James Coppinger interview part two - ambitions, loan policy and how do Doncaster Rovers get an edge over their rivals?

Here’s the second part of our in-depth chat with Doncaster Rovers’ head of football operations James Coppinger.

By Paul Goodwin
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 5:15 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th June 2022, 5:23 pm

In part one Coppinger discussed his approach to the job, his pride in Rovers becoming a ‘self-funding’ club and defended under fire chief executive Gavin Baldwin.

Now his conversation with sports writer Paul Goodwin moves onto the club’s ambitions and ponders how Rovers can gain a competitive edge over their rivals.

This section also includes details on his policy regarding loan players, recruitment and who has the final say in the new management structure.

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PG: What’s the ambition for the football club in the short term and longer term?

JC: I think the ambition is promotion. It has to be. I genuinely believe we’ve got a good squad that’s capable of getting promoted.

You look at our squad last season and we spent a lot of time not getting senior players fit. We couldn’t get them on the pitch which affects the rest of the group.

We had players playing that weren’t ready to play and probably played more minutes than they should have. Players going through a development phase if you like.

James Coppinger, pictured with former Newcastle United manager James Coppinger. Photo: Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

For me personally watching the games it was apparent that I almost knew what was going to happen.

So this season getting four or five players back fit will be genuinely like having four or five new signings and that will affect the dynamic of the group. It will affect the eleven that are starting.

Add into that players coming in. We feel like with 21 contracted players we’re probably in a lot better position than we’ve been in for the last two, three, four seasons. Especially last season. Tom Anderson was the only player that started last season from the season before. Ten debutants. This season it will be the opposite.

If you throw Covid into the mix, you throw injuries into the mix, you throw everything else into the mix – I speak all the time about negative momentum and we couldn’t have had any more negative momentum last season.

So this season it’s the opposite. We want to build positive momentum. We want to communicate and build. Small steps.

PG: You’re right. There is a change because it’s been like trying to build a new team every summer for the last couple of years.

JC: But it’s also about understanding that. I think you’re right. I think you look at the last 18 months and it’s been difficult, not just on the pitch, off the pitch.

Everything that’s culminated, it’s played a part in it [relegation]. It’s not just one specific thing. So for me, how are we going to improve and get better?

PG: How can this club get an edge over other teams at this level? It’s not a club that’s going to go out and spend big money on transfer fees and wages, so how can you get an edge?

JC: It isn’t, but we got voted the best club to send loan players in the country. In the country. That’s something to be proud of in my opinion.

We’ve got a fantastic facility at the Eco-Power Stadium, we’ve got a fantastic training facility and it’s about creating an environment where players feel valued and it’s a learning environment.

We’ve brought in Steve Eyre, a fantastic coach, and we’re bringing in fantastic staff and we feel like we’ve already got fantastic staff.

It’s about being proud of that.

We’re not a Premier League club but that doesn’t mean you do less. It doesn’t mean that your standards drop. It doesn’t mean that you demand less from each other. It might mean that your expectation levels come down a little bit but there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s communicated and everyone’s on the same road.

PG: You’ve mentioned loan players – what’s the policy moving forward on loan players?

JC: If we need loan players, we need loan players. It won’t be from my perspective any specific number, any specific reason.

There’s only specific things come out of the loan market in my opinion. The technical side of it is better because they’re at Premier League clubs. Tactical, yes.

Physical, they’re young players so they could be quicker.

But the mentality side of it and the experience side of it, it’s really hard for them to understand what’s expected at this level.

I’ve seen it throughout the whole 18 years that I’ve been at the club. Young lads come in from Premier League clubs thinking they’re taking a step down, whether that’s the Championship, League One or League Two, but it’s a different game completely and a different level completely.

My idea on loan players would be to have loan players, to have them in the team and the squad, but you can’t have five loan players that have never played league football and rely on them to be consistent performers.

So it’s understanding when to use them and having the right balance and making sure you’re getting the right loan players character-wise.

And understanding where they are coming from and what their clubs want from them. We’ve done some fantastic work around presentations for players coming in so specifically sitting down with them and showing them clips of themselves and saying ‘this is how we see you playing in this team’.

We’ve had some unbelievable feedback from loan clubs on how well we have treated players that have come to this club and again it’s something to be proud of.

This is the perfect opportunity to send loan players that want to use this is as an experience. We’ve had some fantastic loans. Jacob Ramsey is the perfect example. He came here and then he’s gone back and played regular Premier League football. We’ve had Sam Johnstone, England first team goalkeeper. It is a good club for that.

I imagine from a fan’s perspective it is frustrating seeing loan players come in and not being Doncaster Rovers players but it’s about getting that balance because they can add massive value.

PG: Are you going to appoint a new talent identification manager?

JC: One hundred per cent. We’re down the line with that so we’re really close.

But, again, it’s about understanding what we want. It’s not appointing for the sake of appointing. It’s understanding what we want from this person that is going to come in.

Myself, the manager, the assistant manager – we have knowledge within football. We have contacts within football.

So understanding what we want from this person that’s coming in was the biggest thing.

And then identifying in the people that are coming in – can they do what we want? Some people might be overqualified, some people might be underqualified. Some people might want more responsibility.

But we first of all need to know what we want and then we’ve gone and got it. We’re really far down the line with it and we’re confident that it will be filled.

PG: Who will have the final say on a player coming in?

JC: It will be down to myself, the manager and whoever comes in [as talent ID manager]. It can’t not be a committee decision.

I’ve been to Norwich to talk to Stuart Webber, I’ve been to Huddersfield and Dan Ashworth’s got in at Newcastle – there’s different people doing this type of job and, depending on the football club, you have to, or I have to, understand how the dynamic works from the top to the bottom [of the club].

I can’t go round saying ‘I’m having the final say, I’m doing this, I’m doing that’. It has to be what’s right for Doncaster Rovers and the dynamic of this club.

And I do feel like that’s my skill set, knowing the club. I’ve been here that long. It’s up to me to make sure everyone’s comfortable [with decisions] but ultimately getting the right player.

Part three will follow next week.