Monday 16 July 2018

'We respect Pep but our drinks cabinet won't change for anybody'

Former Sligo Rovers boss Cook relishing facing City challenge, writes James Ducker

Cook is hoping he has no reason to throw away his tea prematurely against Manchester City at the DW Stadium this evening. Photo: Getty Images
Cook is hoping he has no reason to throw away his tea prematurely against Manchester City at the DW Stadium this evening. Photo: Getty Images

James Ducker

Paul Cook has an interesting pre-match routine. After every game has kicked off, the Wigan Athletic manager spends the first five or so minutes standing in the dugout sipping a cup of tea.

"It's all your nerves. It's a control thing," he says of the superstition. "I say to the kit man, 'Make sure you bring us a cup of tea.' As a player, I used to tie my laces at every set-piece. It's weird, football. The amount of times I've thrown the tea away you wouldn't believe."

That happened in Wigan's last two outings. Having been unbeaten for 16 matches, back-to-back defeats by Southend and Blackpool have seen Wigan relinquish top spot in League One and in both games Cook's side were behind after just three minutes.

Cook is hoping he has no reason to throw away his tea prematurely against Manchester City at the DW Stadium this evening, even if he knows his team will have their work cut out against the runaway Premier League leaders.

Wigan - then managed by Roberto Martinez - famously beat City 1-0 in the 2013 Cup final, the biggest upset in the competition since Wimbledon overcame Liverpool a quarter of a century earlier, and also defeated the Manchester club in the quarter-finals the following season.

But claiming a third scalp promises to be the tallest of orders, despite the confidence Wigan will take from already dispatching Bournemouth and West Ham.

Cook is full of respect for City and, as someone who grew up supporting Liverpool in the late 1970s and 1980s and insists his teams get the ball down and play, there is huge admiration for Pep Guardiola. But he has no interest in making up the numbers or obsessing about which wine to pour his Catalan counterpart.

"A can of Skol!" Cook joked when asked if he had a tipple in store for Guardiola. "We respect Pep but our drinks cabinet won't change for anybody.

"I think we got David Moyes (the West Ham manager) a £12 bottle of wine from Tesco. We'll show him the utmost respect and I'm sure by the time he leaves he'll have a good experience of Wigan.

"But we're not here to be Pep's best mate, we're genuinely not. Man City bring something different to the town, of course they do. You have got the best team in the world possibly, maybe the best manager in the world. For people to just say it's a normal game, it's not.

"But we are not here to make best friends with Man City and everyone pat us on the back after they've beaten us by five and say, 'Have a good season.' We want to try and win the game. For me, I'd rather lose being positive than sitting back, so for anyone who wants to know how we're going to play, we are going to take the game to Man City as much as we can."

West Ham were beaten by a team who played with verve and vibrancy, but Cook offers an interesting insight into the challenges of management and getting players to commit to a philosophy of playing.

"The biggest thing about management is you only feel pressure when you're getting beat," he said.

"There are not many teams in football who don't go long quick when they're getting beat, so everyone's values get thrown out the window and it's hard then."

Has he always tried to resist that? "Yeah, but it's impossible," said the former Sligo Rovers boss. "At the end of the Blackpool game, you wouldn't recognise your own team. That disappoints me.

"We have a style of play that we believe in, although it will be very challenging against Manchester City. We're not stupid. If City score two goals in the first 10 minutes, will it force us back? Without a shadow of a doubt."

There are other things he thinks get mixed up, too. Cook was at a spellbound Anfield last month to watch City lose 4-3 to Liverpool.

"The next morning, on talkSPORT, they were talking about Arsenal getting beaten by someone and yet we'd just witnessed one of the best games that anyone who was there would ever see, from two absolutely fantastic teams on the day, just going for it," he said, nonplussed.

Can he take any encouragement from what Liverpool did?

"You have to put your chances away," he said.

"Any team put under pressure can make mistakes. If you sit off City too much, they'll just get more and more confident. We've got to disrupt them. We have to be aggressive with our play, our formation. Not our physicality - our play."

At the very least, he will hope he gets to finish his cup of tea. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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