It’s fair to say that most Coventry City fans have been more than happy with the club’s transfer business this summer.
The Sky Blues moved quickly in the window, snapping up the likes of Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare early on, sending out a clear message of intent that the club means business back in the Championship.
Eight more players followed as Mark Robins and the supporters saw the labours of club’s recruitment department bear fruit – not an easy task following a season of uncertainty as to whether or not City would be promoted.
Speaking exclusively to CoventryLive, head of recruitment Chris Badlan explained the process.
“In a simplistic way you do just have a Championship list and a League One list,” said the 37-year-old talent spotter, “but then within that list you have scenarios of A, B. C, D and E as well, with four or five targets per position.
“But it’s not a fact of ‘oh, we’ve got a window coming up,’ because, for example, I might have been at a game on Saturday anywhere in England or abroad and I might be watching a target thinking, ‘right, he’s one for January,’ but within that same game there might be a player who you can’t afford now but if you’re in the Championship he might be a target for you.
Outside the box
“There might also be a player there who is only 16 and making his debut and therefore one we might look to monitor as well.
“So when we’re at a match it’s not just thinking about the here and now in terms of say, last year when January was coming up and we wanted Ryan Giles on loan.
“You are always thinking ahead because forward thinking outside the box is smart recruitment, and it’s what I try to preach all the time.”
He added: “So last season we were looking at players and thinking, ‘he’s a target if we don’t go up,’ or something happens and we stay in League One. But, also, when I was in Holland watching Gustavo Hamer I was thinking if we go up, this guy will be a fantastic signing for us.
“So you are watching him as a ‘what if’ we go up but you also have to have players on the list in case we don’t go up. No matter where you are you are never thinking of the here and now, you’re thinking about the future and the potential of what could be around the corner – working two or three windows ahead.”
Following on from Tommy Widdrington, whose initial brief was to draft in players to help City get out of League Two, the way the club operate has changed significantly.
Shift in quality
And the arrival of Bright Enobakhare in January 2019 signalled a clear shift in quality.
“When I first came in the recruitment was very different and the players we brought in in the first window were very different to the types of players that we have brought in in this window because the strategy and philosophy of the recruitment department hadn’t started,” he said.
“So we were almost bringing in players who were already down the line from the previous recruitment process that fitted the club. But then as it moved forward, from the January when Bright Enobakhare came in and things moved on.
“Then we brought in Liam Walsh and Callum O’Hare and it gradually gets there, so recruitment is always two or three windows ahead and sometimes it takes two or three windows to see the results of it.”
Asked at what point the club was able to press ahead with its Championship list, Badlan said: “Some of the players we signed in the summer window I had already met and spoken to their agents, so I’d started the process in the January window.
“So you are always on it and thinking, what if. Even now, I am looking at games and thinking what if we get to the Premier League in two years, who could those targets be. Or what happens if we get relegated this season, who could we get for League One.
“So you always have to be pro-active rather than reactive in your recruitment, and once we identify what we need in certain positions we’re on it straight away.”
Over the line
With football coming crashing to a halt in March, how did his department operate during lockdown?
“We’d already identified the targets so whether COVID happened or not we’d have still been targeting the same players we brought in,” he explained.
“What it enabled us to do is look at our recruitment process and think how we can do things a bit different to be a bit more time efficient.
“Obviously a lot of work was done speaking to the targets and trying to get the contracts sorted and signed, trying to get the deals over the line as quickly as we could before other people got involved, but within that it enabled us to sit down and watch games from different markets and catch up on some players we may not have seen.
“We almost took a step back to look at what we had done well, what we’d done not so well and where we’d made mistakes, because we have made mistakes, but also what bits we have done well.
“And we also started looking at targets for January and next summer if, fingers crossed, we’re still in the Championship we are moving things forward again.”
Gem after gem
The club have made no secret of the fact that it has one of the lowest budgets in the Championship this season, so how hard is it being head of recruitment with limited finances, desperately looking to unearth gem after gem?
“It’s the enjoyable part of the job for me,” said the former builder, who took himself off to university as a mature student to study performance analysis and data analytics, which led to an internship at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“It’s all well and good saying Cristiano Rolaldo is a good player. Yes he is but spotting him at 17 was the proper recruitment when Man United saw a talent and nurtured that talent who became the best player in the world.
“So we have to think outside of the box with some of our recruitment. That’s why we go abroad with some of our recruitment but we also go domestic.
“We brought Gervane Kastaneer and Gus Hamer from Holland and Wes Jobello and Julien Dacosta from France but then we brought in Michael Rose from the Scottish second division, Sam McCallum from the Jamie Vardy Academy, having never played professional football.
“Not many clubs were willing to take a gamble on bringing in the likes of Bright and Liam Walsh. We do go into obscure markets but we feel they are markets that are relevant to our football club and strategy. The strategy, as the manager always says, is that we’re a development club.
“We aren’t going to go out and spend £4m-£5m on players; we’re going to spend X, Y and Z on players and nurture that talent and get them into the first team and then go from there.
“But when you are going down that route you aren’t going to get every one right. You will get the odd one wrong.”
‘I’d be at Man Utd now’
He added: “So the challenge for us as a recruitment department is to restrict the amount that aren’t right from coming in. And if you get more right than wrong, then brilliant.
“We are not going to sit here and say every player we have brought in has been a success, because they haven’t. And if they were then I’d be at Man United now.
“It’s one of those, you are never going to get everything right when you are shopping with a limited budget. But if you are getting the majority of signings right and they are helping and influencing the team to move forward then the strategy is doing something correct.
“And hopefully as we move forward it will get better.”