24 July ~ Why does no club seem to want Jimmy Bullard? He is, after all, a considerable talent on the pitch and all larks and gags off it. His humble beginnings, rapier wit (though with footballers, all things are relative) and general chirpiness when faced by a television camera have made him one of the game's most likeable characters. But, as Hull City and their supporters have found, there is a dark side to the Bullard phenomenon.
We felt that Fulham fans were surprisingly philosophical about Bullard's departure for the KC for £5 million in January 2009. Some even positively welcomed the move. Bullard had been angling for an expensive new contract with the Cottagers who, conscious of his injury record and their own financial situation, called his bluff when the Tigers' bid came in. Of course, we were thrilled to bits having acquired an experienced player who, with a bit more luck, would have had a fistful of England caps.
The week Bullard signed, we had an FA Cup fourth round tie against Millwall. Bullard had a heavy cold and so was restricted to a brief jaunt on to the pitch to pose with an oversized black and amber scarf. He came off the bench for a league game at West Ham the following midweek and had one smart shot at goal that was saved, before taking a severe rake across his dodgy knee. He fell in a pained heap but was able to complete the match.
Then it emerged that the cruciate injury Bullard suffered while playing for Fulham had resurfaced. He was gone for the season. The Tigers had invested £5m and committed to a £45,000 per week wage in return for 33 minutes of football. When Bullard finally made his home debut – nine months after signing – he ran the show against Stoke City in a 2-1 win. After further good performances against West Ham and Manchester City, the curse of Bullard's knee struck again. In a tame challenge with James Milner, Bullard did one of those airborne piked landings usually reserved for springboard divers and landed very badly, injuring his other knee. After that Villa game he was nowhere to be seen until the end of February, by which time the team was in trouble.
Bullard's first game back was a 5-1 thumping at Everton and then came the infamous brawl with Nick Barmby which was witnessed by the local WI. A week later, Arsenal beat the Tigers with a 93rd-minute winner and Phil Brown got the sack. Brown was Bullard's pal, with whom he had golfed and socialised long before he had joined the Tigers. Awful surrenders followed under "Temporary Football Management Consultant" Iain Dowie, during which Bullard ducked out of challenges and didn't exercise his usual calming influence in possession. He was substituted at half-time in the third to last game against Sunderland and, with City effectively relegated once that match ended in another loss, was not picked again.
Adam Pearson, the head of football operations, had made it clear that Bullard is too expensive and should find a new club. It has further been reported that he is due a substantial rise on his already astronomical wages for every 15 games he starts. The number of games he has currently started is 13. Suddenly, the reason for his absence – given at the time as an injury – from those last two dead rubbers of the Premier League season becomes clear. No English club has expressed an interest in Bullard, even as a loan signing. The only club to offer terms is Celtic, and the move broke down quickly thanks, unsurprisingly, to Bullard's wage demands which Pearson described as "absolutely ridiculous". Bullard has been absent from pre-season friendlies so far. When the Championship season kicks off, he seems set pick up his "basic" wage and not play.
Of course, there is a school of thought that little of this is Jimmy Bullard's fault. He signed a deal with a club that pretended it could afford him and the instant resurfacing of his injury was little more than exceptionally hard luck. He would have been determined to secure himself in case another kick on the knee sent him to the scrapheap. The principal culprit here is the former hierarchy at Hull that agreed to the deal. But since Brown left, Bullard has shown an arrogance and complacency during a time of crisis that Hull fans can't forgive. He knows the club is struggling financially and that the fans are scared stiff about what the future holds. A gesture of some kind would surely not be beyond him. The club has given him a lot with very little in return. Matthew Rudd