Pools job was “too important” to Neale Cooper - but players did not share his passion

Neale Cooper gives instruction from the dugout during the 2-2 draw against Shrewsbury. Picture by FRANK REID
Neale Cooper gives instruction from the dugout during the 2-2 draw against Shrewsbury. Picture by FRANK REID

“THIS is too important to me”.

That was the oft-heard deliverance of Neale Cooper, a statement sounded more than any other in recent months.

A simple sentiment it may be, but it offers a telling insight into his thinking.

We knew the subtext.

On occasions, to diminish any notion of doubt, he would spell it out - “This is my livelihood at stake - this is too important to me for this lot to mess it up ”.

But they did.

For when Cooper, on Saturday afternoon, ponders the reason as to why, in Aberdeen, he is some some 550 miles north of Brentford’s Griffin Park, he will arrive at just one resolution.

And that, without doubt, will be his former players.

It is they who caused the Scot to three times explode into a perspire-laden out-pouring of expletive-charged invective.

It is they who took Pools to their deserved residence at the very bottom of League One.

It is they who triggered Cooper’s resignation.

For regardless the merits of the manager – and it’s clear some did not rate them highly - professional pride should have long since arrested this sorry slide.

“I wish I could be out there,” was another of Cooper’s frustration-fuelled dispatches.

At times, he was dismayed at the efforts of his players.

A defining moment, perhaps the point at which the inevitably of his fate descended, came 10 days ago at Leyton Orient.

In the build-up to the game Cooper had, quite justifiably, talked of “a turning point”, so, too, had his players.

A spirited 1-1 draw with Doncaster Rovers three days previous had prompted such positive speak.

But what followed left the Scot as close to speechless as he has ever been, and this from a man never shorn of a quip or one-liner.

His players had meandered through the motions of the most inevitable defeat, lucky to escape with just a 1-0 deficit.

The words he did share had a by-now familiar feel, “this means so much to me”, he uttered amid the disbelief of the display he had just witnessed.

Rewind to July 15 and the middle of a deserted football field on a misty summer’s night in the Dutch outpost of Heiloo.

Cooper, baffled by his team’s earlier performance during a lethargic defeat, first expressed his concern at what lay ahead.

“It’s too important not to get it right,” he told us.

Even then, he sensed weakness.

There were fundamental flaws apparent on that pre-season trip – Pools were shipping goals and, at the other end, did not look like scoring them.

A premature judgement? Perhaps.

But Cooper felt it, too.

Fast forward just over three months and the record reads - played 16, won one, goals 11, conceded 29, no need for dissection with those numbers, they portray what has been a tumultuous tale.

And what of those players who have failed their now former boss?

The reality may well prove that, regardless the identity of their minder, they are a squad destined for the drop.

The evidence, thus far at least, suggests so.

Cooper saw fit to axe, at various junctures, eight senior players this season.

Neil Austin, Sam Collins, Evan Horwood, Jonathan Franks, Simon Walton, James Poole, Andy Monkhouse and Antony Sweeney, all at some stage relegated to the role of substitute.

A few irked him more than others and heated dressing-room exchanges had occurred.

But the sterility of his side’s efforts continued to erode enthusiasm.

In the end, like at Leyton Orient, he could not even summon the energy to deride their shortcomings.

What was so important had slipped away, and Cooper knew it.

He is gone.

Importance, however, remains, it’s high time the players realised as much.

Search begins to find new manager

Coope: Players didn’t share my passion

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