Shrewsbury Town v Oxford City: Style will evolve over time – just like Steve Cotterill

One of the first things supporters want to hear from a new boss is about ‘style of play’.

Steve Cotterill Unveiled as new Manager of Shrewsbury Town. (AMA)
Steve Cotterill Unveiled as new Manager of Shrewsbury Town. (AMA)

Long ball game? Pass and move? 4-4-2? Fans are keen for answers. And Shrewsbury supporters are desperate to see a repeat of the forward-thinking 3-5-2 new boss Steve Cotterill used in blowing away the rest of League One in his time at Bristol City, writes Lewis Cox.

Cotterill, who has been in management 25 years and yesterday made Town the 10th club he has managed after more than two years out of the game, admitted he has never stood still and always looked to evolve in over two decades.

Asked if that 3-5-2 system, which involved a central defensive fulcrum and attack-minded defenders, is ‘the Steve Cotterill way’, the 56-year-old boss replied: “No, I think you evolve with the times.

“You can go into a club and you can want to play football but if those players can’t play and are nervous – you need to go through a period of suffering.

“Trying to change a style, mid-season or when a team’s down the bottom, it’s really difficult. But I think over the years my philosophy has changed when I started with Cheltenham.

“You evolve with time and have to go with time. I’ve always been a student of the game. I think I was one of the youngest and first 10 to get the UEFA Pro Licence.

“It’s a love of mine, I love my football and hopefully I’ve got a really good group of lads that want to learn and start climbing the table.”

Cotterill’s Shrewsbury tenure began when he oversaw training at Sundorne Castle yesterday and tomorrow, live on BBC and BT’s digital platforms, Town are in FA Cup second-round action at home to National League South Oxford City.

In a pre-Covid world, Cotterill was never one to sit still, especially if he was out of work.

The boss – who arrives with a reputation of demanding intensity, passion and high standards – delivered all of those traits in his media unveiling at Montgomery Waters Meadow yesterday.

But beyond barking instructions and drilling players, he is a self-professed ‘student of the game’ and his lust to learn and ‘evolve’ took him all over the continent.

“The best thing that happened to me was going abroad with a really good friend, we’ve done it a few times,” he added.

“It’s easy to get over to France, we stayed in Lille, we’ve gone to Belgium to see games, all around France, to Lille and what was going on there and sessions.

“We’re on an island here – if you cross to the continent, to France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, you pick up tips from all of those countries.

“That helps you evolve, but because I’m not a first-time manager I have the time to go and do that if I want. I go any time I’m not working.

“If you’ve got good company and love your football it’s been great, I’ve seen international games, Netherlands, Colombia, Belgium, all of those sides over the last few years.”

Cotterill, whose first job in English football after working at Irish side Sligo Rovers was to take Cheltenham into the Football League via two promotions, admits developing a style can be slow progress.

“To get a style of play into a football club takes 12 months. It’s about getting a clear idea for the players,” he said.

“I want us to play good football, if we can, that’s what I want. If we can do that then I’m sure the supporters will be really happy.

“When you get time to build your football club, like I did at Bristol City – we played here and won 3-2 – but if you look at any Bristol City highlights, (and to get that) you need time.

“When you try to change anything, and there does need change, it’s going to take time to come.

“The only disappointment is that there’s so many games, the coaching time becomes only about five per cent of the job. Because a lot of it is about rest, recover, go again, you’ve got to try to keep them a little bit fresh.

“If you fill their heads too early I don’t think we’ll get the benefits, it’s going to be a little bit of a slow burner to get where we want to get to but if we can play the football I had at Bristol City then I’d be delighted and so will the Shrewsbury fans.”

Lots has been said of Town’s squad underperforming so far this season, to which Cotterill added: “It doesn’t make any difference what you’ve got on paper, does it? It’s about on the pitch. I don’t fall for that one.”

“I’ve been in charge of some players who have played at the absolute top, top level, some have produced on the training group and others haven’t.

“Kanu was probably one of the best players, at Pompey, he was a great, great man, loved his company, loved his football, you could see why he was top drawer.

“It doesn’t matter about the team on paper or what anyone thinks, because the bottom line and realism is we are where we are.

“I don’t want harp on that too much. Any word I say wrong makes headlines and looks like a slant, I’m not for any of that. I’ve been sat where Sam (Ricketts) is and I genuinely feel for him.

“We want to look forward from here, there’s no point looking back, you keep looking back then you’re going to bump into the brick wall in front of you. We need to look forward to get going from tomorrow.”

The opposition: A huge day for Oxford City

All the headlines and focus will be on Steve Cotterill’s start to life at Shrewsbury Town in a big new chapter for the club.

But, quietly, tomorrow’s visitors are relishing what some describe as the biggest day in their 137-year history.

Covid-19 has hit all football clubs hard, but particularly semi-professional non-league clubs like Oxford City, who will reach the third round of the Cup for the first time in their history if they beat Salop.

The National League South minnows have progressed through three rounds – after entering at the third qualifying stage – pocketing £31,972 in prize money alone. Tomorrow’s second-round tie is worth a further £25,500 to the winners, cash that despite halved from last season, is very significant.

That is without mentioning broadcast fees. City’s first-round win over Northampton was screened live on BT Sport while tomorrow’s Montgomery Waters Meadow clash – live on BBC and BT’s digital platforms – is worth £37,500.

Club officials reckon that a victory tomorrow and a place in the third round, possibly leading them to a televised slot against a Premier League big-hitter, could be worth up to £250,000.

Boss David Oldfield – who happened to be at Oxford United alongside Sam Ricketts and Dean Whitehead – has called on his players to repeat their fine display on TV against Town’s League One rivals Northampton last time out.

Oldfield, whose side are 13th with two wins from eight, insists making history should not be in his players’ minds.

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