James Lawton: Cook knew price of everything but not the value of human kindness


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If money can buy a lot of things in football it doesn't come with a waiver on recognisably decent values and behaviour.

It doesn't permit you to reach the dangerous conclusion that you can make your own rules and solutions as you go along.

It is a misunderstanding for which Garry Cook must now pay with the loss of maybe the ultimate position of power in the new world of ready-made success in big-time club football.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair that brought him down – an email which is alleged to have cast scorn on the claims of the mother and agent of Manchester City player Nedum Onuoha that she was "ravaged" with the effects of cancer and chemotherapy – the club's chief executive certainlysuffered from a less than perfect record in identifying a moraldilemma.

This was the unavoidable backcloth to his claims that he was the victim of computer hacking, which were last night seeded with fresh doubt by the announcement that he had resigned.

Indeed, his notorious comment that Thaksin Shinawatra, a former owner of City and a prime minister of Thailand high in the disapproval ratings of human rights organisations, was "a great guy to play golf with", was for some a defining statement about the greening and cynicism of the Premier League.

It seemed to say that money was money and it didn't really matter from where it came. There were, of course, other gaucheries.

When one of the fans' favourite players, Richard Dunne, was sold off, Cook pointed out that however well he had played to be voted their player of the year he was never likely to do much for the club's shirt income in the Far East.

When a clumsily launched move for the Brazilian superstar Kaka fell through, Cook said that the Milan club owned by Silvio Berlusconi had "bottled it". This was despite the fact that for all his lurid reputation, which included the charge that he had rewritten the Italian constitution to protect himself from prosecution, Berlusconi had never before been accused of a failure of nerve.

Cook's admirers were insisting last night that he had been a man of brilliant innovation in his years in charge at Eastlands, a pioneer in club development and the organisation of the interests of supporters. Yet this plainly gave him little traction when he was visited by a representative of club owner Sheikh Mansour while on holiday in the US.

Maybe there was a dawning sense back in Abu Dhabi that, however many bright ideas a chief executive generates from the foundation of a vast budget, there is also an obligation to remember that an organisation will ultimately rise or fall on its understanding of how to deal with its people.

This is especially valuable in something as humanly volatile as a football club, which will always be about the interaction of people, on the field and off it – and for all City's dramatic development in the former place recently, it remains some way from being a notable example of consistent bonding.

Shortly before his fall from grace at Chelsea, another chief executive who once had enjoyed great success in the sports shirt business, Peter Kenyon, declared that the Premier League had become a "bunch of one". You can make your name selling football shirts, and earn a lot of money, but – the message seems to be – it doesn't make you an expert on human relations, in or out of a football club.

Cook is not the first victim – and is unlikely to be the last – of this growing conclusion.