James Coppinger interview part three - injuries, John Ryan, under-23s, academy and a message for Doncaster Rovers fans

Head of football operations James Coppinger had a message for Doncaster Rovers fans in the third and final part of our recent in-depth interview.

By Paul Goodwin
Sunday, 26th June 2022, 1:01 pm
Updated Sunday, 26th June 2022, 2:14 pm

Coppinger recently covered various topics in a lengthy chat with Free Press sports writer Paul Goodwin.

Here, the conversation touches upon last season's injury pile-up, former chairman John Ryan’s recent comments about investment, how Rovers intend to counteract the absence of an under-23 team, the academy, pride in the badge and a message for supporters.

PG: The injury situation last season was crazy. What conclusions have you drawn about that and what have you put in place to try and avoid it happening again?

James Coppinger. Photo: George Wood/Getty Images

JC: It was an absolute anomaly. Something I’ve never really seen before. But when I speak to other football clubs and other managers it was very similar at similar clubs to ourselves.

I think Covid played a huge part in that. We had lads isolating before the first game of the season for ten days and then training Friday and playing on the Saturday.

For me personally, they never recovered. It was just a constant battle in terms of keeping people fit and getting people fit. When you’ve got a small squad of senior players, and those senior players don’t play, it then makes things even worse.

Looking back there’s certain things we can take from it but on a personal level I think it more around Covid.

PG: Are you content with the medical side of the things at the club? Did you bring a new physio in?

JC: That’s ongoing. It’s something we’ve looked at. In terms of staffing and recruiting staff it’s about understanding their character and understanding the bigger picture. I think it’s going to take time.

Again, I’m excited about what that looks like because we want to build a culture where there’s a huge togetherness. With the bittiness, if you like, in terms of managers and different bits of pieces we haven’t been able to get that. Successful teams have huge continuity and that’s something we’re hoping for.

PG: John Ryan did an interview a few weeks ago and said the club needed investment. How would you respond to that?

JC: John’s entitled to his opinion. He’s obviously played a huge part in the successful times that we had at this club.

I can’t control that [the investment]. We can’t control that. But again, going back to it, we can control what we do every day. That’s my full focus.

It’s easy for people to say that, I think, because that’s what a lot of people [perceive]. I’ve just almost explained it in the way that we want to do things.

I spent a lot of time as a player worrying about, or focusing energy, on things that I couldn't control and it didn’t do me any good. My focus and energy now is on what I can control.

My role is about support. Supporting people, staff members, players and giving us the best chance with what we have got and what we are doing and be proud of that.

PG: You’re still chipping in with your mindset stuff?

JC: I do it every day. I think communication is the biggest thing. How I communicate and how us as staff communicate. We have really big plans for what we want to do as staff and players and it’s going to take time to change mentality and to change the culture but I genuinely feel like what we’re doing and who we’re bringing in we can get there.

PG: There’s no under-23s any more. Last season a few of the young lads stepped up into the first team and it was a bit of a shock to the system for them. What’s the solution there?

JC: I think loans. We have already got loans lined up for younger players, educating them on the importance of what’s expected as a professional footballer.

I think you’re right, but I think bringing in Chad Gribble as youth team manager and bringing Greeny in to look after the 16s and 18s and having better communication with Tony Cook [academy manager], which will be my responsibility, will help better prepare those lads for what it’s all about. At 18 when they come into the first team they then understand what’s expected.

What we want to do is get them experience of men’s football. The physicality side of it is the bit, at that level, they worry about.

Last season Lirak [Hasani] went out, Liam Ravenhill went out, Ben Bottomley went out. All these lads are going out. But what we want to do is get them out when they’re 17 or 18. So we’re talking about scholars potentially going out on loan to get men’s football.

PG: There’s probably a longer discussion to be had on it but we ran a piece recently which showed that more than 70 young lads had come through the system and been in a first team squad since 2004 and just two of those went on to make over 50 first team appearances. They’re quite striking numbers and slightly concerning.

JC: It is but it isn’t. We're a Category Three academy. If you go back to loans we can bring in a Category One loan who is technically, tactically and physically better.

PG: But then I suppose the argument is what role is the academy playing?

JC: One hundred per cent. That’s something for me and the academy to communicate and understand what are we doing this for and ask what are we actually going to get out of this?

When we’re profiling players, football intelligence is one of the things we look at. When you’re a Category Three academy this effectively starts at the age of seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. So what does that look like for us? Are we recruiting players that get released from Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday quick enough, for instance? Are we letting our own go?

There’s a lot of things to talk about but you speak to Tony Cook and he’s a fantastic academy manager doing a brilliant job.

Two [under-14] lads have just gone from the academy [to Manchester United] so that’s testament to what we’re doing.

I took part in an under nines event in the President’s Suite where all the parents and all the kids came to an evening where we did food, a presentation on what being part of the club looks like, and one of the under 16s lads who is moving up to the 18s spoke about his experience. The feedback from that was unbelievable.

I've spoken to parents from other clubs and none of the other clubs did that. That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about identity and culture. Be proud of playing for Doncaster Rovers from eight or nine years of age.

PG: Well, you’ve mentioned that and one thing I was going to ask is whether there’s been enough pride in the badge over the last 18 months?

JC: I don’t think there has but again I don’t think it’s on purpose. I don't think anyone is maliciously or purposefully [not giving their all].

It’s almost got away from us to the point where this is now it. Now we want to learn from what’s happened and put it right and be accountable for it.

We’re going to make mistakes. I’m coming into this role and it’s a role that’s never been here at Doncaster but I’m working with good people who understand that I’m going to make mistakes. I can't keep making the same mistakes because I know I won't be in it for long. But at the same time don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Go and do things. Make a difference. Be proud of what we’re about.

PG: To finish, what message would you have for the fans?

JC: I think the biggest one is be patient. I know it’s easy to say that but it doesn’t happen overnight. Understand there’s a plan, understand there’s people working their absolute socks off for this football club. That’s something I’ve seen over the last couple of months that’s made me even more passionate and it’s given me even more drive for this club to be successful.