The Monday Profile: Paul Cook
John Coleman’s departure from the Accrington Stanley job in January after 12 years in the role reverberated throughout Lancashire. The Liverpudlian had transformed the beleaguered Accies from a name used to market dairy products into a serious footballing concern again, and defeat to Stevenage in the play-off semi-final last May wipes none of the gloss from his striking achievements.
Having been linked with a succession of details since Stanley returned to the Football League in 2006, there was nonetheless a patina of inevitability about Coleman’s final departure. His destination, however, did provoke more than a little surprise.
Although enjoying one of the most successful periods in their history in terms of league position, Rochdale are in clear and present danger of losing their League 1 status; Steve Eyre’s attempt to follow the unfollowable Keith Hill having ended in the sack after just 27 games in charge. So, it seemed a rum decision for Coleman to swap a Stanley hovering comfortably in mid table and only just outside the promotion bundle for a Spotland in seeming disarray.
By neat logic, the tough shoes Coleman has been asked to fill are no more daunting than those he himself has left behind. Paul Cook will have taken a deep breath before deciding to accept the challenge of following the 92’s third longest serving boss after Alex and Arsà¨ne. Will he be up to the task?
Accrington’s 2011 has been disrupted by the weather in recent weeks and this is far from astounding given the oftentimes lamentable state of the Crown Ground pitch. Fixtures against Oxford and Crewe were called off and this has left everyone at the club in limbo, even if chief executive Rob Heys will have seen his earlier calls for the introduction of artificial surfaces firmly vindicated – he’ll also have welcomed the chance to hire the new gaffer and Cook was installed last Monday on a two and a half year deal.
The newcomer enjoyed a wonderfully consistent league career as a player and notched up 642 games in total. I remember him as a fixture of ITV’s Sunday afternoon live games from the second tier during his period at Wolves. Then, he cast an elegant figure in a Wanderers team that was never quite good enough to launch themselves into the top bracket and this despite torrents of goals from Steve Bull.
That Wolves squad was bloated from sucking on a golden tit and Cook made his way to Coventry — playing almost an entire Premier League campaign in 2004-5 before moving on first to Tranmere Rovers and then to Stockport County — a team flying high for sure, but the £250,000 fee perhaps providing an insight into their current travails.
Cook joined in the wake of County’s annus mirabilis so expertly chronicled for us by Mozzer in episode 18 of our Great Teams series but maintaining second level status would always be a battle for the Hatters and he left for Burnley not long before the conclusion of the millennium.
His time at Turf Moor was to be a successful one — his unruffled poise suiting a man in the twilight of his career very well. Indeed, he put on the claret and blue shirt 134 times in all and installed himself as a firm crowd favourite. Unable to contemplate the possibility of giving up playing, he made the short trip to Accrington, capping it all by retiring in the wake of the successful promotion bid.
So, Stanley have appeared to have acted very cannily in hiring a manager who knows the set up at the club and was an integral part of the Coleman regime. After a false start at Southport, Cook had made his way to the Irish Republic, enjoying two FA of Ireland Cup Final wins in 2010 and 2011 and also securing a UEFA Cup spot for provincial club Sligo Rovers. Nor would he be the first to cut his teeth in the Emerald Isle — Sam Allardyce, lest we forget, started off at Limerick. However, Cook’s teams have a reputation for playing a far more grassbound style than those of the aforementioned — not altogether bemusing given his cultured, innovative approach to the game as a player.
As the worst of the conditions appear now to be behind us, he’ll aim to repeat last season’s achievements and although a frankly ‘orrible 4-0 hammering by rejuvenated Plymouth on Saturday was a debilitating start, a certain William Shankly also suffered the same fate on taking the Liverpool job in the sixties.