Why Paul Cook was right to move to Wiganby Gabriel Sutton / 31 March 2018, 12:13Tweet
"If I’m not here then it will be only because Pompey don’t want me here. It won’t be because any other club in the country had come in for me – except Liverpool."
Those are the now infamous words of Paul Cook, following his Portsmouth side’s title win. Ironically, they then boosted his popularity with the fans, who were pleased to see their side unexpectedly pip Doncaster – and secondary rivals Plymouth – to top spot following a 6-1 drubbing of Cheltenham Town.
What Cook’s supporters liked about him was that he spoke with passion and a loud, hoarse voice, even if his animated body language contradicted the calming message he often tried to convey. There were countless interviews throughout the 2016/17 campaign in which he demanded cool heads when behind that, one could clearly see a man with a burning desire to succeed for that club.
It is perhaps that affinity that a section of Pompey fans had with Cook which caused the anger at his subsequent departure for Wigan Athletic, who they host on Monday teatime. They felt like they had been cheated by a man, who appeared to have so much enthusiasm but had all along only been following the pound signs.
That is an understandable viewpoint, but one that perhaps exaggerates the situation. While there is no doubt that Cook should not have said what he did in May without truly meaning it, various factors might have altered his perspective.
The change of ownership created a sense of limbo. Incoming chairman Michael Eisner reportedly didn’t offer Cook the long-term contract he was hoping for; the modest spending under Kenny Jackett thereafter implies that the American business might not have proposed the biggest budget, too. Given how quickly the modern coach’s position becomes precarious, it is often better to be the new manager for an existing board than vice versa.
The Wigan regime, too, offered more scope to meet Cook’s personal ambitions.
The Latics possessed a squad ready-made for the Championship and that was before they flexed their financial muscles.
Brighton loanee Christian Walton has kept clean sheets in 17 of his 26 games – including one in the FA Cup victory over Manchester City – while Chey Dunkley has established himself as one of the best ball-playing centre-backs ever seen in the third tier. Sam Morsy has dictated play with class in midfield while attacking midfielders such as Nick Powell and Michael Jacobs have shown their quality all season.
By contrast, Portsmouth are in more of a transitional phase. 38% of their goals have been scored by Brett Pitman, who has battled superbly up top and finished his chances with clinical expertise. Apart from Pitman though – and perhaps highly-rated centre-back Matt Clarke – it could be questioned how many Pompey players are good enough to perform in the Championship.
The way Cook handled his move could be questioned, but subsequent fortunes for Wigan and Portsmouth dictate that he made the right decision.