Leeds United

Who is this man masquerading as Liam Cooper?

Who is this man masquerading as Liam Cooper?

A long-term concern for Leeds fans has been their captain Liam Cooper and his ability to turn in a calamitous performance at the back. It’s no secret that Leeds have seen a number of managers come and go over the years as the powers that be have seen fit to get rid of a manager at the first sign of troubled waters.

In Liam Cooper’s case and as far as the Elland Road faithful were concerned, this has always been quite promising news as a new manager would surely see the light and bin the defender for good. Well, this has never been the case and every new manager that came in decided to stick with Cooper and to make matters worse, most would make him club captain.

This was infuriating for Leeds fans as they found the 27-year-old defender to be a liability given how poor his passing was and the fact that he is arguably more one-footed than Arjen Robben. It all came to a head as Millwall visited Elland Road on a cold Saturday in late January earlier this year and went two-nil up in the first half. Cooper sprayed the ball around aimlessly as he gave it away time and again and on the 37th minute, he recklessly lunged into a tackle that would see him receive his marching orders.

As he trudged off down the tunnel after seeing red, Leeds fans would have been hoping that was the last time they would ever see him darken the doors of Elland Road.

Once Marcelo Bielsa was appointed Leeds boss, it was a safe bet that the experienced Argentine and godfather of everything good in football would put Cooper on the transfer list after only a few minutes of his first training session. Remarkably, this wasn’t the case, and to everyone’s shock and horror, Cooper led Leeds United out on the first day of the season against Stoke City on a sweltering Sunday in August. The Whites would run out 3-1 winners and Cooper would net a fantastic header from an inch-perfect corner courtesy of Barry Douglas.

Since then, Cooper has been a near ever-present in the side, with 16 appearances this season and he has contributed three goals to the cause. It has been an astonishing turnaround in form and the once-shaky Cooper dubbed ‘League One Liam’ by the Leeds faithful looks to now be the Maldini of the Championship. His vision and awareness have him one step ahead of the game as he seems to read the play so much better than before by always getting to the ball first.

Cooper’s improvement can only be down to one man and that is Marcelo Bielsa. Was the Hull-born defender let down by the other managers who managed at Leeds after he showed no signs of improvement? Probably not, in their defence, as they were never there long enough to make a telling difference to a player’s development.

Some may argue that Bielsa hasn’t been there long enough, either, but then they would be forgetting why this extraordinary manager is considered the best coach in the world by Pep Guardiola.

It is Pep’s sensational City side that is built on the ideas Bielsa shared with him, although the 63-year-old is far too modest to admit anything like that. But the truth is, that in some way, Bielsa has had a hand in the revolution that the world is seeing at the Etihad. Incredibly, City are odds-on to win the Premier League as well as being the favourites in the latest Champions League tips. There’s no doubt this brand of football works but in Bielsa’s situation, it is about nurturing talent to succeed rather than being given an unlimited budget.

It was thought Leeds paid Chesterfield around £750k for Cooper in 2014. That fee is likely to increase exponentially after a few seasons under Bielsa and how refreshing it is to see a player’s stock rise due to some expert advice and input.

In Leeds United’s case, they had to rely on cheap buys like Cooper from the likes of Chesterfield to get by. They were all investments at the time in the hope the players would mature into valuable assets. Needless to say, the club had to be very shrewd when looking for players to buy given that these days, the transfer market is rife with hyperinflation and what you paid for a good emerging player twenty years ago is miles away from what you will pay for them now. All of that now is being rectified thanks to Leeds United’s new boss.

Indeed, with Bielsa at the helm, many of Leeds’ long-term investments are now eventually maturing and there is no better example than Liam Cooper, or at least the man pretending to be him.

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