Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It Ain't What You Do...

Riding high in the top six of the Championship, Nobes looks at how Coventry City boss Aidy Boothroyd is preparing to make history repeat itself.

Aidy Boothroyd has Coventry challenging for a return to the Premier League

December 25, 1969. That Christmas, the Queen decided against giving an address to the nation, and Rolf Harris surprisingly topped the UK charts with 'Two Little Boys'.

In England's first division, Coventry City were enjoying a solid campaign and would end the 1969/70 season in 6th place. Forty years later, and they haven't finished as high in any division since.

However, as Sky Blues fans sit down to enjoy their turkey and Christmas Pudding on Saturday, they can afford themselves a smile as they look at this season's Championship standings.

Even after last weekend's 2-1 defeat to Norwich, the West Midlands side sit sixth in the division and are firmly involved in the race for the play offs. These are uncharted times at the Ricoh Arena.

Not so for Coventry's manager Aidy Boothroyd though. Indeed, the 39-year-old will be having a distinct feeling of deja vu as he plots to recapture the top flight spot City held for over 30 years before relegation a decade ago.

Boothroyd sensationally led Watford into the Premier League in 2006 in his first full season in charge. One of the pre-season relegation favourites stunned much bigger and wealthier opponents to emerge victorious through the play offs.

The Hornets came straight back down - but once again finished in the play offs in 2008. This time, however, they fell short and were no match for Hull over two legs in the semi finals.

Still, it was a reminder that, at this level, the straight-talking Yorkshireman knows what it takes to make the end of season lottery. Now he's hoping to repeat the trick with his new employers.

Boothroyd himself is a complex character. Intelligent and friendly, he was virtually unknown when a then struggling Watford gave the former Leeds and Norwich coach his first managerial role in 2005.

He just about kept the Vicarage Road outfit in the Championship before implementing his whirlwind turnaround in fortunes. However, it wasn't just the surprise element that had people talking about Boothroyd's Watford.

At times, it seemed as though the manager was attempting to recreate history with a style of play reminiscent of the Hornets team which gatecrashed England's elite in the early '80s.

Back then, Graham Taylor's side were branded a 'kick and rush' team as they bombarded opposition defences with high balls pumped into the penalty area. Sophisticated? No. Effective? Extremely.

It was the same recipe for success for Boothroyd a quarter of a century later. Pundits who laughed when the managerial rookie set his sights on the Premier League were left with egg on their face as Watford muscled their way into claiming a place at football's top table.

It earned the new man the nickname 'Hoofroyd', a tag which has followed him around at Colchester last term and now in his latest role in Warwickshire. Not that it seems to greatly perturb him.

"I don't go in for 'playing the game the right way', because statements like that are usually made by purists who don't win very often." he argued. "As far as I am concerned, playing the right way is winning."

I spoke after his appointment - one met with disdain from some Coventry supporters - about the thinking of managers dubbed 'route one merchants'.

Managers for whom results and winning are everything. For whom it's steel, not style, which matters. Managers whose methods dictate they need results quickly - and often get them.

It was certainly the case with Boothroyd at Watford, and now too with Coventry. Only once in their previous nine seasons in the Championship have the Sky Blues had a better record before Christmas.

That was in 2001/2, when the team relegated from the Premier League, along with £5 million addition Lee Hughes, were battling for an instant return to the top flight. They failed, and it has been the same story ever since.

Boothroyd's Watford won promotion via the Championship play offs in 2006

Could that be about to change under City's ninth manager in ten years though?

As when he took over at Watford, Boothroyd is attempting to turn around a side used to finishing towards the wrong end of the division. Coventry ended up 19th last term, following on from two 17th places in recent years. They even finished as low as 21st in 2008.

Under Boothroyd, though, they've rarely been out of the top half all term. City have won 10 of their 22 games and have kept eight clean sheets along the way.

He was fortunate to inherit arguably the division's best keeper in Keiren Westwood, but bringing back experienced midfielder Lee Carsley for a second spell at the club was a particularly shrewd move.

He also returned to former club Colchester to bring target man Clive Platt with him and, typical of his steadfastness, took a gamble on controversial striker Marlon King.

The pair worked together at Watford where King scored 22 goals in their promotion campaign. The striker describes Boothroyd as, "the best manager I have worked under. He gives you belief there's nothing you can't do."

Certainly Boothroyd's methods, while not easy on the eye, ensure that Coventry will always be a difficult proposition for opponents and an emphasis on doing the basics right means they're always in contention in matches.

Sides who don't match their work rate and are unable to cope with their aerial assault will also get little change from a trip to the Ricoh.

While purists will snarl at the thought of City being promoted, credit has to be paid if a side through organisation and sheer effectiveness can upset others with bigger budgets and better players.

There is also more to Coventry's manager than your average long ball merchant. Boothroyd is an innovator.

In 2006, knowing his young Watford side were heading into the play offs, he used the Easter weekend games to rehearse the kind of training schedule necessary for the quick fire games of the play offs.

He also staged a mock penalty shoot out after a home game towards the end of the season.

Home fans were encouraged to boo and heckle the Hornets players as they stepped up to the spot - all designed to try and re-create the kind of atmosphere and situation they would face if Watford needed to triumph in a shoot out in the play offs.

In the end they didn't need one, but the manager argued that not only did it make his players better prepared, but it would also lay seeds of doubt into their opponents minds. They'd believe Watford were better placed to win a shoot out.

Then, for the final, Boothroyd's men trained on a pitch marked out to the exact dimensions of the Millennium Stadium venue,
went on a tour of the Cardiff arena, and even practised the pre-match handshake routine performed at such occasions.

You certainly can't accuse him of failing to do his preparation. "I like to pre-empt a lot of things so that when they do happen we are prepared for them," he explained.

In pre-season last summer, Boothroyd worked on various scenarios with his new charges including adapting to playing with ten men and - something which seems pertinent of late - how to deal psychologically with a game in threat of being called off because of an adverse weather.

At Watford, he even changed his touchline attire from a tracksuit to a smart suit because he believed it would gain his team an advantage.

During a game against Preston, he felt opposite number Billy Davies had received more respect
than him from the referee because of the way he had been dressed.

Indeed, the pair seem to share more in common than just what they wear inside the technical area.

Both pay great attention to detail, and Boothroyd's comments about Coventry being a work in progress and the need for more time are reminiscent of Davies's last season when describing his Nottingham Forest team.

Of course, Forest went on to make the play offs themselves. Boothroyd will be hoping to take another leaf out of the Scot's book this term by doing the same and ending Coventry's long wait for a top six finish.

One thing is for sure - he would have been preparing for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment