Steve Cotterill and the Poisoned Chalice
Following the sacking of Steve Cotterill, there has inevitably been an explosion of news articles about whether he should have been appointed, about poor player recruitment by the club, overpaid players leading to dressing room unrest, failure to recruit in the January transfer window, Financial Fair Play issues, poor decision-making by the Owners, bad advice from the Board’s advisors, naivety/lack of football knowledge in the Board Room, disagreements at Board level.
The toxic atmosphere which appeared to exist within the club at the time of his appointment and subsequently would probably have challenged many managers. In these circumstances, how did he perform? Although it took a while, he did seem to bring some semblance of unity to the squad. Also, after a lot of experiments with players in different positions and formations (which frustrated many Blues fans), he found a winning formula, and during the immediate post-Christmas period got us clear of the relegation zone.
The margin between success and failure is thin. The loss of 2 or 3 players through injury/suspension over the last few games seems to have unbalanced the team and has probably led to a reduction in quality. With a squad that is still unbalanced and wafer-thin on confidence and quality-in-depth, that was sufficient to turn the tide.
Was Cotterill tactically naïve? Not entirely, although I would not always have agreed with his selections, substitutions and tactics (too defensive?) – but every fan will have their opinion. In the end, for a while he did put a winning team together.
Was he a good man manager – in the early days, some performances seemed to suggest that the players were not motivated (at Hull and Millwall). However, he took over a dressing room in disarray and in the end I think the players were certainly playing for him. They were shattered yesterday and my sense was that the fans recognised this.
As an individual, although he spoke a lot of words in press conferences and was not always concise in what he said, he came across as passionate, dedicated, and wanted to succeed. I believe he tried to be honest with the players and fans, although perhaps he wasn’t able to build a rapport with the fans. Building a rapport is always likely to be more difficult when the team is not winning. I also think he tried to deflect the criticism of the players onto himself, which is why he ended up taking a lot of ‘flak’.
As the visible ‘face’ of the club, I believe Steve Cotterill also took the ‘flak’ for the real culprits who have created the recent problems at the club, namely the Owners, the Board, and their advisors. Although he hinted at the problems, he always maintained a tactful silence on the details. It is interesting how all these people kept their head ‘below the parapet’ and let him take the ‘flak’.
Is this article a defence of Steve Cotterill? No, it is an attempt to look objectively at the challenges he faced, and to put some perspective on his tenure as manager.
I believe Steve Cotterill is an honourable man who did his best in difficult circumstances. His managerial career is a mixture of successes and failures, like virtually all football managers. This is why I hope he doesn’t feel too damaged by his experience of managing our club, and that he has success in the future.