Was there an alternative option, indeed a better candidate to captain Pompey at Fleetwood almost 18 months ago?
It still looks difficult for Cowley to go with anyone other than Robertson to lead a rebuilt squad and one still in transition, especially given his playing experience at a higher level and favourable position to lead others on the pitch.
On paper, Cowley’s starting line-up at Fleetwood, sent out to play at the Highbury Stadium, on the same day when England triumphed over Denmark in the Semi-Finals of the delayed Euro 2020 campaign, falls some way short of the squad he went on to build and leave for Mousinho to inherit after three transfer windows.
One quality of the former Head Coach, although some may see it as a flaw, was his loyalty to his players, particularly as some may view this as a stubbornness to shift from his beliefs or initial decisions.
The messages throughout any conversations concerning leadership from Cowley was that the armband could test, empower and encourage leadership to blossom from within the player, maybe an individual yet to truly show it.
Jay Mingi’s outings as captain in pre-season and across Hampshire Cup fixtures were testament to this, early this season. It was his view that other, more natural and confident leaders, players like Pack, didn’t need the armband to effectively lead and inspire others around them.
Many will feel it wasn’t the armband that lifted Pompey or Pack out of their respective slump in form last weekend. Aside from his ‘Goal of the Month’ strike against Ipswich, Pack had been unable to replicate and sustain the imperious form that left the Pompey fanbase in absolute awe, claiming immediate similarities to impact Paul Merson made at Fratton Park 20 years ago and boldly making early predictions for a similar outcome by May.
Additionally, given Morrell’s consistent run of games and high standard of these performances after returning from the Qatar, many fans had been trying to make their opinions heard to the incoming Head Coach (one both brave and foolish enough to engage with anything Pompey related on social media during the interviewing process) that the best midfield pairing in the current squad did not include Pack, but the little Welsh dancer alongside a similarly slight Welshman, myth and magician; Tom Lowery.
Instead, many will point to the engines, bodies and presence alongside Pack in a midfield three that helped deliver Pompey’s first league win in three months. Without doubt, this protected Pack from the rigour and demand that 1:1 duels or screening his backine when outnumbered has had on his game.
Many fans yearning for a 4-3-3 set-up saw their prayers answered in Moushino’s first game in charge, in his attempt to pack as much quality from within the squad onto the pitch at once. This shift in formation, appeared offered to help liberate lost and depleted souls, and ultimately give both Pompey and Pack the platform to press and suffocate Exeter, whilst enabling them to effectively play and penetrate through them as the game wore on.
Others will say that the moment of inspiration for the win was finally grasped at the point when the ball started dropping out of the clear and crisp Fratton Park sky, 57 minutes into a tense and tight contest.
The sheer power of self-belief, irrespective of how poor form had been, when combined with outstanding technique, is a potent and stubborn response to the most testing of circumstances.
Taking the lead for only the second time in league games since their last victory away at Forest Green Rovers, appeared the point when feathers were extended and confidence began flowing through the side and its General and Talisman.
Inspiration of the armband – surely that’s far too abstract to measure, if nothing but circumstantial?
Perhaps the sentiment behind the gesture to offer the armband to Pack was underestimated by Cowley though?
The meaning, value and impact of this accolade to a seasoned professional, seeing out his career at his boyhood club, may have all been undervalued?
For when Robertson had been out injured this season, there were many chances prior to Exeter to allow Pack to temporarily stretch that elastic.
Yet, Cowley’s loyalty and principles held true and Raggett continued to stand-in for Robertson. Pack had the unwavering respect and admiration from his former Head Coach, but never the armband to support this.
Pompey’s in possession and out of possession styles and formations were both chopped and changed, at times through necessity and at other times to force a change in fortune as Pompey slipped down the table and out of the Play-Off picture.
Personnel were rotated but never was the armband moved to Pack during this difficult time for the club and manager. Whilst clutching at straws, was there one last dice left in the hands of Cowley to play, seeming now with no time left to throw it, to recover some belief, confidence and form?
Post-match comments from Mousinho would assume that if fit, Robertson would have led the side out of the tunnel against Exeter. Handing over the captaincy to Pack in this scenario would have created a far more interesting debate for fans to get their teeth into, a bold move when only two days into his reign.
With Robertson recovering from his injury and the quick turnaround of games ahead of Pompey, there is a good chance that Pack, if fit and healthy himself, will have an unobstructed run at captaining Mousinho’s side and a further chance to lead, guide, galvanise, lift and rally all around him, as well as himself.
It must be said, the lack of armband never prevented Pack from doing this, just as Cowley did say and very much in line with what Mousinho expressed post Exeter, when expecting many captains to step-up from within the squad on match days and in any opportunity in-between.
Fans have seen Pack lead the team regularly this season, in the form of his actions and voice in the pre-game huddle, or when directing teammates across the pitch, instructing movements of players and Pompey’s possession in game, whilst keeping a constant level of engagement going with the referee throughout.
Add to this, all the other moments of wisdom, guidance, support and inspiration that he demonstrates and offers others in the group, particularly young and emerging talent as well, that take place out of sight to the regular Pompey fan.
Maybe such a decision upon the destiny of the armband will come in time, and given the fact that Mousinho has held captaincy positions at multiple clubs throughout his long and established playing career, I’d say it’s a call that he’s perfectly placed to make, one way or the other.
Experience alone would confidently suggest that he knows exactly what he wants from this individual, and given time to assess the group, he will know who is the best person to deliver upon his expectations and how to guide the rest of the group to come together to support this person, whilst seeking to lead in other areas.
Photo: Below 2020 Media