The dust has now settled on Paul Cook’s Pompey departure and Pompey fans can now reassess their opinions of their ex-manager after the initial anger has worn off. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I would not begrudge Cook leaving had it not been for the interview he gave saying he would voluntarily leave the Blues for a team other than Liverpool. Now comes the time when Pompey fans can look back and decide how they feel about Cook and his Pompey tenure, and see what it means for the club going forward under Kenny Jackett.
As I said, it is understandable that Cook would want to move to Wigan because the pay packet on offer at the Latics was far superior to the one on offer at Fratton Park. Although this is only rumoured to be true, Pompey fans can be fairly sure that money was one of the driving factors in Cook’s decision as Cook was one of the best paid managers in League Two last season, then got an automatic pay rise after winning promotion to make him one of the better paid managers in League One, and then was offered an increased contract to try and persuade him to say, but none of this could match what Wigan were willing to pay him. According to The News, Cook privately expressed that his first choice scenario would be to remain at Fratton Park with an increased contract, which is testament to just how much Wigan must have offered him that even Pompey’s maximum offer could not rival what was on offer elsewhere.
A further reason which contributed to Cook’s move to Wigan is the Latics’ recent achievements. They spent last season in the Championship and won the League One title two seasons ago so, despite last season’s relegation, Cook will feel he can build on the club’s recent success. One might be slightly surprised that Cook chose to leave Pompey because he has almost single handedly built the club over the last two seasons and he left almost exactly three weeks after he secured the League Two title at Fratton Park, so he is taking a substantial risk by walking away from that as there is no guarantee that he will succeed at the DW Stadium. However, as far as short term promotion is concerned, it is true that he has more chance of gaining instant promotion with Wigan than he would with Pompey. This, of course, is down to a combination of Wigan having better players and a bigger budget than Portsmouth as the likes of Will Grigg and Omar Bogle having had vast levels of success at League One level and higher while they have the opportunity to upgrade the squad.
The other reason for Cook’s decision is said to be that he wanted to take the opportunity to move back to the north-west of England where he grew up and the majority of his family still live. While it is said that Cook felt settled on the South Coast, this is an understandable reason to want to move clubs as he has a great affinity with that area of the country, having played for and managed clubs such as Accrington Stanley and Chesterfield, as well as having two spells as a player at Wigan Athletic. Therefore, under normal circumstances, it would not seem unreliable for Cook to make the move north. There are clear reasons for his wanting to leave for pastures new, especially when that club is offering such good finances.
However I, and plenty of other Pompey supporters, would argue that these are no normal circumstances. It is one thing for a manager to be open about wanting to do his job but making it clear that he is simply at a club to do a job. If a manager comes to the club, does his best, hopefully achieves success, and then moves on to a new challenge I have no problem whatsoever. However, when somebody says he is now a fan of that club and that “if I’m not here then it will only be 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.” Cook does not seem to have the best record in terms of loyalty to his clubs, saying “you can’t preach loyalty unless you show it yourself” – one week before leaving Chesterfield for Pompey. It is a real shame that Cook manufactured the move away just a week after giving this interview as he has now tarnished his reputation with Blues fans as he had finally won everybody over by winning the title but he then spoiled that by his perceived betrayal.
Already Pompey fans are sharpening their pitchforks and purchasing their inflatable snakes ready for the match at the DW Stadium and it is really disappointing that Cook will now be remembered more for his departure from Fratton Park than the unrivalled levels of success he achieved on at the club. I am trying not to let Cook’s departure completely change my opinion of him as I genuinely liked him when he was at the club and it cannot be denied that he was a great manager and did the job he was brought in to do. With the exception of the odd interview where Cook refused to give proper answers, I thought he performed really well off the pitch at Fratton Park and was very open, even allowing supporters to book visits to visit the training ground and meet the manager and coaching staff. As far as the footballing side was concerned, his record speaks for itself, having either won promotion or made the play-offs in all of his last four seasons. I feel that even Pompey fans who can’t forgive Cook should try to separate his off the field errors from his success on the pitch. However, unfortunately this is unlikely to happen as even Harry Redknapp was never forgiven by the majority of the fanbase despite winning the FA Cup.
However people feel about Cook leaving Pompey, there is nothing anybody can do about it and supporters can now look forward to the next chapter under Kenny Jackett. It will be interesting to see how the squad will adapt as it is very much a Paul Cook squad, with every single player apart from the academy graduates having been signed by Cook and trained to play in his 4-2-3-1 system. Jackett has said he will not look to rip up the squad’s tactics and will look to build on the momentum from last season’s success. However, he has hinted that he will look to employ more of a 4-4-2 system than Cook went for so it will be interesting to see if players such as Michael Smith and Conor Chaplin will get increased playing time under the new manager. Jackett has also suggested that he is looking to develop the club’s youth academy so players such as Ben Close and Brandon Haunstrup will hope to make some more progress. On the other hand, players such as Gary Roberts might find that they get less playing time under Jackett than they got under Cook, while James Henry is linked with signing for Pompey and working with Jackett once more.
With the club having been moulded to Cook’s preferences over the last two years it will be intriguing to see how the squad and club as a whole changes under new stewardship, both from Jackett and Michael Eisner. Paul Cook’s reputation has been tarnished by the way he left Pompey and I would be very surprised if he is forgiven by the majority of the Blues fanbase but there is definitely room for optimism at the moment. I am disappointed with the way Cook left but I can certainly see why he did. However, now the important thing is for the club to move on and continue the march back towards the Championship. Hopefully, come the end of the season, Pompey will sneak into the Championship on the last day, or possibly in the play-off final, at Wigan’s expense. In the words of Kevin Keegan, I would love it if we beat them.