Steve Coppell, in philosophical mood, is rarely one for normal football-speak. True to form, on Friday, after a training session, he discusses the "random chance on the day, that will determine whether you will win or lose a game". Perhaps it's the fact that he possesses that rarity in football, a university education, which gives him the air of some professor of mathematics lecturing his students.
There are many who may argue that, with 12 games remaining for his Reading team to secure their Premier League status for a third year, it's not quite the time for such theories. But then this is a man who celebrates 25 years of management at the end of next season, and what he doesn't know about the job – at all levels – can probably be discounted.
Certainly, Coppell possesses a knowledge of relegation from the Premier League; having suffered that fate when in charge at Crystal Palace in the 1990s.
If you imagine the experiences bolster him as he attempts to prise the Royals out of their current plight, following a sequence of seven consecutive defeats, he denies it.
"It doesn't help," insists the Scouser. "Just because you've been through a situation before, I don't think it gives you a great advantage. Our position here is unique. We [Reading] played our first game 136 years ago. For only two of those years we've been in the top flight. It's a massive thing for this club, and we will do everything in our power to ensure we stay here. It's a totally different situation to that at Crystal Palace."
Coppell adds: "I had a similar position at Brighton. When I joined them in the October of the season, they went down. But it doesn't help you. It's different players, different situations. To fulfil our potential this season, we've got to have a strong finish, and there's eight managers saying the same thing at the moment. Only the strong will survive."
Though Reading chairman John Madejski has called for what he describes as a "cauldron of optimism" as Reading prepare to face Aston Villa today, there is evidence of the footballing equivalent of lifeboats being steadied.
Notably, ambitious plans to increase the capacity of the Madejski Stadium from about 24,000 to an impressive 38,000 have been put on hold.
Nevertheless, Madejski has recently claimed that Coppell's position is "rock solid" even if Reading are relegated. It was put to Coppell that, after Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, the former Manchester United and England winger probably has the safest job in football. "I appreciate that [Madejski's words] but results have got to determine these things," says Coppell. "Everybody in football is judged on results. If I'm getting results, I'm a good manager. If I'm not getting results, I'm a bad manager."
An analysis of the team's failings in the last two months have failed to persuade him that his players are not up to the job. Coppell is buoyed by his analysis that "throughout January, we had a run of games that no team in this division would relish".
There followed what he concedes was a poor performance, at home to Bolton.
"Then we went to Everton and played well." But lost. On such occasions, he feels the hurt as much as the most fervent fan. "Like everybody, you feel the pain and you carry it round with you," Coppell says, as he continues to believe the "random chance" will present itself and conjure the elusive win to heal that wound.
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