Five reasons why Bradford City should go all out for Michael Flynn
After parting company with Derek Adams, Bradford are after a new manager.
EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton thinks the perfect man for the job is Michael Flynn.
1. He can galvanize a club
When it comes to Flynn, the headline achievement is that he got Newport to two Play-Off Finals in three seasons.
But just as big an accomplishment was not only keeping County up, back in 2016-17, but also galvanizing the club.
Justin Edinburgh fostered a sense of togetherness at Rodney Parade, which was lost somewhat after he left for Gillingham with Jimmy Dack, Terry Butcher, Warren Feeney and Graham Westley all delivering poor results.
The club was an especially toxic place towards the end of Westley’s reign, with the Exiles losing 4-0 at home to fellow strugglers Leyton Orient in early March, leaving them 11 points off safety with 12 to play.
Flynn came in and brought the whole club together, delivering 22 points from 12 games and, thanks to Mark O’Brien’s 89th minute goal against Notts County on the final day, they stayed up on the final day at Hartlepool’s expense, prompting scenes of delirium at the Parade.
Although Bradford are not in a dogfight, there are parallels between their position and the one Newport were in back in 2017.
Derek Adams, though previously a highly successful manager – especially at this level – endured a strained relationship with supporters and made little attempt to engage, presiding over a frosty atmosphere.
Flynn will instantly repair that divide between fans and management, and he’s used to bridging a big gap with not long to play.
2. He has an association with Bradford
History with Bradford City should not be the number one priority for managerial appointments, because Stuart McCall’s third and probably final spell in charge did not go according to plan.
That said, it should not count for nothing, either.
Flynn played 91 games for the Bantams, scoring 10 goals, one of which came against Leeds United – despised in those parts – which would certainly not do him any harm.
The 41-year-old is remembered fondly at Valley Parade as someone who cared deeply for the club during a challenging time, so fans will be on side early on.
On top of that, circumstances at Newport were such that Flynn had to at times manage the club as well as manage the first team, which will come in handy at Bradford.
Although the Bantams have a CEO in Ryan Sparks who is very popular with supporters and doing an excellent job on the commercial and communications aspect, he does not have a huge footballing background.
For that reason, it could be important to have a manager in Flynn who can take on elements of a role that a sporting director might expect to, as well as being a key influence in the recruitment process.
3. He got Newport into the Play-Offs twice
County had what can be presumed to be a bottom six budget for much of Flynn’s tenure, given that their average attendance was always in the bottom half of League Two and there was never much external investment.
With that in mind, it is extraordinary that in two of the Pyll-born boss’ four seasons in charge, he led the club to a Play-Off Final.
In 2019, there had been nothing to choose at Wembley between Newport and Tranmere, who secured League One football thanks to Connor Jennings’ winner in extra-time.
Two years later, the Exiles had by far the better of the game against Morecambe, who were victorious owing to a highly dubious penalty decision.
The 41-year-old is extremely unlucky, therefore, not to have a promotion on his CV and the history of reaching Play-Off Finals will appeal to the Bantams, in their current situation.
4. He can maximize existing personnel
Bradford should not give up on this season.
They still have 45 points to play for and the eight-point gap to the Play-Offs is bridgeable if the team can have a successful March, during which competitors Swindon, Port Vale and Newport all travel to West Yorkshire.
If the BD8 club were to plump for a connoisseur of possession football, they would have to work with a squad recruited for a more direct style.
With the best coaching in the world, no manager can turn steady and reliable Luke Hendrie into a Josh Key, convert sliding-tackle enthusiast Matty Foulds into a Nicky Cadden, aggressive Yann Songo’o into a Brandon Cooper: it’s not who they are.
These are players who have a very specific set of skills, so asking them to change their game completely would harm Bradford’s Play-Off chances rather than help them.
Part of the reason Flynn’s County sides fared so well in the FA Cup - pulling off upsets against Leeds, Tottenham, Middlesbrough and Leicester - was because they had a battling mentality that coaxed from supporters the unique spirit that had previously laid dormant in that corner of Cymru.
On top of the intelligent structure of the team against the ball, they also had a combative side - an aggressive streak - which Premier League and Championship sides struggled to handle.
Flynn can turn Foulds into the best no-nonsense left-back in League Two, he can get Songo’o dominating penalty boxes alongside organiser Paudie O’Connor, who will be empowered to take on a key leadership role.
In fact, with more affirming man management, Levi Sutton could easily go from being one of the most underrated midfielders in the division to one of the best.
Sutton is a diligent, flexible operator capable of slotting into a variety of different roles and systems; his work off the ball is perfect for team shape but the former Scunthorpe midfielder is also proving an accomplished ball-carrier and somebody who can bring Andy Cook into the game.
Flynn will get the best out of Cook by encouraging the likes of Jamie Walker, Matty Daly and Nathan Delfouneso to feed off the target man, who would almost always have support under the Welshman’s guidance.
For all the concerns over the style of football at Valley Parade this season, it’s not the direct play that is the fundamental reason why they are underperforming: instead, it’s arguably not finishing the chances, as well as the question marks over Adams’ man-management style.
Flynn has had to deliver competitive results on a muddy Rodney Parade pitch – shared by two rugby teams - and he proved, in 2018-19, that he can build an effective direct side if circumstances dictate that he must.
5. He can also evolve the style
For Bradford fans who would prefer not to have to crane their necks every time they have a goal-kick, though, Flynn can also work for you long-term.
Towards the back-end of his time at Newport, he sought to evolve the style.
The direct football that worked so well in 2018-19 was less effective the following campaign, especially with target man Jamille Matt starting fewer games, as County scored 32 team league goals in 36.
For 2020-21, therefore, Flynn converted midfield controller Matty Dolan into a half-back in the middle of a defensive trio, tasked with progressing the ball to playmaker Josh Sheehan and others from deep.
Sheehan flourished under Flynn, being named in the League Two Team of the Year for 2020-21 before earning a big move to Bolton.
Before working with the former midfielder, Sheehan had struggled to make a name for himself in senior football, but Flynn got his compatriot ticking and the hope is that similar work can be done with Elliot Watt and Callum Cooke.
They may be slightly different players, with Watt preferring to dictate from deep – closer, perhaps, to the Dolan mould - and Cooke wanting to influence games further forward – a touch more like Sheehan stylistically - but both have technical potential.
Neither are quite hitting the heights they might have hoped to, but there is reason to think either or both could resurge under the guidance of Flynn, who can get the best out of different types of players and is the ultimate pragmatist at this level.
Achieving top seven finishes with two different styles points to Flynn being an extremely versatile coach with a big future in the game.
Given that he is currently unemployed for what could be the last time in a long time, Bradford have a rare opportunity to appoint Flynn without needing to pay compensation: surely an opportunity too good to refuse?