Another week. Another unthinkably low point for Coventry City supporters to put up with. Sod the excuses for a second, and sod the relentless deferral of success – 20th place in League One, and even more lost points having taken a lead, is surely not on? We’re not going to mess about like this any more. Not in my name.

You could pretty much copy and paste a review from any of the other games this season and use that as a Stevenage match report. So I didn’t bother posting one.

Instead, I’d like to offer up a collection of musings from my brain this week. They don’t really come together as a single piece (much like our team), so they are below, all split into varying-sized chunks.

Health/sanity warning: there’s loads.

Strategy, tactics, coaching

Most will look at the display on Saturday and acknowledge that the players are at fault for much of the sloppiness. They’re the ones on the pitch. They’re the ones losing their concentration all the bleeding time.

But in the context of these early performances, it’d be extremely remiss of us to ignore the lack of organisation and direction shown, and focus the majority of blame towards our players. I can’t do that. Something looks very wrong.

We have a group of players, many of whom we have to assume have the ability to perform well at League One level, based on where they have come from, and also, how much they’re no doubt being paid. It’s something I’ve seen discussed quite a bit online this week, and especially the idea that we have a group of freebies, and they’re most probably rubbish.

Not every single free signing is a bad player. There are a wealth of reasons why a good player may be released, and we know enough about the ones brought in to suggest that they should be adequate (at least) for League One.

From a tactical perspective, there seems to be very little method beyond that initial team selection. I know, I know, that’ll strike many as a naive appraisal. “Of course they’ve got tactics” I can hear some of you scream. “What a wally you are Neil Sky Blues Blog”.

You’ve got to admit that the team looks so disjointed, though. I genuinely can’t help but wonder whether they would play much differently if any old Tom, Dick or Harry took control of them. If there is a strategy being implemented on the pitch, I’d love to know what it is.

Clearly I’m not saying that the coaching team isn’t working on developing the unit – I’m sure they’re trying to the best of their ability to come up with a solution. What I am saying is that they ain’t anywhere close to having one. We’ve had an entire summer with this group of players, and there’s not even the scent of a workable gameplan once we’re on the pitch.

Instead, we have a group of 11 players, going through the motions, performing in the positions they’ve been assigned, but relying mainly on their natural ability to see them through. It’s eerily familiar to the work of managers of old who we’ve also lambasted as being “tactically inept”.

“They need time to gel”

Stevenage were a burly bunch weren’t they? They’re also a good example of a team that are solid as a collective, and certainly illustrate a couple of my other thoughts well.

You could see how the roles in each position were performed in conjunction with others around them. It was an inter-connected system, and they looked extremely well-drilled in all they did.

The immediate response as a Cov fan recently has been to look at the number of arrivals we’ve had during the summer and blame this for our lack of familiarity. Surely it can’t be a fair comparison to expect our side to be working in a similarly well-oiled fashion, just yet?

Well, maybe not. But what I will say is that Stevenage have brought in 14 new faces this summer, and had 11 of them were in their matchday squad for the game on Saturday. You don’t hear them complaining about needing time to gel.

Their coaching team has developed gameplans (note the plural) which worked for them last year, and all the signs suggest that they’ve managed to maintain this approach, even with a new influx for this campaign.

They were an undeniably robust crew – nothing particularly special individually – but extremely adept as a collective, and making no noises about needing more time.

“The players just aren’t good enough”

We’ve seen what some of our players can do on their good days. Sometimes it’s actually really good. Just look at Steve Jennings, Cody McDonald, Robot Carl Baker, and sometimes even Gary McSheffrey. OK, it’s not as consistent as we’d like and should expect, but you’d be hard pushed to find someone who in a neutral circumstance, would pick much of the Stevenage crew ahead of ours in P.E.

However, I can’t help but think back again to how much we can expect from the players when they’re playing in such poorly-embedded/understood systems.

Their base level is going to naturally dip from time to time, but I’m now at a point where I’m wondering whether their perceived drop in form is solely because they’re simply not that good, or is there something else causing this. Can we really be so unlucky to construct endless squads of bad players? Let’s not forget, most of these players have produced quality elsewhere. I mean even Michael McIndoe was a good player until he walked into our club.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that we’re not always unique in our situation, and can’t assume that it’s a black and white case of “the players just aren’t good enough”. They’re sloppy, we know that, but I’m growing very aware of the perpetually bad coaching standards and tactics on matchday, and how these might well be leaving the players under even more strain because of it.

Richard Shaw

Richard Shaw is a man who was recently deemed surplus to Millwall’s coaching staff requirements. This didn’t stop us bringing him in as assistant manager, and following Thorn’s super-quick dismissal, fast-tracking him to the man running the show.

Taking on a recently sacked manager is always a worry for me, but given the modern game, even good managers lose their jobs all the time.

Sacking coaches on the other hand? And mid-way through a managerial tenure? That’s a far less frequent occurrence. It’s not like it was a cost-saving measure; they only went and brought in Tim Breaker as his immediately replacement while he was clearing his desk. The only logical inference here is that Millwall – actual 16th placed Millwall from the Championship last season – felt that Richard Shaw was not a good enough coach for them. Not a manager, or Assistant Manager, but a coach.

And now he’s in charge of our first team squad and has been running our coaching routines all summer. Even though they’ve been in desperate need of shaking up following the archaic nature of Steve Harrison’s approach last season.

It really makes you wonder doesn’t it? I know it’s further embedded the seed of doubt in my mind that coaching standards are at the core of this club’s decline.

Unique Coventry. Unique nonsense.

Every single club has its problems and difficulties to work around, but I bloody well hate some of the excuses we find as a way of accounting for the shoddiness on the football pitch. This particular example sent me loopy on Saturday as I was on my way to the game: one of our esteemed radio presenters decided that instead of dealing with the issues on the pitch, the players may not be doing too well because they’ve recently moved house.

That’s right. Moved house.

Footballers move home tens of times over their career. What about the thousands of other players across the globe who have recently re-located? What about all the brand new players in the Stevenage team who may be inconvenienced by their living arrangements at the moment ? Most of them seem to be doing OK, don’t they. Why is this even being considered as a potential issue for the poor form of some of our new boys.

It’s a desperate and quite frankly barmy notion.

“We can’t go up. It’s a building year”

Where we are unique is with the culture we’re immersed in, throughout the core of the club, its fans, and the local media, and how difficult we’re finding it to climb out of.

Our record over the last 20 years shows this uniqueness perfectly. We are the most unsuccessful team in the country. A losing club, with no trophies, no finals, no play-offs and no top-six finishes. There’s been no consistent performance over the course of a season, and definitely none of the winning feeling and drive that other clubs will have been used to in their successful campaigns. This culture, combined with a run of seemingly poor managerial and coaching appointments, has led many, especially the fans, to simply accept failure at the drop of a hat.

We rely on oft-quoted excuses which allow us to place blame and inane reasoning behind our lack of success. The finances was a ready-made excuse before we’d even got going last year, but even then we still had enough players to prevent the relegation. Salvation was handed to us on a plate, and we lacked the bottle or drive from the management to go out and grab it.

Other regular statements are the catch-all ideas about our players “not being good enough”, or “it’s just where we are”.

Where we are? What the fuck does that even mean?

Yes, we’ve just been relegated and don’t have a manager. So what? Why should these circumstances automatically mean we have to write off yet another three years while we try to find a solution in all the wrong places.

I know it’s hard to accept, but football doesn’t work like that. We’re not asking them to build a dynasty here. We just need a successful season in League One. Others find themselves in the same position as us year-on-year, and they turn it around, no matter how bad they were the previous campaign. Other clubs turn around their fortunes on a season-by-season basis. It happens, and it happens to everyone but us. Why can’t we set the bar high this year, and aim for it?

At previous junctures, we’ve changed the manager, but little else. The aim after those first couple of years in Division One has always been to steady the ship until the following year. We had a bit of excitement every now and again, but the ambition or standards were always low, leading to the inevitably poor finishes. Where was the drive if everyone knew that 15th was probably acceptable?

Who next?

The shortlist has been written up, and the top nine are having their interviews. Each day a new name becomes the favourite, and that feeling of dread swells amongst City fans as we worry about a name that we don’t like.

The fact is, we don’t need Jose Mourinho to sort us out. This isn’t the impossible job. There are good coaches and managers out there, who can develop a team, with less resources, less playing ability, and less “experience”. There are actually hundreds of managers, many of whom probably far better equipped to take on the challenge than some of the recently-failed coaches we’re currently clambering after.

If we’re genuinely committed to a cultural shift of standards, ambition and the re-classification of “achievement” at this club, I really think we need someone who can do just that from a coaching perspective as a priority. A real coach, with trusted methods, and determined goals.

My personal opinion is that this doesn’t have to be a recognised name. I’m not looking at someone who’s a bit of personality, or has bite, like Dennis Wise, because I don’t think that’s where our main problem lies. I know Wise is a heavy favourite with our fans, but he’s been out of the game for such a long period, I’m just not convinced he has the preparedness or tools to be able to get back up to speed quickly enough.

Paolo Di Canio may have a huge personality, and come across as someone who could do with a jolly good sectioning, but he has also developed a team that works, and has drilled them rigorously with his own techniques. It’s a plan to drastically raise the football standards at the club – it’s not one that is based solely on a good honeymoon period, blind faith or meaningless platitudes around getting the players working hard. It’s an applied, in sometimes unorthodox plan, and it also didn’t involve sitting around in League Two for three years while he figured it out how to achieve it.

We need to take a look around us at the people who are actually getting it right now, not five or six years ago. If we go solely for a personality or our gut feeling, it becomes little more than guesswork.

The best Fisher and Waggot can do is use the evidence at hand to make an informed and deserved appointment. We need a shake up on the training pitch, and culturally in the dressing room. Do we really have to be scared to dip into the relatively unknown to achieve this? Providing that person is demonstrating their aptitude as a manager (and most importantly, a coach), I would be treating these skills as the highest priority.

Being scrappy as player or being able to bark and jump around as a manager is not a requirement for me. I want facts, genuine evidence, that suggest our new manager knows what he’s doing, and is the best from this group of nine.

We have a bunch of decent players here, but seemingly nobody skilled, knowledgeable or experienced enough to guide them. This due process is important, but will count for nothing if we don’t get our priorities in the decision-making right.

I don’t have a favourite for the position. My only hope is that they’ve earned it, and the suits go for the best, and not necessarily the most popular or well-known, man for the job.

Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.

Gene Kranz, Apollo 13 flight director

14 comments

    1. Thanks a lot, John. Sorry about the length, the scary thing is I feel like I’ve only really scratched the surface. Appreciate you taking the time to read.

  1. Article full of accurate views however I believe the top management need to look at their own tactics
    Relegated stick with the manager allow him to bring in 9 or 10 players then get rid of him after 3 games Surely he should gave gone at the of the season bring a new manager in and let him bring his own players in
    As a CEO he should ask himself about his own performance it smells of strategic weakness planning weakness and judgement weakness

    1. I can’t disagree, that’s certainly a worry. The leadership over the last few years has left a lot to be desired, but this really is crunch time. I do think the Thorn situation, as peculiar as the timing was, was also understandable.

      One thing I would note however is the change of tune from those in charge, finally recognising the importance of ambition, setting standards, and having a massive cultural overhaul.

      Whether they have the skills and judgment themselves to identify the right person to achieve this, is a little bit unknown at the moment..

  2. The biggest part of any good side
    Is the Manager !
    We pick the correct manager we will
    Go up , this is not a hard division .
    Let’s hope we go for quality and not
    Look for the cheap option .

  3. Seems like whichever we go, it’s likely to be a cheap option… especially as they’re saying the new boss won’t be able to bring in his own team. That’s obviously not idea. How much change can one man bring, if the people around him aren’t who he trusts, and possible aren’t up to the task?

    We’ll have to see.

  4. Great post! For me, the mire we’re in now is endemic of a club that never seemed able to accept it had been relegated from the Premiership. We were always told that ‘it’s the play offs this year’, which is fine when you’ve just gone down, but years later, when your players are average Championship ones, it’s unrealistic to just assume that one day we’ll be back, while not actively, perhaps aggressively, pursuing that goal. By the time we dropped from the Championship, the squad was already an average League 1 side at best, yet again, there seems to be almost an assumption that somehow promotion will just happen.
    Might just be my perception, but there seems to be a complete sense of apathy at the club that’s been there for years. Even when we won the cup, there was a sense that it would all end at some point, rather than seeing it as a chance to build the place up even more. Looking at all the clubs that have fallen from the top flight, we seem to be the only one who’s just sort of rolled over and accepted it, rather than striven to get back to where we could be and the scary thing is, without that burning drive, we could so easily end up the next Oxford or Luton. The way things are at present, I can’t help but think it’s a more realistic scenario than battling relegation in the top flight ever again.
    Just my thoughts…

    1. I feel like I agree with you but was initially wary, solely because of a few words you used! I can’t quite pick it. I think it’s the mention of promotion ever being “unrealistic” which sets alarm bells ringing, but that’s more an issue I have with the negative connotations with that word rather than your key point which seems to be about the lack of genuine commitment towards going for promotion over the seasons.

      I think a big factor in any successful season is ambition and aiming high, and an up-shot of that is higher-standards across the club. You’re definitely right that we often lay in wait, assuming that one year it might be our time, but as soon as things started to go tits up, you’d immediately hear the same old excuses (from everyone) about it being a building year, or “at least it was improvement”. An improvement by one point on the previous season’s 19th place finish.

      I think that attitude and acceptance of mediocrity is a big reason why we’re where we are today. There was never a real pressure to perform. I think that’s why this season is so vital – there has to be pressure on this group to achieve and have a good season. The players in this league are much of a muchness. Often, the defining aspects of the successful teams come from the momentum that a few wins can bring, ability to score goals, and a genuine feeling of superiority about you when you play teams. An assertiveness.

      If the coaches can just do their job and start to mould a team with some sort of a coherent dynamic about them, then the other things can start to build up over the course of the campaign.

  5. I was trying to get across that it’s unrealistic to just assume we’ll be back one day…in other words, it’s not unrealistic that we could be back, but to just presume it’ll happen without the club actually making it happen is…if you see what I mean?

    And you’re spot on with the acceptance of mediocrity. It’s that lack of “WE have to make this happen” attitude that pervades.

    We have never had a club of superstars, but we have achieved and it was entirely down to giving the team motivation, passion and belief. It’s too easy to just “accept” our “fate” and think it will never happen again, but it could…and should!

    1. Yeah that makes absolute sense! Don’t mind me, always get defensive about the idea of realism and what’s within the realms of possibility. Like you say – we never committed to a concerted attempt at achieving it. Especially during the Coleman reign. That period was such a waste of time, wishing our life away and just waiting for the “next year”.

      The gits.

  6. Great piece. Before reading your blog over the summer (the blame game), the role of the coaching staff in a team’s performance had never particularly occurred to me before. I assumed that it was more or less the same set-up in all clubs, with the major differences doubtless being between overtly defensive-minded coaches and overtly attacking-minded coaches.

    Anyway, the one thing I wanted to add here was how I have felt about my beloved Sky Blues over the last few (actually, many) years, following them principally through the Sky Sports Score Centre from abroad. I have felt we’re a soft touch, a likely three points for any side willing to fight, a team who rolls over again and again, increasingly a ‘nothing’ side, indeed. We never score that many goals, never have a particularly solid defence, never go on any exciting league or cup runs, never have 20-goal a season strikers, never get big crowds, never tonk weaker opposition nor scare the big boys in a cup thriller.

    I manage to go to a couple of games a season where we’re outsung by the away fans in a half-empty stadium that feels like it could be anywhere and I wonder who got rich from the sale of Highfield Road.

    So that’s my contribution: we’re a nothing side. And every defeat still makes me miserable and I can’ stop caring.

    1. Great comment.

      I feel your pain, Barney. It shouldn’t be like this.

      People talk about the ups and downs – but there have been no genuine ups for us since 1987. It’s unfathomable that a side can be as bad as us, so relentlessly, for such a period of time. We’ve spanned the leagues and generations, yet it’s always been the same.

      I have my own theories about this, and for years have gone on about the culture and how we might whinge as fans, but as a core, we’re far too accepting. Maybe that’s us giving up the fight, but it’s not necessarily a new thing. Even before we started this season, there was far too much talk about this being another building year. There’s pragmatism, but setting your stall out before you’ve even started and essentially saying “we don’t mind if you don’t push for promotion this year” is only ever going to end in tears. Every season can’t be a building year. It has to change. The “Coventry” way is rotten. Why are we so scared of expecting or demanding success?

      The coaching appointment is key, because at the heart of the football club is what happens on the training pitch. I don’t want yet another manager who is going to come in and go through the motions. We’ve got to put our trust in Fisher and Waggott and hope that they’ve recognised the huge shift required, and are able to identify the person who not only has the ambition to achieve, but also a proven methodology and influence to implement it.

      One season of success could be enough to shake the losing mindset out of the this club. It just takes one season, but that one season isn’t going to come about by itself. Someone has to develop the approach and enforce it (knocking some sense into the players, board and fans as they go).

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