City boss Glenn Roeder today gave a telling insight into the way that the new management set-up was working at Colney. As well as he had ever hoped, in short.
Look back over the recent history of the Championship club and when it comes to that crucial, three-way relationship between manager, assistant manager and first team coach and at least two marriages of inconvenience stand out.
Steve Foley was always a hangover from the days of Mike Walker; he never quite 'fitted' into the managerial duo of Nigel Worthington and his No2 Doug Livermore.
Likewise, Martin Hunter – spotted at Vicarage Road on Tuesday night as Aidy Boothroyd's right-hand man at Watford – was a hangover from the departed Worthington regime when Peter Grant arrived at the helm.
Like Foley before you him, you always sensed that two was company, three was a crowd as far as Grant and his own No2, Jim Duffy, were concerned. Or if there was a bond between the three, it wasn't sufficiently strong enough to first find the one-time England Youth coach being courted by then Wigan boss Chris Hutchings, before Boothroyd came a-calling last summer and found Hunter nowhere to be seen on the pre-season trip to Holland.
The fact that, for whatever reason, the Grant-Duffy show never found themselves a replacement ensured that Roeder arrived at the helm with a clean slate. Lee Clark's appointment as his No2 was swift and sure; the arrival of a new first team coach took a-while longer as the new Canary boss first courted his one-time goalkeeping coach at St James, Adam Sadler, for the post, before turning his attentions to Hartlepool youth team coach Paul Stephenson.
The rest, of course, is history with Roeder increasingly to be found sat in the directors box as his two right-hand men direct traffic from the touchline. The extent of Clark's impact on Roeder's whole way of working as a football club manager was today laid bare.
“He's invaluable to me,” said Roeder simply, well aware that Clark's coaching and motivational skills were also coveted by his long-time Fulham pal and manager, Chris Coleman, as he headed off for a new life in Spain and the political turmoil that awaited at Real Sociedad.
Coleman, of course, awaits at the Ricoh Stadium tomorrow as the new Sky Blues boss tries to steer Coventry City off the relegation rocks with Clark having long decided that his short and medium-term career plans were better served (a) staying within English football and (b) nailing his colours to Roeder's mast before he gets a command of his own.
“Lee's got his own goals, his own ambitions in his football life now. And as much as he gets on well with Chris Coleman, those ambitions and goals didn't include going to Spain with Chris,” revealed Roeder. “He felt the need to stay involved in the English game for his own progression – and he's obviously made the right decision.”
A decision that has found Roeder delegating more and more responsibility to his young and hungry No2.
“I have certainly changed my style of management more here than I ever have anywhere else before,” the City boss admitted. “And I have to have the right assistant manager to be able to change my style. And he has created that opportunity for me. It's working really well.
“[Before] I had to do everything. I couldn't let anyone do anything. If I had an assistant or a first team coach they weren't allowed to do anything else apart from putting the cones out, picking the bibs up and making sure that the balls got washed. I'm still very hands on, but I delegate more here than I ever have done before. And it really works well. And I can only do that because I trust Lee so much.”
Roeder was also happy to sing the praises of his third musketeer. “We're both backed up by Paul Stephenson who is an excellent coach. A really excellent coach.”
Again, thereby hangs a tale. For you sensed from Roeder's comments that 20-odd years ago as a teenage Stephenson was just breaking into the Newcastle United first team with his big pal Paul Gascoigne, he would never have dreamed that the Clown Prince's side-kick would one day emerge as his chief lieutenant on the training ground.
“When he was 18, 19 and he was just getting into the Newcastle side with Paul Gascoigne you would have thought he would have been the last person in the world to have been a coach. And that so often happens.
“Terry Venables will tell you that throughout his playing career George Graham never thought he'd be a coach or a manager. He didn't have an interest. But when he thinks about it when his career comes to an end, he turns out to be one of the best Arsenal ever had. And, as I say, Paul's an excellent coach.”
There is, of course, something else that he brings to the party – something that in the dying days of the Grant regime Colney never had. Stephenson has the lightness of touch that you need in what, for the manager, is an all-too serious business. It's all part of the same kind of personal chemistry that Martin O'Neill packs in his kit bag every time he accepts a new managerial post. In that Steve Walford and John Robertson come too.
Three men that, over the years, have found their individual weaknesses and strengths dove-tailing together perfectly. That what one might lack, the other offers.
“He (Stephenson) gels well with us two,” said Roeder. “He's got this fantastic ability to laugh and smile – every day. And in any adversity. If it was 30 days until the world ends, he'd still be laughing on the 30th. He'd say: 'We know it's all over in 30 days, what's the point in being miserable?'
“And it's lovely to be like that – I would like to be like that. But I think in life there are very few people who are like that. As much as you try to change yourself to be like that, most people always fall back to what they are. If you're a miserable sod and you win the lottery, you're happy for two weeks and then you become a miserable sod again. Because that's what you are. But Paul has got this great outlook on life.”
The whole directors' box routine is not new. “The only time that I didn't was when I was player-manager at Gillingham because I always thought I should make myself one of the subs.”
His appearances on the touchline are never pre-planned; he goes with the flow. Let's Clark and Stephenson get on with it. He is, after all, in regular contact with Clark via their state-of-the-art two-way radio connection.
Or rather, in theory. When Roeder is not tuned into the local air traffic control as Clark, in turn, listens to a little contemporary jazz on a Tuesday night.
“I can trust Lee – and Paul – to carry out what I think is needed,” said Roeder, about to spill the beans on a slight communication problem with their two-way link-up.
“When I press it, I can talk and when I release it, I wait for it to talk back to me,” he said, a trick the pair finally mastered this week. “I've worked that out now…”