The news has finally been confirmed that Leon Clarke had handed in a transfer request, as reported on Sunday evening. Although not exactly a surprise it still feels like a gut-wrenching blow for Coventry fans who had been hoping for no major departures this transfer window. Additionally he left the team hamstrung, having to play a centre-back up-front during the Crawley match, after sitting out what would possibly have been his final game for the club with a minor ‘injury’.
This all leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially if as seems likely he joins a rival team in the same league in Wolves, following in the path of Dion Dublin and Gary McSheffrey in inflicting a ‘double blow’ on the team’s fans. Like Dublin and McSheffrey he leaves a side where he was not only their top goalscorer but also the team’s talisman. Scoring 23 goals in a calendar year is rare for a Coventry striker, but his importance to the team was much larger than the goals he scored. The way he linked up play between midfield and attack was vital to how the team created chances.
The task Steven Pressley faces is unenviable, not only does he have to replace Leon Clarke but he only has a maximum of 75% of the funds generated by the eventual sale to put to use. The club should be looking to bring in north of £1 million at the very least but we’ve seen far too often players departing the club at a fraction of their perceived value so we’ll have to wait to see just how much we can actually get for him.
This article is about the kind of player who might replace Clarke in our team. The time for eulogy will unfortunately be fairly soon after.
Pros: Like Leon he’s a former Sheffield Wednesday striker, but unlike Leon, Tudgay is fondly remembered at Hillsborough as being a fairly regular source of goals. Tudgay isn’t a like-for-like replacement for Clarke but provides experience and work-rate to the side. Pressley has talked about wanting to bring in an experienced head to help guide the younger players at the club and there’s little that Tudgay hasn’t experienced in his footballing career. He seems like someone who could build a good relationship with Callum Wilson in a strike partnership but can lead the line on his own or play out wide.
Cons: Marcus Tudgay’s overall goalscoring record isn’t the greatest, particularly in recent seasons. Just over 1 goal in every 4 games, he may struggle to reach double figures if given a full season at the club. Since 2010/11 Marcus Tudgay has struggled to a regular goal-scoring impact at Nottingham Forest and during 2 loan spells with Barnsley. At 30 years old he’s a player whose best playing days are arguably behind him. Additionally his wage demands are unlikely to be in keeping with our financial restrictions meaning that he needs to have an immediate impact to justify his cost to the club.
Pros: Wes Thomas is physical, has a bit of pace to him and can be lethal when on form. After being plucked from non-league by Dagenham & Redbridge, he was something of a flop. However Cheltenham took a punt on him for the 2010/11 season and he finished the season as one of the league’s top scorers. Since then he’s led a nomadic existence with spells with Crawley, Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Blackpool and Birmingham with a reasonable goals-to-games ratio. Currently out of favour with Bournemouth so he’ll be available for a cut-price deal despite showing signs of being a decent performer in the second tier.
Cons: His goal ratio is fairly erratic season-to-season. He only scored 3 in 23 at Dagenham before scoring 18 in 41 with Cheltenham. He never got a fair crack of the whip with Crawley before a decent return of 11 in 36 with Bournemouth. However he’s mysteriously fallen out of favour with the Cherries since then and has been loaned to just about anyone who’d have him with mixed results. Like Tudgay he’s not the physical threat that Leon Clarke is and may struggle to provide the link up play Clarke offers. More of an off-the-shoulder striker so he may struggle to link up with Callum Wilson. Additionally he’s been in talks with Swindon so we may have to move fast should we decide to sign him.
Pros: After impressing earlier in his career with Southend, Coventry came close to signing Lee Barnard before Southampton offered him a better deal. Barnard is a proven performer at League One level, which obviously makes him surplus to requirements at the St Mary’s Stadium. His main playing experience has been in the third tier so he has the craft required to eek out at victories at this level. Fits the bill for experience that Pressley is demanding and is clearly a player in need of a home after being frozen out as a result of Southampton’s recent success. Could be joined at the club with former team-mates Danny Seaborne (at Southampton) and Franck Moussa (at Southend).
Cons: Despite being regarded as a proven striker at this level he has a fairly poor record, especially in recent seasons. His strike rate at Southend was nearly one in two, it dropped to one in three at Southampton with loan spells at Oldham and Bournemouth producing an underwhelming 7 in 29. It’s not a terrible record but when compared to Leon Clarke’s ratio of goals to games at Coventry a much better standard will be required to fill the void. Barnard is another non-physically prepossessing striker and would struggle to provide the link up play of his potential predecessor. Lee Barnard’s potential wage demands could also prove to be a stumbling block given that he’s been content to collect his wages despite not even being an official squad member at Southampton.
Pros: Wolves could look to offset the potential cost of Leon Clarke by offering Cassidy as a makeweight in the deal. Jake Cassidy was pivotal in Tranmere’s early season form during the last campaign and his departure led to their complete loss of form during the second-half of last season. At 6 foot 2 he offers the physical presence that Clarke does up front. His scoring form at Tranmere was comparable with Clarke with 16 goals in 36 appearances across two loan spells at Prenton Park. Cassidy is a young player with the potential to improve and become a valuable asset given regular first-team football, he also has a decent amount of experience at first-team level.
Cons: Since returning to Wolves last January he’s almost been laughably bad. Missing open goals or becoming anonymous during his increasingly rarer appearances, it’s been an absolute nightmare for the Welshman. Although he possesses experience as a footballer it’s not at a level where you can say he could become a leader for us and aid the development of younger players, what with being one himself. He’s clearly lacking confidence and will face the pressure of being asked to replace the goals and presence of Leon Clarke immediately. Could improve but would be something of a risk given what he’s shown so far at Wolves.
Pros: Michael Smith is one hell of a lump to have up front, as he showed during his appearance against us for AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup and for Colchester in the league last season. Arguably he’d be more of a presence up front than Clarke and you feel that goal-kicks towards him would result in flick-ons. As a compliment to Callum Wilson he’d occupy defenders with his unmissable physical presence giving Wilson space to exploit. He’d offer the team a plan B for when our passing and pressing game isn’t working, although we said that about Mathieu Manset. However Smith would be more malleable than Manset to fit into our pressing system and there’s fewer questions over the Charlton forwards fitness.
Cons: Has only 8 games of experience at League One level with a return of 2 goals. Smith isn’t a player to replace Leon Clarke’s goals which will be a problem for as long as Callum Wilson is absent for. As we’ve seen when Clive Platt was at the club, having a target-man up front may tempt the rest of the side to focus on playing long-balls too often. Furthermore he doesn’t appear to be the type of hard-running centre-forward required to really press the opposition into errors. Charlton Atheltic may also be loath to lose him given the talents he offers and also given their current lack of fit and firing centre-forwards.
Pros: A little out of left-field but the Halifax striker is amongst the top scorers in the Conference this season. Gregory has risen to prominence at the reformed FC Halifax after dropping out of the professional game at Mansfield. Gregory was pivotal in firing the former Football League side to promotion from the Conference North and has continued that form over into this current campaign against tougher opposition. As a non-leaguer who’s had to prove himself in the game, Gregory will be desperate to prove his pedigree at a higher level and would regard Coventry as his ‘big move’.
Cons: Would require more extensive scouting than looking at his goal-scoring record. We don’t know if Gregory is a link-up player or poacher. We don’t know anything about his mentality and ability to adapt to the much higher challenge of third-tier football. It would be a massive risk to burden a player with no Football League experience whatsoever with the task of replacing Leon Clarke in the side, irrespective of his footballing ability. Despite the doubts, Gregory has a growing reputation within the game and has been tracked by other Football League sides for some months now, raising his asking price. There’s also the question of why Football League sides have thus far chosen against bidding for him.
The above analysis highlights the enormity of the task that Steven Pressley faces in attempting to replace Leon Clarke on our current budget. Any signing would come with a significant element of risk attached as well as facing the pressure of replacing the talisman of this Coventry side. Whoever comes will also face the additional stress of being without their strike partner in Callum Wilson, or indeed any striker partner to speak of. Whilst none of the above strikers identified may join the club I feel that they illustrate the market and the potential options available to Pressley. He can either go for an experienced player for a higher level, take a chance with a younger striker with the potential to improve or take a punt on someone outside of the obvious. Furthermore our attempts to secure a new striker will be further hampered by approaching negotiations in a position of weakness with the selling club and the player being able to call the shots.
All this being said though, there’s still the chance that Leon Clarke could change his mind and stay until at least the end of the season.