"Cotterball" for Portsmouth
As explored by Scarf on these pages recently and ad nauseam on every other website in Christendom, Portsmouth Football Club isn’t perhaps the most watertight prospective new employer one can think of amid the teeth of global crisis. So, having enjoyed a period of middle eastern exoticism under Avram Grant, it’s the watery gruel of the Championship from now on for Pompey; their choice of manager amply exhibiting the consequences of downsizing.
As with their fellow south coasters, Plymouth, I can’t help feeling that Portsmouth may have been better opting for an up and coming manager rather than Steve Cotterill, a man who has rather been around the houses, despite the relative tenderness of his 45 years. His previous spells at this level smack of mediocrity and his early departure from Notts County is now the second occasion he has quitted a club with indecent haste. It’s true that Pompey are far from overwhelmed with suitors at the moment, but the intriguing prospect of David James as a player manager would, wages apart, have at least left the Fratton Park club with a upscale first name on the teamsheet. Champagne corks won’t be popping at Cotterill’s appointment.
I first saw Cotterill as a player just along the Hampshire coastline at Bournemouth: he turned in a man of the match display in a sweltering league cup win over Cardiff and for a man now seen as the epitome of the lower division wayfarer, one forgets his half century of top flight appearances for Wimbledon, albeit before the arrival of Simple Minds and Richard Keys. Moving into management, he replaced another English born former Don Lawrie Sanchez at Sligo Rovers, staying just a season before taking up the reins at his home town club.
His spell at Cheltenham remains the centrepiece of his CV. Beginning in the Southern (then Dr. Marten’s) League, he brought league football to this unlikely town of Hackett polo shirts, Georgian terraces and All Bar Ones, before going one better with a Millennium Stadium play off win over Rushden and Diamonds. A significant achievement certainly, but momentum of this kind is less unusual than one might think: Brian Little, Barry Fry, Dave Bassett, Brian Talbot and now John Still have all trodden the same path and nobody linked those guys with the Pompey helm.
Cotterill’s big break came with a move to Stoke but to stay just 13 matches, especially after signing a three year contract makes Harry Redknapp look a loyalist. Almost inexplicably, he left Staffordshire to accept an offer to become Howard Wilkinson’s number two at Sunderland. As when Graeme Souness took over at Newcastle and Christian Gross at Spurs, the duo’s not having started in the job did nothing to prevent hoots of derision and miserable doesn’t even begin to describe a period of 4 wins in 27 matches. This interview with Cotterill, albeit one of those irritating, staged simply to take the mickey kind, is revealing on his spell on Wearside despite his resolute refusal to comment.
It’s his subsequent spell at Burnley that provides us with the clearest idea of Cotterill’s Championship credentials and his first season at Turf Moor just about passed muster. Mainstays John McGreal and Frank Sinclair proved to be astute acquisitions and attracting Gary Cahill and Peter Whittingham on loan showed an eye for a deal. He made a clear profit on Ade Akinbiyi and sold the now returned Robbie Blake and Richard Chaplow for sizeable fees, well beyond their true worth. On the pitch, the high point was Djimi Traore’s meltdown in a season that saw Liverpool crowned European Champions.
But Year 2 in Lancashire was less encouraging. Only a deal with the replica shirt people at the Burnley megastore could have inspired the signings of Gifton Noel-Williams and Danny Karbasiyoon, although Wade Elliott’s arrival has paid off in spades. From Christmas 2005, the plunge was vertiginous – just 3 league victories for the remainder of that season was followed up by a 19 match winless streak the next, with Eric Djemba Djemba another addition to the outlandish names’ society. To add to the pain, Clarets’ fans devised the “Cotterball” nickname: a reflection of somewhat less than cultured tactics ingrained from hanging out with the Crazy Gang and Sergeant Wilko.
“Mutual Consent” was evoked and since then, Cotterill has been knocking around the Isleworth studios of Sky Sports, a soundbite specialist to rank alongside another new Championship manager we profiled last week, Aidy Boothroyd. That is, until, he walked into a sinecure of a job at Notts County – in possession of the biggest finance and best players in League Two, he duly stewarded the Magpies into League One: a bare minimum requirement at best. Come May and he was on the road again: this time to the South. I don’t think it will end prettily.