The gamble Bradford just had to take

Desperate times called for desperate measures in Yorkshire
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The Independent Online

THe Majority of questions circulating around Bradford last week had a recurring theme. Does he really fall out with most of his managers? Is he really such a tough cookie? Does he really cause friction in the dressing room? Controver-sial and impulsive, the club's chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, is not the easiest person to please. Stan Collymore might be a dream in comparison.

THe Majority of questions circulating around Bradford last week had a recurring theme. Does he really fall out with most of his managers? Is he really such a tough cookie? Does he really cause friction in the dressing room? Controver-sial and impulsive, the club's chairman, Geoffrey Richmond, is not the easiest person to please. Stan Collymore might be a dream in comparison.

Some will feel Richmond is taking a huge gamble by signing the Leicester reject until the end of the season, but the truth is that Bradford have nothing to lose. They are currently locked in the bottom three, have scored only four goals in their 10 League games this season, face their arch-rivals Leeds at home today, and are now favourites for relegation.

Collymore's arrival can hardly make matters worse. As Richmond says: "This is a legitimate gamble." Indeed, both he and the board are well aware that if Bradford want to prolong their most unlikely of sojourns in the promised land of the Premiership, they need some inspiration.

The choice of Collymore as saviour might seem a little bizarre but it is, in truth, wholly in keeping with the club's recruitment policy. During pre-season, Richmond signed two high-profile and temperamental foreigners, Benito Carbone and Dan Petrescu. Collymore, somehow, neatly completes the triangle. On their day, any one of the three is more than capable of winning a match single-handed. Equally, though, each is just as likely to under-perform.

"I really would like to stick two fingers up at everyone who's criticised me," Collymore said on Friday. "What happened in the past has been well-documented but all I want to do is play football again and coming to Bradford is a great challenge." It will now fall to Richmond, and his under-fire manager, Chris Hutchings, to try to get the best out of him.

One player who they can always count on for that is Stuart McCall. Now 36, the central midfielder is in his second spell with the West Yorkshire club, having rejoined them in 1998, following his 10-year exile at Everton and then Rangers. As in his first Bradford career (1980-88), McCall is the heartbeat of the team. Results have not gone their way, but the former Scotland international has been instrumental in maintaining a harmonious dressing room. "I guess I'm a bit of a bridge between management and players," McCall, who is combining playing and coaching duties since the summer, said. "Team spirit is still good, but obviously players are not happy when they're losing."

McCall added: "We've been short on confidence, mainly because of our lack of firepower. But I believe that once we get one good result, we'll be on our way. We have the potential to do well."

Today's derby against David O'Leary's Leeds would be the perfect opportunity for Bradford to kick-start their season. "Most people don't give us a chance," McCall said, "but we've actually tended to do better against higher-placed teams. We beat Chelsea, for example, but lost to Southampton.

"It's frustrating, but we're capable of putting it right. To be honest, there's been so much said about the manager and Stan all week that we're just looking forward to getting on the pitch and doing our talking there."

Scoring goals, or not in their case, has been Bradford's biggest problem. Hutchings, though, is confident that the addition of Collymore will help. "Signing Stan has given everyone a real buzz," he said. "When you talk about Stan Collymore, you are talking about a special player. I know Stan has been given the chance of a fresh start at other clubs and the chance to prove people wrong, but I am not worried about his past. As far as I am concerned every signing is a gamble, whether you talk about Stan Collymore, Benito Carbone, or Dan Petrescu. You never know what will happen or how the player will perform."

Perhaps we are missing the point. What is amazing is not that Bradford have pinned their hopes on such unpredictable talents, but rather that Bradford have been able to sign them at all. Richmond showed again that he is a hands-on chairman when he publicly criticised Hutchings through a statement released on Monday, in which he warned that "an immediate improvement was required". But then, the larger than life, self-made millionaire is entitled to his opinion. Seven years ago, the club were in serious financial trouble and, were it not for his intervention, Bradford City would be members of the Nationwide, rather than the Premier, League.

This is Richmond's little dream, his show. And Collymore is just another one of the actors.

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