Ever since being replaced as captain in favour of new signing Reda Johnson, Carl Baker’s days at Coventry City were numbered. It’s sad to see such an important player for the club leave for no fee and after being ostracised by the club, however there are also valid reasons for letting him go. The mixed feelings of his departure in part reflect the mixed nature of his performances for the club.
When Carl Baker arrived from Stockport in January 2010, we did not know a great deal about him. He had spent most of his career in the lower leagues and his signing was only announced by Stockport before later being confirmed by the club. The rest of that 2009/10 season saw Baker in exceptional form, full of purpose, trickery and forward momentum, it seemed we had finally found the attacking winger the club had lacked for years.
However that spell of form soon faded as he was sucked into the realities of life at Coventry City in the Championship. The struggle of constantly keeping the club outside of the bottom three and the pressures of a fickle Ricoh Arena crowd got to Baker. One of the tropes of our relegation season from the Championship was the constant rotation of Carl Baker and David Bell by Andy Thorn, when one played poorly they were replaced in the line-up until the other played poorly.
By the time we began our first season back in the third tier Baker was, alongside Chris Hussey, the number one target for frustrated fans of the club. His performances were micro-analysed by Coventry fans. I remember in the early part of that season sitting close to the touchline at the Ricoh Arena and hearing a group of fans shout at him ‘Don’t give the ball away!’ as soon as he touched the ball. It’s a credit to Baker that he was eventually able to overcome that level of criticism and excel in League One. In contrast, Chris Hussey is yet to return to this level of football despite some promising performances with Burton and Bury in League Two.
The criticism that was levelled at him made his resurgence in form for the time that much more remarkable. He scored 12 goals in 43 league appearances, he had mustered just two in the 80 appearances before that. A number of his goals came at important times in matches, a credit to his sheer will-power and force of character. Although a strange choice as captain for many, Baker’s determination in even his worst performances was a key part in recovering from a poor start to life in League One.
However even at his best, Baker was never a consistent performer. Even when he was having a good game, he could not maintain a performance over 90 minutes. It was clear from very early on in Steven Pressley’s reign that he was not trusted by the Scot. Every moment of quality from Baker was surrounded by sloppy errors. His inability to maintain posesession at key times arguable prevented us from being able to use Cyrus Christie to his full potential last season.
Furthermore I always felt that Baker’s personality made him a poor captain for the team last season. The way he berated players for not passing him the ball or the way he could wound up over making individual mistakes had an unnerving effect on some of his less experienced team-mates. Looking at the way Reda Johnson has helped Ryan Haynes out this season, we are starting to see the value that a calmer and more composed captain can have on his team-mates.
With Carl Baker soon to turn 32 by the end of this coming season, it could be a good time for him to leave the club. With the change in formation making it hard to fit him into the team currently and his significant wages in comparison to the rest of the team, there is an argument that there is little value to keeping Carl Baker at the club. In a strange way getting rid of undoubtedly one of our best players will allow us to become a better team.
What we are losing is a reasonable guarantee of goals, we have now lost our four top scorers from last season or 86% of our total goals. Billy Daniels is our highest remaining goalscorer from last season with three goals, all of which were scored in August. The number of players brought in over the summer is a gamble, particularly as most do not have a record of being prolific. Even if would have scored 5-10 goals this season, it’s hard to see too many in our current set of players being able to achieve that.
Carl Baker provided one of the great dilemmas that many who follow football regularly have, is it better to have a player who is capable of great moments or one who can maintain an even performance level over 90 minutes. This summer has seen a sea-change in the characteristics of this side, from playing attacking football with several frustrating but entertaining players, Steven Pressley has veered towards a more defensive set-up with consistent players who are less capable of producing something from nothing. Pressley has shown in his time in charge of Coventry City that he is uncompromising in his vision for the team. This is another bold move by our manager, with increased expectations now at the Ricoh Arena, you feel that he will live and die on decisions like this.