James Coppinger's influence only grows at Doncaster Rovers - and not just on the pitch: Liam Hoden column

This is not another column about how amazing it is that James Coppinger is still doing what he is doing on the pitch at the ripe old age he has reached.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 6:06 pm

While the run up to his 39th birthday might be a good time to laud Coppinger for his phenomenal fitness and timeless ability on the ball - particularly so after his brilliance off the bench at Bristol Rovers last weekend - it reached the stage half a decade or so ago that all of that goes without saying.

He remains a vitally important part of what Rovers do on the pitch.

After several false dawns with certain individuals, his natural successor on the pitch has yet to emerge at the club. And whoever that player is would have a very difficult job dislodging him from the side on a regular basis.

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James Coppinger

But it is the other aspects that he brings to the club that will be even more difficult to replace when he does finally decide to call it a day.

His importance on the pitch is equalled, if not surpassed by, his importance off it. The role he plays in the dressing room and on the training ground is immense.

Enter into a discussion with any member of the Rovers squad, be they an experienced performer or a development squad rookie, and it is not long before Coppinger’s name comes up.

A mentor, a confidant, a guide - the veteran’s influence spreads across the group and each one of them is appreciative of it.

A locker room leader of justifiable and earned high standing.

Ben Whiteman puts a good deal of the credit for his rapid development at the feet of Coppinger. He is someone always on the other end of the phone when advice is required.

And just recently Niall Ennis spoke about the encouragement and guidance Coppinger provides, both during games and in training.

Not to go all X Factor, but Coppinger’s journey has put him in the position to be a guiding hand. Importantly, he is enthused by that opportunity too.

He made mistakes, potentially career-derailing mistakes, as a young player and is self-reflective enough to guide others away from such errors of judgement.

Increasingly so, Coppinger has become a voice of reason in the crazy world of skyrocketing expectations and demands.

On numerous occasions he offered insight picked up over years in football and at Rovers in particular to put situations in perspective and address them with realism.

A wise old head indeed in footballing terms. And an incredibly valuable one at that – particularly as Rovers continue to develop a youthful squad where potential is the priority.

Coppinger expects to be at the back of the queue for discussions over a new contract, even after declaring his desire to continue on for another year.

But Rovers could do worse than tying him down sooner rather than later to keep hold of a tremendously valuable figure, both on and off the pitch.