On to part 3 of my look at the leading contenders for Coventry City player of the year. This time I turn my attention to a man who has gone from being one of those sad stories about wasted potential to one of the best ball-playing midfielders outside of the top two tiers of English football. It’s time to look at John ‘the Scottish Wayne Rooney’ Fleck.
When Fleck arrived at the club he was the marquee signing of the summer following relegation from the Championship. As a result of Rangers financial meltdown Andy Thorn was able to pick up a player who was once regarded as one of the best prospects in British football for free. Despite him not being able to assert himself in the Rangers first-team, Fleck was sign as the ‘Great White Hope’ for Coventry City’s attempt to return to the Championship at the first time of asking.
However Fleck was never able to claim a regular first-team spot, first due to starting the season with a slight injury during Andy Thorn’s spell in charge and then having to make the most out of being played out of position on the left-wing by Mark Robins. He still had some great moments in 2012/13 with memorable displays away at Swindon and MK Dons standing out. It wasn’t until the arrival of Steven Pressley did Fleck find a manager that truly understood his game.
Whereas before he was seen as an attacking midfield player in the mould of Steven Gerrard, Pressley played Fleck in a much more withdrawn role, more similar to Andrea Pirlo. From a deeper position Fleck is able to demonstrate his range of passing, his ability to carry the ball in congested areas and also a great reading of the game demonstrated by innumerable interceptions. This season has seen Fleck deliver on the promise that many once believed he had, whilst he is probably one of the least heralded members of the first-team, Fleck plays an important role in dictating the tempo of the game.
The start of the season saw Fleck in sensational form, his performances wouldn’t have been out of place in the Premier League. His innate understanding of the game saw him overcome his physical inadequacies to dominate midfields in a division usually defined by physicality. His consistency was so great that there are few really stand-out games although his displays against Colchester and Sheffield United will probably go down as his coups des graces.
It’s a great credit to Fleck that he was able to play at the same level he had against League One opposition as he did against Arsenal in the FA Cup. It was remarkable just how little he was phased by the big occasion, especially in comparison to his team-mates who had to go behind by 3 goals before starting to play their normal game. Yet the post-match talk wasn’t on Fleck’s performance or of any potential move to a higher level. For someone who has had such a large impact on our season, it’s almost bizarre that he has yet to be linked to clubs at a higher level, especially when he has played to a higher standard than players like Cyrus Christie and Franck Moussa.
To talk about Fleck’s season though you also have to talk about the current loss of form that he has endured. Until about February Fleck’s form would have been good enough for him to play in any league he wanted. Since the departure of Leon Clarke, his form has suffered in the same way the entire team’s has. Whilst his failure to find the back of the net wasn’t remarked upon in the first half of the campaign, it became more and more of a bug bear for frustrated Coventry City fans once his laser-sighted passing seemed to lose its focus.
However Fleck became the club’s first, and so far only, goalscorer from central midfield with his goal against Swindon on Good Friday. He followed this up by nearly doubling his season’s tally against Oldham the following Monday. The hope is that Fleck can combine this new found forward thrust with his displays from the first half of the season after recharging his batteries following his first full season as a first-team regular.
Whilst his form may have dropped off in the closing months of the campaign, I include John Fleck on my shortlist for player of the year for the sheer brilliance of his performances for those first few months of the season. For me the player we saw in those early months is the bare minimum that Fleck should aspire to in his career. He has the potential to play at a much higher level than League One but for now I am honoured to be able to see John Fleck rebuild his career at Coventry City.