David Baldwin will make time for everyone

There is a strong argument to make that it was Bradford City’s lowest modern day moment. May 2007, and the Bantams were relegated to League Two, just six years after being part of the Premier League elite.

Twice the club had almost gone to the wall, somehow limping through scary periods of administration. The effects ran deep. If ever there was an important decision to make, Bradford seemingly got it wrong and fell further. How much worse can it get?

That was the backdrop which David Baldwin walked into after a new investor into the club – Mark Lawn – asked him to spend six weeks at Valley Parade on a consultancy basis to try to revive City’s commercial revenue. Baldwin worked for free, and so impressed were Lawn and co-owner Julian Rhodes that he was quickly invited to stay on longer.

Weeks turned to months, months turned to years. By 2009 he was at least receiving a modest salary, and the club were getting tremendous value.

Baldwin was actually in early retirement prior to Lawn’s proposal. Having successfully built up and sold a recruitment business, he was living a relaxing life in Spain – long working days seemingly behind him. Given the title of Bradford City’s ‘Head of Operations’, an increasing amount of responsibility was thrown his way, as he set about reviewing and improving every element of the club.

By 2012, that even stretched to working with the club’s manager, Phil Parkinson, on signing players. Baldwin became Chief Executive and the public face of the Bantams. An articulate, engaging speaker who always looked to sell and promote the best interests of the club, he was someone you felt proud to represent us when speaking to the media.

My first direct dealing with Baldwin occurred in 2010. I was unhappy about a Christmas season ticket offer being run, and had emailed the generic Bradford City contact email address. Amazingly, within a few hours Baldwin was ringing my mobile and we had a great discussion. He outlined the reasons behind the promotion, and the benefits it brought to the club and supporters. I ended up feeling so convinced that I almost bought one on the spot.

This is typical of the man – and you can expect a similar approach at Burnley.

Baldwin has never been a person to hide behind other people or to ignore supporters. I have lost count of the number of similar stories to my own that I have heard: many fans were even invited to the ground for a face-to-face chat with him. It probably sounds clichéd and false to say that he cares what fans think – but he genuinely does. He will make time for everyone, and he will take feedback on board.

In 2012, Baldwin launched a Bradford City Supporters Board that enables the club to hear first hand what supporters think; and to communicate with them in an open and honest manner. I know fans who are part of this board, and they cannot speak highly enough of the value that it brings and the interest Baldwin shows in it. This really isn’t a box-ticking exercise that generates some PR: the Supporters Board and the club work very closely together to improve the experience for all fans.

As editor of a high profile Bradford City website – widthofapost.com – I have been fortunate to build up a good professional friendship with Baldwin, and have carried out a series of interviews with him for the site over the last three years. I’d like to think that these interviews were mutually beneficial, as I was able to provide him with the platform and space to outline the club’s strategic approach, and reasoning behind decisions that were debated by supporters. From our point of view, it certainly helped our readership figures and credibility.

And he remained someone who would always pick up the phone to me, and go out of his way to help in different ways. After our final interview was completed at Oldham’s Boundary Park prior to his final game before he departed for Burnley, he thanked me for always being fair and accurate. He even promised to do another piece with us at the end of the season, to share how his time at Turf Moor is going.

Baldwin was at Valley Parade for just over seven years and his impact can be seen on virtually every aspect of the club. It clearly wasn’t the plan when he first joined, but in essence Baldwin had a blank canvas that meant he was able to transform the way Bradford City operates. Success on the field did take a while to arrive, but seasons like 2012/13 – where Bradford reached the League Cup final and earned promotion back to League One – were the result of careful planning and long-term structural changes that Baldwin had more than played his part in shaping.

To an outsider, it seems unlikely he will have quite that impact at Burnley, simply because you are evidently in a much stronger position on and off the field and less will need to be changed. But in a way, that could mean Baldwin makes a more meaningful difference in the areas that he is responsible for. The real shame at Bradford was that there weren’t three David Baldwins working for the club – the one we did have simply had too much to look after. At Burnley, he can focus his efforts on a smaller number of areas, which should have a tangible effect.

He will be missed at Bradford City – not simply for what he did, but for the great man he is. You’d struggle to find a City supporter with a bad word to say about him, and that to me is the rarest of qualities in football.

Look after him. And if he’s not looking after you, get in touch and tell him – and you will find that he is receptive to hearing what you have to say.

What would you like to see Baldwin change? Comment below.

Arsenal: Sanchez reliance is unhealthy… but it works

For Arsenal, our biggest threat is a bit too obvious heading into the game against Burnley. An over-reliance on Alexis Sanchez might be unhealthy, but it’s working for the moment.

In truth, Sanchez has ensured Arsenal’s start to the season hasn’t been disastrous.

After the hysteria of thrashing Manchester City in the Community Shield, the belief from the fans and players has slowly evaporated. Only in games against Galatasaray and Aston Villa have we comfortably won this season. It’s not the Arsenal we are used too – and despite hosting a winless Burnley on Saturday, many fans aren’t as confident as you’d expect.

Burnley might look to take advantage of our damaged defence that includes numerous casualties.

Another weakness is the base of the Arsenal midfield. Whether it’s Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta, neither player contributes as much as they should. With an off-form Per Mertesacker and left-back Nacho Monreal set to start at the heart of the defence, there’s no doubt that Arsenal’s weaknesses right now is straight down the middle.

Our strengths lie in Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez. Both have helped transform a very predictable attack. If Alexis plays at number 10 again, then he could really cause trouble. Both players won’t give you any time on the ball and help implement a system where we sometimes press from the very front.

There’s a lack of urgency, even at home in Arsenal’s play at the moment. Despite an array of attacking talent, Arsenal are actually struggling to break teams down at the moment.

What can you expect from us? We’ll have a lot of the ball. Arsenal will inevitably dominate possession in this game, but don’t worry – we aren’t doing a lot with it at the moment. One thing you can be sure of is we will battle right until the very last second of the game. Many times this season the Gunners have nicked a point, or all three, right at the death.

Hopefully we see better football at the Emirates than we have of late on Saturday, and my fingers are crossed for no injuries.

Oli writes for Fresh Arsenal, and you can catch him on Twitter at @OliPriceBates.

Can we surprise Arsenal? Let us know in the comments below.

Everton: The story so far

After David Moyes left there was a worry that Everton’s yearly top ten finishes were under threat, and there was a nervousness when Bill Kenwright invested his trust in a man who’d just got his side relegated.

But all the worries were misplaced. Roberton Martinez led us to our best finish since 2008/9 and our highest points total since we won the league since 86/87. That earned us a trip to Europe, albeit not in the competition that 72 points would normally get you, playing a style of football that led many to claim that Martinez had reopened the famed ‘School of Science.’

Then over the summer we added midfield lynchpin Gareth Barry on a permanent deal, the mercurial talent of Muhamed Besic, smashed our transfer record to bring back Romelu Lukaku and then truly entered cloud-cuckoo land by signing the actual Samuel Eto’o.

But it hasn’t quite gone to plan. Before the season began we lost Ross Barkley for eight weeks, and what followed was a series of poor defensive performances in unconvincing draws and then an embarrassing home defeat against Chelsea. A defence that was the third stingiest in the league last season had all of a sudden sprung more leaks than a Edward Snowden hard drive, and key players like James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman missed time.

To compound matters, two of the brightest spots in a patchy season have been struck down by long term injury as Kevin Mirallas and John Stones are both out for a good while.

But things have started to look a bit better in the last few weeks. A positive performance at Old Trafford did not get the result it deserved, while a week later Aston Villa were convincingly dispatched 3-0 at Goodison.

As well as that, we now top our Europa League group after a 4-1 victory over Wolfsburg and two away draws in Lille and Krasnodar. Ross Barkley has returned to the side like he was never away, and McCarthy and Coleman are both back and there is a growing sense of confidence that Everton are getting somewhere back to the form we showed last year.

Key players

The full-backs

Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman might well the best full-back pairing in the league. Solid in defence, it is going forward where they do the most damage. Their marauding up and down the flanks is Everton’s best attacking weapon, and they go forward with the knowledge that the screening Barry and McCarthy will cover their advances. Burnley will have their hands full with both of them. Leighton Baines is also a free-kick specialist.

James McCarthy

There were a lot of quizzical looks from some Everton fans when Martinez spent £13m on McCarthy on deadline day, but his performances have shown that he would have been a steal at twice the price. There is not a blade of grass uncovered by the time the game is over, and his break up play and cover for the aforementioned full backs make him the foundation on which everything Everton do is built.

Ross Barkley

The Golden Boy of British football (at least on Merseyside) has hit the ground running after eight weeks out with injury, playing a key role in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. He’ll play in the hole behind Lukaku and is strong on the ball, deadly when running at players and the beating heart of the Everton attack.

Concerns

It would be churlish to write an entire piece without talking a little bit about weaknesses.

The centre backs

Through injury and poor form, Everton have operated somewhat of a revolving door at centre back and the results have not been pretty. Until Sunderland well and truly wet the bed last week, Everton had easily the worst defence in the league. Two clean sheets in a row have helped, but there is still a real weakness at the back that could be exploited.

Romelu Lukaku

This will seem an odd one, given his status as our record signing and his phenomenal goal record, but Romelu is still young and relatively raw. When he is on form he is nigh-on unplayable. When he isn’t, he sometimes looks like he can’t trap a bag of cement. If Burnley face Lukaku, they are in trouble. If they face Lukrapu, then Everton’s attack can be a little blunter.

Lukas Jutkiewicz

For the Burnley fans reading this, you’re probably having a good laugh. Why on earth would I be worried about HIM?! I’ll tell you why. Because he used to play for Everton and is in the middle of a goal drought. The script is basically written. We might as well start 1-0 down.

Prediction

The leagues joint worse attack vs the leagues third worst defence? Something has to give, but I think that Everton are just starting to find their rhythm this season and will overcome a spirited Burnley. Burnley 1-3 Everton

West Ham: A trip to Turf Moor

A trip to Turf Moor, to a team who have yet to pick up a win and are struggling to find their feet?

Normally, for the last – well.. for as long as I’ve been supporting West Ham – I’d have been fretting. However we have turned over a new leaf quite drastically, in that we can actually attack now. Attacking which more often than not leads to scoring too!

I don’t mean to sound harsh but I can’t see past a West Ham win today.

That’s not arrogance, just acknowledgment that you are struggling to score, whereas we are scoring for fun. Though if you can defend well and stifle our attack then we may grow more and more doubtful and be easier to pick off – as is the normal West Ham way.

Personally, I cannot put into words how chuffed I am that Matty Taylor will miss out. All last season I kept bleating on about him scoring a wonder goal for us before he left – and when he left I had a god awful feeling he’d definitely go on to score that against us. As is the ex-Hammer curse.

You’ve got good players in your squad, although with the double whammy of Danny Ings and Sam Vokes being out any team would struggle. Much as we did when Andy Carroll was injured leaving us with our equivalent to your Marvin Sordell – Carlton Cole.

I don’t think you spent as wisely as the other two promoted teams that came up with you, though they obviously have a lot more money behind them as clubs so that’s to be expected.

The majority of your players are still finding their feet, as is Sean Dyche. He is a very good manager and I’m sure he’ll find his way as to coping with the Premier League. Some of your key players are out or injured, so once that’s sorted things will start to undoubtedly look better.

The key to ‘getting going’ is getting that first win, just save it for the game after us please!

Stuart writes for fellow Football Blogging Awards finalist Iron Views. You can vote for us both if you like.

What’s your prediction for the game? Comment below.

Baggies are looking forward to Burnley match

I’m looking forward to this one.

Albion have been on a slightly positive upturn following a 1-0 win and defensive masterclass at Spurs last weekend, which was followed up by a convincing cup win against Hull City on Wednesday.

A completely different Albion starting XI played in midweek and I remember thinking at the time that man for man the side really wasn’t ‘weakened’ as such. It just shows the size of the squad required for the top flight in modern football.

Alan Irvine has got us playing effective football in the last two games which is a contrast to the previous five. The former Preston North End boss has hardly been flavour of the month since his shock appointment but hopefully with results now looking a bit more positive he will be given a chance to shows us his managerial skills.

In terms of Albion players to look out for I’d say that our new signing Sebastian Blanco is one to watch, should he break in to the starting XI or appear from the bench. Everything good that happened against Hull City appeared to go through the Argentinian international.

I’ve no doubt Burnley fans will be looking at this game as one you could take points from.

You have been impressively solid at the back but up-front you’ve lacked goals, so there’s no doubt you’ll put that right at The Hawthorns on Sunday despite news that Danny Ings isn’t quite ready yet.

I just hope we can score more than you!

This game marks a return to the Baggies for former fans favourite Steven Reid and should he get any game time you’ll see him get a fantastic reception. He was nothing but a true gent during his time in B71.

I’m also glad that a not-so-glamarous fixture has been picked for the Sky cameras. It would seem that in recent years unless we’ve been playing a top-4 side or unless it’s a crunch game we’ve been well and truly ignored by our broadcasting friends.

Good luck in the hunt for safety, just not at our expense! Enjoy the game on Sunday, and if you have and questions regarding pubs or ground related stuff you can find me at @BaggiesFacts.

Prediction: Albion win 2-1.

What do you reckon? Will Alan Irvine continue to impress? Comment below.

Crystal Palace v Burnley: There will be goals

Four games in and, truth be told, the pressure is already on for Crystal Palace.

Even during last season’s disastrous start – that saw the Eagles bottom of the league after 10 games with just three points and no manager – we had still managed to get a win under our belt by this point.

A 3-1 win over Sunderland at Selhurst at the end of August looked like it might be the catalyst for a decent stab at staying up – but a terrible run of results and Ian Holloway’s departure left us with less chance of staying up than our co-chairman Steve Parish going five minutes without being on TV. Of course Keith Millen babysat for a month before Tony Pulis arrived and the rest is a Premier League Manager of the Year trophy.

So whereas the team returned from the international break at this point last season feeling fairly confident that things might be ok, with three points from three games on the board things are weirdly more pessimistic this time around. And that despite the brilliant finish to last season. Just one point gained – and that only courtesy of a 95th minute equaliser at Newcastle – a new manager and more turmoil in the last few weeks than an episode of Eastenders has left everyone at Selhurst feeling a bit seasick.

But a win over Burnley would do a lot to steady the ship in choppy waters. I’m not convinced it will be a straight forward result and there’s already pressure, as it’s clearly a must-win game despite the season only being four games old. But such is the desire for clubs like Palace to stay in the top flight that points need to be grabbed wherever they can and as desperately as contestants at the end of the Crystal Maze.

I expect two of the three deadline day signings to start: Zeki Fryers at left-back and reported Burnley target James McArthur in central midfield. He will definitely be joined in there by Aussie behemoth Mile Jedinak and possibly Joe Ledley, who has a slight injury.

I’m sure there will be goals. If Palace’s season so far was a movie it would be Josh Brolin as Neil Warnock in ‘There Will Be Goals’.

So far the Eagles have scored eight and conceded eight. Both sides have scored in every league game Palace have competed in this season. So expect there to be more on Saturday. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if it was similar to the last time Burnley came to Selhurst and the two sides played out an entertaining seven-goal thriller (with us edging it 4-3).

That was the day when Wilf Zaha really came to life and Palace fans really began to sit up and notice him. That was the day we thought ‘hang on, this lad could take us up’. He scored twice, the first an example of sheer power and speed to outpace the full-back and slot home. The second a display of tricky footwork and a poked finish (although that one will have to also go down as fairly rubbish defending and goalkeeping).

Zaha is now back at Palace after a very disappointing spell at Manchester United with a point to prove. If he can repeat the sort of form he showed last time against Burnley then Palace fans could be the happier come 5pm. Tease.

Jim is from the excellent Palace fanzine, blog and podcast Five Year Plan. There’s a new issue on sale outside the ground on Saturday for £1.50.

Will there be goals? Can Burnley get a first win? Comment below.

Chalobah will slot in seamlessly

So Nathaniel Chalobah finally gets the stage that his talent deserves with a loan spell at Burnley.

The Chelsea Academy product has spent a few seasons on loan in the Championship with varying degrees of success. However, after a summer spent in the gym and working on his game he looks set to leave behind some niggling growing pains to assert himself in the heart of Burnley’s midfield.

Comfortable as a ball playing centre-half or box-to-box midfielder, Burnley should expect Chalobah to slot into the midfield seamlessly. This is ultimately where his future lies. From a Chelsea perspective there is still a space in the squad for an athletic box-to-box presence and Chalobah must now play with that goal in mind. From my early look at Burnley, I would say this is an area of weakness and one Nathaniel’s signing can address.

His biggest strength comes from his technical ability. He has always added a touch of class on the ball. Capable of keeping things both the neat and tidy and then making some of the more difficult things look simple. Playing him as a definitive holding midfielder does limit his ability to break forward with the ball, but he is adroit in this role. His range of passing and ability to knit play together should be huge assets as Burnley look to build this season. In terms of a complete package he has both the physical capacity and technical nous to really excel. It is just about him consistently putting it all together.

While he is lovely on the ball, more importantly, Chalobah remains a great tackler. With the ever increasing artistry found in the holding role, it will be a welcome addition to note that Chalobah can mix it if required. He has spent a lot of this summer undergoing strength training to overcome the obvious growing pains he encountered last season. However, if pre-season is anything to go by he looks able to cope with the physical demands of regular adult football.

He will have been disappointed with his loan spells last season. Given the almost unanimous praise he received while at Watford, his spells at Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough flitted between being below average to fair. He was moved from centre-back to midfield frequently and a spate of minor injuries appeared to interrupt his flow. The Forest loan appeared a poor move from the outset as the club were miles away from the type of football Chalobah had been playing. He did improve at ‘Boro, but could not hold down a role in one position.

Chalobah is an incredibly confident player and will frequently try things that may or may not come off. He will learn quickly under Dyche’s tuition that ball retention is key and I hope him simplifying his game in places leads to more consistent performances. He is young, will make mistakes and will try things, but the benefit of playing him regularly far outweighs any potential growing pains.

You are signing an extremely motivated young midfielder who is absolutely dying to make it at Chelsea. That desire means he knows he must run through brick walls for Burnley. His energy, drive and quality will enable you to play in any way Dyche sees fit. His long strides are superb on the counter-attack and he is equally comfortable having to dig in and sit deep. A threat from set pieces with a great long-range strike, he will look to add ten or so goals from midfield.

I have very high hopes for Chalobah on loan. He is at a great club with an extremely honest work ethic, which should get the best out of his talents. Undoubtedly he will be under pressure to perform and have responsibility placed on his shoulders. This can only be a good thing for a player who has captained Chelsea in every meaningful age group. If Chalobah finds consistency and slots in as his talent dictates he should, you have got yourselves a diamond of a midfielder.

He, above all else, will want to show that last year was a slight blip in his career path. More importantly he wants to show Chelsea that he belongs at this level. That motivation will serve him well.

Expect good things from him because he has all the tools to make a huge impact at Turf Moor this season. I wish him the best of luck and hopefully he helps cement your place in the Premier League for next season.

Joe writes for Chelsea blog Plains of Almeria and can also be found on Twitter @JoeTweeds.

What’s your reaction to the Chalobah signing? Comment below.

Opposition view: Mourinho has changed mentality

It has been a revolutionary summer at Chelsea.

With the departures of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard the well-established core is down to the last vestiges. Petr Čech may well leave before the window shuts as heir apparent Thibaut Courtois stakes his claim to become Chelsea’s number one.

Didier Drogba is almost a mythical presence in the Chelsea dressing room, but his star has faded with age and is likely to see cameo appearances at best. That leaves the much maligned John Terry as the last member of a dominant spine to truly be considered an automatic starter.

For Chelsea fans this summer has naturally been met with some caution. We have, after all, relied upon the talents of Lampard and Cole for years. With players moving clubs with unerring regularity to see that sort of longevity is refreshing and rare.

Drogba’s return has been met with a general sense that he is here to coach and lead, rather than dominate as he did during his pomp. We must now look to an increasingly young squad in search of the next player to raise their hand and adopt that winning mentality.

I suspect at the time of writing this that Chelsea’s transfer activity this summer is not quite complete. Ideally if we could find a Sunday League team willing to take a punt on the forlorn Fernando Torres, we would arguably be all the better for it.

We still lack the sheer breadth of firepower that Manchester City have in abundance. Manchester United will surely bounce back this season and possess proven Premier League quality in Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Even Arsenal’s much maligned Olivier Giroud netted over 20 times in all competitions last season. Chelsea appear to be pinning their hopes on the broad shoulders of Diego Costa.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international has looked extremely good in pre-season. The usual caveats apply, but it has been so long since a Chelsea striker actually looked like a consistent threat that his pre-season form is very positive. For those who saw him in the World Cup and wondered what the fuss was about, this season should hopefully see him remind everyone just how good he can be. Playing in a side that will utilise all of his numerous strengths, rather than negate the advantages of a natural striker in a false-nine system, should see Costa shine.

There is a streak of malevolence to Costa that will endear him to Chelsea fans, but naturally provoke ire from the opposition. His is gritty and robust, menacing and tenacious; a great goalscorer as opposed to a scorer of great goals.

Once Costa settles and he becomes an established part of this Chelsea set-up the goals should come. We have already seen in pre-season how his exceptional movement has at times solved our biggest problem from last season. Namely the tempo and pace of our passing game being utterly pedestrian.

If Costa provides the brute force then the signing of Cesc Fàbregas provides some much needed guile and technical class in midfield. There is history between the Spaniard and Chelsea, which provoked some consternation at his arrival. Seen very much as an Arsenal/Barcelona player and not exactly effusive with praise for Chelsea it seemed a little bit of an odd match.

However, some cameo performances during pre-season have offered a glimpse of exactly why Chelsea decided to sign him.

Arguably our biggest issue last season was ironically breaking down teams who parked the proverbial bus. We lacked the technical ability from midfield, particularly when it came to hitting incisive passes that could open teams up.

Countless times we would look devoid of ideas because no one in central midfield could find a killer pass or even quickly move the ball to someone dangerous. Fàbregas’ range of passing has already been in evidence this pre-season.

A return to a league that suits him and a team that plays to his strength should reignite his career. He might be our most important signing.

Filipe Luis completes Chelsea’s trio of signings likely to play a significant role in first team affairs this season. He offers Eden Hazard a natural foil, overlapping presence and defensive stability. Luis could be a huge asset in terms of freeing up Hazard as he is naturally left-footed and more attack-minded than Azpilicueta

There are times when a simple overlap would make Hazard twice as dangerous, but it was so infrequent last season that he became double-teamed regularly. That should now change.

The biggest switch may actually be in the mentality of Mourinho. He has spoken about establishing a core of English talent from the academy, which may or may not actually transpire.

What is truthful and without a hint of bias is that Chelsea have the best academy in the country. The current holders of the FA Youth Cup and the U21 League Champions, often playing with a team far younger than their opponents, the future has been bright for some time. Will we finally see some of this excellent crop of youngsters come through?

For those with an interest in young English footballers keep an eye out for Lewis Baker this season. At Chelsea from the age of ten, it is incredible to watch Baker’s two-footedness in the flesh. He takes set-pieces with either foot and has scored frequently from free-kicks in this fashion.

Extremely comfortable on the ball, he scores goals and makes them. He has the look of an accomplished number ten and the passing range and vision to hurt any level of opposition he has played against.

I fully expect Mourinho to be a lot freer in terms of his team selection and tactics this season. He has already hinted that he will let his full-backs bomb on to join attacks and his deployment of Fabregas next to the always impressive Nemanja Matic could be devastating.

Mourinho has his archetypal striker leading the line, Hazard hopefully will be finding himself in more space and the return of Willian, Oscar and World Cup winner André Schürrle will cause problems for teams.

The squad perhaps lacks a little quality in terms of depth up top and in midfield, but fans can be very positive for the new season.

Are Chelsea right to be title favourites? Comment below.