, but inviting him to be part of the coaching staff might not be the worst idea.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
16th February
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