Coventry City: Doing transfers differently

Coventry City’s head of recruitment Chris Badlan talks to Sky Sports News about the newly-promoted Championship club’s transfer strategy

Last Updated: 22/09/20 9:29pm

 Coventry were promoted from League One following a curtailed season.
Coventry were promoted from League One following a curtailed season.

The transfer window closes in under a fortnight and while the Premier League’s top clubs are spending millions of pounds on the world’s best players, clubs further down the league ladder have to cut their cloth accordingly. That’s where people like Coventry’s head of recruitment Chris Badlan come in.

Coventry City are doing things differently this season. Alongside Wycombe they’re working with one of the smallest budgets in the Championship after promotion from League One.

Nine signings later and their recruitment drive is causing a stir among football’s analytics community.

“When you’re getting good reports, you have to take it because we all know that can easily change. If you get one bad signing then you get bad reports,” Badlan tells Sky Sports News.

“You have to take the rough with the smooth, but we are trying to do things differently, thinking outside of the box.

“Of course it’s pleasing when people recognise you’re willing and able to do that and it’s being seen further afield as well, so of course we’re proud.”

Coventry manager Mark Robins overhauled the recruitment process
Coventry manager Mark Robins overhauled the recruitment process

This isn’t a one window process for the club, but an evolving strategy which began when Badlan arrived at the club in 2018 and manager Mark Robins wanted to overhaul recruitment.

“Mark was changing everything and it was similar to what I’d witnessed before, so we were able to make that transition and lay down a blueprint and a philosophy, not just with how the recruitment department works, but how the football club works as well.”

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What Badlan had witnessed before has been a remarkable rise in football which saw him working on a building site where he’d never even heard of data analytics.

It was the diagnosis of a colleague with arthritis that changed the course of the 37-year-old’s career, “I was a builder and I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do and I wanted to go back to university.

“I was a mature student and as part of my degree there was a performance analysis, data analytics module within it. I’d never really heard of it, but it was really interesting, so I started looking at that.”

Stuart Webber was a big influence on Badlan at Norwich
Stuart Webber was a big influence on Badlan at Norwich

An internship at Wolves followed, which is where Badlan met one of his biggest influences, Norwich’s sporting director Stuart Webber. “I was working with Stu and we had a fantastic relationship and then he went to Norwich and I got offered to go with him as the head of European recruitment and help set up the department for them. It was a fantastic experience.”

Less than a year later he took the top job at Coventry, a decision Badlan describes as “the best decision I’ve ever made”.

The club had already been on an upward trajectory before Badlan’s arrival as Robins led the team to the EFL Trophy and then out of League Two.

But it was the recruitment in the summer of 2019 which provided some of Coventry’s best performers who led them to promotion.

 Fankaty Dabo was Coventry's player of the season
Fankaty Dabo was Coventry’s player of the season

Fankaty Dabo (Coventry’s player of last season), Marko Marosi, Michael Rose, Kyle McFadzean and Callum O’Hare all came in on free transfers, while less than £1m was spent on the club’s top goalscorer last season Matty Godden.

The loan of Liam Walsh proved to be an influential signing too as the midfielder won Players’ Player of the Season.

Kyle McFadzean celebrates scoring for Coventry against QPR
Kyle McFadzean celebrates scoring for Coventry against QPR

Robins’ side were promoted as champions from the curtailed season and now have an even tougher task to recruit in the Championship.

“The credit has to go to the football club and Mark Robins,” says Badlan.

“That’s the number one thing. I’ve come into the football club, but Mark was the one that laid the blueprint and he’s got a vision of where he sees the football club going.”

“What really helps is that I think as a football club we’ve all got the same ideology on how we want football to be played so it almost marries up together.

“I like technical players, I like looking at those sort of leagues, at playing out from the back and that’s what he (Robins) wants to produce.”

Gustavo Hamer came in from PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands
Gustavo Hamer came in from PEC Zwolle in the Netherlands

Coventry’s biggest outlay this summer was bringing in Gustavo Hamer from PEC Zwolle. He became the first signing to break the £1m barrier in more than a decade and his all-action performances in midfield have already led supporters to make comparisons with Walsh who returned to Bristol City this season.

“We try to be smart in the way we do our approach.” Badlan says.

“Walshy was a fantastic player but he was a loan player so we always knew that we might have to look at going down a different route.

Liam Walsh was Coventy's Players' Player of the Season
Liam Walsh was Coventy’s Players’ Player of the Season

“The way he kept performing and signing a new contract it was obvious. The only way you can replace Liam Walsh is by having Liam Walsh because that’s the player that it is.

“We had a similar one the year before when we had Bright Enobakhare on loan from Wolves. We didn’t sign Bright, we signed Callum O’Hare.

“Callum has lots of similarities to Bright but also brings something a little bit different to the team. It’s the same with replacing Walsh or replacing whoever it is in that team. We’ve got the characteristics that we look for in that player.”

Callum O'Hare is another product of Coventry's recruitment system
Callum O’Hare is another product of Coventry’s recruitment system

Robins’ team have three points from their opening two games in the Championship as the club hope to punch above their weight in the division.

But for Coventry it may not be about the amount they spend, but the way they spend it.

“It’s how effectively you can use the recruitment department rather than the numbers of it. You can see people that have got massive departments, but they don’t use the information that they’re getting correctly,” Badlan says.

“We’re a small department so we’re not going to be able to look at South America and all these other different leagues like some big departments do.

“We have to be clever and I’m a big believer, I don’t like being a jack of all trades and a master of none. I like to be specific in where we’re working.

So we might only work in eight leagues for example or six or 10, whatever it is but we want to know everything about that league.”

Will there be more signings before the window closes? Badlan tells Sky Sports, “You’re never finished in recruitment.”

Summer transfer window – key dates and times

The summer transfer window closes at 11pm on Monday October 5 with a feast of activity lined up on Transfer Deadline Day on Sky Sports News and across our Sky Sports platforms.

A domestic-only window for deals between the Premier League and EFL then runs from October 5 and closes on Friday October 16 at 5pm. Follow all the news and analysis on SSN and across Sky Sports‘ digital platforms, including with our dedicated Transfer Centre blog.

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Source : Sky Sports