The Cross Word: The assassin beneath Cook’s smile

Paul Cook at his first Pompey press conference. Picture: Sarah Standing (150875-8535)
Paul Cook at his first Pompey press conference. Picture: Sarah Standing (150875-8535)
Picture: Hampshire police

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I t arrived after the long fanfare of his arrival had finally quietened.

The smiles, laughs and the pats on the back had been dealt with by Pompey’s new manager in the Montgomery Lounge at Fratton Park.

The feeling is it’s only the security of contracts which stopped it being a complete decimation of the senior squad.

The TV cameras and microphones had been faced with charisma, charm and unstinting line in quips from the fourth manager of the community-owned era.

The obligatory pitchside shot with scarf held aloft signalled hurricane Cook had reached this port.

But it was after the storm had finally relented the telling details began to emerge.

The soundbytes had been fired off ad infinitum by the time Paul Cook got around the table with The News in the club’s boardroom.

Now was time for some details. Jed Wallace going? Kyle Bennett and Jimmy Ryan coming? What’s going on in pre-season? Why are Ian Foster and Leam Richardson over there?

It was well into that far-reaching chat – 16min 01sec, in fact – the Scouser dropped the biggest hint of what was to come next.

Cook was asked of some of the ruthless and controversial decisions he’d made after arriving at Chesterfield in 2012 – and whether there’d be a repeat?

‘I don’t have a problem doing that,’ was his split-second response.

‘I don’t believe in not making decisions. You must have an edge, you have to have that cold side.’

Almost exactly 72 hours later, just how cold became apparent as Cook delivered his damning verdict on Pompey’s 11 out-of-contract players.

Just youngsters Adam Webster and Ben Close survived the playing cull, with the exits of Ryan Taylor, Joe Devera, Wes Fogden and Dan Butler creating varying degrees of surprise among fans.

The feeling is it’s only the security of contracts which stopped it being a complete decimation of the senior squad.

Then the attention turned to the first-team set-up, and the structure put in place there.

Pompey have spoken of the need to dig foundations not leaning wholly on a manager’s appointments.

The plan was for a new man at the top to come and work within that framework, with a little wriggle room.

It was a sensible policy implemented so a departure at the top does not induce a wholesale overhaul.

Yet, that is undoubtedly what is happening.

Gary Waddock was seen as part of the long-term picture. Gone. Head of recruitment, Andy Melville, arrived in just February. Gone.

Strength and conditioning coach, Louis Langdown, headed for the exit while long-term stalwart, Paul Hardyman, waits to see what the heck the future holds for him.

The end result, as one on-line wag suggested, made Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding look like a tea party.

It’s a statement of how Cook is valued by the board that those plans have been put to bed, and a figure of around £150,000 shelled out for his services.

The arrival from Chesterfield, of course, was always the club’s first choice.

Once that was apparent, he was in a position of strength to call the shots on his staff. Hopefully, the ends will justify the means.

The new first-term figurehead will take no pleasure in making tough calls, as his disquiet over the notion of a 25-year servant in Hardyman leaving underlines.

But the appeal of rebuilding Pompey from the bottom up was the attraction, and one which allows little room for sentiment.

‘You’ll upset people along the way, even if it’s not something you want to do,’ said the new man at the helm.

‘If you want to be everyone’s friend you’ll quickly realise you won’t be a good manager,’

There’s a cold-eyed assassin beneath the smile.