Cardiff versus Coventry

Should Premier League Clubs Be Looking at Mark Robins?

On Sunday, 22 April, 2024, we witnessed one of the all-time great FA Cup semi finals. Championship side Coventry came from 3-0 down with just 19 minutes left to draw 3-3 with Premier League giants Manchester United. It was a game with drama that Hollywood’s finest would have struggled to script, with the Sky Blues equalising with a 95th-minute penalty that underwent a lengthy VAR check.

But VAR would go from hero to villain as the underdogs had a goal ruled out late into extra time on a very marginal offside call. In many ways, penalties were the worst way for such a clash to be decided but at the same time, their unescapable drama was also perfectly fitting. Even the shootout was not straightforward; United saw their first effort saved but then came back to win.

Coventry deserved to win in many ways and their fightback and brilliant efforts will have won them a lot of fans. But will they have also made some Premier League owners look a little more closely at the Midland outfit’s manager? There is so much information and analysis in the modern game that it is hard to imagine that top-flight sides were unaware of the brilliant work Mark Robins has been doing with Coventry over the last seven years. But surely now some will be taking a closer look.

Who Is Mark Robins?

Mark Robins, Coventry Manager
Mark Robins, Coventry Manager (Credit:

Older fans, and certainly those that support Man United, will remember a fresh-faced striker who, as club legend has it, saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job in 1990 by scoring the winning goal in the Third Round of the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest. Fergie was, reportedly, very close to being axed but that goal kept United’s FA Cup dream alive… and Ferguson in his job. They would go on to win the FA Cup and the rest is Fergie time.

Robins won the FA Cup, then the Charity Shield, then the European Cup Winners’ Cup and then the European Super Cup with the Red Devils but was gone by the summer of 1992. He played just 48 league games for United and then had something of a journeyman career, taking in Norwich, Leicester, spells in Denmark, Spain and Greece, as well as Rotherham, before ending his career at Burton Albion.

He soon went into management, first with Rotherham and Barnsley, before a first spell in charge with Coventry in 2012 and 2013, where he enjoyed a win ratio of 51.52%. Short spells at Huddersfield and Scunthorpe came next before he returned to Coventry on the 6th of March 2017.

That seven-plus-year spell with the Sky Blues makes him one of the longest-serving managers in English football. At the time of writing almost half his managerial career – 366 out of 759 games – has come during this second spell at the club. He has won 40.44% of those 366 matches but that very decent success rate does not tell the full story of how good he has been.

Success Despite Terrible Circumstances

Coventry City Football ClubRobins has won 148 times with the Sky Blues in the last seven years, losing significantly less often (116 times). For a club like Coventry that is a decent return but the Lancashire lad, who turns 55 in December 2024, has achieved far more than that.

He took charge in spring 2017 with the club miles adrift in the relegation battle and almost certain to be heading down into the fourth tier. Relegation could not be avoided but somehow he guided the club to victory in the EFL Trophy to give fans at least some cheer and a big day out at Wembley.

The following season they bounced straight back into League One, finishing sixth but then enjoying another great day at the national stadium, winning the play-off final. Amazingly this was their first promotion in 51 years, which paints a fair and accurate picture of a club that had been in long-term decline.

In 2018/19, Robins continued to reverse that trend of regression, leading his troops to a very respectable eighth place in League One. 12 months later they would romp to the title to return to the Championship, a division they had last graced back in 2011/12.

Once again, they have made steady progress, finishing a decent 16th in 2020/21, improving to 12th a year later and then, in 2022/23 finishing fifth to make the play-offs. But for a loss on penalties in the final at Wembley to Luton, they would be in the Premier League and given their travails that would have been an achievement just as incredible as that of the Hatters.

Off-Pitch Strife Makes Conditions Almost Impossible

Two promotions and going to within a sliver of the Premier League is a great achievement no matter what. However, throw in a decent play-off challenge in 2023/24, plus being another sliver, this time of a VAR line, away from an FA Cup final, and it is even more impressive.

When we consider that this has been achieved on a tiny budget, with Robins often coming up on top in the transfer market, it is clear what a great job the former Man United striker has done. The Sky Blues have been troubled by debt, suffered from terrible owners and were without a home between 2019 and 2021 after said owners evicted them from their own stadium!

Being forced to play at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s was both humiliating and counter-productive but through it all Robins has been a pillar of strength and decency and has tried to bridge an unbridgeable gap between hedge-fund owners and fans desperate for change.

Does a Premier League Job Beckon?

Premier League logoRobins and his team have a very outside chance of making the Championship play-offs once again in 2023/24, so he may engineer a top-flight post of his own without leaving Coventry. But realistically their promotion push may have to wait until next season, but will Robins have to wait for a crack at the Premier League?

It would be impossible not to be impressed by what he has achieved with his current club. However, few PL clubs would take a chance on him, despite this. English managers are not fashionable and especially ones that are past the first flush of managerial youth.

In addition, Robins is in many ways an old-school manager, rather than a modern coach. Much of his success has been founded on man-management and structural changes at the club, rather than the sort of tactical, technical coaching which is en vogue in the division above. Time will tell if he gets his chance one way or the other but what is certain is that Coventry should be very thankful for what they have got.