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FEATURE: Coventry City captain Sam Ricketts on his rise to the professional game, play-off ambitions and the support of the fans

22 March 2016

Read what your captain Sam Ricketts had to say in his PUSB match-day notes against Swindon Town...

34-year old Sam Ricketts has captained a few sides in his 16-year career as a professional, but no season has held more anticipation than his current stint with Coventry City.

Ricketts was Tony Mowbray’s second acquisition in the summer of 2015, having picked up the defender from rival club Wolverhampton Wonderers. 

The decision may have been met with some distaste by a number of Coventry natives, whose romantic ideas of footballing loyalty would frown upon a move from the Black Country to the West Midlands. Nevertheless, Ricketts consistency and athleticism at the heart of the City defence this season has duly answered any assumption that you cannot be successful after moving to a rival club.

The ex-Wolves man has made 39 appearances this season and has been a mainstay in the Coventry City backline, in a season where Mowbray’s defensive unit have been plagued by injury. The latest victim of that list was Chris Stokes having being stretchered off after the 1-0 win over Blackpool, but Ricketts is confident that the current squad have enough to see out the season on a high.

“Injuries haven’t been kind to us this season, but it’s something you have to deal with. I have always moved positions, gradually we have had a lot of different partnerships among the back four. Largely, it’s worked well whoever has played there,” Ricketts commented.

Having been blessed with the ability to play at both centre-half and fullback, Ricketts flexibility has been fundamental to the consistency of Mowbray’s backline. It is difficult to assess where Ricketts plays at his best, but one thing is for sure, his leadership and professionalism on the pitch has given Coventry City a stable foundation in which to build from this season.

When asked about his favoured position, Ricketts replied: “When I was a young kid, everyone tried to make me play centre-back but I didn’t hugely enjoy it, that’s why I ended up at fullback. 

“I wanted to get forward more, I enjoyed that side of the game. Now as I get older, certain attributes of mine suit centre-back more – being a voice in the middle, physically it is less demanding. 

“If you take Spurs as an example, their fullbacks are up and down the touchline for a full 90-minutes, that gets harder as you get older. At centre-back I feel I can influence both the game and the people around me, ensure we are secure and give a solid base to the team.”

Journeying back in football’s history books and taking a look at Ricketts industrious career, it is clear that the Welsh international takes great pride in his profession. Ricketts has played in all four tiers of the Football League and none have been more memorable for him than his initial rise to the professional game.

“When I first joined Swansea they were in League Two. I made my Wales debut that year and it was arguably my most enjoyable season. I had gone from playing non-League football to all of a sudden playing international football, got promoted, was in the PFA Player of the Year Team – it was such a big upsurge. 

“It was the first time I have really been in a successful team, and because it was the first time it’s the one I really look back at and think how much I enjoyed it.”

Ricketts has played under a number of influential characters in his time as a footballer, the likes of John Toshack immediately spring to mind. Undeniably professional in character, Ricketts has recalled a fondness for all his previous managers but has reserved particular compliment for the current pairing of Tony Mowbray and Jamie Clapham at Coventry City. 

Ricketts said: “Generally you have your own qualities as a player, but as a professional you have to play the way the manager wants you to. That is hugely important and is probably what makes a successful team. 

“You need to follow the manager’s instructions otherwise your squad becomes disjointed. Ultimately you want to be successful and you want to win games, I am not a selfish player, I always put the team first and that ethos is important to any squad that wants to do well. 

“I have especially enjoyed this season, thoroughly enjoyed working under the gaffer and Jamie Clapham – some of the best coaches I have ever played under. I’m learning a lot, as are all the players under their coaching and tutorage. As long as you are inspired every day when you reach the training ground, which I am, you want to keep playing.”

He added: “Tosh gave me my debut, there are not many managers who would be bold enough to call a player up from League Two and give them a chance in a full international setup. I owe him a lot for that. Looking back, I didn’t realise how far ahead of the game he was. 

“He really concentrated on playing with the ball, everything was geared toward possession and no manager had really approached my playing career like that.”

Looking toward the remainder of this season, Ricketts has openly said his hardest taskmaster is himself. The City of Coventry have their hearts firmly set on a top six finish and the idealised notion of reaching a play-off final. 

The Sky Blues have been absent from the top two flights since the 2011/12 season and missing from the summit of the domestic leagues since 2003/04. But Ricketts and his squad remain hopeful about what is to come.

“No one expects, or pushes themselves more than me. I expect myself to do well and I expect the team to do well. We’ve exceeded a lot of people’s expectations; support wise, we have one of the biggest followings in the league,” Ricketts said.

“But there is a myth that we also have one of the biggest budgets, the gaffer only has a relatively small budget to work with and considering that, we have overachieved this season.

“We have fantastic support who carry us, home and away and that is a reason why Coventry can be successful. I came here to be successful and that will be achieved by finishing in the top six and trying to secure promotion.” 

Talking about the prospect of the play-offs and his experience of the play-off final with Swindon Town last season, Ricketts added:

“There is no real secret as such. You have to continually improve throughout a season, if you can go in to the play-offs with some momentum and form that does really help. Keep trying to improve and get better all the time.

“If you can get promoted via the play-off final, that is the best way to go up. But in contrast, losing the play-off final is the worst possible feeling. There is nothing worse than losing when the stakes are that high.”

Ricketts will be hoping to end his career on a high, by leading the Sky Blues to within a chance of promotion. Having evaded injury for the vast majority of his career and used his athleticism to his advantage as he entered his 30s, Ricketts is in fine shape entering the backend of this season. 

He said: “I thought I’d start to feel it during this run of games, but in actual fact I’ve been doing twice as much running as I was at the beginning of the season. I’m fortunate that my body manages to recover well and I am lucky with injuries also. As long as I physically feel like I can play well and contribute to the team then I will continue to play.”

No better following have travelled with their team this season than the Sky Blue Army and Ricketts has consistently admired the support and loyalty of the fans. He is hoping to reward the City supporters with the only trophy that really matters for a League One side.

“If we made play-off final and I captained the side, it would be a great occasion. A very honourable moment for the City also, but from a personal point of view I would take great pride in leading the team out if we got there.”

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