Not all ex-Sunderland bosses are unemployable. Burnley fan Kevin Clarke looks at the amazing success of Steve Cotterill
Pundits often express disappointment at the lack of young English managers flourishing and the fact that top clubs appoint foreign coaches with the rest of the jobs swallowed up by the same old names. In Burnley, however, a quiet revolution is taking place, spearheaded by a man whose public stock was very low before this season. Step forward Steve Cotterill.
At the end of 2003-04, Burnley chairman Barry Kilby decided to dispense with the grizzled Stan Ternent. Stan’s idea of conflict management involved a smack in the face, his idea of team building was a week in Magaluf, but he had been a success, achieving promotion to the First Division and keeping the team there for four years. In the past two seasons, though, Burnley had become a running joke, conceding more than 160 goals.
Cotterill’s appointment was a surprise for a notoriously insular club that likes to promote ex-players. Since taking Cheltenham up from the Third Division in 2002, he had had a brief spell at Stoke, who were in the middle of a losing streak when he left, then a torrid four months as Howard Wilkinson’s deputy at Sunderland. Cotterill then began coaching at Leicester, just before the club took a mid-season break – in La Manga. At this point, timing appeared not to be Steve’s forte.
On his arrival at Turf Moor, the club had nine players and a pressing debt of £750,000 that needed to be paid to finance companies to stave off administration. Cotterill spouted the usual platitudes but also talked of building a team, and then a squad, of organisation and teamwork. Rather than the traditional pre-season jaunt to the Isle of Man for games against Wrexham and Stockport, Cotterill took the team to Austria, to play friendlies at altitude against Bundesliga sides.
He began to earn fans’ confidence by rejecting substantial bids for our jewel, England Under-21 midfielder Richard Chaplow. Free signings included Mr Own Goal, Frank Sinclair, while 1960s-sized fees were paid for Danny Coyne (£25k) and Michael Duff (£15k). Fans were heartened by the signing of a goalkeeper and three defenders (“I watched videos of all last seasons games,” said Cotterill). The small squad has further been bolstered by loan signings, the prize one being defender Gary Cahill from Villa. Few had heard of him but he made a dramatic impact, helping the side keep seven clean sheets in the first nine games he played. As entertaining as Stan was, nobody could imagine him chucking an 18-year-old into the first team; he preferred 36-year-old mono-paced David May.
After 28 games, Burnley are eight points off sixth place with two games in hand. The star player, striker Robbie Blake, has gone to Birmingham, which would have been a disaster under Stan but is now seen as an opportunity to invest. We have the second-best defensive record in the league, have beaten Villa and Liverpool in the cups and won at Stoke despite their fans using every insult available towards Cotterill. This has been achieved using only 18 players – three for a matter of minutes – despite suffering a number of injuries, with Chaplow and Coyne out for three months. Cotterill advocates ice-baths, masseurs and under-water pressure tanks to increase blood circulation and the first XI has remained largely the same throughout.
Sinclair is now club captain, transformed from joke into a rock-solid centre-half (nicknamed “The Power”) and Cotterill has worked magic on others, none more than left-back Mo Camara, who used to bomb forward then launch crosses into Yorkshire – apparently to the constant amusement of Ternent’s staff. Cotterill had him perform 1,000 crosses a day in pre-season, and he now attacks with intent and accuracy, to the extent of being renamed Moberto Carlos.
We have a gem, who in his short time here has already been linked with Leicester, Wolves and Portsmouth. But Cotterill says he is going nowhere and is building an infrastructure and planning an indoor dome with the Blake money. Burnley have more qualified coaches within the youth set-up than any club in the country and there is talk of Academy status, all set up in six months.
Cotterill will leave Burnley for a Premiership side in the next three to five years. We will not begrudge him this, as it is certain he will leave us in a better position than when he took over. It is clear that he is destined for success and we will take delight in knowing that we played a large part in his rehabilitation.
From WSC 217 March 2005. What was happening this month