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First team

Cook on road to legendary status

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

When Steve Cook made his AFC Bournemouth debut at Preston, forging a career at Brighton was uppermost in his thoughts.

At the time, the Cherries were languishing in the League One relegation zone while the Seagulls were holding their own in the Championship.

Initially drafted in on loan in October 2011, Cook arrived having played six times for Brighton and in non-league with Eastbourne Borough and Mansfield.

Eight years on and the 28-year-old is now the Cherries’ 10th highest league appearance-maker and one of the best defenders in the club’s history.

Cook, whose move was made permanent for £170,000 in January 2012, recently passed John Impey in the hall of fame, with eight of his 290 league games coming during that successful loan spell.

“It’s great to be in the top ten and, hopefully, I can climb higher,” said Cook, in an interview with afcb.co.uk. “I’ve been fortunate and haven’t missed too many squads.

“It’s always nice to hit the round-figure landmarks so the next one for me will be 300. Then, I’ll try to take it 50 by 50 and see how far I can go. The top five would be a great achievement.

“We play fewer games in the Premier League and those eight games a season can make a difference over the years.

"But I’d rather miss them because I’d rather be playing in the Premier League, that’s more of a bonus than playing more games.

“I’ll always remember my first game at Preston. It was a special feeling because I wanted to play well to try to force my way into the Brighton team and have a good career there but it didn’t work out.

“I enjoyed my first three months here and it was a no-brainer to stay. I’d be lying if I thought I would have stayed this long but it’s gone in a flash. I’ve spent a huge part of my life here and loved it.”

Asked what had kept him here, Cook replied: “The manager and I really enjoy living here. I can’t see myself moving my family away from the area.

“But you never know what’s going to happen in football. I’m still only 28 so, hopefully, still have a lot of years to play.

“As long as I’m contributing to the club and happy, hopefully, nothing will change.

"One of the key things behind our success has been the number of years different players have been here. Player loyalty and club loyalty go hand in hand.”

Asked whether he had started planning for his future, Cook said: “I’ve got my UEFA B coaching licence and will look to keep progressing it.

“I want to have everything in place for when I finish just in case. I wouldn’t want to not have it and then something came along and I missed the opportunity.

“Whether I want to be a coach, manager or scout, I don’t know. I just want to have everything there so I’m ready if the opportunity arises.

“Hopefully, I’ve got six, seven, eight years left in the game. If I’m still here, hopefully, they would offer me a job!

“I’m in my prime now and haven’t thought too much about what I want to do when I stop playing but I do know I’d like to stay in the game.

“I wouldn’t change anything. The good and bad experiences have all paved the way for everything else. I wouldn’t take more or less risks. I would have everything the same.”

Opinion has played a major part in Cook’s career, none more so than in recent days.

England’s defeat by Czech Republic on Friday, their first in Euro 2020 qualifying, led to some commentators questioning their defensive frailties.  

For the convincing victory over Bulgaria three days later, Cook’s former Cherries team-mate Tyrone Mings was drafted in to partner Harry Maguire.

Cook would undoubtedly have been an interested observer of both games.

And, like any other England supporter, his disappointment at their showing in Prague would have been tempered by the improved display in Sofia.

While Gareth Southgate is the man holding all the aces, if Cherries fans were on the selection panel, Cook’s name would be one of the first on the team-sheet.

Asked whether an England cap was on his bucket list, Cook said: “Yes. Every English footballer wants to play for his country and I’m no different. It’s the pinnacle of your career.

“But the game is all about opinions so, for me, not being selected is not a problem. The England manager selects the squad and he picks players who he feels warrant a place. Ultimately, the players who play deserve to.

“I was really pleased for Tyrone. He has a unique story with his upbringing and the injuries he suffered while he was here.

“It was the same when Lewis Dunk played. We were together at Brighton and he’s a good friend of mine. We are all totally different players.

“It would be amazing if it were to happen. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It wouldn’t change my thoughts about the game.

“I’m pleased to be playing regular club football and, if we continue to do well and I continue to be in the team and contribute, then who knows?”

While Cook is vying for international recognition alongside the likes of Maguire, Mings, Michael Keane and Joe Gomez, his defensive partner Nathan Ake has the formidable pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Mathias de Ligt to spilt with Netherlands.

“In my opinion, Nath would play for any other nation,” said Cook. “Unfortunately, he’s got two of the best in the world ahead of him at the moment.

“It doesn’t happen often and Netherlands are extremely fortunate. Hopefully, Nathan will force his way in and keep his place.

“But it doesn’t faze him either. He is a model professional and knows what he’s got to do. He’s a great player and, hopefully, he’ll be able to make more appearances for his country.”

Cook will be hoping to add another appearance to his tally when the Cherries resume their Premier League campaign against Norwich, the team he scored his first top-flight goal against in 2015.

“It was an awful game for me personally,” said Cook. “We lost 3-1 and I remember speaking about my goal and it meant nothing which was a shame. It was a dreadful personal performance and from the team.

“It’s going to be a tough game against them. They have surprised a lot of people and I don’t know why because they were outstanding last season.

“When we played them in the Carabao Cup, they made a lot of changes but were excellent. The way they play is quite unique to the Premier League which is good to see.

“They have had a lot of injuries and their season is looking like mirroring our first one in the Premier League.

“We suffered a lot of injuries and were a little inconsistent. But they are a really good team.

"It’s a game we have to win. We want to get back to winning ways and go on another run. I’m sure it will be an attacking game.”

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