You could see it coming. Soon after the story broke, there was a certain inevitability about the whole thing, and last Friday Garry Cook finally succumbed to the media pressure over his email gaffe and resigned, to the delight of millions.
Cook has never been a popular man in the press, or with other clubs’ fans. Seen as prone to gaffe after gaffe, keen on CEO-speak and too business-oriented, his departure will gain little sympathy. And on over a million pounds a year that’s fair enough. The press had had it in for Cook for a while as he had lied to them about finding a successor to Mark Hughes – they obviously expected him to openly tell them they were looking for a new manager.
I am not sure when football club CEOs and board members became big news in football. The likes of David Dein and Peter Kenyon led the way by having a high profile, linked to the fact that many like them and David Gill at Manchester United sat/sit within the FA and various European club committees.
And Cook was certainly high-profile, sometimes unwittingly. Overseeing one of the most talked about football stories of our time, he brought unprecedented growth in the club and its global profile, sometimes talking in the style of the marketing man that he is, a style that grated with many, who still see football clubs as some close-knit local community-type operation. Welcome to the 21st century. You might recoil at the thought that football is all about money and global profiles and marketing, but it has been that way for decades – that’s not Cook’s fault, and with the dawn of the Financial Fair Play regulations, Cook and the owners knew that City had to expand their profile and increase marketing in order to compete. He did his job, and he did it well, also helping to bring the best set of footballers to the club for a generation (possibly ever).
So like the game around him, Cook was about the money – some of his football ideas are to be dismissed, but he wasn’t there at City for that. Every top club (and many others) has someone like Cook now – just because they don’t say as much as Cook did publicly doesn’t mean they’re not doing the same things and thinking alike.
But Cook offered something else too that you won’t see mentioned. Most people know only half the story.
As Oliver Kay of The Times astutely tweeted: What I found endearing about Cook was that he cared about the fans. Very few do. And it’s not just a £ thing. Do other rich clubs care?
And he did care. There are endless stories of how Cook has helped City fans – sorting out complimentary tickets for games, spending endless hours chatting to fans and listening to their opinions, doing impromptu ground tours for visitors, and generally putting himself out when he didn’t have to. Most CEOs wouldn’t. He was the only guy that realised that an indoor ticket office in Manchester might be quite a good idea.Those that call him a buffoon tend not to have met him.
Introducing Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United Hall of Fame was a simple slip of the tongue. Unfortunate, and badly timed, but still just a slip of the tongue, and the pathetic overreaction by a minority of City fans was saddening. Defending Thaksin Shinawatra and saying he was a great guy to play golf with wasn’t the best idea, but he could hardly not defend his owner when questioned. Let’s be honest, most City fans defended Shinawatra until we realised he was doing more harm than good and that his excuses no longer stood up to analysis.
And for the record, Kaka did bottle it. So there. When the press are taking the side of Silvio Berlusconi, then you know there are agendas at play. Cook’s comment was borne from frustration at the underhand methods Berlusconi used to scupper the deal, but he probably learnt that day to bite his lip a bit more in future.
As for the email saga, the whole thing stunk. Its sudden release 11 months after the event should set the alarm bells ringing. Onuoha’s mother’s assertion that seeing the email was worse than getting cancer is possibly the most ridiculous comment of all. Week-long media coverage sealed his fate, but he sealed it too by not coming clean at the time. The email itself was not a sackable offence – we have all made similar mistakes and said some nasty things in our time. It should also be seen in the wider context of the ongoing difficult contract negotiations and we do not know what else was said between the three parties – I am not excusing the mail, though I fail to see how it mocks cancer, but don’t think he lost his job because of it. After all, this was a private email, where things are said that you wouldn’t say in public – and that applies to everyone. His fatal error was trying to cover the whole thing up – once he did that he was doomed, and can have few complaints. If he had owned up at the time and apologised, it could have blown over. There were rumours that Cook was going anyway- that he would be moving back to America to be with his family who were already there. Manchester’s two restaurants eventually wore them down too.
You see, throughout all the claims of the club’s brashness, a lack of class and new levels of arrogance, the fans have never been looked after better. With a world-class team, world-class media production, fan interaction and low ticket prices (and even the best football kits ever) City fans have been spoilt, and Cook helped make it all happen. The club will hire someone else and move on (Inter Milan technical director Marco Branca is rumoured to be Mancini’s choice), but be sure of one thing – he will be missed, and has left a wonderful legacy for the club. And if fans of other clubs didn’t like him, well to be honest, who cares?
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