Steve Cotterill reveals the truth behind John Utaka's Portsmouth departure

Steve Cotterill has revealed how Pompey’s hierarchy forced him to cash in on John Utaka.

Thursday, 18th June 2020, 12:00 pm
John Utaka departed Fratton Park in January 2011 after three-and-a-half seasons with the club. Picture: Neal Simpson

The Nigerian international was sold to French top-flight side Montpellier in January 2011 for an undisclosed fee.

It ended a three-and-a-half year spell which was often erratic, yet it was Utaka’s cross which created Kanu’s matchwinner in the 2008 FA Cup final.

Pompey had emerged through administration and were 18th in the Championship when the Nigerian international departed.

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At the time, chief executive David Lampitt claimed to a group of supporters that the winger had sold himself and it was out of his hands.

However, Cotterill insists the deal was orchestrated above his head.

He told The News: ‘If there was money going to come in for anyone and any cost-cutting measures needed, that used to get taken out of my hands.

‘Certainly in the early days when I came in, John wasn't sure whether he was staying or going.

‘I remember being told at the beginning that we had to sell him before the season started.

‘As much as I wanted John Utaka and the Pompey fans would have as well because he was having a great season at the time, at the end of the day the club needed £500,000.

‘Montpellier came in from him and we sold him. Apparently, it was the only bid the club had received since buying him for £7m. Once that came in, he was sold.

‘In that season, people were saying that’s the best John Utaka had been since the first two or three months of coming to the club.

‘He was a really, really nice man. He said some kind things about me when he left and was one of those you had to man-manage to get the best out of them.

‘People like him have incredible ability, but sometimes you need incredible ability together with hard work to drag the team forward.’

Utaka, who arrived at Fratton Park in July 2007 in a £7m deal from Rennes, made 114 appearances and scored 13 times.

At the time of his exit, he had netted in successive matches, while Cotterill reflects on a November 2010 win at Swansea as one of his most impressive displays that season.

He added: ‘I sat John down and talked to him about his family, about what he was going to do that season and what his ambitions were.

‘The only way you can fulfil all of them is when you cross that line. What are you going to do? How are you going to play? You have to play for the team.

‘I remember we went to Swansea and beat them 2-1 with Brendan Rodgers in charge. That night John was absolutely magnificent.

‘He ended up playing down the middle for me, just off the striker. He did a defensive midfield job and also a second striker’s role.

‘He was a really special guy.’

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