Perfect storm, play-offs, Ryton and a message to agents - Mark Robins’ big Coventry City interview

Mark Robins says Coventry City will ‘aim for the stars’ next season following what looks set to be a busy and exciting summer transfer window. The manager insists the Sky Blues are a ‘serious football club with serious ambitions’ and revealed that the club’s close season plans are already underway following the final game of the 2023/24 campaign.

Robins and his trusty right-hand man Adi Viveash have had detailed discussions about how to move the club forward to become a firm top six side, including addressing defensive issues and finding more goals from midfield, and also spoken about wanting players with ‘independent minds’ who are ‘laser focused’ players, both new and current, and needing to ‘get on board’ with it, because if they’re not then, he said, ‘they’re not for us.’

The City boss has also revealed his Ipswich ‘envy’ after the Suffolk club achieved back-to-back promotions to return to the Premier League, saying the Tractor Boys serve as an ‘inspiration’ and model for what can be achieved by keeping a squad together, and that he ‘longs’ for nights Town enjoyed when they celebrated being a point away from promotion in the penultimate game of the season at the CBS Arena.

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Speaking to CoventryLive, Robins took time to reflect on the season just gone, before laying out his plans for taking the club on another level.

“What we have done this season is rebuild and galvanise,” he said. “We have played some really good football, we have had some real excitement and some really good games as usual, and there have been things that have happened within those games that have been fantastic.

“There have been things that haven’t been so great but we have got to address those, so it’s multifaceted and we have to look about how we go about moving forward. Adi and I have already spoken about a lot of things that we want to do next season and things will move quickly now. There’s lots of things to sort out, and more besides. We have been working on things for a while and that work never stops anyway. And then it’s just a case of putting things into practice as we move forward.”

One area on the pitch that is a priority is the amount of goals conceded. Although the Sky Blues have scored 11 more goals this term with 69 in the Championship compared to 58 in 2022/23, they have gone backwards in terms of the goals against column, having conceded 11 more goals with 57 this year compared to 46 last.

“We give people too many good opportunities to score, and that will be addressed,” insisted the 54-year-old. “While it was important to play well and try to get a result on the last day, it wasn’t the be all and end all. And when we talk about the results that have gone, the results haven’t been good enough but I already know the reasons for that. It was always going to be that way and that isn’t defeatist, that’s knowing what is likely to come around the corner if certain things happen.

“And it was like the perfect storm really, and you get injuries to key players that mean that there’s a knock-on effect and then games against top opposition before and after we played in the semi-final, and these are the things we will look and try to be better with in the future.”

He added: “But when you look back at the season in general, the FA Cup run has been probably the highlight but there has been some really good football played and we have scored more goals than we did last season, which is one of the big things we needed to try to do with a new group of players. There is some exciting talent in the building and we will look to improve for next season.”

Asked if he has any regrets about the FA Cup and how much it took out of the team, to the detriment of the push for the play-offs, Robin said: “No, none. I think the regrets are in the league, and there is no disgrace in it, by the way. But we lost to Cardiff at home, lost to Birmingham City away. It was Easter Monday when we lost to Cardiff, after Good Friday, and then Birmingham in the week before we were due to play in the semi-final, and people can be forgiven for having one eye to something but we have to learn from that and do things maybe slightly differently.

“There are lessons to learn but hopefully we will get the chance to be able to experience that again. When you experience it, you want more of it.”

With success, albeit relative in this season’s case, comes the threat that higher placed clubs will be interested in City’s players. Ben Sheaf has already been linked with the likes of Fulham and newly promoted Ipswich, while Ellis Simms and Haji Wright each finishing one shy of 20 goals for the season will alert other clubs. So is he hopeful of keeping his best players, the out of contract Callum O’Hare aside?

“Yes, absolutely I’m hopeful because if you want to build and do better, as Ipswich have shown, if you keep the same players together for a couple or three years then it stands you in good stead,” he said.

“You have to achieve during that time, and this team has achieved some great things this year. The FA Cup is the standout feature of this season, there’s no doubt about it because we were a fraction away from being in the FA Cup final. There are some really good stats and some not so good stats that we have got to improve on. And we will set out to do that.

“But I am proud of the way the players have galvanised and gone about their job, and whilst there have been difficult times in terms of the amount of games we know we have been up against it. We have lost key players at key moments.

“And hopefully we can keep the majority of the squad together, the players that we want to stay, the players who are in contract. And we’ll certainly be strong on that and will try to add to the team where we can to give us a better chance of getting results next season, which we want because we want to be in that top six.”

Robins has expressed the fact that he’s ‘fed up’ with players coming to Coventry and using the club as a stepping stone, rather than buying into the club’s aims and helping it fulfil its ambitions.

“It has to be the primary aim to recruit players who buy into this football club and what we do, what the club stands for and our aims and ambitions, and the support, because the fanbase is incredible and has been for a number of years,” said the manager, who revealed ongoing plans to improve the building at Ryton, following on from the two new pitches.

“The training ground is improving all the time and so at some point we will have a training ground that will match any, so there will be a better environment moving forward this summer. There will be a hybrid set-up while we develop the building and a few temporary buildings while that work is being done, but it will be done properly.

Everything Doug (King) has done has been high level, high quality and that will remain. We spoke about that at the start of it, and that is clear for everyone to see, from the training ground to dressing rooms at the stadium and pitches.

“We started with a low bar, in fairness, so every bit of work that gets done is quality. When we eventually have the media back in at Ryton, there may be scope to have a media suite that can double up as a meeting room for us. It will be done properly and it will probably take another two or three years to finish things off. We will put every ounce of energy into what we do in the grass but there will be some focus on that as well to take it into a proper training ground because we are building for the future and future generations to utilise and enjoy and build. So it should be a really nice and good environment to work in but a competitive environment as well.

“There are bits that need improving at the stadium but we have got a really good platform to build from and the players and their agents need to understand that we’re building something for Coventry City.

“We’re not doing it for other clubs or for quick fixes or quick bounces, we’re doing it for Coventry City. And every decision we make collectively now, will always be in the best interests of the club. And players need to get on board with it, and if they’re not then they’re not for us.”

He added: “It’s difficult for players. You want players with independent minds and laser focused to get the best out of themselves for us, and for the club to progress. Their sole focus and intention has to be on improvement and being the best they can every day in training. The standards have to remain high and we have to try to raise that all the time, and that’s going to be the focus from now, moving forwards, and everyone who wants to buy into it will play a significant part in the next chapter and hopefully we can have another memorable season.”

Given what he’s achieved over the last two seasons, let alone the last seven years, Coventry City has to be seen as a club on the up by those on the outside looking in. Having made the Championship play-off final last year and the FA Cup semi-finals this, coupled with a fantastic stadium, everything is there to make the club a big draw for potential new signings and their agents.

“I think if people hadn’t taken us seriously before, they do now,” he said. “The club has lurched around the lower divisions for a number of years and the fact that we have been able to build the way we have, we have had the platform. And that’s why the FA Cup was so important because we got a world-wide audience, and if people didn’t take us seriously before then they sure as hell are now.

“And that’s got to be the message for everybody who is coming here. This is a serious football club with serious ambitions. Nobody will be looking down; we are certainly looking up. You have got to aim for the stars. You might not get there but you might just hit the moon. At the end of the day you have got to go for it, and that’s what we intend to do.

“You have to make sure you’re on that trajectory but the environment has got to be right and that’s why you have to set the standards and remind everybody what the expectations are of this football club because it’s such a special club. You don’t get it everywhere.”

Robins pointed to Ipswich Town as an inspiration and example of how to do things right.

“I thought the Ipswich supporters were incredible at the CBS when they were on the cusp of the Premier League, and if we can get into a position like that,” he said, “which we will aim to do until we get there. I long for those nights where we get things right more often than not.

“We want more of that because you’re envious because they ended up a point away from the Premier League, and those are the things that really drive you on and inspire you. That’s got to be the case for us and our players, and those who will be coming in. We will be building, there’s no doubt about it, and we have to make sure we are all together and have a really good start next season because that’s something that’s been missing in recent seasons.”

He added: “In all honesty, we have done some unbelievable things this year, some of the football has been incredible, even against Ipswich when we lost. It was high quality but there are just little bits where you have got young players who are in a state of fatigue, certainly mentally.

“The players have played more this season than ever before in their careers, so that will stand them in good stead. Josh Eccles, for instance, has played more games than ever before at this level. Liam Kitching, is a young centre-half who will improve; Ellis Simms, Haji Wright, Tatsu – all new into it. Those three have scored more goals together than we got last year.”

Touching on his in-depth conversation with Adi Viveash, he said: “What we could do with is more goals from midfield and that’s one of things we’ll be looking for with what looks like Callum moving on, so we have to look at that, and what happens next. Whatever happens we will look to improve where we can, and those are the things Adi and I have spoken about, in terms of what we can do, what we have in the building, when we are coming back in and how we are going to approach things, there’s going to be a change in focus – a lot of things without giving too much away. But we are well on with it and in our minds the focus is there. But we need a break, to be fair, a little bit of a holiday but in terms of the work, we will be working throughout the summer.”

Turning to the fans and the atmosphere at the CBS Arena, which has gone up another lever with a season ticket take-up of 19,500, an average crowd 25,500 and a now established pre kick-off anthem ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ to get the place rocking, Robins said: “Honestly, I can’t thank the supporters enough and the matchday experience has been better than it has been, certainly for us when we come out and see the numbers that are in the stadium. It gives you a buzz straight from the start and for the players, it’s incredible, and you can feel the positivity from the stands.”

He added: “Wembley was unbelievable, and the home games at the CBS and the away games – the support lifts and carries the players, and because of the positivity here it just takes things to a different level, and we’ll need that again, moving forward, so please, when they can, renew their season tickets and see if we can beat that number again, and let’s try to fill the stadium next season.

“It can be a hugely significant moment and could give us a real platform to have a memorable season next time. I’m already looking forward to it, to be honest. We have special supporters and they carry you along, and that’s what makes this as special as it is.”

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