He’s back. 18 years after a pretty ill-fated stint at the club, Steven Pressley is back at Coventry. Still inexperienced, but in a totally different sense – now he’s the boss. Complete with boss tie, boss suit and boss stance.
I was just a little nipper when Pressley last showed his face round these parts. As a ten year old boy I had very little understanding of the actual capabilities of this young Scottish defender. All I knew is he wasn’t Sandy Robertson (he actually existed for a start). As for his style of play, perceived disciplinary issues, and understanding of the game – I had no concept of them. I was ten; my focus was very much split between recreating everything Matt Le Tissier ever did, and a home shirt I was desperately trying to grow into.
There is one memory that has always stuck with me however. OK, he was a bit of a wild man by all accounts, with a disciplinary record that would make Joey Barton blush (it probably wouldn’t), but in my mind he will always be the guy who grabbed an equaliser against Man Utd. Yep. It’s rubbish, and that may seem like a pretty lame and tenuous association to you, but as an impressionable lad who was still developing his passion for the club, moments like that in the early days were key to my development into the football-loopy bastard you see before you today.
I guess what sticks in the mind about that goal was the occasion. Prior to the United game, I’d never been in the West Terrace before – I was very much an East Stand-er with my Dad. Whether I could realistically claim such a title after only four or five games is debatable, but as far as my experience of football matches went, there’d only been a few and each was a real magical occasion. So a night-time game against the champions was a first, and it felt very, very new.
The West Terrace was worlds apart from the relative shininess of the refurbished East Stand. Everyone was stood up, it was dark, dingy, and as I walked in past the noxious aroma of the toilets, there’s no denying – I was bloody terrified. But none of that mattered once the game got going. I know it’s frowned upon to venture to a match with the intention of checking out the opposition, but I was utterly memorised by players like Peter Schmeichel, Andy Cole and Mark Hughes – the closest I’d managed to get to these before was through the collection of football stickers I kept permanently in my pocket (as was the fashion at the time).
There was even a flashy youngster named Beckham who showed his face for a brief cameo, replacing another one of Man Utd’s growing sub-21 contingent – a firey-haired rascal called Scholes.
The game was a big deal for me, and for that reason the name Steven Pressley has remained etched in my mind as part of one of my earliest Coventry memories. People say he was a flop as a player but to me, he has only ever been the guy who scored against Man Utd. He may have buggered up for the winning goal and ruined the result for us, but he planted a gorgeous header into the net right in front of my eyes and sent me into my first ever frenzy as a Sky Blue fan. You can’t buy memories like that, pals.
So what happened to him after Cov? Where’s he been for all these years? And more importantly, what has he done to find himself back here again?
You only have to skim over his playing career to realise that he certainly didn’t let his time south of the border bother him. A large proportion of his career was spent at Hearts where he played 271 games, leading them to European football through some remarkable league finishes, and a 2006 Scottish Club triumph. He was so revered as captain, he even had a brief stint as caretaker when he was just 32. You will also find him in their Hall of Fame too. Now I don’t know if that’s an actual hall, or just some sort of symbolic gesture. But he’s in there.
After Hearts, things began to wind down for him in a way, and while he was able to achieve a taste of team success with Celtic, it was the beginning of closure on his playing days as he managed only 44 appearances across his final 4 seasons.
So far his coaching career has seen him as an assistant to the Scottish national team, after which he then took over at Falkirk in autumn of 2009 – and it’s this job which has seen him all the way up until the modern day. As far as records go, he’s got a 42% win record, which stands up as feeling pretty decent, although there are no stand-out achievements as yet. But really, it’s the philosophy – the approach, which intrigues, and is likely to be what has got him the job over some more established (and I guess less risky) candidates.
What can we expect?
The main piece of background reading for City fans over the last week has been the open letter sent by Pressley to the Scottish FA, essentially asking them exactly what their plan of action is, as well as offering some fairly specific ideas about how he feels they need to set out on the path to improvement.
OK, people may pick holes in what he says, but that’s really not the point. You have to look past that to recognise the sentiment. Here’s a guy who was willing to actively question the way football in his country was going, but not in the usual half-hearted way you hear in the football studio from ex-pros. He focused on the detail of where he thought things weren’t working, went beyond the banal, and offered some snippets of what he’d obviously learned through his own study.
Whatever you think about the content, it certainly took some balls. In a culture where fans and media regularly thrive on shouting down and misinterpreting signs of frustration as mere “rants”, it feels as though he made a conscious effort to set himself apart and attempt to pinpoint some specific problems. There’s an element of ego there, sure, and is clearly a great difference between theory and the application. But I’d much rather a manager who’d done that work and was clear about his convictions. The biggest question mark over him now is whether he has the training and tactical methods/coaching team to implement what he seems to believe in – a game based around technical standards and embedding this culture right the way through a club, both practically and mentally.
An initial reaction
Let’s face it, he’s come out on top of a competitive and rigorous recruitment process, and for a guy with a CV which is still evolving in terms of managerial success, he’s clearly interviewed like a trooper and sold his unique value to our club in other ways. He deserves credit for that.
I won’t pretend I was particularly enthused when his name flew to the top of the bookies list, but I don’t think that’s much of a surprise. Without being directly exposed to a situation, you don’t really have much more than stats, other fan’s appraisals and your own gut reaction to go on. We all know stats can be deceiving, and the lack of context can easily influence you both ways. If a young manager gets dealt a shitty hand but still has some great attributes and coaching qualities to bring to the role, it doesn’t mention that on the record. It just looks like he has a shitty record. They’ll also do a great job of masking the abilities of a manager who has maybe struck gold with a specific group of players in a very specific scenario, but in reality you’re just looking at Dean Saunders. With all this in mind, I’m trying to give a wide berth to the stats, and focus on what potential he has to take us forward.
I don’t know much about Pressley’s methods, and have long since learned that asking fans of a former club, while sometimes offering up insight, will mainly throw up a load of partizan lunacy. Did you know that 90% of Forest fans in a survey told me that David McGoldrick was shit. I’m not being vulgar for the sake of it; those were their actual filthy words. Whatever they thought of him, it turned out to be completely irrelevant as we provided him with the new lease of life he was looking for.
Robins wasn’t even a truly fancied choice amongst our own fans, and yet he soon came in and had a radical influence over the team. If we’d listened to a large percentage of Barnsley fans who were chirping up about his appointment, you’d be forgiven for believing he was primed to introduce the ugliest brand of football since Aidy Boothroyd. What a load of cobblers that turned out to be, too.
I get that some fans will voice some discontent about an appointment of a manager, especially if they’d had their heart set on one of the more romantic choices like Eric Black or Dennis Wise. It’s normal for them to be disappointed, so don’t take it too seriously – it’s not worth getting into an argument about. It only takes a couple of interviews and few buzz words here and there to convert some onto his side. I’m a sucker for that myself.
He strikes me as someone with a decent handle on what he wants to achieve, and at the very least what he should bring to the side in the short-term is freshness – which with ten games to go would be an unwitting bonus.
It’s a brand new chapter with a guy who’s clearly desperate to be given the opportunity to show what he can do. Yes, it’s not Paolo Di Canio (or our friend Zdeněk Zeman), but here’s a man who from the little we know about him, sounds like he’s going about things in the right way. What that means in reality, we’re just going to have to wait to find out, but with a letter of recommendation from Sir Alex Ferguson firmly under his arm, you’d like to think that counts for a lot (if you pretend Reece Brown and Eddie Johnson never happened).
So welcome to the club, Steven. We’re a strange bunch, but if you can get used to that, all we really want is a little bit of something to cheer. Honest.
PS. I like your haircut. It’s zippy.