Tony Coton: Tim Howard was to blame for his Man United failure, not me
The following is an excerpt from Tony Coton's autobiography, "There To Be Shot At." Taken from the chapter entitled "Tim Coward," Coton discusses his relationship with Manchester United's U.S. international goalkeeper from the summer of 2004 onward.
Yet it was clear when Howard returned for preseason training that he was a changed man -- and not for the better. He suddenly started playing 'bigger' when he was between the sticks, moving forward so that his only option to make a save was to block the ball, rather than staying that little bit deeper so that he had the option to make a catch or tip it away. Basically, he was so traumatised by the thought of making another mistake that he was playing it safe. It was a worrying development that had to be addressed. It might look like a minor change in technique to the layman, but every member of United's backroom team recognised it as a telltale sign that Tim wasn't in a good place mentally. A top sportsman -- whether it's a golfer, tennis player or footballer -- doesn't deliberately redesign his technique unless it has broken down completely. Howard had made one mistake. Yes, it was a biggie, but we all make them and there was a process of coming to terms with the disappointment, learning and then putting it behind you.
My first thought was that Howard had unconsciously changed his technique, so I called in our tech team to help me compile a DVD to illustrate clearly to him what he was doing wrong. I split the screen. On one side was Tim making a save the previous season; on the other was the method he was employing to make exactly the same type of save. The differences were clear, but Howard didn't take my intervention well. 'What's this, analyse to paralyse?' he demanded, before storming out in a huff. He didn't even bother to look at what I was trying to show him. He was living in denial -- always a worrying sign for a coach because players should be open to using all the technology and sports science at their disposal to improve, even when they feel at the top of their game.
It became clear to me that Tim now wanted to take all the decision-making out of his game just in case he chose the wrong option again. That's not how world-class goalkeepers perform. We spent the next twelve months trying to find a cure for Howard's neurosis, but it was a painful and unsuccessful process. Tim didn't feel he needed help, but the fact that he spent the entire 2004/05 season sharing goalkeeping duties with Roy Carroll should have given him an idea that the manager was coming to the conclusion that he just wasn't good enough. When we reached the FA Cup final again, it was Carroll who got the nod. Arsenal fluked the trophy, somehow holding out for a goalless draw after being outplayed for every single one of the 120 minutes and then winning on penalties. Howard eventually left for Everton in the summer of 2006, initially on loan and then in a permanent deal which enabled United to recoup their initial £3 million investment. He went on to become a stalwart for both club and country -- largely, I suspect, because playing for both Everton and the United States carried none of the pressure or expectation that comes when you are defending the Stretford End.
TONY COTON, 'THERE TO BE SHOT AT'
Tony Coton played for seven clubs during a 20-year professional career and, from 1997-2008, was goalkeeping coach at Manchester United.
His autobiography is published by deCoubertin Books on Sept. 21.
We parted on good terms, in fact, we continued to stay in touch and Tim actually gave me a couple of his international shirts as a 'thank you' for the role I had played in progressing his career. It was a much-appreciated gesture, but things changed after I was approached in 2008 by a local newspaper journalist called Stuart Mathieson to do an article about Howard in the Manchester Evening News. I had just left United's coaching staff and Stuart, a trusted operator on the local paper, asked me to do a piece about my time at the club. I mentioned that my biggest disappointment was that Tim Howard didn't develop into the Manchester United goalkeeper I thought he would. This was no hatchet job. My verbatim quote is: 'I was disappointed that he [Howard] didn't come through. He was fantastic in his first season but then didn't kick on in his second. Sadly, that's football. Ultimately you have to be very consistent at United to succeed.' That was it. No stinging criticism about Howard not having the bottle for the job -- which was the bitter truth of it all.
I soon discovered that Tim wasn't impressed. He didn't think that a former Manchester United coach should be doing an article with Manchester's evening paper in which I spoke about an ex-Manchester United player. When I woke up one morning and turned on my mobile phone, I had a voicemail waiting for me. Howard had called at some godforsaken hour, knowing full well that I would be fast asleep, and had left a message that made it clear I wouldn't be getting a Christmas card that year. I thought he was being a bit precious, but I really didn't want to fall out with someone I both respected and liked, so I rang him back. There was no answer, so I left a voicemail. When I didn't get a call back I left another voicemail. Nothing, so I sent a text. Then another text. Tim obviously doesn't believe that it's good to talk.
It was only when I read Howard's autobiography that it became clear he had cut all ties with me because of some warped belief that I was to blame for his failure at Manchester United. I don't want come across as bitter, but in my view Howard told a pack of lies in his book in an attempt to make me look like a complete idiot. If he wants someone to blame for failing at Manchester United then he should take a long, hard look in the mirror.
Copyright deCoubertin Books.