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The Steve Cooper football story - a 20 year coaching journey (Part One)
Sunday, 7th Feb 2021 13:11 by Keith Haynes

It has been a pretty long haul for Swansea City manager and coach Steve Cooper, encouraged by Brian Flynn to concentrate on coaching and management when under his guidance at Wrexham things have worked out well. A nineteen year journey that led him to Swansea thereafter is his story, the application of certain football strategies in to his teams primary. This is part one of Steve Coopers football journey.

Knowing he had to gain qualifications to reach his goal Cooper set out, still as a player, to study for his coaching badges and began coaching at Wrexham's academy. At the age of 27, Cooper obtained his UEFA Pro Licence, becoming one of the youngest coaches to achieve the qualification. As we all know it’s one thing having the qualifications, it’s another being able to display your competency at such a young age. So where better to start than at the younger Wrexham teams.

Cooper’s journey started at Wrexham

The journey was going to prove a slow one though, he found himself working part time as the U11s coach at Wrexham, before being taken on as one of the youth coaches – working under Steve Weaver. Cooper moved up through the ranks with the Dragons to become head of youth development and oversaw the emergence of players such as Neil Taylor and Wes Baynes before leaving in 2008 after landing a dream job at Liverpool, the club he supported as a boy. That Wrexham journey taught him much, especially regards the way tactics and techniques can be delivered to young football players. Cooper became a genuine student of the game, where possible travelling to clubs across Europe to study strategy and implementation. This is the same a journey that Brendan Rodgers went on, a self awareness of what the very best coaches do, how they do it and managing the development of that learning too. This is where the likes of today’s ‘straight in at the top’ managers will never get clear in their minds. So used to spending others wealth to accumulate a side that may or may not win something, and attempting to satisfy fan bases that couldn’t care about principle is the norm these days.

The coaching pathway, Cooper has them all

When a coach like Steve Cooper comes along, and there are not that many, the swans had one in Graeme Potter who Cooper eventually succeeded, many clubs don’t see the benefits. That’s fair, to employ someone who actually has studied the game for years, obtained all the qualifications, adapted individuals learning styles so they can learn and understand better isn’t for the likes of Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock or Tony Pulis, it won’t resonate with them at all. You can’t appoint a manager of that ilk in to a successful footballing side with a long term plan as manager and expect anything other than failure. Their principles couldn’t be more far away from each other. The swans have traditionally gone with the underwhelming appointment, Roberto Martinez, Graeme Jones, Brendan Rodgers, Paulo Sousa, the list goes on as we know. With reliable number two’s as back up, these managers have flourished in what the international football watcher started to call the ‘Swansea way’ on promotion to the Premier League.

It’s never always gone to plan, but in the majority of ways it has, sadly the new ownership of the club failed to see that and their recent interviews this week confirm it. What is done is done.

Within a few years the young Steve Cooper, and he will agree, who only had a fleeting glance at professional football was managing operations at the Wrexham academy. Overseeing opportunity for youngsters, and most importantly safeguarding their learning environments making them excellent learning centres. This is where a lot of coaches don’t grasp the nettle, you need to create learning environments for young people to learn. They need to feel safe and free from being judged or laughed at. Cooper knew this from the very start. This is basic but successful teaching awareness.

Cooper spent twelve years at Wrexham, it’s impossible to gauge his winning record because a lot of the time he was managing the academy, ensuring national curriculums were being taught and disciplined coaching was taking place. Cooper’s own methodology too needed to be implemented. Then of course the measure of his work would be assessed in the correct way. During that time a host of coaches came through the system as Wrexham employees and indeed players who would go on to the first team. The lifeblood of any football club. Ex Wrexham player Lee Jones is an admirer of Cooper, now in his own right an Independent coaching specialist he remembers Cooper well. ‘ I was with him for six years, he is a great student of the game, always keen to learn and discuss coaching and how to pass that on to young players. I saw it for years’ Of course coaching and management of the academy wasn’t Steve Cooper’s only role, raising awareness of the academy, sponsorship, open days and recruitment all fell under his watchful eye, he had the full responsibility in a very full role.

Lee Jones an admirer of Steve Cooper

Lets reflect back quickly, Allardyce as an example, we can even include Mick McCarthy here, you know when they arrive at a club they want to know two things, how much will you pay me, and how much do I have to spend ? That’s the brief. For any club supporter the arrival of these managers is the last ditch effort. Proof if anyone needs it that the philosophy of football coaching has been totally lost at that club. Any lifeline they provide will be short term, without a real plan and built on today, not tomorrow. That’s why they have been to so many clubs and been recruited so many times. It’s a bit like managing your credit card debt, you do a transfer to a better rate, see the immediate benefit then travel slowly yet again to the same type of debt. When they leave a club that’s it, nothing cast in stone as an improvement, just a few league placings higher, or if you are lucky saved from relegation. Then they are off, it’s job done and your club remains rudderless without a future focus.

It’s an ever decreasing circle that Swansea City some would say noticed and moved away from when appointing Bryan Flynn - and the progressed to where they are today. An 18 year journey, mostly up, a few downs but never resorting to desperation in managerial appointments.

Steve Cooper was noticed during his time at Wrexham, so much so the FA of England acknowledged his credentials and skills, much as they have done now with Martin Margetson at Swansea. This would lead to another new and exciting chapter in the Steve Cooper story, one which would lead him to Liverpool and eventually England.

More later in part two of the Steve Cooper story.

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