Can Paul Cook guide Wigan Athletic to successive promotions?
What an extraordinary last 13 months Paul Cook has had. He claimed the League Two crown at Portsmouth, masterminded Wigan Athletic's shock FA Cup victory over Manchester City before topping it all by delivering Championship promotion. Can the 51-year-old ride that meteoric surge to the Premier League?
Cook’s early managerial foray wasn't as successful as it is now, though. His first crack came with Southport in 2006, two months after hanging up his boots. It ended in somewhat shameful fashion. He managed only five wins from 28 matches, losing 15 of those. It was unacceptable, even in non-league football.
Ambitious and courageous, Cook took a scenic route via Emerald Isle for his next job. At Sligo Rovers he experienced mixed fortunes, leading the club to respectable sixth and fourth finishes before throwing in the towel. He made a dramatic U-turn just weeks later and went on to clinch three trophies in the next two seasons.
A hero abroad, yet undervalued at home, Cook returned to make amends for his awful maiden stint. Former club Accrington Stanley was ready to try. Their reunion, however, wasn't as pleasant as envisaged. He picked up a modest eight victories from 33 matches. Still, Stanley idolized him. The Merseyside native had other plans, though, ditching the club for rivals Chesterfield in 2012.
In Derbyshire, Cook's hasped tactical artistry was unlocked. He somehow found a recipe for sneaking into the playoffs. Despite narrowly missing out on promotion in his debut season with the Spireites, he got it right one year on. Not only did Chesterfield climb the next level, they almost scaled to the Championship the following season.
Paul Cook moved on to yet another rescue mission in summer 2017. Wigan had just suffered relegation from the Championship. An immediate return was the ultimate, while also building a formidable squad for the future. Unable to attract big names, Cook tapped judiciously into the loan market. Christian Walton, Callum Elder, Lee Evans and Ivan Toney all joined the Latics. On the coaching side, Leam Richardson, Nick Meace and Andrew Proctor followed their boss from Portsmouth to the north-west.
In the end, Cook achieved his target in a groundbreaking manner. En route to the title, Wigan smashed no fewer than 13 records. Among them for most victories and goals scored, as well as least conceded. It was unsurprising, though. The Latics exhibited an incredibly attractive style. They were vastly superior to every other League One team.
Next stop the Premier League?
A fresh challenge awaits Cook in the Championship. He will cut his teeth in England’s second-tier for the first time as a manager. It’s an entirely different ball game. With him, however, everything seems possible.
Wigan made sure their tactician wasn't sweet-talked into another rescue mission by offering him a four-year deal. Yet, they must do more to bring Premier League football back to the DW Stadium. Several astute signings is a good way to start. Kal Naismith has already joined from Portsmouth, but more must follow in the coming months.
Judging by antecedence, Cook may not achieve immediate promotion to the top division. However, it's very much feasible in his second attempt.