Managing Coventry City: Clean sheet boost and adding goals as old guard set to move on

Coventry City manager Mark Robins on the touchline against QPR
-Credit: (Image: 2024 Getty Images)

The summer transfer window is wide open and Coventry City’s recruitment plans are hoped to start taking shape in the coming weeks between now and the end of August.

The Sky Blues are expected to be pretty busy as Mark Robins looks to add numbers and strengthen his squad after narrowly missing out on the play-offs last time around, as he looks to build a more robust group capable of stepping up and making a sustained push for promotion in the coming campaign.

City will be able to register players from now until the window closes on Friday, August 30 at 11pm, and have already got one over the line with the arrival of 20-year-old winger Raphael Borges Rodrigues from Australian A-League side Macarthur FC for an undisclosed fee. Robins, of course, also has fellow wide man Ephron Mason-Clark in the building following his agreed deal from Peterborough United in the January window.

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Transfers are going to form a major part of the club’s plan for success, with quality additions in key positions very much the priority for Robins and his head of recruitment Dean Austin. With players contracted until June 30, traditionally business starts to get interesting around the middle of the month when players start to make decisions on their futures.

The big question yet to be answered, meanwhile, is exactly how much money Robins will have at his disposal this summer? This time last year, you may recall, the Sky Blues didn’t really get their spending spree going until they’d secured the sale of Viktor Gyokeres to Sporting Lisbon for just over £20m. If the Sweden international moves on again, City stand to gain another significant cash boost from the sell-on clause but that can’t be relied upon.

There will be decent funds coming from season ticket sales, which have already topped last year’s 19,500 total, with over 20,000 now sold before Wednesday's Early Bird deadline. The latest Sky TV deal will also help, along with the money earned from the FA Cup run, which will have been more than £1m (£450,000 as quarter-final winners and £500,000 as semi-final losers on top of the prize money for the third, fourth and fifth rounds).

Owner Doug King insists the club, like all Championship teams, is a loss making operation with the average losses for second tier clubs at £10m-£15m a year and, as such, the Sky Blues face a ‘massive challenge’. However, while maintaining that the club will continue to operate in a sustainable way, he remains fiercely ambitious and wants promotion.

Here CoventryLive takes a look at the key priorities for the Sky Blues as they plot their summer deals ahead of what is hoped to be an exciting season of progress at the top end of the Championship.

Fresh competition in goal

It seems fairly clear that Ben Wilson needs, and almost certainly wants, first team football after his stellar campaign for the Sky Blues in 2022/23 when he established himself as Mark Robins’ number one. The arrival of Brad Collins last summer threatened his place and, in time, the former Chelsea prospect took over, limiting him to just 18 league starts and four in the FA Cup.

The likelihood is, therefore, that the 31-year-old – a hugely popular and bubbly character in the dressing room – will be looking to move on despite having a year left on his current deal. Although Robins has always maintained that he has two very good goalkeepers competing for the shirt, rather than a first choice and understudy, the manager is likely to use the current situation as an opportunity to draft in another goalkeeper.

Clean sheets were hard to come by last season as City kept 12 in total, eight fewer than 2022-23, and the position would appear to be one that requires attention.

Rearguard boost

Milan van Ewijk was one of the standouts from last summer’s signings but the squad arguably needs another recognised right-back to add competition and back-up. On the other side of the back four, meanwhile, the general consensus is that there needs to be more to come from Jay Dasilva who found himself losing his place to the supremely reliable and ever popular Jake Bidwell. But another marauding full-back would be an ideal addition, which would mean someone would need to make way – the most likely of whom would be Bidwell. Peterborough’s talented young skipper Harrison Burrows is a name that keeps cropping up.

The return of Luis Binks to Bologna, meanwhile, leaves City one short at centre-back where Robins will need a minimum of four central defenders competing for the two available spots. Robins has gone on record as saying he likes Binks and will be keeping an eye on his situation this summer, but a significant fee and wages may stand in City's way.

Replacing Callum O’Hare

Although Robins joked with the popular attacking midfielder on the final day of the season that he wasn’t giving up on him, it seems inevitable that O’Hare is on his way. Most fans are resigned to the prospect of the 26-year-old walking away as a free agent after five years of service following his initial loan and then free transfer from Aston Villa.

The manager has Kasey Palmer, of course, who stepped up into the number ten role, often ahead of O’Hare, towards the end of the season but will want two players competing for the position. As such, City will already have their sights on an alternative playmaker. The likes of Huddersfield Town’s Jack Rudoni appear to fit the bill, albeit a reported £10m price tag is said to have ‘put off’ the Sky Blues who are said to have switched their attention elsewhere.

City have also been linked with Preston’s Alan Browne who, while not necessarily a technical flair player, has played predominantly as a ten for North End, and the 29-year-old is available on a free, assuming he chooses to turn down a decent contract offer from the Lilywhites. A deal like that seems far more likely at this stage of proceedings, with O’Hare’s wages being freed up for any incoming replacements.

Gus replacement still needed

Much was made of the fact that City never really replaced Gustavo Hamer last season. Although Victor Torp was drafted in during the January window, he’s not the same style of player and a deep-lying playmaker would appear to be still very much on Robins’ wanted list.

The club have been strongly linked with highly-rated Scotland Under-21 international Connor Barron who will be out of contract this summer.

The 21-year-old Aberdeen midfielder has been offered a new contract but interest is mounting, with the Sky Blues and Swansea reported to be ‘keen,’ according to our sister title the Daily Record. Bologna, the report claims, have also joined the growing list of Italian clubs who are weighing up a summer move for the player, who it is claimed will be available to be signed for just over £500,000 in training compensation. It is claimed Barron already has pre-contracts on the table.

Ben Sheaf, stick or twist?

For Mark Robins and the majority of Sky Blues fans, Ben Sheaf is one of the club’s most influential players. The manager is expected to name the 26-year-old midfielder as the club’s new captain following the departure of Liam Kelly. However, just as with the likes of Gyokeres and Hamer before him, the former Arsenal graduate has attracted interest from a number of clubs including Premier League sides Fulham and Crystal Palace, as well as relegated Luton Town, who will be looking to bounce straight back up.

As one of City’s most saleable assets one wonders if the club would be tempted to cash in at the right price in order to use the funds to continue to replenish an evolving squad. That may all depend, of course, on Sheaf’s personal ambitions. In an ideal world he’d be offered and sign a new long-term contract and fulfil those with Coventry by helping the club get promoted. But a less patient player might well be keen to move sooner if the right club comes calling, at which point the Sky Blues’ hand will likely be forced.

As mentioned earlier, it’s unlikely that King will be splashing out millions here and there this summer unless the club receives a windfall from the sale of Gyokeres. Recruitment is more likely to be done prudently.

Ben Sheaf celebrates
Coventry City owner Doug King and manager Mark Robins are keen to strengthen the squad in the summer transfer window

More midfield attention

The departure of Liam Kelly leaves a holding vacancy in the squad and although Robins has gone on record talking about looking forward to having Jamie Allen fully fit next season, following a campaign dogged by illness and injury, it remains to be seen whether the 29-year-old will be content not to be guaranteed a regular start. The high energy and versatile player is, however, the perfect squad player who can fill a number of roles. He’s still contracted to the club for another year but if there’s any interest in him, he might well be tempted to push for a move. Either way, Robins will want to add at least one new central midfielder.

City continue to be linked with 22-year-old Red Star Belgrade midfielder Marko Stamenic, with claims that a £4.26million deal has already been done, albeit the Sky Blues continue to neither confirm or deny the reports coming from the Serbian press.

Adding goals as old guard set to move on

With 19 apiece in their first season with the club, Ellis Simms and Haji Wright will once again be the men tasked with getting the lion’s share of goals. Their dominance during the second half of the season saw Matty Godden slip down the pecking order and appear unhappy with his lack of game time. As such, the 32-year-old may well be thinking that it’s time to move on. He’s already been strongly linked with interest from League One Charlton Athletic and a move would free up wages for City to draft in a younger goal scorer, and someone a bit different to the two big men.

How much spending power do you think Mark Robins will have this summer? Tell us what you think in the comments section HERE.