COVENTRY City chairman Tim Fisher insists Mark Robins WILL get the ‘tools for the job’ requested by the returning boss – and dismissed speculation he is trying to put together a consortium to take over the club, we can reveal.
In an exclusive interview with the Coventry Observer today, Mr Fisher said discussions were already taking place with a view to “immediate improvements” in player recruitment identified by Robins publicly in his first press conference on Tuesday.
And Mr Fisher said progress was being made on securing the future of the club’s lifeblood youth academy – identified as essential to the future by Robins in his exclusive interview with this newspaper on Monday.
Mr Fisher also discussed the club’s decision to replace Russell Slade with Robins in Sunday’s dramatic events first revealed by the Coventry Observer website.
There has been heightened speculation on fans’ internet forums and social media this week that Mr Fisher is seeking to put a consortium together himself to bid to buy the club from its parent company, Sisu.
Asked about it by us, he said: “I want to make it clear that people linking me to a takeover of the club is a nonsense.”
Of all other rumours of takeover bids, he said: “Sitting here as chairman of the club, it’s my clear understanding there has been no credible approach with a view to taking over the club.
“In any event, an approach would have to be accompanied by proof of funds and a transparent look-through to the ultimate end-investor. This has never happened.”
He continued: “We are clearly focused on football. We’ve brought in a new manager and we are making sure he has the tools to support him now and in the future.
“I had a working session with Mark Robins yesterday. We’ve sat down and prioritised what changes are needed – right here, right now. As the upmost priority, we’re pulling together and implementing a robust player recruitment framework – once and for all.
“It will be a recruitment system which includes a refreshed scouting network, a clear set of talent identification criteria and transparent communication to the board on progress – from identification of the talent through to securing the talent.
“We are looking at immediate improvements.”
Asked if it meant additional budget for recruitment, he said: “I can confirm that there will be an additional budget for recruitment, but the amount has to be confidential.”
Asked whether he was conceding player recruitment structures have been inadequate until now, Mr Fisher told us: “We’re disappointed at the lack of success on the player recruitment side.
“It might be argued we’ve relied too much on the flow of talent from our academy.”
Asked if Robins had also sought assurances on the future of the academy and where Coventry City will be playing their home matches when the current three-year tenancy to play at the Wasps-owned Ricoh Arena expires after next season, he said: “We’re working through these issues in private at this stage.”
He would not be further drawn on stadium and academy-related questions “at this stage”.
Invited to comment on Russell Slade’s dismissal after just over two months in charge – and the club being bottom of League One 13 points adrift of safety after just one League win from 13 starts under Slade, Mr Fisher said: “We parted company on the basis of performance of the team.
“Sadly, the team’s performance had suffered under Russell’s period of management. The risk is very much that the team will be relegated into League Two, and therefore it was necessary to make an immediate change.
“This is about rebuilding the club. The mandate is to re-set, re-charge, re-build and recruit.
“On a personal note, I was very sad to see Russell go. He’s a consummate professional and a good man.”
Some fans’ groups are campaigning for Mr Fisher and Sisu to end all association with the club, saying nothing will change until they do. But Mr Fisher made clear he was not about to walk away.
The Coventry Observer understands Robins was also informed of the budget for players for either League One or League Two, before he took the job.
Mr Fisher has insisted the club needs to balance the books after years of over-investment without stadium revenues, including with an unsatisfactory model of selling young players, which did not happen in the latest transfer window.
The 47-year-old former Manchester United striker Robins told us in Monday’s exclusive interview he was hoping for a “long association” with the club this time round.
He quit for Championship Huddersfield Town in 2013 after a five-month spell produced a 52 per cent record Sky Blues managerial win rate, which pushed the team towards being League One promotion contenders.
Mr Robins added in his interview with us on Monday: “I’m coming in to try and put things right. And to try to arrest the things that are happening now, and build for the future.”
In his first press conference on Tuesday at Ryton, he said structures and relationships needed to improve for the club to move forward, which would require the ‘right tools’.
He added it was “probably the most different job in the country, basically because of the political side of things”.
But he added, while the politics was not for him, he was in charge of the team and recruitment, which needed to improve, while the academy must also be retained.
There is uncertainly over the academy after, following long-running disputes, Ricoh owners Wasps were given planning permission by Coventry City Council to build a new training facility at the Alan Higgs Centre, which was purpose-built for Coventry City and has ‘category 2′ excellence status from the footballing authorities.
It is not known if Robins is also seeking assurances over a stadium future for Coventry City.
On his departure to Yorkshire in 2013, he said he had sought “assurances” from the club about the future and had not received them, and he then publicly called on more support from Coventry City Council over the club’s need for stadium revenues to help the team.
His departure came as the bitter dispute over Ricoh Arena rent, revenues and ownership had turned legal, after the club’s non-payment of rent and concurrent discussions over joint Ricoh ownership collapsed.
Councillors at Coventry City Council the previous month had agreed in private a £14million bailout of the Ricoh Arena company and had issued a statutory demand for rent repayment.
The following month after Robins’ departure, the council and Alan Edwards Higgs Charity owned Ricoh company Arena Coventry Limited filed for administration of the football club in the High Court. ACL’s lawyers and council officials spoke of a potential club takeover through the administration process. The club responded with a voluntary administration, all of which lead to the loss of 20 League points.
Fans’ groups still hoping for a ‘fans’ acquisition or part-acquisition of the club – in a so far failed quest to remove Sisu as owners after five years of trying – have in recent weeks mooted what they claim is a possibility of doing so through another administration, after non-renewal of season tickets.
But, as many commentators and fans have pointed out, it is unclear how any such move – which would harm the team’s prospects with points deductions – would lead to a different outcome to the 2013 administration, after which the Sisu group of companies as secured creditors remained in charge of the club.