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I Saw Kirkland Exit

Regardless of what happens on the pitch between now and the end of May, an event I witnessed at Highfield Road could turn out to be one of the most significant actions ever taken by Coventry City Football Club.

I was at a meeting with a group of the club’s younger players, offering them advice on how to make the best of the media opportunities that will come their way, when our meeting was interrupted by the arrival of the manager, Gordon Strachan.

Apologising to me for the intrusion, Gordon asked Chris Kirkland to leave the meeting. It was the moment when the England Under-21 International goalkeeper was told that Liverpool had made an offer for him that the Sky Blues had accepted because of the club’s parlous financial state.

I made a quick and, as it turned out, accurate assumption about what was going on and my reporter’s instincts were to contact broadcasters and others that I work for as a freelance. I could have made a substantial amount in what we call “tip-off” fees that afternoon.

However, the unwritten rules prevented me from doing so. I was privy to what happened because I was there by arrangement with the club and it would have been wrong to take advantage of that situation. Sometimes you have to sit on your hands, do nothing and simply make a mental note for later. It can be tough keeping things to yourself when your natural inclination and training is to – literally – broadcast the news, but there are times when you have no choice.

The manager took Kirkland to see Chairman Bryan Richardson who spelt out the details of the transfer proposal to him. Kirkland could have said “no”, and I fully believe reports that quote him as saying that he gave serious thought to what he would be leaving behind in Coventry.

As is widely known now, Kirkland has been a Liverpool fan since he was a boy, but I also know that he holds Coventry City in great affection and has tremendous respect for the club that gave him the opportunity to prove himself as the outstanding young English ‘keeper of his generation.

He particularly regards Steve Ogrizovic in high esteem and looks on him as a mentor, and it will not be lost on those who know their Sky Blues history that Oggy spent some time at Liverpool before moving to Highfield Road. He made European appearances for the Anfield club, even though he was, for the most part, the main understudy to Ray Clemence.

Many have noted the many similarities in style and performance of Kirkland and Ogrizovic and I believe that Kirkland will go on to achieve even more in the game than Oggy. That, I can assure you, is praise indeed, because in my book Oggy was without doubt the best uncapped ‘keeper I have seen.

He deserved international honours, and only missed them because of the presence through his career of the likes of Clemence, Shilton and Seaman and, I am convinced, because he played for “unfashionable” Coventry rather than one of the so-called bigger clubs.

Assuming Kirkland gets more of a first-team chance at Liverpool than Oggy did, his move should provide him with the platform to secure international recognition at the highest level. If he gets his chance, he will be the regular England goalkeeper in time for the 2004 World Cup.

So, his departure from Coventry will be very significant. For him, as an individual, and for his hopes and ambitions. For Coventry City football club, who can make their bank manager happier for a while at least, but must now look to the future on the pitch somewhat less certainly than if Kirkland had stayed. And for Magnus Hedman, who was set to join Everton but now has the chance to reclaim his first team place with Coventry City, if he decides to stay.

The Swedish press have quoted Hedman as saying that he knew the Kirkland deal was on two weeks ago. I doubt that Magnus said that, because I don’t believe it was the case.

Liverpool have regularly expressed interest in Kirkland and may well have asked about his availability two weeks ago, but it was the strong likelihood that their bid to sign Polish star Jerzy Dudek would collapse that prompted them to back up their enquiry with an amount of money that the Sky Blues could not ignore.

In the event, Dudek and Kirkland both signed, leaving Liverpool with an embarrassment of goalkeeping riches with more than one departure from Anfield due shortly as a result.

And as Chris Kikland starts the next phase of his young but burgeoning career, the Sky Blues prepare to take on Grimsby without him. They will also be without the suspended Lee Hughes, and even though skipper John Eustace should return, I understand that Julian Joachim will not be risked yet. His debut remains on ice because of the ankle injury picked up pre-season that is taking a worryingly long time to heal.

There’s talk of a fans “red card” protest at Highfield Road on Saturday after the disappointing early results. Those organising it say the protest will be aimed at Gordon Strachan and Bryan Richardson. I just hope that it doesn’t backfire on the pitch.

Whatever you think of the current management, whatever you think of the individual players, it’s our team out there wearing Sky Blue.

Please make sure they know you are backing them.

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CWN / Sport / Football / Coventry City FC / Stuart Linnell / 5 Sep 01
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