If a manager’s achievements are to be judged in relative perspective, then how would Steve Coppell's taking his Reading side to 8th place rank alongside Jose Mourinho's winning back-to-back titles with Chelsea?
Well, while Chelsea's accomplishments were made courtesy of goals from £24m striker Didier Drogba, Reading’s top goalscorer in the league last season was Kevin Doyle, costing just £80,000 from Cork City—a cost barely equal to the week's wages of some senior players at Stamford Bridge.
Some might say Coppell’s achievements eclipse those of Mourinho, and the Reading manager was certainly not without his admirers last season. Taking home the Manager of the Year award, in his side's first ever Premiership campaign he missed out on a fiercely contested UEFA Cup spot by just one position.
Coppell, however, wasn’t keen on the idea of his side qualifying for Europe in their inaugural top flight season and this surprised many. This outlook demonstrated an as yet unseen aspect of Coppell’s personality and management ethos which some thought to be not in keeping with the spirit of the game.
Last season this unpopular approach surfaced again when Coppell selected weakened sides for the cup competitions, and even more famously this year when one of his players, Dave Kitson, claimed he “didn’t give two shits” about the FA Cup. FA Cup romantics reacted furiously and this quote was carried by all the red top papers who picked up on the negativity of the Berkshire Club.
The question arises though, is Steve Coppell negative?
Simon Jordan said that when the pair was together at Crystal Palace (the club Jordan owns) Coppell was so negative “he made my phone lose reception.
Perhaps he is honest to the extreme, but negative? It certainly isn’t the way in which his Reading side plays their football, with Arsene Wenger commenting that Steve Coppell “has a team that does not play negatively—they have a positive attitude everywhere they go."
They are, however, struggling to find the form they had last season (Reading has 9 points less at this stage than they did last year) but still they remain a difficult side to beat at home and they are coping remarkably well with the loss of one of their key players, Steve Sidwell, transferred to Chelsea. Reading is also dealing with the loss of the surprise element they possessed last term, and fighting against the so-called ‘second season syndrome’ that so often afflicts a club in their second Premiership season.
Though there has been talk of the former Manchester United winger walking away from his position at the Royals, his captain Graham Murty dispelled the rumors and gave an insight into his boss’s average week at the same time. “He agonizes all week over our team, then same for the opposition, I don’t think people realize how much hard work goes on.” Murty then went on to rank his manager among the best in the world.
However the Reading chief's statement that he does his job to "pay the bills" does little to quash negative rumors, and it might not be long before Reading loses their manager to pastures new, or even to pastures none-at-all as he may be forced to take a break from the sport. Something that even their club captain wouldn’t begrudge him: “if he thinks he's going to suffer if he stays in the job I think every single one of the players will shake his hand, look him in the eye and wish him all the very best, because I think he has been fantastic for the club, for the players and for the supporters.”
So whether Steve Coppell possesses negativity or just a healthy realism, his perspective really is one that everyone in the game can relate to; most importantly his players certainly do—both on and off the pitch.
He is fully aware of his side's capabilities but appreciates their limitations. He takes these into account and will make sacrifices to ensure that Reading achieves their No. 1 priority, which, in today’s world of much increased television revenue, is their Premier League status.