Saturday, 10 September 2011

Cook falls on a sword, but it is not his own

This week Garry Cook resigned as the club’s Chief Executive Officer. A sorry end to a sorry affair that could not have concluded any other way.

A debacle whichever way you look at it

By now I suppose readers know of unfortunate details. It seems as if Cook had sent an e-mail to Brian Marwood (City's football administrator) about Nedum Onuhoa’s agent/Mother, apparently mocking her battle with cancer. Unbelievably, Onuhoa’s Mother (Dr Anthonia Onuhoa) was copied into the e-mail. She recently went to the papers (the actual e-mail was sent months ago) and suddenly alarm bells were ringing in Manchester and, most importantly, in Abu Dhabi.

In an effort to save his own skin, or perhaps in an effort to tell the truth (we still don’t quite know) Cook painted himself as the victim. He said that his account had been hacked into and the message in question had been sent without his knowledge. At the time he apologised to Dr Onuhoa and ordered an internal investigation to establish who had been responsible.

It’s unclear at what point the upper echelons of Manchester City (i.e. Mansour and Khaldoon) got wind of this – or indeed whether they knew about the investigation Cook himself seems to have launched. But as soon as the whole thing appeared in the press, they ordered an investigation of their own. This week, that process – to put it bluntly – appears to have smelt a rat with Cook’s explanation.

And so this week Garry Cook ‘jumped’. The more realistic explanation would perhaps be that he was ‘shoved and then jumped’. There can be no doubt over who has done the shoving and on whose sword Cook has fallen.

The values of Mansour’s Abu Dhabi

At the beginning of Mansour’s involvement with City, Khaldoon gave an excellent interview to David Conn of The Guardian. It was part of a trilogy of reports focusing on the birth of a new era at City. In that interview, Khaldoon gave a fascinating insight into how Mansour saw his involvement at City:

“We are acknowledging that how we are handling this project is telling a lot to the world about how we are. This is showing the world the true essence of who Abu Dhabi is and what Abu Dhabi is about.”

Khaldoon went on to talk about the values of Mansour’s Abu Dhabi: loyalty, commitment, discipline, long-term thinking, respect, appreciation of history. Interestingly enough, on the value of loyalty, Khaldoon chose to elaborate. "We believe in loyalty," he said. "We don't leave our men behind, we stick with them.”

These are admirable values indeed, but the Cook resignation proves that – for Mansour and Khaldoon at least – they are finite. At the end of the day these values may form the belief system of Abu Dhabi’s leadership, but they still remain subservient to image of Abu Dhabi itself. This image is synonymous with Mansour, and that is why it must prevail over everyone else - even the man in charge of running the day to day affairs of the club.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that Garry Cook has done a lot of good for the club. Being the head of Nike’s ‘Air Jordan’ brand he clearly came highly recommended and most importantly well connected across sport. Cook has presided over a complete revamp of the club’s image, which whilst uber slick and right up to date with the latest trends, somehow feels like it has remained true to Manchester, the club’s history and the club’s fans. Using the imagery of the Blue Moon has been a master stoke, as has the ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster, and the nod to Neil Young with this year’s classic black and red away kit.

Indeed the club’s image is currently very healthy. I still don’t think we are hated as much as other clubs would be if they had the resources we have. This is in part testament to innovative way the club does things now and how it is expertly marketed. Then of course we have the new City store and the new ticket office – both world class. Ultimately, Cook is responsible for all of this, so he should take the credit.

Cook’s gaffes: a short history

Ironic though that someone so heavily involved in marketing and relations with the public should be so prone to making PR gaffes.

Many of these gaffes were storms in teacups. Cook inducted City legend Uwe Rosler into the Manchester United (!) hall of fame. Robinho made a similar gaffe when he joined the club, but I can’t remember him being berated for it. Then there was the collapse of our audacious attempt to lure Kaka from Milan to Eastlands. Cook accused Milan of bottling the move.

Whilst you would prefer your CEO not to put his foot in it, these are minor errors, rather comical in the case of Rosler, and perhaps a bit of sour grapes in the case of Kaka.

Then there was the quote on the cusp of our Carling Cup Semi derby with United, when Cook talked about how not if, but when City would beat United again. United went on to knock us out of the cup, but this was nothing more than a bit of pre-match jousting.

But there’s always the other side of the coin. In his resignation statement Cook seems to have alluded to a bit of negative attitude against in the nation’s media. That might be correct, indeed the media may have blown up some of Cook’s throw away gaffes (one only has to look at the picture of Cook in the papers to see how the media love to dislike him) but they’ve done this for a reason. The Onuhoa incident is not the first Cook has made a gaffe of a more serious nature.

The obvious one was when Cook remarked what a pleasant guy Thaksin Shinawatra was – ‘a nice guy to play golf with’ I think the exact words were. When attention was drawn to Thaksin’s dubious human rights record, Cook basically said it was of no concern to him. This showed a complete lack of awareness. A club CEO shouldn’t be saying stuff that like that.

Then there was the comment about Richard Dunne. Cook said that Dunne wasn’t a name that City should be associated with because the name ‘Dunne’ doesn’t roll off the tongue in places like China and by association is not a shirt seller. Again, this showed a complete lack of awareness, this time of footballing matters. Cook failed to appreciate that Dunne had been City’s player of the year for four seasons on the run and had been a rock at the back for the Blues. At the time Dunne was the captain of the club. Your CEO should not be making disrespectful comments in public to the club captain – completely unprofessional.

One gaffe too far

These serious gaffes were both made under the tenure of Thaksin. The Onohua comment - firmly in the realm of PR – is the first big mistake Cook has made under Mansour.

For Mansour and Khaldoon, this is about the prestige and reputation of Abu Dhabi. Being one of several key overseas investments, like it or not City is an element of Abu Dhabi’s foreign policy, a factor in how the rest of the world sees Abu Dhabi itself.

Mansour and Khaldoon are not stupid. It would have been completely understand if, upon taking the reins of the club, they had said goodbye to Cook (given that he was gaffe prone). The fact that they simply did not jettison Cook proves that they liked what he brought to City.

But in the Abu Dhabi-City connection, business and politics are intertwined, and unfortunately for Cook, his employers are both astute businessmen and politicians. I believe that Mansour and Khaldoon have nothing personal against Cook, but business is business, and at the end of the day, Cook was harming the business of Manchester City and therein the prestige of Abu Dhabi.

When Khaldoon said that Abu Dhabi doesn’t leave its men behind, perhaps what he really meant was that Abu Dhabi doesn’t leave behind the men worth saving.


  1. Anonymous11/9/11 01:19

    He will be missed, I believe he was intrumental in taking City to where they are at the moment. The point he made by saying that "Dunne doesnt roll off the tongue in Beijing" is perfectly true from a commercial perspective, his mistake was just saying it !!!!

  2. Indeed but I think Cook's main failure was that perhaps he didn't understand football as much as he should have. Understanding the commercial side is one thing, the football side entirely another. In the football realm, perhaps Cook should have checked his tongue that little bit more.