The Michael Wood Column

Thursday 14 August, 2003

The problem with Nicky Law and why Geoffrey Richmond never managed England

Back when the Premiership turned sour there was more than a hint of a suggestion that Geoffrey Richmond picked the Bradford City team. Now most people look back at such reporting and scoff at it's faintly ludicrous nature but at the time it sold a few newspapers and made a bit of a splash.

Geoff was a great publicist, he whipped up a frenzy and put ambitions higher and he also ran the club into the ground and nearly buried us. Your view of Richmond depends largely on which side your bread is butter and that's fine with me but regardless of the merits of the man very few people, in fact no one, would say that he had the talent or knowledge to manage a football club into the Premiership.

People have skills in some areas and are weaker in others. As my erstwhile colleague Roland Harris pointed out if Richmond had done what everyone had said then he should be England manager but Richmond's skills laid elsewhere.

As do Nicky Law's.

Do not misunderstand me, Law is a decent team manager despite dropping the ball against Darlington and generally not showing much in the way of tactical acumen, and he is a step above the majority of voices that call out for a team of entirely attacking players in the midfield but his real skils are in evidence before the team takes the field.

Law is a man motivator for one, he gees up the City team like I have never seen and builds team with real character. The 2-2 draw with Norwich City was the latest in many examples of this never say die City attitude that Law has engendered and if you want to know what a football team is like without that thing back to Nicky Law's predecessor Jim Jefferies.

Law, and by extension Law's backroom team, have a good eye for players. Simon Francis is attracting interest from other clubs and while I would never sell him if he did go on the market one would expect a couple of million at least for him. This would be revenue generated by Nicky Law just as the bad midfield that cost us a place in the next round of the League Cup was money lost by Law.

Of the players Law has brought into the club the likes of Francis, Tom Kearney, Ben Muirhead et al look like quality and cost nothing. Compare that to the 1.3m that Paul Jewell flushed down the toilet for Isaiah Rankin or Chris Kamara's criminal waste on John McGinlay. Paul Evans has done little to impress since his early burst at Valley Parade but unlike Kamara's folly from Bolton it is not for the want on effort. He picks out a good player and has never, ever gone anywhere near as low as previously managers who brought us a return of Peter Jackson, Darren Morgan, Darren Tearcy, Steve Gardener, Robert Zabica, Lee Todd, Bruno Rodriguez, Ashley Ward and on and on...

Nicky Law is focused on youth and there is a feeling under Law that the likes of Tom Penford, Kevin Sanasy, Jake Wright and Peter Folkes will not only get a chance but will be some good. The emergence of Simon Francis and Danny Forrest defined last season, compare that to signing Neil Redfearn and Dean Saunders while never giving games to Scott Kerr and Gareth Grant. Kerr and Grant both faded away but then again so would Mark Bower if Law had not blooded him at the end of the season before last and now Bower is regarded as worth a first team place and perhaps Scott and Gareth might have been the same. They might not have been but because the will and the structure to blood them was not there we never found out. As sure as Nicky Law could not see the problems on Tuesday night is the fact that the reforging of the club as a youth team is in no small part down to him.

These are Nicky Law's skills just like tactics are his weakness.

I mention this because talk has started against Nicky Law and while these are not a defence of the manager, they serve to create a context in which to talk about axing the former Chesterfield boss in. If, as some chatter in pubs would have it, we do get rid of the manager then we might get someone who can pick a more balanced midfield but fields a team of quitters (Jim Jefferies), wastes money on bad players (Chris Kamara) or ignores the youth of the club (Paul Jewell) or perhaps all three.

Aside from the obvious, that the culture of sacking managers every couple of years at Valley Parade has brought us very little success in the past 100 years, for my money at the moment Law brings more to the club than is lost with dodgy team issues and those problems are far from intractable. We could sign up a good coach or we could just do for Law what Law does for the likes of Francis and Forrest; acknowledge he is learning his trade and allow him to make mistakes on the way. This is not a 55 year old set in his way Jim Jefferies with whom the best thing to do was to cut our losses, this is a guy who engages everything for his role at Valley Parade and his failures are caused by personal limits, not as in the case of Jefferies, cause he can not be bothered doing things properly.

This could all change, Law could so no progress and in six months or six weeks time it might be clear, as it was with Jefferies, that things are not going to change at which time we have to look at what we would be throwing away in the name of improving the tactical abilities in the dug out but I hope that day does not come because I'm tired of watching managers struggle with other manager's teams and want to see City commit to something for a change.

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