Early Coppell departure no surprise

FourFourTwo.com writer and Bristol City fan James Martini reflects on an unexpected early twist in the Ashton Gate club's season

Fans of Manchester City and Bristol City no longer have just the burden of expectation in common, they now also share a disliking for the 'bottling' antics of Steve Coppell, after the scouser's resignation from his Ashton Gate post this week.

As the shock of his retirement from football begins to dawn on Robins fans - only two games into a one-year contract - obvious comparisons are being drawn with Coppell's 33-day stint in charge at Maine Road back in 1996.

Put under the microscope, the similarities between the two clubs are uncanny. At the time Manchester City were under Coppell's guidance, they were deemed a sleeping giant, underachieving in the second tier of English football, just as Bristol City are today. Both teams harboured ambitions of Coppell being the man to restore them to their former glories, and both teams suffered as the former Manchester United winger ran away from his commitments.

Man City are probably over Coppell's departure by now...

Less than six months ago, Coppell was sat in the Sky Sports studios telling viewers of his desire to wait for the 'right job to come along' and 'a new challenge that excites' him, but something never sat quite right with the Liverpudlian's appointment at from the off.

First there was the one-year contract that he signed which, on the face of it, appeared to show a lack of commitment from the start. Then came comments that this pre-season was the toughest of his career, having been denied of eight first-team regulars throughout his preparations. Shortly after came Coppell's surprise at the singing of England keeper David James. He almost insinuated that the signing was perpetuated by City chairman Steve Lansdown without his say so.

Most bizarrely of all was Coppell's absence at the annual photocall last Tuesday. You know, the time when all the new, exciting players your club signed over the summer get together for the squad photo? Not at Ashton Gate this year anyway.

Usually the City manager, whoever he may be, takes the time out to talk to the local press in a smarm offensive ahead of the new season. But this time there was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the ground as Coppell, who had just grinned for the squad picture, left the assembled ranks of the press waiting for the best part of an hour before sending his assistant Keith Millen out to face the press instead.

NEWS: Coppell quits Bristol City

The reason given for Coppell's absence was that he had sped off early for a scouting mission. Speaking to some of the local press that day, it was the first time that any of them had been left high and dry by any City manager. No soundbite. No interview. Nothing.

It had become clear that Coppell was frustrated at the lack of signings and he hinted as much in the few interviews he did give, suggesting that City's tight wage budget was hindering his progress in the transfer market. He saw moves for Jon Stead and Ibrahima Sonko collapse in the same way as his negotiations for Stoke's ginger-haired striker Dave Kitson, who Coppell managed to great success at Reading.

All in all, Coppell only managed to land seven of 21 targets he had been either close to signing or had made a bid for.

City chairman Steve Lansdown has a role in all of this too. Some accuse the financial services magnate of taking his eye off the ball as he pushes for a new 32,000 all-seater stadium at nearby Ashton Vale. While other believe he should have been investing his money in a squad that has been left ridiculously unbalanced and lacking any sort of strength in depth following Gary Johnson's tenure.

"Errrrm, I think I left something in my car..."

Instead, Lansdown, who became a tax exile by fleeing to Guernsey earlier this year, has been focusing his attentions on battling the local council to get planning for a Sainsbury's supermarket on the current Ashton Gate site, whilst the squad gets weaker and weaker. The Bristol City Council voted against it, stopping an estimated £20 million worth of essential funding towards the new stadium, throwing another spanner into the works.

All this of course, leads us to presume that the chairman and Coppell had a relationship lacking any sort of personal touch. In the past, Lansdown and Johnson were as thick as thieves but the chairman's move to Guernsey prevented a similar relationship developing with Coppell. It became apparent the chairman was refusing to sanction the expensive flops he afforded Johnson last season and that Coppell was banging his head up against a brick wall when it came to competing with other clubs in the transfer market.

The truth is, we just don't know what went on in Coppell's head - even his biographer deems him an enigma, having being left in shock at this decision to walk out on Reading two years ago. But after lightening struck twice with us and our Manchester counterparts, I find it hard to believe he can claim to still feel he has 'a contribution to make to the game sometime in the future'.

Surely twice walking out on his employers in such a fashion makes him 'damaged goods'?

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