Football's focus on managers '˜a bit scary at the moment', says Wigan Athletic chief Cook
Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook bounced in to his usual pre-game press conference yesterday with a trademark smile on his face and a loud and friendly welcome to all present.
Not surprising really, given Latics had got back to winning ways in midweek thanks to a hard-fought but well-deserved victory over Hull City.
Then again, it had been exactly the same entrance on Monday morning, when he met with the local media to look ahead to Hull, despite the huge setback of last Saturday’s defeat at Brentford, which had seen his side put in their worst performance so far.
And it’s this consistency of demeanour and character – at least in public – which has helped the club rebound from the disappointment of relegation from the Championship 16 months ago to their present position on the fringes of the play-off picture.
Under the watchful eye of the man with the Midas touch – and the infectious personality.
“I always think to myself, when is it that a manager feels good?” Cook assesses. “Probably when he has the confidence of the people around him, who trust him to do his job.
“If you’re going to be around a football club, and you don’t think you’re going to get beat or go on a bad run... a lot of the time it’s not the manager’s fault.
“It’s football’s fault. But the manager has become such a figure now that everything goes back to him – tactics, formation, team selection and so on.
“And it’s getting to the point where it’s getting a bit scary at the moment.
“I’m reading (Mauricio) Pochettino hasn’t got a clue, (Jose) Mourinho hasn’t got a clue... and I’m thinking, ‘Really? These are the most elite managers we’ve got in the world, and they’re getting criticism from everywhere!’
“I first got into the game not fearing anything that might come my way, if that makes sense. Because 99.9% of the time it’s coming... and there’s nothing you can do about it!
“I always wanted to be involved in football, and for my team to represent me in a way that shows they’re enjoying it as much as I am.
“Sometimes the hardest part of that is coming in on Monday after Brentford, when your team has done everything that you don’t enjoy. But you’ll never see me coming in berating the players, or my tactics. We had a good learning day, we watched the videos back.
“It was all about what we could have done better – selection, shape, tactics, what can we learn from it.
“We managed to get the win on Tuesday, and everything’s happy in the world again!
“Defeats aren’t great, not what you want, but they’re not the end of the world. What managers have to do is stay strong, and keep people around them who are similar in mindset.”
Cook has certainly surrounded himself with strength, both in his fiercely tight backroom staff and a squad of players – led by skipper Sam Morsy – who play the game in their manager’s embodiment.
They’re by no means the finished product but, heading into tonight’s clash against Bristol City, they’ve certainly surprised more than a few on their return to the second tier.
Not that Cook is in the mood for any backslapping.
“Like every team, we have strengths and we have weaknesses,” he acknowledged. “And as a manager you’re always looking to strengthen your weaknesses, if that makes sense.
“Most teams are the same, and you’ll find every team has the capability to hurt other teams at some point in a game.”
A second home win in three days would see Latics climb to THIRD place in the table ahead of the Saturday schedule.
In their way stand a Bristol City side who have shown the way in managing the step up from League One champions into Championship promotion chasers, and who can move up to second spot themselves.
With the Sky cameras in town, it’s an occasion Cook is unsurprisingly looking forward to.
“Any live game under the lights is exciting, especially against a side as good as Bristol City, with the form they’re in,” added Cook.
“Last season, you’d probably say the cup runs caught up with them, and preventing them pushing on towards the play-offs. I’m sure they’ll have aspirations of pushing at the top end this year, and when you watch them you can see why.
“Our challenge is to match that, and give them something to worry about... and fingers crossed we can.”