Glenn Moore: Visionary leaders are nowhere to be seen at Coventry
The Football League Column: Jimmy Hill took them up 47 years ago and similar inspiration is needed right now
Coventry City spent 34 seasons unbroken in the top flight, and since have been in the Championship for more than a decade, but any appearance of stability is illusory.
Current manager Andy Thorn is the 10th in as many years, the club is seeking its seventh chairman in that time, and the longest-serving player, Freddy Eastwood, joined in July 2008. The only continuity is in results, with Saturday's home defeat to Hull City extending a miserable run. Coventry have taken one point from a possible 21, won once in 15 matches, and not at all in the last 10. They are rooted to the bottom of the Championship, seven points adrift of safety. A return to the third tier, in which Coventry last played in 1964, seems inevitable.
It was the visionary chairman-manager partnership of Derrick Robins and Jimmy Hill which took Coventry out of the old Third Division 47 years ago and it looks as if similarly inspired leadership will be required to bring blue skies to the Sky Blues now. Mere leadership would be a start, the club being without either a chairman or managing director at present.
Even Coventry's ultimate owners are unknown as the club is controlled by Sisu Capital. The private equity fund bought the club in conjunction with Ray Ranson, the footballer-turned-entrepreneur, in 2007, rescuing Coventry from administration. At the time, outgoing chairman Joe Elliott said: "This is a very exciting. I am sure that Ray Ranson and Sisu Capital will help drive Coventry forward into a brand new era."
In July, Elliott's life presidency was suspended after he was accused of negotiating with former director Gary Hoffman, a Coventry fan and wealthy banker, who had sought to launch a takeover.
Hoffman is not the only Coventry fan unhappy with Sisu's stewardship. Sisu has had as many problems communicating with supporters as it has in arresting the club's slide.
The fundamental problem is that City were relegated with a Premier League-sized wage bill just as ITV Digital's collapse hit Football League clubs. "We came down from the Premier League with £60m of debt," Elliott has explained. "Drastic cost-cutting reduced that to just under £40m when Sisu came in, but by then Championship clubs were beginning to spend again in an attempt to reach the Premier League.
Despite further cuts, including the sales of Scott Dann, Danny Fox and Leon Best, when the club's accounts for 2009-10 were released they revealed a £39m debt and were accompanied by an auditor's note stating they cast "significant doubt on the company's ability to continue as a going concern".
One problem is the lack of assets. The Ricoh Arena may attract sell-out crowds for Coldplay and Take That, but the club receive little benefit as it is co-owned by Coventry City Council and a local charity. The club, which has never filled the 32,500 capacity, pays £1.2m annual rent. The only freehold land City own is the one-time state-of-the-art training ground at Ryton. In June it was reported Sisu had taken out a £1m mortgage on it.
By then Ranson had quit as chairman, being replaced by Portugal-based Ken Dulieu. He stepped down last week, but remained at the club as head of football operations, in which capacity he bizarrely sat on the bench alongside Thorn on Saturday. Sisu claims losses have been cut to £5m a year. Ten senior players have gone in 2011 in an attempt to cut costs, including Keiren Westwood and Marlon King, and the wage bill is now £7m a year, among the lowest in the division.
That has an impact on results and attendances, with Saturday's 12,652 gate nearly 25 per cent down on last year's average.
The economic climate has also hit Sisu, which in August reported a second successive loss. Nevertheless, Tim Fisher, the club's interim managing director, told the Coventry Telegraph last week that Sisu was looking for "co-investment, not an exit. They are in this for the long term." Most City fans may regard that as mixed news at best.
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