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Luke Oliver’s awards show giant defender is now head and shoulders above rest at Bradford City
Simon Parker column
The negotiating table at Valley Parade will need to be a sturdy one.
Those trophies can weigh a ton, especially with so many of them.
Luke Oliver was joking when he talked about bringing all his awards with him for contract talks at the end of the season.
At least, judging by the beaming smile on his face, I think he was.
But you couldn’t blame the big fella if he decided to show the club “his medals” after a campaign that has turned even the most ardent critic in the stands.
Turn back the clock 12 months and the thought of Luke Oliver walking away mob-handed from the player of the year night seemed as unlikely as, err, Barcelona not making the Champions League final.
There were unsubstantiated internet tales of a spat with away fans following a heavy Friday night loss at Southend.
And there were rumours that he could be shifted elsewhere during that summer as the club looked to cut costs and remove the Peter Taylor influence.
But Oliver stayed put – and stayed positive thanks to his regular visits to Cleckheaton mind coach John Muranka that only came to light this week.
The player that emerged at the start of this season struck a far more confident and convincing figure. Oliver stood out from the pack for performances every bit as imposing as his 6ft 7in stature.
So much so that his anointment as the player of the year on Tuesday night was a shoo-in.
The supporters, a section of whom were calling for his head a season ago, now sing his name warmly and the vote was a stampede towards the number six.
Oliver has taken all the new-found adulation in his long stride. The psychologist visits have boosted his feelings of inner confidence but he’s always been an affable guy.
Soon after signing him from Wycombe, Taylor criticised Oliver for being too nice and told him to shed the “gentle giant” image.
Maybe it was a self-belief issue on the part of a defender who had not figured regularly in any side since his days in the Conference with Woking – where he scooped his only previous player-of-the-year crown.
Contrary to popular opinion, Oliver did not have a torrid time last season. In a poor team, he was not one of the poorer performers.
But the perception was that, as a Taylor player, he should carry the can for City’s misery.
Oliver was thrown to the lions when Taylor tried him for a couple of games as an emergency target man. Scoring chances were missed and the critics grew.
He was playing out of position and looked it. But minds had been made up.
Oliver still missed just five of the 46 games under Taylor and then Peter Jackson. Defensively, he remained one of the first names on the team sheet whoever filled it in.
This year his only absences have been down to injury and that three-game suspension for the Crawley punch-up.
It may have been another forgettable campaign in the main but no fingers will be pointed the way of the central defence. If only others could have matched Oliver’s level of play.
As Phil Parkinson said in tribute: “Luke has given absolutely everything.”
Managers clearly like him. Now, after a bit of convincing, so do the fans.
And he’ll sign off the season with more trophies than Lionel Messi…