The Sky Blues are without a win in the league, their Ricoh Arena rental deal is due to expire and the category two status of their academy is under threat
15 September ~ The casual observer may be forgiven for assuming that equilibrium has come back to Coventry City after a turbulent few years. The return to the Ricoh Arena in 2014 following exile in Northampton was symbolic of resolution, while an eighth-placed finish last season appeared to indicate that things were back on track. Onwards and upwards?
Apparently not. A disastrous summer transfer window has given way to an abject start to the new season on the pitch, with the Sky Blues still awaiting a first league win after seven attempts. The backbone of last season’s squad has been dismantled, with loanees Adam Armstrong and Jacob Murphy a distant memory.
Meanwhile midfielders Romain Vincelot and John Fleck joined League One rivals Bradford and Sheffield United. What fans hoped would be a summer of building on success became a wholesale rebuilding job, and the squad emerges lacking in quality and looking significantly weaker.
Off-field issues have also returned to the fore. The club’s Ricoh Arena rental deal expires in 2018 and, with owners Sisu persevering with legal action, negotiations to extend the agreement with landlords Wasps RFC have broken down. Having lost a judicial review concerning a £14.4 million Coventry City Council loan to former Ricoh Arena operating company ACL in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, Sisu have written to the Supreme Court seeking a reversal of the ruling.
The conclusion of that case will be followed by a further judicial review challenging the circumstances surrounding Wasps’ purchase of the stadium in October 2014. However unsavoury Wasps’ presence in Coventry is, their cautiousness in dealing with the football club is perhaps understandable.
To compound matters, the future of Coventry City’s successful academy looks increasingly perilous. A rental deal enabling it to be based at the Alan Higgs Centre expires next June and Wasps have received planning permission to build a multi-million pound training centre of their own on the site.
Operating company Coventry Sports Foundation claim that the football club’s publicly stated desire to build a new stadium and academy complex elsewhere effectively forced them into seeking alternative options.
The situation puts the academy’s sought-after category two status at risk and leaves question marks over a key revenue source – fees received for high-profile academy graduates such as Callum Wilson and James Maddison have significantly boosted the club’s finances in recent years.
Fans’ instinct is, naturally, to apportion blame. Anti-Sisu sentiment is back on the agenda, with a few small-scale protests having taken place at matches already this season. At this stage, though, the fear is that the issues are so systemic and fundamental that it will take much more than new owners to secure the club’s future. Tom Furnival-Adams