The Coppell Strategy
The manner of Steve Coppell’s appointment by stealth at Bristol City will have surprised few long time observers of the Liverpool University graduate. The new Robins’ manager’s likely actions tend to go unnoticed by the Fourth Estate and yet, as with so many of his decisions, once made, it all makes perfect sense. The Ashton Gate club are a mitt like fit for the 2006-7 Premier League Manager of the Season and his arrival will provoke a summer of expectation atop Clifton Down. City can expect a methodical, step-by-step approach from the new man and the evidence of his job history, in particular his nigh-on miraculous spell at Reading, would indicate the deployment of the following possible strategy:
Step 1: Build upon existing resources
In Berkshire Coppell inherited a squad that, like City, had already made a single play off appearance. Twin full backs Graeme Murty and Nicky Shorey were already in place and they and James Harper would go on to enjoy many a red letter day under the incoming gaffer. The Bristolians have, if anything, an even richer bedrock on which to build: Bradley Orr, Louis Carey, Liam Fontaine, Cole Skuse and Nicky Maynard already have the air of Coppell loyalists.
Step 2: Bring in the tried and trusted
Coppell has never stayed shy of persuading former charges to join him and this new role is likely to provide similar opportunities. At the Mad Stad, Paul Brooker and Lloyd Owusu did a limited job for spells but it was their fellow ex-Brentforders, Ivar Ingimarsson (via Wolves), Stephen Hunt and Steve Sidwell (via a loan spell at Brighton) who ended up being the real pearls. Now, the likes of Sidwell, Shorey and Dave Kitson are probably too high up the financial food chain to be viable targets, but Ibrahima Sonko’s frankly catastrophic sojourns at Stoke and Hull will make him a highly gettable signing at a level where he has excelled before, Marcus Hahnemann may be denied a second season at Wolves, and Ingimarsson could make the switch westwards, out of contract as he will be. In addition, another Royals player of the moment, Kalifa Cisse, could well find himself pounding the M4 and what price Liam Rosenior making a return to his old club?
Step 3: Strike transfer bargain gold
If I knew the identity of the cut price recruits on the Coppell radar, then I would be a football manager myself. Suffice to say, a man who signed Kevin Doyle and Kitson for Poundstretcher level prices and, most famously, Ian Wright for Crystal Palace from Greenwich Borough knows how to pick a player. The Merseysider is far from washed up either: Gylfi Sigurðsson and Jimmy Kébé, both currently tearing their way through Championship defences, were both brought to Reading by the Quiet One. Whichever “unknowns” sign at Ashton Gate in the Summer will be observed with keen expectation.
Step 4: Splash out judiciously
It is perhaps ironic that Reading’s launchpad for that 106 point title winning season and one major signing of the preceding summer was Bristol City’s own Leroy Lita. That million pounds turned out to be very well spent although the Kinshasa born fixture of Bristol nightclubs might not be earmarked for a return south this time. Lita was too often left sidelined by Coppell in the duo’s latter days at the Reading and was roundly booed by a fervent away support when Robins won 2-0 at the Madejski in February 2009. Now, the player crying out to be brought in must be Scunthorpe United’s Gary Hooper. City possess the purchasing power parity to prise him away from Glanford Park and he would be worth £2million of anyone’s money, especially as it will deny him the chance to put three past the club again.
Aside from these four steps, Coppell will likely retain the slightly unlucky Keith Millen as assistant manager (long term henchman Kevin Dillon being otherwise engaged at Aldershot), although Wally Downes could be brought in to reprise his Reading role as defensive coach. He’ll look to stamp a distinctive style of play on the side and has shown flexibility down the years. The midfield bypassing of the Bright and Wright era at Palace and his time at Brentford made way for a more pleasing, grassbound approach at Brighton and Reading, although one thing the folk of Bedminster Down can be sure of is for wingers to be a key strategic tool. Coppell elevens opt for a high tempo and make maximum use of the multiball system, he’ll once again blood youngsters and second stringers in the cups and he’ll never moan about referees. City have chosen very well indeed.