Well, it only ended up taking three matches of the Football League season, but Coventry City became the first club to decide that enough was enough with their manager and, following Saturdays home league draw against Bury at The Ricoh Arena, Andy Thorn will now be twiddling his thumbs on Saturday afternoons until another offer comes along. It is, in some respects, no great surprise that Thorn should have been sacked by the club. After all, Coventry City find themselves playing outside of the top two divisions of English football for the first time in forty-eight years, and this season has hardly started in a stellar fashion for a club that will be harboring ambitions of automatic promotion back to the Championship. Coventry supporters, however, seem split on the wisdom of the decision – as they have seemed split over many of the decisions made by the current owners of the club over the last few years or so.
Thorn has given the impression of being a manager operating with one hand tied behind his back for some time, now. The club fell on hard time several years ago and only narrowly avoided entering into administration last season as the club spiralled towards relegation. The clubs owners, the venture capitalist group Sisu, found itself in an embarrassing war of words over the rent at their new ground, with Coventry Councils leader, the Labour Partys John Mutton, sating that, “Sisu have allowed experienced players to leave, losing the backbone of the team, there is constant change of executives running the club, they say they are losing £500,000 a month yet identify the £100,000-a-month rent as the root of their problems. If they cannot return Coventry City into a successful club, they should go now and let others pick up the pieces.”
The manager, meanwhile, was operating on a financial footing that had the distinct impression of short-termism about it, with experienced players such as centre-half Ben Turner and midfielder Aron Gunarsson being sold – both to Cardiff City in the case of the aforementioned pairing – without adequate replacements being signed, and relegation was achieved at a canter at the end of last season. The Sisu group had bought into the club four years ago with the apparent intention of getting it into the Premier League and cashing in on the money that would come with that. As happens so frequently when concerns other than football start getting involved in clubs, however, Coventry continued to stall in the Championship, with the venture capitalists slowing the funding in the team as it continued to labour in the lower-mid-table of the division. When major work needed to be carried out on the playing staff, the money required to do so was not forthcoming and what followed had an air of inevitability about it.
In the case of clubs that sack their managers soon after a new season starts, one question raises its head, and in the case of Coventry City it is arguably even more pertinent than in others that have followed the same path in recent years: if Andy Thorn wasn’t the man for the Coventry City managerial position this season, then why on earth wasn’t this decision made during the summer? This would, after all, have given a new manager the time to reshape both the playing and backroom staff to something of his choosing and would have given this new squad a chance to settle before a ball was kicked at the start of the new season. It’s all the more perplexing in the case of Andy Thorn and Coventry because the team had hardly had a disastrous start to the season. In the league, the first three matches have brought three draws, against Yeovil Town, pre-season promotion favourites Sheffield United and Bury, whilst they won at Dagenham & Redbridge in the First Round of the League Cup. In the case of all three league matches they lost a lead – and it is possible that losing a two goal lead against Bury was too much for the clubs owners to take – but Coventrys start to the season has been far from apocalyptic and the club remains at least in with a decent chance of progressing up the League One table this season.
Perhaps more troubling has been the comments of the clubs Chief Executive Tim Fisher regarding the sacking. Fisher has stated that “Last season there were off-the-field matters that affected team affairs and we felt it was right and proper to give Andy the chance to put that right over the course of the summer and the start of the season. We do not feel that has happened. Of course, the fact that we have surrendered the lead in the first three league games has not helped, but there are several other factors in this decision – not just three disappointing results”, an innuendo-laden final comment which poses considerably more questions than it could ever hope to answer. What exactly is he suggesting by saying that, “there are several other factors in this decision – not just three disappointing results”, and why has the club not yet made public what these “other factors” were? Considering the amount of distrust of the owners that there seems to be regarding the owners of the club amongst the clubs support at present, perhaps these questions should be answered as quickly as possible.
It is likely that the decision that SISU make with regard to the new manager of the club will come to define the remainder of the clubs season. With protests at The Ricoh Arena last season concerning their ownership, it is not a decision that they can afford to get wrong. Moreover, the clubs financial position remains precarious and making a mess of things now would only surely further slow revenue into the club. Coventry City Football Club has, over the last four or five years or so, given every impression of being rudderless and in a state of slow decline. If this decline is to be arrested – and it doesn’t seem to have been yet – then it will need a solid managerial appointment in order to push the club towards the top of League One. Failure to do so may mean that the smell of damp rot around The Ricoh Arena will only become more and more overpowering over the coming months, but the question of whether SISU can or will make the right appointment is a very real one, which speaks volumes about the situation in which the club finds itself today.
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