Sky Blues fans have been hit on transfer deadline day by the sudden news that Michael Doyle has left the club. From his first spell breaking through in the Championship as an inconsistent presence in central midfield – mostly alongside Stephen Hughes – to his return to the club as the midfield enforcer and tempo-setter that hauled us to promotion from League Two, Doyle has been a constant reference point at the club around the rest of the side has often been built.
We thought we had seen the last of Doyle back when we were a Championship club with pretensions of pushing towards the Premier League when SISU were still pumping money into the club. We saw him flourish at Sheffield United and Portsmouth, the midfield leader that so many Coventry City sides over the past decade had been devoid of. His return, at our lowest ebb, post-relegation to League Two was the first important step towards last season’s promotion.
Last year demonstrated just how much Coventry City meant to Michael Doyle, from rejecting the chance to stay at a higher-level with Portsmouth, pestering Marc McNulty into signing for the club, his midfield partnership with Liam Kelly that provided the platform for exciting attacking talents such as Jodi Jones, Duckens Nazon, Tom Bayliss and Marc McNulty to flourish, the tackle-goal against Wycombe Wanderers, needless off-the-ball incidents that wound up opponents, that scream to the camera at Meadow Lane, culminating in him lifting the play-off final trophy at Wembley last May.
Doyle’s importance to the side wasn’t just in his role as a defensive screen in midfield, but his mere presence seemed to galvanise the team to points regardless of actual performance levels. That understanding that playing well and doing enough to win are two separate things epitomised Michael Doyle, the focus on small things like getting in the referee’s ear or taking quick free-kicks that in sum total accounted for the difference between victory or defeat will be the biggest reasons why we’ll miss Doyle.
While there was evidence this season that Doyle’s increasing loss of mobility meant he was becoming something of a liability now that we were playing at a higher-level, Doyle also somehow managed to reinvent himself as the most prolific passer in League One for the first half of the season capable of providing telling set-piece deliveries. Doyle was a pivotal part of a side that won five league games in a row earlier in the season.
With the team currently on a poor run of form, coinciding to an extent with Doyle’s dropping out of the side, he would still have had a role to play this season. However, it is emblematic of Doyle’s mentality at a professional that he would prefer to go somewhere where he would play regular football than see out his remaining days as a bit-part player.
We’ll miss Doyle, let’s hope that his story at Coventry City isn’t over yet with a career in coaching surely around the corner.