Figures from past should not be allowed to haunt Guy

As Steve Cotterill negotiated his way through the Cheltenham car park last Saturday, he was a popular draw.

Sunday, 15th September 2013, 7:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 8:28 pm
Ricardo Rocha

A manager who led his home-town club to three promotions, including into the Football League, Robins supporters couldn’t but grasp him firmly by the hand.

As for Pompey followers, they had the pressing urge to question him on a matter clearly lingering since his October 2011 exit.

Just why did he elected to release Matt Ritchie and Marlon Pack?

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Yes, Ritchie and Pack – the spectre that will forever haunt Cotterill in the eyes of many Blues fans.

It’s an issue which continues to cloud him overseeing the only season out of the last four that Pompey have not been relegated.

In fact, his team finished 16th in the Championship – a comfortable 16 points off the relegation zone.

Regardless, he remains the man who opened the door and instructed Ritchie and Pack to leave Fratton.

Fascinating to see then whether Guy Whittingham will suffer a similar wretched fate, a reputation among some fans hampered by two spurned players.

The early indications are the ghostly images of Ricardo Rocha and Sam Sodje are hovering.

With every goal conceded – and there have been many so far this season – the cry is delivered with steadily-increasing regularity.

‘Bring back Rocha’.

Also often raised on social media has been the name of Sodje – his absence seemingly mourned as well by some.

They were part of the side who improved so dramatically from February – an outstanding run which earned the caretaker manager the Blues job permanently. Fighting it out with Gabor Gyepes for the two central defensive spots in the starting line-up, they were highly-regarded figures.

But under Whittingham neither have returned.

Negotiations took place without either securing a Fratton comeback.

And while his defence keeps leaking those sloppy goals, so the shouts for the grand return of Rocha or Sodje become more audible.

Phil Smith’s mistake at Mansfield – bring back Rocha!

The late defeat by 10-men to table-topping Chesterfield – bring back Rocha!

Then, of course, the 92nd-minute leveller by Cheltenham to deprive Pompey of a first away victory – bring back Rocha!

Let’s not forget it was Whittingham who did bring back Rocha in November 2012, a shock recruitment completely out of the blue.

Following trials at Ipswich and Leeds, it would be the familiar setting of Fratton Park which would be his home for the rest of last season.

It was not quite the Rocha of old, age slightly diminishing those outstanding talents. Nonetheless, he made 21 appearances.

Whittingham decided at the end of last season he wanted him back, while it took the 34-year-old all summer to decide he wanted to return.

Ultimately, Rocha’s failure to sign on for a fourth spell at the club was never about money, a factor made abundantly clear by both the manager and chairman Iain McInnes.

Instead, it was over his desire to develop into a director of football once his playing career was over, a job Pompey were unwilling to employ him in further down the line.

Admittedly, the concept is largely unheard of in the bottom division of English football, finances and practicality underpinning the issue.

In addition, whether Rocha’s contacts in Portugal at the likes of Porto, for example, could be lured to League Two level to make it a worthwhile job creation is also open to question.

In the end, Pompey decided against introducing such a position, regardless of the time frame, and both parties went their separate ways.

For the Blues, he made 97 appearances, featured in three divisions and was a popular, committed and classy performer as well as a true gentleman.

He is not coming back, though.

Turning to Sodje, the 34-year-old was keen on a return and told The News as much in July.

An approach was made by Whittingham about the possibility of coming back to the south coast, albeit should other targets fall through.

As it was, the former Brentford man’s troublesome knee and age proved decisive as Whittingham opted to look more long term.

His long-standing complaint was last season managed by Steve Allen, who had worked with Sodje at Charlton and knew how to handle it.

Nonetheless, the former Nigeria international was unable to take part in every training session.

Incidentally, according to Google, he is still a free agent.

As for Gyepes, after demanding too much money, he has returned to Hungary to play for Videoton.

Of course, it remains to be seen how Whittingham’s Pompey reign will be defined.

But Sonny Bradley, Joe Devera, Bondz N’Gala and Adam Webster are now Pompey’s central-defensive future.

Sadly, not two 34-year-olds currently without clubs.