As Paul Cook begins his life as Wigan Athletic manager, we look back on his career to date as both a player and a manager.
It’s a fascinating story, which begins in Paul’s native Merseyside as a rookie non-league winger given his first chance in league football by Latics. He then goes all the way to the Premier League as a player before dropping gradually back down the league pyramid as a player and embarking on his coaching career.
His path as a coach also begins in non-league, takes a scenic route via the Republic of Ireland, before he begins building a reputation as one of the finest young managers in the Football League.
Paul Cook was born in Liverpool in 1967. He became a footballer the hard way, playing for non-league Marine in Crosby, just a few miles from the district of Kirkby in which he grew up. Latics manager Harry McNally took a chance on the raw winger with a magical left foot and he signed for Wigan Athletic in July 1984, days after his 17th birthday.
FOOTBALL LEAGUE DEBUT
Paul was made to wait nearly a full season before being given his league debut, which finally came in the last home game of the season, in a 1-1 draw versus Reading in May 1985, still aged 17. His first goal came in a 5-0 demolition of Swansea City in January 1986 at Springfield Park the following season.
Battling for the No11 shirt with Ian Griffiths, Cook had to fight for his place in the side which reached the FA Cup Quarter Final in 1986-87 and narrowly missed out on promotion from Division 3 (League One). However, it was in 1987-88 that he played more regularly and his talents soon drew some high-profile admirers.
THE CANARY FLIES THE NEST
In a sign of the financial times for Latics, Norwich City sealed a bargain £73,000 deal for Cook in the summer of 1988, weeks prior to his team-mate Paul Jewell leaving for Bradford City in an £80,000 deal. He had played 95 times for us in all competitions, scoring 15 goals. Aged 21, and after serving his footballing apprenticeship at Springfield Park, he was ready to move onwards and upwards.
A CULTURED MIDFIELDER COMES OF AGE
With Norwich ending the 1988-89 season in 4th position in the old First Division, the young Cook found it hard to break into the Canaries’ team, playing just six times for them. City nevertheless made a huge profit on him when they sold him on to Second Division Wolves in November 1989 in a £250,000 deal.
He went on to have five good years at Molineux, amassing 214 appearances in all competitions, scoring 21 times, prompting Wolves to accept a £600,000 offer from Coventry City in August 1994. He played 34 Premier League games for the Sky Blues in the 94/95 season, but featured less the following season and another move soon beckoned.
RETURN TO THE NORTH-WEST
Cook was back in his native Merseyside when First Division (Championship) Tranmere Rovers paid Coventry £250,000 for his services in the summer of 1996. Manager Johnny King was quickly replaced by John Aldridge, and as a self-confessed Liverpool supporter, Cook flourished under the Anfield legend, a virtual ever-present as Rovers finished 11th in the table. However, he was on the move again after 69 matches played at Prenton Park, when he signed for Stockport County in October 1997 in a £250,000 deal. Incredibly (when you think the club are now in the National League North), County ended up 8th in the First Division (Championship) that season, Cook playing an integral role as the classy midfield architect in Gary Megson’s side.
INDIAN SUMMER IN LANCASHIRE
Second Division (League One) Burnley manager Stan Ternent took the 31-year old on loan in March 1999, and Cook actually lined up against Latics for the first time since leaving 11 years previously in a 0-0 draw at Springfield Park on May 3. The move to Turf Moor was made permanent that summer and he went to be a major player as the Clarets were promoted to the second tier in 2000; Latics missing out to Gillingham in the Play Off Final that season.
BACK AT LATICS – BRIEFLY
As he fell down the pecking order at Burnley, his old team mate Paul Jewell brought him back on loan the following winter, and Cook played six more games for Latics between November 2001 and January 2002, Cook returning to Turf Moor when his loan spell ended.
A NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
After 153 games in all competitions for Burnley, Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman convinced the 35-year-old to made the short trip along the M65 in May 2003 and drop back down to the Conference. It was to prove a pivotal decision for Cook, who was part of the Stanley adventure as they reached the promised land of the Football League two years later, in 2006; but equally as importantly, the move enabled him to begin focusing on coaching a lot more.
A COACHING CAREER BECKONS
Having decided to finally hang up his playing boots aged 37, he took up an offer to manage Southport in the summer of 2006 and in fact faced his old mate Paul Jewell’s Premiership Latics in a pre-season friendly for one of his first games in charge. Things didn’t go according to plan at Haig Avenue, however, and he left in January 2007, becoming instead a surprise appointment for the start of the following season at Sligo Rovers in the Republic of Ireland.
SILVERWARE IN THE EMERALD ISLE
The young coach really started showing his potential over on the Emerald Isle, leading the Bit o’Red to a 4th place finish in his first full season and qualifying for a UEFA Cup spot. He won his first managerial silverware in 2010, defeating Monaghan United in the Irish League Cup Final, before Shamrock Rovers were defeated on penalties in the FAI Cup Final the same year at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. He repeated the feat in 2011, this time Shelbourne were beaten on penalties at the Aviva.
BACK TO ENGLAND WITH A BANG
Having cut his teeth as a manager in a really uncompromising environment, Cook returned to Accrington to take charge of an English Football League club for the first time in February 2012. He only stayed in East Lancashire for six months, however, before being landing the Chesterfield manager’s job in October of that year. He guided the Spireites to 8th place in his first season but it was in 2013-14 that he really marked his arrival on the managerial scene, guiding the Derbyshire outfit to the League Two title. He followed that up in 2014-15 by narrowly missing out on back-to-back promotions, losing in the play-off semi-finals to Preston North-End after a great second season at the Proact Stadium.
CHIME OF YOU’RE YOUR LIFE
The challenge of bringing back the good times to Portsmouth proved too hard to resist, despite a drop in divisions, and he was announced as the new Pompey manager in May 2015. The first season ultimately ended in disappointment, losing narrowly to Plymouth Argyle in the play-off semi-finals, but everything came good in May 2017. With Portsmouth, Plymouth and Doncaster Rovers all already promoted, a dramatic final day twist saw Pompey snatch the title in style as they thrashed Cheltenham Town 6-1 in front of a delirious Fratton Park. Cook was duly crowned as the League Two Manager of the Season.
Source: Wigan Athletic FC