Atkinson relishing the challenge at Coventry

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The Independent Online
BY Phil Shaw

One day Brigitte Bardot, the next Ron Atkinson. Coventry, where the recession runs deep and even the rainbows come in monochrome, has suddenly discovered charisma on a grand scale.

Finally forcing the veal cargo controversy off the front page of the local Evening Telegraph, "Big Ron" breezed back into the world of calf strains and headless chickens yesterday when he became Coventry City's 14th manager in 28 years' unbroken membership of the top division. He succeeds Phil Neal, who left "by mutual consent" 24 hours earlier.

Atkinson, five years Ms Bardot's junior at 55 and the meaty antithesis of reclusiveness, returned to the Premiership two rungs higher than he left it when Aston Villa sacked him in November. Yet he was aware that 18th place allowed no room for complacency. He recalled relegation with Sheffield Wednesday five years ago as "the worst feeling of my career".

In spite of Coventry's long service among the lite - only Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool have lasted longer - they have often appeared satisfied simply to hang on. Jimmy Hill, manager during the "Sky Blue revolution" in the 1960s, later termed it "monotonous competence", which hardly sounds Atkinson's scene.

"Survival will be good enough this season, though not in the long term," he said. "When you see Bolton and Swindon vying for Wembley, or look what Norwich and Wimbledon have done, Coventry has more to offer than them. I've won major trophies with three clubs and would love to achieve that again here."

Asked whether Highfield Road was not a little downmarket for a man who has sampled the high life of Manchester and Madrid, the perennial five- a-side player replied: "It's a bright club with a brilliant training ground - a major factor for me - and a well-appointed stadium. I'll stay here as long as they want me."

Atkinson would neither confirm nor deny reports that he hopes to secure either Gordon Strachan or Chris Waddle to work with him, but added: "I'm looking for a manager-elect rather than a No 2. It's an idea I toyed with at Villa, where I sounded out Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins."

Bryan Richardson, the Coventry chairman, promised funds for new players. Atkinson has just over a month before the transfer deadline in which to go wheeler-dealing, and may even have a fresh face in time for Saturday's six-pointer at home to West Ham. With fixtures against all four clubs below them as well as against five of the top six - not to mention a visit to Villa - Coventry's run-in promises to belie their humdrum image.

Blackburn Rovers were cleared yesterday by the Football Association over an attempted spectator attack on the referee, Rodger Gifford, after the Premiership draw against Leeds a fortnight ago.

The fan was arrested and charged by police under the 1991 Football Offences Act, and the club confiscated his season ticket. It was that prompt action which helped convince the FA there was no need for further action. Its statement said: "The FA has now completed its inquiry into the incident involving a spectator and the referee at the conclusion of the above match. Having received reports from all interested parties, including the police, we have concluded that crowd control systems at Ewood Park are satisfactory."