JAMES COPPINGER’S diary looks congested on and off the pitch between now and May, but he has kept it free for the next few seasons – hopefully for further appointments in the colours of Doncaster Rovers.
The winger is busy organising a series of events to mark his richly-deserved testimonial campaign with Rovers, whom he joined for a bargain £30,000 in May 2004, but while benefit years sometimes pull down the curtain on a club career, Coppinger has no such thoughts.
Now 33, the Guisborough-born player insists he has plenty of miles left in the tank and is keen to extend his days at the club he has taken to his heart.
He and his colleagues are striving to secure Championship status for Rovers, and their collective work-rate, desire and attitude over the past month has suggested they can achieve their mission.
But along with a host of colleagues who will also be out of contract in June, he also has himself to consider.
Coppinger, whose recent form has been described as outstanding by Rovers’ chief Paul Dickov, said: “I am out of contract in the summer and would love to stay here for the rest of my career.
“If you are playing well and doing what you can, hopefully things will fall into place. I feel as good as I have ever felt, physically and mentally, and to be playing in the Championship at 33 proves that.
“I just want to maintain my fitness and mental strength.
“I love coming in every day, and the training, and as long as I am enjoying what I am doing that’s the main idea.
“We actually had a meeting this week about the testimonial. The club and owners are going to support me and it’s very pleasing to serve 10 years at a football club and to be rewarded with a testimonial is something for me and the fans and everybody to get involved with.
“I am really looking forward to it and hopefully I will stay around here a bit longer.”
Other senior players whose deals expire at the end of the season include Ross Turnbull, Paul Keegan and David Cotterill along with January recruits Abdoulaye Meite and Gabriel Tamas, who agreed short-term deals with the club last month, and loan players Billy Sharp and Bongani Khumalo.
While signing either Southampton’s Sharp or Khumalo, of Tottenham, long term would not be straightforward, the reminder of the players mentioned are clearly battling for their own future as well as preserving the club’s divisional status.
To a degree, so is Dickov, who signed a one-year deal last summer with the option of another 12 months, which would take care of itself if Rovers maintain their Championship tenure.
At this juncture, Dickov is set fair to be rewarded come season’s end with a number of players whose deals terminate in the summer also doing their cases no harm recently.
Dickov, whose side are five points above the Championship drop zone and unbeaten in four games, said: “My job is to keep the club in the division and put a team out and keep doing what they have been doing.
“Contracts has never been a problem and I am privileged to manage the club and know what I have got to do.”
Offering a pledge to those players whose deals expire, he added: “It’s simple for me. If the lads can prove we can stay in this division as soon as we can then we will sit down and start talking about contracts. It’s in their hands.
“As each summer goes by there are more and more players out of contract and it’s more and more difficult for players to get clubs.
“To be fair to the group here, they are doing everything they can at the minute to make sure we stay in this division and earn the right to get a contract.
“Throughout my short managerial career I have shown that if players work hard for me then I will do everything I can to help them out.”
Coppinger admits that the mood at the Keepmoat is far removed from what it was at the start of the new year when Rovers – in the middle of an injury crisis and short of numbers – were in the drop zone amid an alarming eight-match winless streak.
But an impressive renaissance on the pitch – with the return of some key personnel dovetailing with the shrewd window signings of Meite, Tamas and Sharp – is transforming Rovers’ campaign which was teetering on the brink just a month ago.
Coppinger, who has played his part in the upturn, cites the fine 3-0 home win over in-form Wigan on January 18 as being the catalyst for the change in fortune.
He was one of the heroes in Rovers’ escape from relegation in their first Championship campaign in 2008-09 when the club were one of the form teams in the country in the second half of that season after looking dead and buried at Christmas.
Coppinger said: “We have been in this position before and we have picked up at the right time and are looking the best we have all season.
“I think there’s a bit more belief in the team and we needed that one result to kick us forward and the Wigan game – with scoring three goals and not conceding – instilled a bit of belief and it’s gone on from then.”