Position: Right back
From: Bolton Wanderers - £350,000 (plus increments) - November 1999
Career stats: Soccerbase
He is: An example to all professional footballers - present and future
At the end of a season you have been a regular in the first team, scoring
some goals, taking great free-kicks and generally contributing. Although not
setting the world alight, you are slapped on the transfer list, not given a
squad number, and not even allowed to be in the squad photo. What do you do?
WHAT DO YOU DO?
a) Moan and complain to the press about the club treating you badly, blaming
everyone but yourself.
b) Spend the summer drinking and return to pre-season a fat relic of the
player you were.
c) Work twice as hard all summer, get fitter than you ever have been, work
on skills you may have not had, and fight like a warrior to get back in the
first team, where your performances simply dare the manager who had dumped
you so unceremoniously on the scrap-heap to drop you again.
Neil Cox chose the last option. In five months, he went from a player that his
previous manager had said should give up on being a defender and maybe play
in midfield to hide his deficiencies in pace and was offered to every club
interested, to someone who on October the 9th led the Watford team out
against Bradford as captain. He got a deserved round of applause from all
over the ground. Everyone recognized that this was the result of hard work
and application, and was a superb example to all footballers.
Cox arrived at the club halfway through the Premiership season in 1999. He
had played previously for Scunthorpe, Villa, Middlesborough, and finally
Bolton, where he was in the team that lost to Watford in the playoff final.
He added some steel to the defence, but couldn't stop the goals flying in.
We all thought that he'd be better in the First Division.
At the beginning of 2000-01, he was. He'd scored five goals by November, and his
crossing was excellent. The only problem was that Graham Taylor's 4-3-3
formation was leaving him terribly exposed. With no-one directly in front of
him, the quick wingers would breeze past his labouring efforts to challenge
them. He ended up being a bit of a liability. Going forward he was fine, a
bustling midfielder perhaps the best use of his ability. But, he wasn't what
Gianluca Vialli wanted as a midfielder, so he was transfer-listed.
I first saw him this season playing for the stiffs in the second half
against Aylesbury. He was playing at left back, but he couldn't use his left
foot. People were almost laughing at him. Then, one Friday, he was called by
Vialli and asked to fill in during a crisis in defence. He played superbly
up at Wolves, and he hasn't been out of the team since.
He can play central defence or right back, but seems to obviously prefer the
centre. What is most noticeable is that he seems to have trimmed himself
down, and he seems to have found a passing range we never knew he had. He
still pops up with the odd goal too, his trademark cross-goal header from a
corner working for him against Birmingham recently.
Last year, I sponsored Neil Cox. I sat next to him at the sponsor's dinner,
and he told me that his wife was homesick, and he was finding life in Bushey
quite tough. He came accross as an honest bloke who happened to be playing
for my team. The club took him off the list of players who could be
sponsored this summer, so I had to change to someone else.
But on October 9th, when he was getting that ovation to recognise his being
made captain, there weren't many people in the crowd as proud as I was.
Last updated: October 2001