By Andy Szabo (Bradford City fan).
Ritchie Jones arrived at Bradford City in July 2011 with something of a fanfare, against a backdrop of turmoil within our club. Whilst the 2012/13 season has brought a level of success and broken records that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ardent of Bantams fans at the start of the season, the preceding 10 years have brought nothing but a continuing cycle of decline and misery. The summer of 2011 was to prove symptomatic of why we’ve struggled over recent years – Peter Jackson had been confirmed as the new manager after successfully ensuring the clubs league survival following a temporary spell in charge during the final weeks of the previous season. A newly created director of football role was also introduced and an apparent strategy of reducing the playing budget, whilst looking to recruit raw, hungry young players that could be developed over time, seemed to be the way forward. However, after a string of poor results in the opening weeks of the season, alarm bells started to ring and both manager and director of football were removed as early as August. In came a new manager and backroom staff, new budget and new philosophy (that would ultimately prove to be successful). Such a period of upheaval might be considered something of a mitigating factor as to why Ritchie’s time with us ultimately proved to be underwhelming.
His arrival generally met with approval from City fans. We’d been in need of someone to add quality and energy to our central midfield for some time, and Ritchie certainly had the pedigree after his grounding at Manchester United. He also had a number of appearances in the Championship and League One to his name. The main area of concern came from whisperings of both Oldham and Hartlepool fans, who suggested that Ritchie could be prone to the odd tantrum in the dressing room and may have brought with him something of an ego.
His early performances were promising and whilst team results were poor, Ritchie’s performances indicated that there may be much more to come from him. After the arrival of Phil Parkinson as manager in early September, accompanied by the recruitment of better players over the following weeks, team performances improved slightly and Ritchie looked like he could go on to play an important role in the side. He clearly had energy and technique, his passing skills were good and he rarely gave away possession. However, over time a number of supporters started to question his value in terms of end product. He rarely found himself on the score sheet and his passing skills, though tidy, were rarely of the kind that allowed us to open up the opposition and create chances. Throughout 2011/12, our results were inconsistent and we flittered between striving for mid-table security and looking over our shoulder at those dreaded relegation spots. Our team were often on the wrong side of opposition sides who seemed to over-run and take points from us through sheer grit and desire. The question that started to be raised among fans was; were we struggling to get the best out of Ritchie because of the inconsistencies and short-comings of those around him, or was he one of those who flattered to deceive?
In the pre-season of 2012/13, much of our squad was over-hauled. The manager seemed to be going for a different type of player and approach. A smaller squad with more quality, and more importantly, players of the right character to compete with the uglier side of League Two football, was put in place. Ritchie found himself out of the side on a regular basis and whilst some fans were keen to see whether he’d be better equipped to play with team-mates of a higher quality than he’d had the previous year, the reality was that the midfielders we had on our books this year demonstrated much more in terms of impact and end product than Ritchie had the previous season. Added to which, it became increasingly clear that he simply wasn’t the managers ‘cup of tea’. His rare appearances brought endeavour and a tidy enough display with the ball, but without any compelling evidence to stake a claim for a regular place. Eventually, Ritchie’s contract was terminated by mutual consent in January 2013 (6 months early) and Ritchie secured a short-term deal with Rochdale, where he also struggled to nail down a place. He was released from Rochdale at the end of last season and is once again looking for a club. He is currently in the United States where he has been offered a trial with MLS team San Jose Earthquakes.
All in all, Ritchie is a decent League Two player and will most likely find a new club for next season. However, I’d be surprised if he were to carve out what’s left of his career at a higher level.
Andy is a member of Bradford City forum Claret & Banter.
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