Speculation is growing that Swansea City are looking to line-up current England under-17s manager Steve Cooper as Graham Potter’s successor, but who is he and what is his football philosophy? Is he the right fit for the Swans?
Some sources are saying that Steve Cooper will be offered the job, providing that our American owners are happy with the decision following the recruitment process involving chairman Trevor Birch and club legends Leon Britton and Alan Curtis.
Other names that reached the final shortlist were thought to be QPR caretaker boss John Eustace, former Oxford manager Michael Appleton and current under-23s coach Cameron Toshack.
The 39-year-old played football as a defender in the Welsh Premier League before starting his coaching career at Wrexham’s academy before moving to Liverpool in 2008. He later joined the England youth setup in 2014, coaching the under-16s before coaching the under-17s a year later. By 2017, Cooper had won the U17 World Cup.
‘The biggest message that Pep gave me was that you’ve got to know what you want your team to look like at the end – close your eyes and imagine what is happening.’
Cooper is very much respected for developing young players. He saw the likes of Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn develop at Liverpool while at England he’s guided the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden and callum Hudson-Odoi.
Cooper’s Preferred Style of Play
Cooper, in his own words, says he prefers to play “attractive football” with a “clear identity”. In an interview with Swans fan and journalist Stuart James, he said:
“Most rewarding is that they were saying things that we were intending to do, like playing with a clear identity, playing attractive football, and playing with really good organisation and structure. So that’s where ‘changing perceptions’ comes from.”
Steve Cooper has been heavily influenced by Barcelona B coach Jose “Pep” Segura, he added:
“I thought I was in a decent place with my coaching before I met Pep [Segura], but then I realised that I had a load of work to do,”
“From a coaching point of view, he has been the biggest influence on me. He just showed me the way – a different way. The biggest message that Pep gave me was that you’ve got to know what you want your team to look like at the end – close your eyes and imagine what is happening.”
“But it’s one thing knowing what it looks like, it’s also how you get there. That’s what I pride myself on now, having a clear view of when the team is getting it right and where I want them to go, but also the bits to get there. So how do you train the game-model, for example?
“Pep taught me to create a vision and build back up to it. More than anything, once you’ve got your vision, once you’ve got your steps to get there, with your periodisation of training, the type of practices that you use, the individual profiling of players, then stick to it. You need to have belief in it.”
Leading to his World Cup winning success with the under-17s, there was no stone left unturned in their preparation. Cooper explained the number of staff they had within their setup during the World Cup:
‘We have a specialised coaching model, with an in-possession and an out-of-possession coach.’
“How much time have you got? We have a specialised coaching model, with an in-possession and an out-of-possession coach. There is also a goalkeeping coach, two analysts, two fitness coaches, two physios, a doctor, a chef, an education officer, team operations manager and security.
“We also have a psychologist and her job is twofold: to support me and my communication, mood, body language and attitude, sort of like a life coach; and to look at the environment and the culture.
The game is evolving at a fast pace, not just the football that you see being played on the bench but the analysis and data work that goes on behind the scenes, as Cooper explains here:
“Analysts now have a massive role live-coding with an iPad during every training session. We plan our training schedule before our arrival but agree on it every day, and maybe make some small changes – a player could be out or in, we might make the spaces bigger or maybe change an exercise – but the analysts know their role, what they’re looking for in every exercise.”
“They’ll know what to look for and they will code it. So straight away on the bus back they’ll give their laptops to the coaches and we’ll see our work.
“Our fitness coaches speak to the players’ clubs and they share data, so we have all the training minutes, testing results and match minutes. We share with them and they share with us, we’re all on the same system. When we come in, the coaches are very much aware of the physical states the players are in. It’s part of the process of the game.”
Another thing that Cooper believes in when coaching is player involvement and the end of a one-way direction of communication. Rather than the coach leading all meetings, analysis and so on, Cooper likes the players to get heavily involved in the discussions.
‘The days are gone, for me, where everything is the coach telling the player. That’s finished.’
“Sometimes I will talk and tell the players my thoughts, but most of the time I facilitate. Example, ‘OK boys, game review today, get into groups and tell me what you think.’ And they tell each other. That’s how modern players learn. The days are gone, for me, where everything is the coach telling the player. That’s finished.
“Sometimes, there is a time and a place to go, ‘Follow me, I’m the coach, this is what we’re doing.’ But in a game-plan meeting, we’ll ask ourselves, ‘The opposition, they do this – what are we going to do?’ The players all have an iPad, a profile of the team and a sheet. On this sheet we have six zones and they look at the iPad and make some notes.
“We put them into groups and put up a big sheet and they write out what they think the opposition will do. Then they say what they think we should do. We get round the tactics board and agree on everything. There might be times when I say, ‘OK boys, no, I want us to do it this way,’ but sometimes I go with them.
Steve Cooper emerged as a late runner for the Swansea City job and has only entered the bookies’ odds in the last few days but it looks like he is the leading candidate with the previously named managers as alternative options.
Cooper might lack experience in senior coaching but his coaching abilities are well recognised and respected in the game. His record of developing young players is likely to have been a big attraction for the Swansea interviewers and of course his philosophy of playing an attractive brand of football.
We obviously don’t know, but you would expect to see some meaningful developments early next week as Swansea finally look to appoint Graham Potter’s successor.