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Conor Coady was a flying winger once. A winger, anyway, possibly less of the flying. What he wasn’t though was a proper rugby league player. Which is awkward, as he was born and raised in St Helen’s, rugby league’s heartland. It turns out he never showed any talent for the sport.
‘You’re joking, aren’t you? I’m a big softy, mate,’ he exclaims when asked about his ambitions in that department. There may be a few Premier League centre forwards who wish to take issue with that.
He did, however, play at school, albeit unenthusiastically. ‘I was on the wing, even though I wasn’t quick. I was running out of the way! But I’ve got some friends who play with Saints. It was a rugby league school, I’m mad into rugby league, I love watching.’
Wolves and England star Conor Coady is not afraid to tackle tough issues away from the game
Watching, it seems, is more enjoyable than playing. As such, Friday night team meetings at the hotel the night before matches prove a problem, not least because of the bemused looks of Wolves team-mates Raul Jimenez, Hwang Hee-chan and Ruben Neves when the TV channel changes to Wigan v St Helens. At least Sunday’s game at Everton means he was at home to watch the live TV match on Friday night between St Helens and Warrington.
Coady would be at home at a St Helens match, literally and figuratively. Down to earth, there is not much side to the Wolves captain.
Steve Holland, the England coach, called him ‘player of the tournament’ at Euro 2020, because during England’s run to the final he remained the best trainer and one of the key leaders, even though he never played. He talks a thousand-words-a-minute and does not duck questions. He just tends to say what he feels is right.
Recently, he picked up an award for being an LGBT ally after speaking out in favour of a Rainbow Laces campaign to promote diversity in football. He says he is a little embarrassed to be feted when all he did, in his eyes, was say something anyone would do to make those who might feel outsiders in football welcome.
Coady has proven himself to be a natural leader both on and off the pitch in recent years
But in reality the machismo in male football dressing rooms makes it hard to be gay, so Coady speaking out was important.
‘When I’ve been asked these questions, and you mention LGBT, I would always answer the way I believe and the way I expect anybody to answer,’ he says. ‘I understand that’s probably not how the world works, but I’d answer just being honest and saying what I think.
‘I’m in such a privileged role in that I play football every day, but why can’t everybody enjoy what I do every single day? It’s an incredible sport which brings people together. I don’t understand why other people wouldn’t look at it like that?’
It seems simple, but it gets complicated these days. Promote vaccines, as Coady did, and you invite a pile-on from anti-vaxxers.
‘I know people have their own opinions on different situations but I trust our doctors with my life,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t trying to do anything …. it was on behalf of the club.
‘The club wanted us all to do it and we all bought into that as our doctor told us so much about it. We all thought it was important as a football club, especially for the community around here and this city.’
He received an LGBT award for speaking out in favour of a Rainbow Laces campaign last year
And what about the wrath of anti-vaxxers? He just smiles. ‘Social media is a big part of life but it’s how you take it. I don’t go on and check social media. If someone pops up, that’s how it is, but I don’t check. I take it with a pinch of salt.’
Equally, taking a knee with England to express solidarity with team-mates who have been racially abused would seem straight- forward.
But some would use that as a stick to beat players with because they have yet to speak out against Qatar, perpetrator of numerous human rights abuses and hosts of November’s World Cup.
Later this month the England squad will convene at St George’s Park and discuss what ought to be said about Qatar. Ten years ago it would have been inconceivable that England footballers would have a position on issues such as this. Now, it seems normal.
Coady has also been part of an England side taking the knee in solidarity with anti-racism
But the Three Lions squad have been criticised for not speaking out on the Qatar World Cup
England stars have remained silent so far on the controversial hosts of this year’s tournament
‘That situation is something we all need to learn [about],’ says Coady. ‘Discover our own opinions. It’s not something we know too much about. Obviously, we’ve seen things in the news but we hadn’t qualified for the World Cup at the time so it was a hard one for us to speak about, we didn’t want to speak about things that we’re not at. The time will come when we do need to learn more on it and then obviously the boys will develop their own positions.’
Some feel it is unfair that a 29-year-old footballer like Coady should have a developed opinion on Middle East human rights but Coady is happy to take the questions.
‘I don’t [think it’s unfair to ask] because the majority of the lads in England and in the Premier League are doing such good work and because of the work they’re doing, this comes with the territory.
‘Like Marcus Rashford, who does incredible work. I’m good mates with Tyrone Mings at Villa who does incredible work. Raheem [Sterling] does incredible work — I think with that work they’re doing, that brings this sort of question to the door and that’s how it is.
‘Those lads and myself will approach it like we always have — we’ll be honest and open and try to help as much as we can. People probably look at it and go: ‘Why did they have an opinion, why have they got to have an opinion?’. It’s not an opinion. We’re just trying to help and if we can, we’ll do that.
Coady insists they are keen to do their homework on Qatar before commenting on it
He points to Marcus Rashford as an example of England players meeting issues head-on
‘At the end of the day, we’re only human beings and we can do as much as we can, we do what we can to try to help as many people as we possibly can. But we’re fooballers. We’re here to play football and if anything comes of that where we can help, we will.’
Ah, the football. It is easy to forget these days amid the graver topics being discussed which directly impact the game. But quietly Wolves have transitioned from the Nuno Espirito Santo regime to Bruno Lage and seemingly emerged stronger, a club once again with European ambitions.
‘I don’t mean this to sound bad, but new voices in your head and new way of doing things, a new mentality is massive at times,’ says Coady, who also acknowledges he would not be an England defender without Nuno’s belief in him.
‘When Bruno first came in, he excited everybody. It was attacking football, on the front foot, trying to get into the box by any means possible. That’s what we’re trying to do. When you hear those things as a player, it does excite you.’
The St Helen’s man has been enjoying working under new Wolves boss Bruno Lage this season
It was Nuno who turned Coady into a centre back after he had played in midfield and at full back, but it was Jamie Carragher who first told him he would play there. Coady was an Under 15 Liverpool player and Carragher was taking his coaching qualifications at the club when the pair first met.
‘It’s mad,’ says Coady. ‘God’s honest truth, he was coaching me at the time and he was one of first people to say I was going to be a centre half. He reeled off all these reasons why. And he still reminds me now.’
They have become good friends and Coady has appeared on Sky’s Monday Night Football with him, in-depth analysis being right up his street. Like Carragher, he is one of those who can talk tactics all day.
‘I’m massive on listening to other people’s opinions. Our gaffer is fantastic because we do so much in meeting rooms here, in terms of analysing different teams and how we can hurt them, looking at how they’ll try to hurt us. It’s such an enjoyable part of it. He breaks meetings down so well.
‘I can say it now we’ve played them twice, but he was doing a meeting about West Ham and he broke their team up into sections and I remember watching thinking: ‘That’s a great way to look at that and get it across to your players because it he made it so simple.’ That’s what top managers do.’
He puts Gareth Southgate in that bracket too, although Holland’s ‘player of the tournament’ comment needs context. Coady will always be a great squad man but he would not want that to be misinterpreted as him being relaxed about being left out.
‘I think people thought I was just going for a holiday. Of course, I wanted to play! I was desperate to play. But then I said to myself I was going because of a certain goal we wanted to achieve as a team, as a country.
‘If I was going to play, fantastic, but if not I was just trying to give the best of myself every day to make each and every player there better. We were all in it for one.
‘I wasn’t going to go there and sulk and get a cob on because I wasn’t getting a game. That would have been ridiculous. I loved every minute of it. Incredible moments and some of the best weeks of my life. We got within touching distance of where we wanted to be. It was absolutely heart-breaking but, honestly, the summer was the best few weeks of my life.’
Southgate does seemingly have the ability to find the right words for every occasion. With the team on the floor, having lost the final, Coady says his words were inspirational.
Coady also insists he is a massive admirer of England manager Gareth Southgate
He says Southgate’s speech after England’s Euro 2020 final loss against Italy was ‘incredible’
‘We were so, so close. The way he spoke after the game, it was incredible. He just knows how to speak and what to say at the right time. It was a horrible dressing room to be in and I think everyone will say the same thing, that it took a long time [to recover].
‘But he spoke about what we’d actually done for the nation, about how good the tournament was and how good the lads played — and that we’d done great things, considering England hadn’t been to a final since 1966.
‘And that was the biggest thing — what the country had been through, what we’d all been through given the pandemic. To put a smile on people’s faces by playing football was amazing.’
What is extraordinary is to talk to current England players and feel their unadulterated enthusiasm for international weeks, when the likes of Gary Neville and Carragher will tell you how the squad in their day split into club factions and, at times, playing for England felt more like a duty than an honour.
While he didn’t play a part, Coady regards his summer at Euro 2020 as the best time of his life
‘When you go, you’re excited to go,’ says Coady. ‘You can’t wait for international breaks. It’s such an exciting time for the players to meet up and build on what we’ve done in the last couple of years.
‘The feeling is like you’re going there with mates to play footy. It’s like a club feeling because everyone knows everyone and you don’t really go back to your room. You go back to your room to sleep at night.
‘You’re out the room the majority of the day having a coffee or playing PlayStation or getting treatment, because everyone just gets on with everybody. That obviously goes back to the gaffer and his staff and how he sets up the environment.’
Roll on Qatar, then. Once all the political questions have been answered, that is.
Source: DailyMail Sports