We’re nearly there now, honest. I can only apologise for the delay in publishing this, the penultimate entry in my waffly blame game series. Everything’s gone a little quiet on the Coventry City front lately, leaving my attention temporarily averted by other things, such as her majesty raising all that menace.

But it’s time to get back on track. The high-profile culprits have been scrutinised, and I’ve come to the predictable conclusion that they’ve all made a pigs-ear of their roles in some manner.

Sisu have clearly shown incompetencies – they’ve admitted as much – while there are a handful of players who really should be ashamed of themselves. You may remember in the last piece, the focus was on Andy Thorn, who is in the most peculiar of positions. His name continues to be sung with gusto with each game, but away from the ground, and online in particular – there’s a strong feeling amongst many fans that he should be shouldering the majority of the blame.

But you already knew this.

Next up, I’d like to expand upon a few points I made in that Thorn piece. I alluded to the idea that while Thorn ultimately takes responsibility for the actions of the coaching team, seeing as he’s paid to do so – the coaching team is not about just him.

We’ve got to acknowledge the circumstances. Here we have a young (and I use that in the loosest sense of the word) manager, heading up a fairly experienced coaching set up. Steve Harrison has been around since time itself began, and Oggy will never do anything but work at Coventry City. They’re employed to perform specific tasks, and whether commensurate with their role or not, they’re all paid to do them, and do them well.

So what role are they playing? What impact are these guys who are charged with developing and moulding our unit having?

There was little last year to suggest that the work on the training pitch was proving of much use during matches. Okay, we were rarely smashed, which suggests an element of solidity – but was that really a direct result of coaching? The results may have said “solid enough”, but the performances offered a very different conclusion.

There are plenty of areas we could analyse, but in the interest of clarity and ease of reading, I thought I’d break things up a little and give you my thoughts on some of the core aspects of the side. And I must be very clear about this – these are just my thoughts. Those that I see through my eyes, allow to swirl around my head a bit, then blurt out to my pals.

So don’t get too cross if you disagree – I’m the one who has to believe all this stuff.

Technique

To start, it’s worth noting the fundamental issue with individual technique and the gulf that exists between continental and British-educated footballers. As you may have seen last week, the FA are finally looking to address this with some pretty important changes to the way youth football works in this country. I’m fully behind this shift in emphasis – it’s about time we took the lead of countries around us who are miles ahead in terms of quality of football.

When it comes to Coventry, we’re in another league entirely. There’s been a shakiness about the team for years, and it appears a lot of our issues stem from the difficulty some of our players have in doing the basics. That’s not to say they can’t do the basics – they’re professionals for crying out loud – but the difference being the level of concentration they need in order to get these right.

For the better players, a skill as regular as controlling the ball just isn’t an issue. That comes naturally, so they’re able to concern themselves with the next step before they’ve even received the ball. They’re already looking ahead, as are the players around them.

A lot of what our players do seems so conscious. Is it coincidence and purely a symptom of a losing team? Do we have a load of tense, on-edge players who struggle their way through games, or is there actually something in the way they’re being drilled which is impacting on them instead?

Steve Harrison has been at the club for 3 years now, and the decline in technical standards has aligned very noticeable with his arrival. Sure, these are professionals – should an old fuddy-duddy like him really be able to negatively influence them?

Well, my answer to that question is unusually emphatic – yes he can. He’s running training every day, he’s setting the drills, he’s setting the standard of what is acceptable. I don’t know what his techniques are, but all the evidence suggests that our coaching staff haven’t got the routines to develop this passing game they seem so adamant that we’re playing.

It’s not a fluid style. The intentions are admirable, but we saw for ourselves how much of an issue we made of even the simplest keep-ball across the back line. Something wasn’t clicking.

Strategy

The intention of how we’d play, and what actually happened during games, were vastly different. It’s clear there’s an instruction to keep the ball in certain situations. From what I’ve heard, there’s often been an enforced rule in games, that we’d have to keep the ball for six passes before attempting to build an attack. Where’s the problem in that you might ask, Barcelona keep the ball for 20-30 passes before attempting a shot on goal.

Well I have a problem with this. Not the idea of keeping the ball – that’s fine by me. It’s this enforced “you must pass it this many times before doing something” which is not really real. It’s a faux-tactic – an attempt to create the illusion that we’re in control, rather than actually being in control. That’s not how football works. Football is reactive. It’s impulsive. It’s a very British technique to place such rigid instuctions on players. Unfortunately, there’s a clear conflict between this British rigidness from Thorn and Harrison, and the vision of becoming a genuine passing team.

The funny thing is, for a team that has aspirations of being a passing unit, we seem to show very little concern with the value of possession during matches. Once the exaggerated passing around the back is complete, the crowd tends to get impatient, the gaps between players widen, and the requirement to move forward and take more risks with possession invariably leads to sloppy passing, poor decision-making, or aimless passes in the vague direction of an attacking option.

Of course, I’m generalising here, but of all the motions we went through last season – that was the most prominent of them all.

I also have to note the apalling regularity with which we’d throw away leads in matches, and points near the end of matches.

This is another issue to become noticeable since Harrison’s arrival. Our approach to games once we’re in with a chance of taking points – whether that’s a draw or victory – has been frustratingly negative for years. There’s been no change since Thorn got involved.

You know the drill: if we take the lead, we spend the rest of the match falling deeper and deeper and desperately trying to hang on to the result, and certainly not attempt to grab a second goal.

If we’re drawing by the second half, we’ll continue on, whilst falling deeper and deeper, and hope that an opportunity presents itself. But we will not force the issue. Heaven forbid.

You can’t blame that all on luck. It happens far too often. To regularly choose or apply the failing approach – spanning across multiple seasons – surely suggests more than bad luck?

Unfortunately, when you hear the post-match interviews, there appears to be a belief that attempting to score and keeping a solid defence are mutually exclusive. This really gives me the hump. Are you trying to tell me that the aspirational idealogy of every single team on the planet, is in fact, impossible? That must be nonsense. We’re not playing at Old Trafford every single week for Christ’s sake. If you can’t set out a team that’s capable of doing both at the same time, then you’re not doing your job properly.

Tactics

Tactics? Strategy? What’s the difference? Well to me, tactics are the difference between saying and and actually doing. A strategy is what Aidy Boothroyd had. He planned to get us somewhere, fast, with an outline approach to winning things, and would not shut up about it. What he lacked were the tactics to enable him to get there.

Tactically, where did we go wrong? The much-maligned diamond formation came in for a lot of stick. Personally, my issue wasn’t so much with the formation, but the use of it. It could (and did) work well on occasions. Certainly in away games, it’d often provide a compactness in the middle of the field, and gave the required solidity to build on. It was not an attacking formation though, or at least we didn’t have the attacking options to turn it into one. With the diamond, there’s too much reliance on full-backs who can attack, and the playing link between the strikers and the midfield being readily available.

McSheffrey was the key man in this formation for the early part of the season, and as we all know, he provided little more than a fleeting presence in games. There was plenty of rotation as Thorn struggled to find someone to plug this gap – but with all his players struggling for form, there really wasn’t anyone there to step up to the mark.

At the Ricoh, I was never entirely convinced that the diamond was the way to go, and luckily in the second half of the season, with the introduction of Nimely and Norwood, our home performances improved for a while as we reverted to a more recognised 4-4-2 formation.

McSheffrey was able to drift left again, which regardless of what he will tell you, has been his best position during his career. Nimely then became the key link man between the midfield and attack and was able to do this effectively thanks to his lively introduction to the team and tremendous ability to hold up the ball.

Choosing which formation, and when, became the biggest issue. If we won a home game with the 4-4-2, it seemed that would then become the obligatory set up for the following away game, no matter who the opponent.

From my perspective, the 4-4-2 suited us at home, as it’s immediately a more attacking formation, and allowed the freedom to attack in reasonable numbers. It wasn’t a resounding success, but there was enough to suggest that most teams began to recognise the threat posed by Nimely, and adjusted into a more conservative style at the Ricoh. They knew they couldn’t flood forward with him available to break – and that reserved nature allowed us more space to control the game moving forward if we wanted to. We weren’t very good at this, but the gaps were available for us to take advantage if we’d had the attacking wherewithal to do so.

As soon as we took that home mentality and formation away from home, there was trouble. The 4-4-2 didn’t work and made it even harder for us to win matches. I struggled to spot any acknowledgement of the differing environments that away games produce. A formation that allows for quick breakaways at home, will rarely provide the same opportunities on your travels. It’s a very different football paradigm, and given we’d allowed ourselves to become the league’s easiest away visitors, most teams fancied their chances against us far more than was normal.

I don’t want to put all the emphasis on formations, because it only takes a moment of magic to render these pointless, but for an entire season we only appeared to put forward two different shapes. That was clearly frustrating to watch. The coaches struggled to show any invention which seemed vital given the lack of resources, and added to the constant negativity, it’s no wonder things tailed off so radically come the end of season.

That’s when the management prove themselves, apparently. Unfortunately, our finger in the air approach fell woefully short.

So are we any closer to figuring this out?

Well, those are just three facets of the coaching game – but I could go on. Motivation, fitness, set-pieces. Whatever the mitigating factors with the owners and squad, things just didn’t seem to gel. The fight was there from the players (for the most part) – but the organisation and the conviction definitely wasn’t.

I’ve always liked what I’ve heard from Thorn about his preferred approach, and the change that he introduced as soon as he took over. But it took one summer for that all to become diluted. We seem to have this strange mix of a team desperately wanting to appear as a passing unit, but who are lacking the direction, ability and underlying ambition to enable them to competently apply it.

Good blokes or not, the chemistry within the coaching set up doesn’t seem right at the moment. There’s nothing to suggest that they have the coaching and training techniques capable of enforcing the style of play that is whirring around in Andy Thorn’s brain. There’s a conflict. Steve Harrison for one, is an old fashioned coach, from an old fashioned generation. Obviously he’s a respected and solid general coach, but when you see what the likes of Martinez, O’Driscoll, Rodgers and Poyet are doing, I’m always going to have my doubts about him taking sole responsibility of our technical training.

The FA have finally acknowledged that there’s a problem with these tired methods of coaching, and now realise that they are not in keeping with the evolution of the game. Maybe it’s about time that we did the same. With the lack of funds restricting the level of quality we can bring in, the reliance and importance of organisation and tactics is going to be far greater next season. We need new ideas to reinvigorate this group of players technically – and crucially, better methods of imparting them.

12 comments

  1. Fair enough – perfectly entitled to your opinion, and I’ve long since realised it’s never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Certainly not going to stop writing it however, I quite like having an outlet for my thoughts. I don’t position it as anything other than that.

  2. Fair enough – perfectly entitled to your opinion, and I've long since realised it's never going to be everyone's cup of tea. Certainly not going to stop writing it however, I quite like having an outlet for my thoughts. I don't position it as anything other than that.

  3. I agree 100% with your analysis of our problems in playing styles, performances and results over the last few years. We have had different managers over the past few years but the only constant has been Steve Harrison and until this changes will will still have the same issues with playing styles and tactics. Couple this with the financial restraints on any manager at the club put in place by SISU it is difficult to see any chance of improvement in the coming season and indeed the survival of the club we all love. We can only hope for an injection of “new money” to get rid of SISU and a new forward thinking coaching staff. Time is running out!

  4. Thanks for the comment. Obviously Harrison is well liked and respected by the players, so giving him the boot may not be as simple a solution as it sounds – but I feel it’s vital we see new faces to wrestle the responsibility of training off him, whether that’s in addition to or replacing him. Carsley getting involved is a start. As you say, he’s a constant since Coleman, there has to be some sort of accountability for the work he’s doing. I’d defy anyone to identify improvements in the first team since he got involved. Circumstances can only go so far to explaining this decline.

  5. Just come across your blog courtesy of Kev at Covcitymad. Thats a well written, passionate article and although I dont get to many matches (live in Brisbane Australia) I have followed the Skyblues since 1967. And just before I carry on, the Andy Thorn quote, above right, said that all Oggy talks about is the 1987 Cup Final – well, he’s dead right. Its all I ever talk about to my mates who support Man Utd/City, Chelski, Spurs (my boyhood favorites till I saw sense – and you could question that !!) etc, We have had no success for 25 years – what an inglorious anniversary. To put a wee bit of local Australian perspective on your comments above, my local team in Australia’s A League (been established for 7 years since the demise of the old national competition) is Brisbane Roar. They have been the League Champions for the last two years – by the way, this is the league that currently has Harry Kewell playing in it, as well as a lot of the Australian Squad. Dwight York appeared for Sydney in the first season as well as a number of other (granted they are fading) incredable footballers over the last seven years (Craig Moore, Brett Emerson). Brisbane Roar, as I said, have won the league for the last 2 years (I guess the standard is top League One /bottom Championship). During that period they went 36 games without a loss – which is the greatest team feat in Australian history, and ranks right up there in footballing terms in the world. Their success has come from all the things you allude to – 1 – sound goalkeeper2 – solid defence, with speed in the feet of the outside backs3 – clever holding midfield with attacking midfielder with creative genious (we imported him from Germany – Thomas Broich – who has been voted this year the Players Player, Fans Player – and its his 1st year) – and to top that, the defensive midfileder has just been promoted to the Australian national team. 4 – a goalscorer !!! – out and out goalscorer – we imported this guy from Croatia – Besart Berrima. He scored 19 goals in 27 games in his first season which has just ended (yes, I know, the season is too short) – and this is where a creative, clever midfiled is required – get the ball to the forwards, in the box. This is NOT acheived by ‘hoof ball’5 – wingers supporting the goalscorer.6 – solid, clever management team – coach and his assistant7 – fitness coach – came from a top Rugby League team here in Australia, where boxing, wrestling is also pushedYou might argue that I’m not saying anything new here, but my main point is that this team works as a well oiled unit. You talk of passing and holding the ball – this team has mesmerrised the opposition for two seasons because of this. They have become the most attractive team to watch in the Leagues short history. They are extremely difficult to wrestle the ball from – indeed, the main reason they lose it is because of occasional innacurate or short passes, and thats a result of half the time the intended player is taken out of the game by the opposition. Tactically, they have an awareness positionally that has only come from coaching. Bear in mind also that the average age of this team is 22/23 – several players are below 21. Yeh, I can hear you think of the similarity with CCFC. The work ethic and fitness of the squad is of the highest level. This Brisbane team is successful because they work together – and there is no motivational thing more than winning. But winning comes from the ground up – the staff, the reserve players, and the main squad – and also the owners !! The mix must be right.Thorn should do well in League 1, given his inexperience in management generally, but if he doesn’t keep his main players, which is highly likely, then we will be in the same boat as when we were relegated from the Premier league – “a team to fear because they are huge, so they should jump straight back up” – yeh, right, we all know how that ended. However, tactics for League 1 will also be different that those required for the Championship.Thorn is similar to our Postecoglou (Brisbanes coach) and Harrison is to our Vidosic (assistant coach). Its interesting to note that Vidosic has been the main influence tacticlly while Postacoglou has been the front man – and one of your main points here is that Harrison is not cutting it re tactics, clearly outlining where CCFC are going wrong. Same with CCFC as at Brisbane, the assistant, Harrison, is the ‘behind the scenes man’ while Thorn cops the crap, but also the glory when it goes right. League 1 will be a brave new world – personally, I wish we’d been relegated years ago, only so we could make a fresh start – and there is much precedant to support this – Leeds, QPR, Swansea etc etc. My main concern now is that those wonderful emerging stars that have come out of the Youth team either leave because they get stars in their eys from Newcastle or Liverpool, or do not get the best training and coaching they should, causing them to lose their eager willingness to improve.Time will tell I guess.

  6. What a brilliant comment. Thank you – it’s great to get some insight into what sounds like a really professional, and driven team. You mention a few times the clever management “team”. As you can tell, this is one place where I can’t help but assume we’re lacking. All we have is the inexperienced Thorn getting paid to take the flack, while Harrison does the dirty, ineffective work which is allowed to continue because it’s behind-the-scenes. We need that cleverness, and some ingenuity in our techniques, otherwise we’ll continue to fall behind the evolving pack. Sounds like Brisbane play in a way that Thorn has visions of us playing. Making it difficult for the opposition to get the ball off you needs to come from the underlying principle that a) possession is key and b) feeling comfortable on the ball under pressure is vital if you’re to achieve that. As fans, we have a job here too, and this is not to boo and hiss if ever a ball is played backwards. I know things got frustrating last year, but pressuring the players into playing the quick early ball didn’t help things either. Often, the ball was never even on, so while it might appease the fans to show relentless urgency, it’d end up doing more harm than good as we’d simply lose possession. It takes a strong-minded player to ignore the cries of an entire stadium. If you do, you’ll soon find yourself on the wrong side of the fans, with a daft nickname (just ask Sammy Clingan). We need to all buy into a measured, yet incisive and purposeful style.Teams will always press and hurry you if they feel they can draw a mistake. They won’t waste their time if it’s more likely you’re going to punish them for losing shape. Swansea are a great example of this. They are all so composed on the ball (even the keeper), teams can’t help but sit off them. It can be tricky to breakdown, but surely we’d all prefer to play a team that gives you time to play, than one that’s constantly up in your face. We desperately need to work on our ability to control and hold possession in tight areas and gain a reputation as a team that you can’t fluster. Smashing it out of play in a mighty panic every single time you’re pressed only encourages your opponents to do it more. It all looked so forced last season. Teams knew they could panic us, and the passing along the back line ended up as a real struggle because the players simply weren’t comfortable on the ball. I do wonder if that can be fixed, or at least improved, in a single summer.

  7. Exhibit A: Gael Bigirimana.No first touch. Head down. Panic. Lose ball. Rash challenge. Repeat…Exhibit B: Connor Thomas (See Exhibit A)Great piece, deserved a more coherent comment than this but it’s the best I could muster in early June.

  8. hopefully the following will open – this is Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory – they won 4-0 – and all scored before half time.  The first 45 mins were so clinical, that this game was likened to how Barcelona play – hence the monica – Roarcelona !!!   The press in Australia went nuts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BXWCLw9YaU Please let me know if it opens.   You can find many other games on YouTube – just type in Brisbane Roar – this is how Coventry will be playing next season

  9. Cheers Gav, Bigi and Thomas have the attributes in their locksr but do a lot of what you say (all panic-induced). It’s a worry, it’s like they’re infected with our first team mentality. Van Aanholt was another one – looked great, then gradually you saw his ingenuity curbed. SBDU – That video is great. What strikes me most is how simple they make it look. Seems so natural to them. Thanks for sharing.Ta all – I shall keep writing these.

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