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Cooper's departure sad, but somewhat inevitable
NEVER go back they say. Return and next time around and it won’t be the same.
And so it has proved as Neale Cooper leaves Hartlepool United for the second time.
Back in 2005 when he was removed from his post as manager at Victoria Park it was a major surprise. There was something brutal about how he left with one game of the season to go with Pools on the brink of the play-offs for a second successive season.
Today, sadly, there is no surprise in his departure.
As unexpected as Cooper his previous departure, this was inevitable. It could have happened anytime in the last six weeks. He left Bury on Tuesday night deflated and broken.
Cooper going back to Pools was the romantic option for supporters and chairman Ken Hodcroft bought into the notion when he made the surprise decision to offer him the job last December.
But there’s been little to rouse the passion since he returned.
His record is desperately poor – seven wins in 40 games. Last time he had 48 victories from 110. Their away form is abysmally weak – seven defeats on the road this season, one draw, four goals scored, 21 conceded.
Pools are a poor team this campaign. In pre-season they looked positive and played some attractive stuff. But since August, games in which they have impressed have been all too rare. Even spells in matches when they have performed to a decent standard have been few and far between. Being fired up to press for a leveller at Bury – who started Tuesday winless and below Pools in the table – is no cause for optimism.
And while there’s been plenty of hard luck stories, they only stand up for so long. Good teams don’t suffer from such long-standing misfortune, only poor ones. Don’t forget the majority of these players were also there under Mick Wadsworth when he was axed last December.
Cooper and Pools were a perfect match first time around. From the static figure of Mike Newell on the touchline, they couldn’t have had a more passionate or charismatic character directing operations. His spark was just right for the situation.
But that time he inherited a team on the up. Players on top of their game who had just had been though three play-off campaigns and a promotion.
The bus did, to a certain extent, drive itself. But in 2012 it needed an MOT and service.
It’s a different set of financial circumstances now, with IOR Ltd cutting their cloth accordingly. Cooper wanted Tommy Miller in the summer to hold his midfield together, but Pools were unwilling to go anywhere near what he was offered by Swindon.
The owners did allow Cooper room for manoeuvre, but his summer signings have been disappointments.
Cooper has been openly critical of many players, both Simon Walton and Jon Franks included. Walton arrived with some reputation, the new Mark Tinkler Cooper hoped he was getting. In the end he wasn’t even getting John Tinkler.
Franks has yet to show much football sense on the pitch, his decision-making was a regular source of Cooper’s ire.
But the manager’s honesty didn’t go down well in the dressing room.
Frank and brutal in his instant post-game assessments, his raging rants after defeats at Crewe, Preston and Notts County while great for newspaper and radio men, weren’t great for footballers.
He was never afraid to name names and cite players for their failings. It did cause dressing room difficulties and Cooper then adopted a cooler and calmer outlook after his Preston explosion.
To try and engineer a response from his players, Cooper followed Paolo Di Canio’s lead at Swindon and introduced double training sessions, while cancelling days off.
If that – as has been the case with Di Canio – had been the norm and his mantra from the off then it could have worked. Instead, while admirable and right to a certain degree, it only went to further fracture the players.
But the move was too late, the damage with his charges had already been irreparably done.
His exit was only a matter of time.
NEALE COOPER STATS
2003-2005: P110 W48 D26 L36
2012: P40 W7 D14 L19