Going into international breaks there is usually some kind of ruckus at Leeds United that we can all discuss and suffer over as proceedings on the pitch take a break, topics like; who has Massimo upset now? What manager will we have next? Will we ever reach the top ten again? Now however, with Leeds sitting pretty in 4th place, Massimo behaving himself and Monk doing a stellar job, surely we can all just bathe in the positives of the season to date? Well, almost… There is still a topic that has been nagging away at me for a few weeks now and for the life of me I can’t understand the logic behind people’s perceived views. So everyone, please inform me, what is the problem with Liam Cooper?
After Saturday’s fantastic win over Brighton, the White’s just about kept alive there hopes of a top two finish and, understandably, everyone was delighted. Another two goals for Chris Wood, a dominant midfield performance from our esteemed academy product names after football royalty, a clean sheet without the services of Pontus Jansson and Luke Ayling, all of this coming against a team who have been pushing the top of the league all season! But there was one player who despite this, still failed to please some…
It seems to be that Cooper has become a victim of Kyle Bartley and Jansson’s success as a central defensive partnership. There’s no getting away from the fact that they have both been outstanding (Jansson so much so that he’s been named in the Championship Team of the Season) and it seems to me now that, if one of them isn’t playing, people’s attentions automatically turn to Cooper, almost using him as an excuse before the game even kicks off just in case we lose.
I’m not saying Cooper has been perfect this season, he has made mistakes but what player hasn’t? Last season, Cooper was widely praised for the season he had, making the step up from League 1 isn’t always easy, yet it was clear to see he had potentially both as a defender and a ball player. The biggest thing for Cooper is his decision making and concentration, but at 25, there is plenty of time to iron that out. Plus, playing with Jansson and Bartley, he’s only going to learn and get better.
The staggering thing about Brighton was, the team kept a clean sheet yet people were still harping on about how awful Cooper was. Now if we’d have lost 3-2 and he was at fault for a number of their goals then fine, there’s obviously something wrong but we didn’t, we won and shut out one of the league’s most potent attacks!
I must stress that Cooper also got a lot of praise after Saturday’s performance, as did all of the team but it’s some of the negative comments that just stood out to me. To be honest, some of the stuff said, mainly on social media, was total rubbish too; “he had there best attempt on goal” or “he left Glen Murray wide open from the free kick” or best of all “he kicked the ball out of play”. Now true, he certainly had Rob Green to thank for saving him for the own goal but was it his fault Kayal got to the by-line to get the ball across? He had to deal with the cross and it was awkward, it’s not like he meant to! The free kick where Murray had all the time in the world to test Green, you can’t tell me Cooper was responsible for that either? Football is a team game, not one of our players were close to Murray, why did a handful of fans jump on Cooper’s back about it? As for the “kicking the ball out of play” comments, does that even deserve a reply? Every player in the world gives the ball away, I personally thought Cooper’s distribution was pretty good, certainly his cross field passes are an asset with the wide men we have. No, they don’t come off every time but is it not an attacking piece of football to try get the ball forward?
I could go on but it’s not about point scoring, it’s simply about defending a player who undoubtedly gives his all for the club when asked to and does it pretty well! It can’t be easy to come in after long spells on the bench and deliver a Rolls Royce performance at centre halve but Cooper did what he asked to and did it well. He obviously received some strong backing from Garry Monk too which is a testament to his attitude and willingness to learn. Thinking about the situation logically too, there’s a high possibility that Jansson is going to pick up two more yellows before the season is over and (potentially) miss some or even all of the plays-offs, would it be then fair to ask Cooper to play to the level of our player of the season having not played any football in the lead up to May? It would certainly be difficult.
Whatever happened between Jansson and Monk and I don’t think we’ll ever know, it was a definite vote of confidence towards Cooper and his performance, could and should have driven Jansson on to come back in and keep playing at a high level as no one’s place should ever be guaranteed. Whilst I agree that Bartley and Jansson is our stronger pairing, we shouldn’t be too quick to knock there replacement. Monk knows the decision to start Cooper over Jansson could have backfired on him and it took strong management but it is these decisions that rank Monk as one of the most highly rated managers outside of the Premier League and certainly the right man to help Cooper (and all of the defenders) to continue to improve as players.
It remains to be seen if Cooper will keep his place against Reading on the 1st April, (by then he may also be a full international for Scotland, which is a great achievement in itself) but if he does play we as fans shouldn’t go looking for mistakes and instead, focus our efforts on continuing to support the team to the great levels that we have done this season. After all, every player in White is playing towards the same goal: getting this club back into the Premier League.
Reporter – Daniel Howard