Spend even ten minutes in Conor Coady’s company and it quickly becomes apparent he is obsessed with the game, writes James Shield.
So much so in fact that Nigel Clough, his manager at Sheffield United, recently commented that the midfielder’s love of football, rather than being a footballer, will help him forge a long and successful career.
It is an important distinction and one which explains why Coady, whose loan from Liverpool was extended until the end of the season earlier this week, was keen to remain at Bramall Lane despite reportedly attracting interest from a host of Championship teams.
“Nigel and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool are like mentors to me,” he told The Star. “They’ve both been absolutely fantastic and they both have a lot of faith in young players.
“It’s that faith which, in turn, gives you confidence and belief. Being in the academy and the reserves is important because those are the places where you learn your trade.
“But, when you get to my age, it’s important that you are actually working at senior level. That’s why, coming here, will be the most valuable experience I could ever have.”
Coady, who turned 21 on Tuesday, celebrated his birthday by renewing the arrangement which first delivered him to United seven months ago before helping Clough’s side beat Colchester 1-0. That victory, their sixth in succession means the FA Cup quarter-finalists visit MK Dons tomorrow 12th in the League One table and hoping to extend the 12 point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.
Despite captaining England at last summer’s FIFA under-20 World Cup, this season has been a steep learning curve for Coady whose previous experience at domestic level was limited to a smattering of appearances for the Anfield club.
“Brendan keeps in contact and likes to know how I’m getting on,” he said. “He and everyone else at Liverpool knew that I wanted to stay here and I was really made-up when everything got sorted out.
“When United came to me to say that they wanted to keep me it was a really good feeling because I’ve grown to love the place.
“Really, it wasn’t a complicated thing to do because everyone involved in the deal, I think, was of the same mind.”
“Brendan told me to play and to learn from the other players around me,” Coady continued. “He explained how important it was to be involved and to listen and learn from a top manager like Nigel Clough.”
Clough, who made 44 appearances for Liverpool during his own playing career, has made a positive impression since taking charge in October with United, 22nd after 10 games of the campaign, now fourth in the divisional form table following wins over Gillingham, Bristol City ahead of their midweek outing at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
Improvements have been made across the pitch with a defence breached just once in nearly 10 hours of competition complimented by an attack which, under Clough’s tutelage, has increased its goals per game average more than two fold.
Coady, meanwhile, has emerged as a key member of a midfield responsible for binding the whole operation together and could make his eighth consecutive start against opponents who have won 11 of their last 20 outings at stadium:mk.
United, who rested Ryan Flynn against Colchester, must decide whether to name Jose Baxter, Chris Porter or Billy Paynter in attack while Harry Maguire is expected to be available for selection despite taking what Clough described as “a huge whack” during that match. Karl Robinson, the Dons manager, could field former United loanee Ryan Hall after signing him on a short-term basis from Bromley.
“I’ve improved as a player and a person here,” Coady, who is also searching for his fifth goal, said. “The gaffer has encouraged me to get forward much more and contribute more in the final third which you’ve got to do in my position.
“He’s made me much more attack-minded. To begin with, I was going into areas where I wasn’t needed whereas he’s left me in no doubt that he wants me in areas where I can influence things more, even with off the ball runs.
“The good thing is that, if I’m not doing that, he lets me know straight away like at half-time against Colchester when I could have taken a shot and didn’t.
“But I like that approach and appreciate it because being told and then listening is the only way you are going to improve as a player.”