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In a change of focus, this guest post comes from Coventry fan and writer Tom Furnival-Adams, who in his previous musings provided a call for pragmatism and continual evaluation towards the current Sixfields situation. All very sensible; all very serious too.

But occasionally – especially when you’ve just won four games in a row – it’s OK to take a look at the positives without feeling guilty. The football guys deserve all the plaudits they’re getting.

Especially the waistcoat-wearing, Steven Pressley-shaped man who stands in our dugout.


By Tom Furnival-Adams

So, er, apparently Joy and Ann were prepared to have a conversation with one another. And then everyone said they wouldn’t until after the judicial review. And then they did meet, but no one knows what they said to each other. Which is great.

While these formidable ladies have been busy trading statements in the media, it’s been an unusual (for Coventry) couple of weeks, where most of the debate around the club seems to have actually been about football.

Last Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Notts County concluded a superb run of five wins in six league games. That was followed by a League One Manager of the Month award being foisted upon young Steven Pressley and a characterful, hard-fought win at AFC Wimbledon’s rustic Kingsmeadow stadium in the FA Cup first round on Friday evening. The first half was one of the poorest we’ve been involved in this season, but the psychological response to going behind to underdogs was exemplary. 3-1 may have flattered to an extent, but some of the football being played in the final 25 minutes was sumptuous.

Against all odds, this is a uniquely exciting and rewarding time to support Coventry. I have written previously on the deeply ingrained negativity at the heart of Coventry supporters’ collective mentality, fueled by decades of struggle and decline. We are virtually unique in the football league in lacking any experience of watching our team consistently win games or mount promotion challenges. That is why this season has been so special.

The team plays with confidence and looks full of goals across the attacking unit. The combined impact of Callum Wilson and Leon Clarke need only be summed up by their 22 goals. Jordan Clarke and Andy Webster have steadily fashioned a formidable centre back pairing. In the middle, John Fleck has been masterful. In the Championship years, a win usually felt hard-fought and unlikely; now I almost expect us to go ahead. Once we’ve gone ahead, I expect us to score again. What’s more, Pressley’s passing, possession-based game is beautiful to watch. Every single player brims with self-belief. We have reason to be proud.

A few weeks ago I was one of several fans who, for one reason or another, were invited by the club’s ownership to discuss our concerns and their ‘vision’ for its future. Having grown tired of the Ricoh dispute, the most interesting aspect of this meeting to reflect on afterwards was the opportunity to talk football with Steve Waggott.

In terms of the identity of the team, we agreed that, historically, one barely existed. Interestingly, he pointed out that one of the questions Steven Pressley asked in his interview for the manager’s job was: ‘what is the DNA of the club?’ Evidently, there was a realisation that there simply isn’t one. Since relegation to the second tier, our transfer policy has been player-led, rather than by an overarching strategy. Players have been brought into the club simply because they appeared to be reasonably good value for money and were willing to come to Coventry. Whether this was through sheer panic on the club’s part, or because of the difficulty in attracting good players to the Midlands over London or the North West, it clearly wasn’t working.

The philosophy now being implemented by Waggott and Pressley transcends players or individuals. New players are subjected to personality tests; extensive background research is carried out; there is a strict requirement that they understand and buy into Pressley’s ideal of high-intensity passing football. Not everyone is suited to playing like this, hence the decision to release 19 players over the summer.

Players like William Edjenguele and Steven Jennings are not bereft of qualities, but they were seemingly deemed incompatible – either mentally or physically – with the team’s new style of play, and consequently discarded. There had been a lack of unity in the dressing room and the management team set about ridding the squad of the disruptive influence of particular individuals. Like Jose Mourinho, Pressley favours a small, tight-knit, committed group of players with a desire to work for one another over a sprawling, disparate squad lacking unity and coherence.

Pressley sees the value in investing in youth. By employing a consistent playing philosophy right across the club, young players are easily able to make the transition from academy to first team. This, of course, is nothing new – Barcelona have applied the same approach for many years. Domestically, Swansea, too, have been extremely successful in establishing a similar method. The reason this works for Coventry, though, is that it utilises one of our greatest assets – the academy, and offsets our major handicap – a lack of funds.

As a football league club, by definition we have very little cash to spend and are vulnerable to having our players and coaching staff poached by teams in the Championship and the Premier League. It is therefore vital for individuals to be easily replaceable. In the past the club has been over reliant on the loan market, which is notoriously hit-and-miss. By nurturing the youth teams in preparation for progression to the first team and indoctrinating them into an overall playing philosophy, we have low risk, low cost, ready-made replacements for outgoing players.

Aaron Philips and Jordan Willis are a good example of this strategy in action. Both have excelled in covering for Cyrus Christie’s recent injury-enforced absence. While I hope we can retain Christie for as long as possible, it’s well known that Championship clubs are scouting him. It is reassuring to know that, should he leave, the academy has spawned potential replacements who know the team’s style of play inside out, know the existing squad members, and understand exactly what is expected of them. The financial plight of most lower league clubs means that there is significant risk attached to reinvesting incoming funds in recruiting external replacements.

I also asked specifically about the progress of Callum Wilson’s new contract. Waggott assured me that it was progressing well, and he was confident that Wilson would re-sign. Refreshingly, it has transpired that this was entirely accurate. Waggott outlined Wilson’s commitment to Coventry by describing him as someone who was brought up locally, and would like to play at the top level with his hometown club.

I believe that the management team understand the League we’re in, and aren’t under any illusions about the club’s ‘rightful place’. The primary aim for the time being remains safety, because another relegation would be catastrophic: for fans and Sisu investors alike. Those in charge of the playing side of the operation understand the impact of Financial Fair Play regulations on the ability of football league clubs to assert themselves in the transfer market, and realise that attempting to match the parachute payment-fuelled spending power of sides like Wolves is futile. Coventry’s pedigree may be amongst the most impressive in League One, but in the here-and-now, the club must be adaptable and resourceful to compete. Not just with ‘the likes’ of Wolves, but also with traditionally lower-league teams like Brentford and Peterborough.

I have faith in Steven Pressley because his philosophy is club encompassing. He hasn’t invested £3m in 2 or 3 big name players, he’s taken the whole structure of the club and given it an identity; organised it strategically. On the rare occasion that we’ve managed to put good runs together in the past, it’s felt fleeting and slightly fortuitous. Aidy Boothroyd’s brief tilt at the Championship play-off places was based on an ugly but effective tactical set-up, which was nullified as soon as opposition sides learnt to anticipate it. I was an admirer of Mark Robins, but in hindsight it’s hard to imagine him achieving the success he did without David McGoldrick’s freakish form.

It may still be early days, but Pressley’s success feels carefully engineered. He doesn’t strike me as a manager who leaves much to chance. He isn’t reliant on the quality and sustained fitness of a couple of high-calibre loan signings to raise the whole squad; he doesn’t make excuses when players suffer injuries; he’s astute and selective, and the amount he’s willing to invest in his chosen players lifts them to the limit of their capabilities.

The prospect of a high-profile club summoning him at some stage is not remote, and we should not take him for granted while he remains at Coventry. But off-field issues allowing, I hope that his legacy transcends a one-off season or league position. Pressley himself, I imagine, would only be satisfied if he leaves a club with its own identity, able to replace him with a similarly promising young manager who can continue what he started.

In the meantime: long live Steven Pressley.

You can find Tom on Twitter @tom_fa

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8 comments

  1. Spot on! I’m trying to create the same philosophy at my Cricket club as the ability of the senior players last season was dire. No structure, no help for colts aiming to play at the senior level and a fair weather attitude to winning and losing. Steven Pressley has inspired the next generation of Coventry City players (Academy) who will ultimately make us a more successful club in the long term.

  2. Absolutely brilliantly written and pinpoints the need for us Sky Blue fans to get behind the manager and the team rather than focusing on the off-pitch turmoil. Afterall it seems they have managed to remain focused on the actual job of playing football rather than what really amounts to high stakes petty bickering off the field!

  3. Excellent article! I have even learned a lot from it about the factors behind Pressley’s recent success with the club! Well done Tom!

  4. At last some balanced and thoughtful comments which look behind the hype and hysteria and centre on the fundamental change in beliefs and footballing blueprint at the club.Stephen Pressely took a while to convince me, but in every interview and team performance this year I am becoming more enthused that at any stage in the last 15 years, with the real knowledge that we are becoming a team that brings pride and a new belief to every city fan PUSB

  5. Rare for me, indeed for anyone it seems (when I blogged (back in the day) it felt like an audience of one) to comment on a blog, but this was such a well written, well thought out piece, I felt I should add to the handful of well deserved plaudits already received. I’m old enough to be the father (mathematically and physically, possibly even grandfather) to most of this young team and in the many years I’ve followed this club I cannot remember being prouder of a group of players. Proper football overseen by a proper manager in wholly improper circumstances. No one should underestimate the achievements thus far. Much as I hope (and expect) it will last, these first 15 or so games alone have restored my waning love for the club. Which feels weird given what’s going on off the pitch. All hail Steve Waggott and Steve Pressley!
    One more time…..I just can’t help believing…..
    (Apologies for the trite but moderately obscure Elvis bit, but it’s compulsory isn’t it?)
    Again, great blog my friend.

  6. Great article, enjoyed reading this as it hit the spot as to why we are doing so well at the moment.
    At the time I thought of off loading all of the more experienced players a mistake, how wrong have I been, looking at past history I now cannot really think of anyone player who has improved his standing in the game after leaving the club , Keane and Bellamy i do not include in this of course but we did get mega money for these two.Our future is with the youngters no doubt about this now, Fergie did it with, Scholes, Beckham, Giggs and Butt let us believe we can do the same.

    I read somewhere last week about Pressley being the next Jimmy Hill, things in life tend to go in a full circle I am starting to believe 50 years on that our next adventure has already started.

    Best or luck in the blog awards.
    PUSB

  7. great read TF-A, when I succumbed to attending sixfields it was was the crux of a conversation that I had with TF. whatever he is, it was clear from the coversation that SP,SW and TF have a vision for the club that transcends this season, it is exciting and different. although presently there are obvious difficulties in my own optimistic sky blue world I think the future is bright.

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