By Peter Mackay
If you told Ross County fans last year that Regan Charles-Cook would be top scorer in the Scottish Premiership, most of them wouldn’t have believed you, and some may have even laughed in your face. But that is all part of what makes the graceful Grenadian’s scintillating form all the more impressive.
Signed by Stuart Kettlewell on a two-year contract last summer, Charles-Cook braved the daunting move from London, to make the considerate 580-mile switch to the Highlands in search of topflight football. After departing Gillingham with a respective six goals under his belt from his time being a regular starter, Charles-Cook arrived in Dingwall to the excitement of supporters, with rumours have been doing the rounds linking him with several Scottish and English sides.
Many expected him to slip straight into the side, however Regan Struggled to nail down a starting position during Kettlewell’s tenure and was often used as an impact substitute.
Playing on front of no supporters during the lengthy lock out of supporters, County fans often saw RCC use his pace and tenacity to find himself in the correct position, but he always looked short of confidence to display his final product, often misplacing crosses and squandering one-on-one opportunities.
The arrival of John Hughes had a wonderfully positive impact on Ross County as a whole, there is no denying that. However, his appointment may not have been the most uplifting for Charles-Cook as an individual. With John Hughes comes an infectious character, galvanization and lots of iconic interviews. But hand in hand with that comes unorthodox tactics, inconsistencies and for where County were at the time – a reliance on experience.
This meant that game time under ‘Yogi’ became even more limited for Charles-Cook, and when he was called upon, it was often to deputise for injury at full back. Of course, Charles-Cook put in a shift, but his best attributes were hidden playing in a position he was by no means comfortable in.
Speaking of iconic John Hughes interviews, following a 1-0 victory over Celtic, ‘Yogi’ jokingly had a dig a Charles-Cook. “The subs have all come in and played their part, even my pal Regan (Charles) Cook, although I think he’s left his caravan out there because I think he was towing it!”
Listening back to those quotes now seems laughable, and again earmarks not only the change in form for Charles-Cook, but also the change in his attitude.
Grenada Come Calling
At the beginning of July Regan Charles-Cook pledged his allegiance to the Grenadian national team and received his first call up to represent the Spice Boys at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
He joined his brother Reice in the team camp, who is the national team goalkeeper, and currently applies his trade at Bromley.
Regan started all three group stage matches for his mother’s native Grenada, and was one of their clear standouts, despite all three games ending in losses.
Charles-Cook clearly reaped the rewards of pulling on his national colours and playing consistent games in his favoured left-wing position.
Settling Back In
From the first day of the 2021/22 season Regan Charles-Cook has been a staple in Malky Mackay’s starting sides.
In the early couple of games of the season he was deputising in central midfield and at wing-back, however Malky always trusted him to complete the job in hand no matter where he played.
When Ross County’s early season form was disastrous, to say the least, Charles-Cook did look a slightly improved version of what we had seen in his first season at the club. There were still improvements to be had, but considering the form of the team, Regan was one of the better performing players during that torrid spell.
The Key Moment
There was one key match in which Regan Charles-Cook really caught the eye. At Pittodrie, facing Aberdeen, ‘Cookie’ came to the forefront, and was terrorising the Dons defence for large parts of the game.
Regan netted his first league goal for the club during the match in a 1-1 draw. He raised eyebrows and started to prove his doubters wrong. There were feelings of “So this is why he was signed!”
It was the first time we had seen what Regan can really do, driving at full backs and putting quality into the box. That goal at Pittodrie sparked his confidence and would set him up for more sparkling performances.
Top of the Charts
After several months of sensational flying form, Charles-Cook finds himself sitting at the top of the cinch Premiership scoring charts. His form has been utterly magical, giving County fans many goals to celebrate. At the time of writing, Regan has ten goals. He has netted against Aberdeen, Motherwell x3, Dundee x3, St Johnstone, Dundee United and Rangers. There is plenty of scope to get that goal mark even higher if Cookie can keep playing in the same vein of form.
Malky’s Main Man
Despite the huge amount of criticism Malky Mackay’s appointment received from Ross County fans, there is no doubt that he has had a huge part to play in the sparkling form of Regan Charles-Cook.
Malky put faith in Regan and deployed him in his most comfortable position consistently. This gave the Grenadian room to improve and nail down the left flank to be his own position. He was utilized with more freedom than we have previously seen, being allowed to drift inside and out, taking on defenders in 1v1 situations. These tactics have clearly brought the best out in the former Arsenal academy product, by allowing him to play fast paced attacking football.
Its clear to see there is strong relationship between Malky and Regan. After games when the players congregate on the turf, Malky putting an arm round Charles-Cook or giving him a hug is a regular sight. The praise goes both ways, and in post-match interviews Charles-Cook constantly praises how the manger wants him to play, by getting at full backs and gambling in behind to punish teams with his pace.
Regan Charles-Cook’s confidence and form have flourished hand in hand, and Ross County are reaping the rewards of having the high-flying winger in Dingwall.
The Highlands – A Home from Home
In October last year, Regan revealed being so far away from home when COVID-19 was rife played a part in his struggles to settle within the squad.
Speaking to Alisdair Fraser for the Ross-Shire Journal, Charles-Cook said “It was probably the most difficult time I could have chosen to come here. I’d never lived outside of London and had always lived with my parents.”
“At the time, the boys were not allowed to bond away from training and it was really tough moving away on my own. What happens off the pitch plays a part in what happens on it, and when you’re not playing it is difficult.”
“When I came back in the summer, I felt a big change with what the manager (Malky Mackay) has been putting in place. They were all little changes in the way we worked, but they add up to big changes.”
More recently, RCC told his story to Douglas Alexander of The Times, explaining how his feelings about being away from home have flipped on their head.
“I must have Googled it first and said, ‘Where is this?’ But since I’ve come here, I’ve never looked back. They have made it so much of a home for me. When I go back to London now, I’m like – I need to go back to the Highlands.”
Here to Stay… For Now
After a magnificent first half of the season which has seen Regan Charles-Cook top the scoring table and help County rise to tenth place, there was always going to be transfer speculation surrounding the super Grenadian.
As the January window slammed shut, Cookie remains a Staggie, for now at least, until his contract expires at the end of the campaign. Quotes from Mackay and Regan himself would lead supporters to believe that discussions have begun over a new contract for the County hero.
County fans will be desperate for their talisman to put pen to paper, whether it means Charles-Cook applies his trade in Dingwall next year, or for the small reward of financial aid if he transfers clubs.
Regan Charles-Cook has been Ross County’s best player this season, and the Staggies faithful have fallen in love with him not only for his footballing ability, but for his trademark celebration of stirring the pot and, of course, for those heart-warming post-match interviews with his smile beaming from ear to ear.