And there we have it. After two spells, spanning 15 years, 247 appearances and 63 goals – Mr McSheffrey has left Coventry for what is surely the last time.
His wages will have ultimately been the strongest case for his release, following our acquisition of him from a Premiership contract in 2010. But there’s little denying that his relationship with the same fans who once proclaimed him “Better than Henry” had become fractured – tainted to the point where his continued presence in the first team probably wouldn’t have done either party any good.
While I don’t dispute the reasons for release, especially given the trickiness of our current position, I can’t help but think that his demise as a player, or at least the noisy perception of one, has been exaggerated somewhat. Now, that’s not to say that his performances didn’t drop, but the vocal reaction to this drop in quality and lack of tolerance towards his mistakes is what leaves me most disappointed about the circumstances around his departure.
Arguably the strongest contributing factor to the lack of tolerance McSheffrey received over the last 12-18 months stems from when he was in his prime for us – he was simply too good. That season we finished 8th under Micky Adams and he ripped apart every defence he encountered. That style and authority became a benchmark for the level of performance we felt we could expect from Gary, so as the years wore on, and he returned for a second go at things, we struggled to accept that he was unable to reproduce what we all thought he’d still be capable of.
In many ways, I think Gary struggled with that expectation too – both from the crowd, but also in how it impacted on his sense of control over what he could still contribute.
He resisted taking on people in the manner we’d become accustomed, I guess because he eventually realised he didn’t possess the speed anymore. He lacked the same level of conviction and clinical nature in the attacking portion of the pitch, possibly due to a reluctance/or reduction in strikers instinct that had served him so well in his formative years. And finally, he had this strange habit of making decisions very early, and being seemingly unable/unwilling to adjust if circumstances required a change in strategy. If the ball was rolling to him on the wing and he fancied a first time cross – a cross was what you’d get, regardless of how things changed as the ball came into his possession.
I know these are all criticisms of the man, but let me be clear; none of these ever drew me to a level of frustration where I’d feel compelled to verbally abuse him. He definitely lost something as the years wore on – physically and in his head – but the idea that he’d lost it completely, well this felt like a myth.
If you ask me, the only thing he really lost was the trust of the fans who once adored him, and the confidence which allowed him to perform at the level that had always made him such a threat previously.
That was his biggest crime – I guess it was also his punishment.
I just hope he’s able to find a second wind and release the baggage which so clearly hampered his performances come the end of his time with us. It’s been a sorry conclusion for the bloke, that’s for sure, but I won’t remember him solely for this all-too-natural decline of a footballer, or the booing he so needlessly endured over the last 18 months.
To me he’ll just be Gary McSheffrey; the deep-voiced Cov kid who for a long time rode solo as pretty much the only Sky Blues player whose quality we could be proud of, while also being one of the only ones who himself seemed to be proud of us.
I won’t let a potentially exaggerated perception of his final performances colour what has otherwise been a credit-worthy, committed and often brilliant career at our club. He’s had a good stretch – far longer than most players managed nowadays – and his efforts were definitely appreciated.
In the end, it was just his time to leave, but he does so with my fond regards, and some cracking memories.