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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Peterborough take Cooper gamble

Mark Cooper
Cooper has never managed in the Football League, but has enjoyed success with Kettering

By Peter Swan
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

Such is the nature of modern football that as soon as results take a turn for the worse, the manager is immediately called into question.

Forget mitigating factors and previous successes; if the wins are not forthcoming, the pressure starts to build.

Back in July, Darren Ferguson was being hailed as the best young manager in the country by Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony.

"Of course Premier League sides will be looking at our manager, that's normal when you have a manager who is so successful," he said.

"He is 37 years old, he has come in and won back-to-back promotions and has a terrific group of players that he's largely responsible for bringing on."

Four months and 16 league matches later and the man who brought Posh back-to-back promotions is out of a job having parted company with the club by mutual consent.

Mark and his assistant Nicky impressed me like you wouldn't believe

Darragh MacAnthony

The club's defence - as delivered via the now notorious press conference with Darragh MacAnthony and Barry Fry - is that Ferguson was far from unhappy to leave London Road.

It was intimated by both men that recent performances had suffered owing to a lack of focus on the part their manager.

But whilst team selections had appeared increasingly desperate, Ferguson hardly seemed like a man in the process of planning an exit strategy.

Ultimately though, whatever you happen to believe, the whole speculative cocktail of motive and action is irrelevant.

The bottom line is that in all likelihood Ferguson would still be at London Road if results had been better.

If Posh had been flying high in the table, pushing for the play-offs, any problems potentially simmering under the surface would have been negated - perhaps as they have been on previous occasions in the past two and half seasons.

Indeed if poor results and the threat of relegation are taken as the root causes of Ferguson's departure, the selection of Mark Cooper as the club's new boss is interesting in so far as it keeps complete faith in club's footballing philosophy of signing young, up and coming players.

Darragh MacAnthony
MacAnthony arrived at London Road in September 2006

Many fans expected to see an experienced Championship fixer stepping into the breach, but the Posh owner made his intentions clear from the off.

"There are lots of Championship managers with the experience of relegation and I don't want a manager who is set in their ways," he said.

"I want a manager I can work with, talk with every day and will have belief in the players we have."

Young, intelligent and articulate, Mark Cooper fits the bill perfectly.

Where some may worry about a lack of experience, MacAnthony sees only dynamism and a fresh out-look.

The 40-year-old took time to find his feet whilst with Tamworth, but has enjoyed a near unbroken curve of increasing success during his time at Kettering.

He also shares a similar background to many of the club's players, who have also made their way up from the non-league.

"I interviewed six people, previous international managers, some ex-England internationals, foreign managers and experienced managers," MacAnthony said.

"But Mark and his assistant Nicky impressed me like you wouldn't believe and I trust them and firmly believe they will do a terrific job."

It's a high risk appointment, but MacAnthony is keen to draw parallels with Ferguson's arrival back in 2007.


"People have said he's not experienced, but Darren had never managed in his life and just look at the job he did for us - Mark deserves his chance," he said.

However, while this argument lends strength to MacAnthony's thinking it also exposes a potential flaw behind Cooper's appointment.

Posh have essentially replaced an up-and-coming manager who had started to prove himself with another who has all the proving still to do.

In the most immediate sense, the good news from Cooper's point of view is that Posh are far from relegated.

Of their 16 league matches, five of their nine defeats have come by the odd goal and they have failed to score just twice.

George Boyd is among the league's leading scorers, while table-topping Newcastle have only scored one more home goal.

The root cause of the club's early season problems has been their inability to defend solidly, a problem Darren Ferguson was well aware of and the reason he signed two defenders - Ryan Bennett and Scott Griffiths - as he searched for a solution.

Mark Cooper
Cooper led Kettering to promotion from the Blue Square North in 2008

Cooper's Kettering are renowned for their organisation and their excellent defensive record is bound to have caught the eye of MacAnthony - a self-confessed statto.

"Just look at the way Kettering are organised," he said having watched Cooper's side defeat Cambridge United in his final game in charge.

"The one thing our football team is currently lacking at the moment is a little bit of organisation at the back and an action plan to help us battle and grind."

However, Cooper's ability to organise cannot disguise the fact that he is inexperienced at Championship level.

He has never managed a side in the Football League, and as Nigel Clough has found out at Derby, making the step up is far from easy.

It may never be known exactly what took place between Ferguson and MacAnthony following the Newcastle match which resulted in the pair parting ways.

What we do know is that Posh have lost a manager who had already become arguably the most successful in the club's history.

And whichever way you look at it, it's a huge gamble for a club viewed by many as punching above their weight.

In allowing the events of the past week to unfold, MacAnthony has either committed his grandest folly or his greatest stroke of genius.

Results on the pitch will be the judge of that.

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see also
Cooper confirmed as Posh manager
14 Nov 09 |  Peterborough
Posh players 'let Ferguson down'
11 Nov 09 |  Peterborough
Posh confirm Ferguson departure
12 Jan 11 |  Peterborough

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