Having risen through the ranks at his boyhood team Liverpool and England youth teams, Conor Coady will certainly have had ambitions to play at the very top from a young age. However, when he completed a move to Huddersfield back in 2014 after a successful loan spell at Sheffield United in search for regular football, no one could have foreseen the rollercoaster six years the then midfielder had ahead of him.
It was against Wolves that Coady scored his first goal for the Terriers, a 25-yard screamer in a 3-1 win at Molineux, and there have been little signs of such goals from him since. After just one season at Huddersfield, Coady made the move to Wolves for £2m, with the addition primarily to bolster the midfield options in the team. However, Coady found himself out of favour in a difficult and disrupted season under Kenny Jackett before playing at right-back under Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert as Wolves finished 16th in the Championship the following season.
Despite this, there was one memorable day during that season that will live long in the memory for Coady as Wolves won at Anfield in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Coady played right back on that memorable February afternoon and did very little wrong, earning applause from the Anfield crowd as he left the pitch, he was certainly beginning to win the hearts of Wolves fans after an indifferent start to life in the Black Country.
Conor Coady: Reborn
But the biggest lift of Coady’s career came the following summer as Nuno Espirito Santo was appointed Wolves manager and handed Coady the most important role in the team as Wolves adopted a new 3-4-3 system. He became team captain as Danny Batth found himself out of the starting line-up for the majority of the season and was officially appointed club captain the following summer as Danny Batth departed ahead of the new Premier League season. Coady has not looked back since, playing every single minute of the past two Premier League seasons, the only player from any club to do so, where Wolves have achieved impressive back to back 7th place finishes, combined with an FA Cup Semi-Final and a Europa League Quarter Final.
Conor Coady’s England team breakthrough
Throughout both of these impressive seasons in the topflight, there were calls for Coady to be included in the England squad, but he was continually left out, predominantly due to Gareth Southgate adopting a four-at-the-back system, something which would limit Coady’s strengths.
However, Coady was finally given his chance last month, called into the England squad and selected to start for his country for the Nations League game in Denmark where Southgate decided to revert to the three at the back system which boded so well for England in the 2018 World Cup. Wolves fans have immense pride for all players who are called up for international duty, and this is certainly the case in the Nuno era. In a friendly between Portugal and Spain on Thursday evening, five Wolves players were involved including a Spain debut for Adama Traore. Times have certainly moved on since the majority of the Wolves squad went off to join camps Wales and Ireland, but Coady’s England call up means a lot more to the majority of Wolves supporters based locally and across England.
Against Denmark, Coady produced an excellent and consistent performance looking solid defensively and also showing his confidence and organisational skills. It was quite notable in the behind closed doors setting that he was the loudest player on the pitch. This is something that impressed his manager, who was delighted with his debut and praised him in his post-match interview. Southgate said: “I thought Conor Coady’s debut was absolutely outstanding. He organised the game, he organised his teammates, his use of the ball was excellent”. Despite the poor game, a 0-0 draw in Copenhagen, it was a night of great pride for Conor, his family, and indeed all Wolves fans and everyone connected with the club having seen his improvements as a player and as a leader in recent years. Coady was the first Wolves player to play for England since Matt Jarvis in 2011, and the first to start since Steven Bull in 1990.
Coady then deservingly received his second call up just weeks later and started at the heart of the defence once again. But it was in this game against Wales where Coady really arrived on the international stage.
As Wolves fans watched on with pride seeing their captain at the heart of the England defence once more, not one could have dreamed about what would soon unfold. After a sluggish start to the game, England led 1-0 at the break and had started the second half brightly. Jack Grealish won a free-kick out wide and Kieran Tripper stepped up to send the ball into the box. Unlike his very simple instructions at Wolves, Coady had been given license to go forward for set pieces by Southgate, alternating with Liverpool centre half Joe Gomez. As the cross came in Coady lost his man at the far post and sent the ball into the roof of Wayne Hennessy’s net to the sheer delight of everyone watching on. Wolves celebrated the goal at home as if he had scored for the club.
Many were in complete disbelief at the fact Coady had scored a goal, his first in open play since a close-range header against Crawley Town in August 2016, but the meaning behind such a milestone soon settled in. The ecstasy on his face was clear to see, this was a moment that meant absolutely everything to him as his teammates ran to congratulate him. Coady became the first Wolves player to score for England since Steve Bull, back in June 1990, a 30-year drought for the club.
Just as Coady’s family and Wolves fans watching on began to digest exactly what had unfolded before them, the night got even better for Coady. As Southgate made use of multiple substitutions ahead of Belgium’s visit to Wembley on Sunday evening, captain for the day Kieran Trippier was substituted, meaning the armband was passed to Coady. He accepted the armband in disbelief, and looked over to the bench in shock, clearly wanting assurances that it was indeed Coady who was to be captain for the remainder of the game. He became the first Wolves player to captain England since Emlyn Hughes in 1980. A remarkable achievement and a night he, nor any Wolves fan will ever forget, as the praise for the 27-year-old began flooding in.
Throughout the game, ITV Sport’s commentators Lee Dixon and Chris Coleman were full of admiration for him, stating how impressive he is at doing the basics and sticking to the principles of his game. There are many similarities between his performances for Wolves and England and that is something many players are unable to do. And the praise continued after the game from pundit Roy Keane, known for being hard to please, who said: “I think he’s done brilliantly. A passionate guy loves the game. He can talk. He’s obviously a scouser, he knows how to talk”.
Many journalists and fans of other clubs offered a slightly more level-headed view of Coady’s performance on social media, speaking of the ‘refreshing’ attitude he has bought to the squad, displaying genuine pride and delight at playing for England and scoring for England. This is arguably more important now than in recent years, with certain members of the England squad failing to comply with COVID-19 guidelines and therefore missing games for their country. Coady is an excellent role model for the younger members of the squad despite his inexperience on the international stage.
After the game Coady’s smile had not left his face, he told ITV: “I’m still in a bit of shock, to be honest with you. It’ll live with me forever. I think it’ll be on repeat in my house now with my kids. It’s an amazing night for me”. But such is the humble nature of his personality, he will almost certainly be focused on the performance of the team and the clean sheet in which he helped earn in the 3-0 win. He has also spoken admirably on what it means to be playing and training with the group of England players, stating that he is proud even when he is training, let alone playing and scoring. He is hoping to learn as much as possible from the ‘world-class’ group which England currently have.
Coady’s goalscoring antics is not something Wolves fans will be expecting of him anytime soon, but what they have come to expect is Coady’s assurance in defence, intelligence on the ball and communicative leadership, all qualities which have been evident in his displays for the national side. England have now kept six consecutive clean sheets in all internationals, with Coady at the heart of the defence for the most recent two.
It was a special night for Conor and a memorable night for Conor’s family, as well as everyone who has worked with him at Wolves and elsewhere and of course for all Wolves fans watching on with a beaming smile from ear to ear. Based on his first two England caps, and the performances of his competitors for that place, you certainly wouldn’t bet against Coady making that position his own for England and who knows, maybe the armband will be his once more. Coady, who is not only a very good player and leader but he’s also a thoroughly decent human being (he really, really is) and I think that’s what resonates the most with Wolves and now England fans all over the globe.