In Profile | Steve Cooper
Swansea City head coach Steve Cooper will bring a wealth of expertise to his new club having become renowned as one of the best young coaches in the country over a career already in its third decade.
The 39-year-old – born in Pontypridd – arrives in SA1 having won plenty of plaudits for his abilities in nurturing burgeoning talent.
That comes as little surprise given he helped England Under-17s to World Cup glory in 2017, having joined the Football Association from Liverpool in 2013.
And he takes over a Swansea squad which ranked among the highest in the EFL in terms of minutes played by players aged 23 and under last season.
He started coaching in 22 years ago and has received no shortage of plaudits for his work with Wrexham, Liverpool and the Football Association.
From the Racecourse to Melwood
Former defender Cooper – son of referee Keith, who officiated at Football League, Premier League and international level over a distinguished career – was on Wrexham’s books as a young player, but was released without a first-team appearance to his name before joining the club’s academy coaching set-up.
He went on to feature for Rhyl, Bangor, The New Saints and Porthmadog in the Welsh football pyramid, all the while working towards his coaching badges and gaining experience after feeling he had found his true calling at the age of just 20.
So voracious was his appetite to learn and progress, Cooper had completed his UEFA Pro Licence at the age of just 26.
His work in Wrexham’s academy was quickly noted and he made the move to Liverpool in 2008, at a time when Rafael Benitez was in charge of first-team affairs.
The Catalan influence
He was soon followed to Merseyside by two of Benitez’s Spanish compatriots, namely Jose ‘Pep’ Segura and Rodolfo Borrell; Kenny Dalglish would also be a colleague in the Reds’ academy set-up during Cooper’s time there.
Borrell is now an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Segura, meanwhile, returned to his native Catalonia to work in Barcelona’s youth set-up and has since become general football manager at the Nou Camp.
The latter made a big impression on Cooper, and he has continued to outline Segura’s influence on his approach to coaching over the years.
In an interview with The Guardian in May 2017, he said of the Spaniard: “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.”
Having impressed at Melwood, Cooper became academy manager in 2011, and his time with the Reds saw him help develop such young talents as Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Wales international Ben Woodburn, before his move to the FA two years later.
World Cup glory
Cooper initially joined the FA as a youth coach educator before taking on the task of coaching England Under-16s in 2014.
He made the step up to under-17 level the following year, and enjoyed fantastic, unprecedented success.
He led the Young Lions to the final of the 2017 European Championship, where they lost to Spain on penalties, but they gained revenge later in the year by coming from 2-0 down to beat the same opponents 5-2 in the World Cup final in India. They had never previously been further than the quarter-finals in the global competition.
The England side that day included the likes of Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster and Callum Hudson-Odoi, while Jadon Sancho was in the squad for the tournament.
Cooper’s team were widely praised for their attractive, attacking style of play.
In addition to the five goals scored in the final, they put three past Brazil in the semi-finals and four past the USA in the last eight.
"It's about playing our way... we want to play with purpose, dominate possession, play forward and get the ball back as quick as we can. That's always our plan,” Cooper has previously said of his philosophy with his England teams.
He will hope to be able to deliver such a brand of football during his time ahead in the Swans’ dug-out.