Mason Foster takes a look over the journey that has turned Conor Coady into our captain, sweeper sensation and England International that we all have come to know and love since joining back in 2015.
Coady joined his boyhood club Liverpool at just twelve years old and spent nine years at the Merseyside club. He was deployed as a holding midfield with an eye for a pass; which he clearly hasn’t lost, but struggled to break into the first team even after establishing himself as the under 23’s captain. The appointment of Roy Hodgson in 2010 saw him named on the bench twice but couldn’t quite get the break he needed to step onto the Anfiled pitch with the likes of Steven Gerrard, with a young Jonjo Shelvey was preferred over him.
Whilst determined to push himself to be the best he could be he was called up at u16 through to u20 levels for England. These caps are a proud enough achievement for any school boy but to top it off he captained the Three Lions u17s team to European Championship glory in 2010 alongside a certain Benik Afobe. This was a huge achievement as the favourites were France boasting the likes of Paul Pogba and Samuel Umtiti.
After only two senior appearances he took the step to join a League 1 Sheffield United for the 2013/14 season and this led him to making first senior start and scoring his first senior goal. A very impressive loan spell making 39 league appearances and scoring 5 goals ensured a lot of championship teams were very interested in the 21-year-old the following year but Huddersfield won the race singing him from the reds for a fee believed to be around £500,000. He went on to make 45 appearances for the Terriers scoring three goals, and I’m sure some of the Wolves fans will remember one in front of the North Bank from range if my memory serves me.
It was on 3rd July 2015 that Coady joined the boys in old gold signing for Kenny Jackets men.
His first competitive appearance came on the first day of the campaign, winning 2-1 away at Blackburn sparking a midfield partnership with Kevin McDonald. As his first season for Wolves went on he found himself battling for his place along side Jack Price. It would have been unfair to judge Conor on his first season at Molineux in a somewhat timid campaign finishing a bleak 14th in the Championship.
A transitional season was to follow at Wolves seeing Fosun International take over the club, which as we all know has benefited Coady in the long run, but a strange campaign was to follow in 2016/17 beginning with brining in Walter Zenga to replace Kenny Jacket as manager. A tantalising start which meant Wolves go unbeaten in the first 4 games and saw Coady in and out of the midfield. After a few tough to take results including a 4-0 thumping home defeat to Barnsley and a 2-1 away loss to Wigan, it left Zenga in need of change in the back four, calling for Coady to be drafted in at right back to do a job as cover for a still young Dominic Iorfa learning his trade.
This season also led to a return to Liverpool in the FA Cup 4th Round after already dispatching Premier League Stoke in the previous round. Again, filling in at right back he helped lead us to a famous 2-1 victory away at Anfield. As the season drew to a close another disappointing finish of 15th place and another year of highs and lows but still Coady struggled to nail down a comfortable place in the starting eleven but had impressed filling in at right back.
The 2017/18 season really was a revelation appointing Nuno as manager and this was the beginning of something special, not only for the club but for Coady’s career. A complete refresh of the club from top to bottom saw a complete transformation in style of play and the new manager saw huge potential in Coady to fit into the new system perfectly. With two ‘out and out’ centre backs either side of a sweeper in a back three, it was as if the role had been sculpted for him.
This new role was allowing his natural leadership and ability to read the game partner with his composure and vast range of passing, turning him into a vital component to a finely tuned team. Even with the huge marquee signings of Ruben Neves from Porto and Diogo Jota from Atletico Madrid, Coady’s name was arguably still the first on the team sheet every game and he soon found himself with the captain armed band in the absence of club captain Danny Batth.
The start to the campaign had taken even the most hopeful Wolves fans by surprise and left us with a top of the table clash with Sheffield United. In the first 15 minutes Coady pulled back former Wolves striker Leon Clarke resulting in him being sent off, we went on to lose the game 2-0 and this meant he would miss the next game against Burton.
Some may have seen this as a negative but he didn’t miss another single minute of league football for the remainder of the season and it was an important learning curve he needed to experience now he was finding himself last man more often in the new role. Coady found himself in the Championship team of the season impressing not only Wolves fans but the respect of all football fans. He topped off an outstanding season by slotting away a penalty against Bolton to put the cherry on the cake and sealing the title.
Wolves, back in the big time. After the summer sale of Danny Batth, Conor takes on the armband full time becoming the club captain. Coady was one of only three players to play every single minute of the season in his first ever in the Premier League, keeping 9 clean sheets along the way.
It wasn’t just his defending and leadership that caught the eye, his range of passing was causing teams serious problems, balls into the striker feet, diagonal switches of play, short ball into the midfield; consistent high-quality passing. No goals or assists doesn’t do him justice with the number of key passes that created chances for the team, plus he rarely makes It over the half way line.
Doubts over his pace and mobility where quickly extinguished by his expert ability to read the game. A great debut season started the rumour mill, how long before Gareth Southgate would give him the chance he surely deserved? It wouldn’t to be during this season but after leading Wolves to their highest ever Premier League finish, semi-final of an FA Cup and then to top it all off qualifying for European football for the first time since 1959, I think we can all say he deserved all the plaudits he was given and more.
Moving into the 2019/20 season and after such a successful previous campaign, Coady picked up where he left off leading the pack into the Europe playing every minute which led through all the way to the quarter final stage on 11th August 2020 over a year since the first qualifying game.
Meanwhile Wolves were found struggling early season and suddenly there were questions asked of his defensive ability’s and no more than against Chelsea at home, where he was left very isolated against Tammy Abraham which saw him score a hat-trick
Again, at the time this may have seemed a negative point and a blemish but this was another learning curve for a player stepping up another level for the third consecutive season and it shaped the solid sweeper we have today. After finding his feet again, he led Wolves to another 7th placed finish in the Premier League despite the disruptions from COVID-19 meaning their season was dragged out longer than a full calendar year.
Finally, his big break came when he was called up to the senior England squad replacing Harry Maguire. Coady didn’t make an appearance in the first game against Iceland but after a dismal performance including going down to 10 men and going on to concede a penalty, Gareth Southgate decide to revert to a three at the back… step up Conor Coady.
Making his first start against Denmark in the same role as he’s made his name for Wolves, he shone and made a very good impression and statement on why he should be included in future England squads. Southgate went on to say “I though Conor Coady was excellent, his organisation of the defence, his distribution of the ball, those long diagonal passes”. Fingers crossed he retains his place in the Three Lions’ squad.
All in all, Coady has gone from a holding midfielder struggling for game time, to covering at right back, to now starting for club and country as a sweeping sensation… not a bad turn around some may say.