This thought-process has always worried me.
There are many factors that help determine fair and acceptable achievement, but hiding from elevated standards (based on actual demonstrated ability) can be damaging to progress.
Being “realistic” is as much about acknowledging reality as it is about protecting against failure, which has historically been our go-to move when those fleeting moments of excitement would inevitably go balls-up. Post-rationalising when things go wrong is a human trait, but it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as losing all recognition of the standards that got you there in the first place.
It’s not scary to have improved. It’s not scary to assert that we may have actually grown into a pretty formidable Championship opponent. And while our play-off push may have gone awry, there is so much detail that underpins our performance this season that points to a new status for this team.
Money is of course a factor in how we ultimately judge ourselves – but it really isn’t the only determining measure. We’ve watched enough football to understand how some things are more fundamental than having wads of cash to throw about. Momentum, confidence, player connections, tactical fluidity, dynamics, consistent team selection, optimism and positivity. All hugely contributing facets to sustainable growth. Just ask the toxic clubs that blindly throw money at broken cultures and wonder why they’re unable to escape the ruts they’re in.
We don’t have loads of money, but lightly-funded or not, we already have the thing that money buys you: some very good players. We may not have the depth that would have allowed us to supplement those players when negative things happened to our most consistent lineups, but even so – our standards must surely be higher than collectively heading to the beach in March because we think we’ve done enough this season.
We’re now better than this.
This isn’t to say that we should crucify the team when they don’t win, as if that’s the only way to maintain high standards. I do agree that aimless whining is pointless. But whether these statements are tongue-in-cheek or not, a metaphorical free-pass to lose the remaining games is an infuriating stance and precisely how you undermine the strides in performance and culture Coventry City has made over the recent years.
I don’t believe we’re now default play-off contenders or that is somehow the only yardstick to measure us by, but I also don’t agree with backtracking to align with early-season predictions. I don’t too much care about “you would have taken this at the beginning of the season”. Why do we need to protect our feelings by pretending that achieving safety is the only possible benchmark for this version of Coventry City?
This season doesn’t have to be classed as an inherent overachievement – it’s quite possible this is now who we are, because we’ve shown it far too often for it to be a fluke. We have so much going for us, have dominated a disproportionate number of teams, and are within our rights as a football club to move the goalposts to reflect that shift. Sure, we’re lacking in a few areas and it’s likely to be a step too far to expect a top-six finish this season – and this missed opportunity does frustrate me – but the foundations of our club are solid and very, very real.
All improvement is valued and remains the aim. But let’s not return to the old mindset of protecting ourselves. However we’ve managed it, this group is no longer at the Championship kid’s table.
Finishing strongly is important.