Black Is Relishing Challenge of Life in the Red; Hard-Up Coventry Rely on Scots' Managerial Skills
Melville, James, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)
Byline: JAMES MELVILLE
THE new all-singing and dancing Sky Sports advert for the coming football season asks 'Are you ready?'.
'Are you solvent?' would be a more appropriate question before the Nationwide League commences next weekend.
Relegated giants, perennial promotion-chasers and clubs that simply couldn't afford Harry Kewell's hair-gel bill for a month will set off in pursuit of one of the three slots that would propel them into the English Premiership's promised land.
A level below that and the only promises are of the broken variety. So are the pay packets in many cases as established clubs who have fallen through the financial safety net have asked players to take wage cuts simply to keep the adminstrators away from the stadium gates.
Few clubs encapsulate the perils of plummeting out of the major league and joining the land of collapsed ITV Digital broadcasting deal better than Coventry City - under Scottish management for the second consecutive season.
City finished 20th in the First Division in May, a miserable return for a club that were a topflight fixture for 33 years until relegation in 2001.
Being 19 places higher by next May is fantasy football because Craig Bellamy and John Hartson are long gone.
Scott Shearer, Andy Morrell and Stephen Warnock are the hopes for the season that kicks off at Watford on Saturday.
That was not the plan when Eric Black left administration crisis club Motherwell (there's a trend developing here, but he swears he's no jinx) and became Gary McAllister's assistant manager at Highfield Road last summer.
'I had no idea how bad things were,' Black admits. 'I knew times had changed but, once the TV deal collapsed, the goalposts seemed to move every second week.
'Coventry were weeks away from closing and there didn't seem any way out of it.' One escape route was reducing the vast Premiership wage bill, which McAllister slashed from [pounds sterling]17million to [pounds sterling]5million per year by shipping the big earners out.
Supporters' hero Mo Konjic offered to take a 50 per cent cut when he signed his new deal and others deferred 12 per cent of their earnings for two years.
'That doesn't lead to a good atmosphere but there's a decent spirit about the place considering,' said Black.
'The chairman kept us up to date with what was happening when the banks started to close in.' The situation is mirrored throughout the 24-team league, but Black adopts an interesting stance on what some short-term misery might do for the future of football at this level.
While Patrick Vieira, Roy Keane and Kewell continue to push wage barriers through the roof of acceptable sporting taste at the very peak of the profession, there is no way that Nationwide clubs could consider paying players more and more at their level.
Black had grown concerned that even moderate athletes in the game were capable of living lifestyles that were outrageous in comparison to their talent and, consequently, were in danger of losing the basic instincts of why they wanted to play the sport in the first place. …