‘It’s a perfect fit’ – Steve Cooper intent to be successful the Swansea way

Former England Under-17s coach talks about the challenge of managing senior players for the first time, his football philosophy and his father being a Cardiff City fan

Steve Cooper has been coaching for a couple of decades, held the pro licence since the age of 26, worked at Liverpool as their academy manager and won the World Cup with England Under-17s, yet the Welshman knew there was something missing from his CV when he applied for the Swansea job and met Trevor Birch, the chairman. For all his achievements Cooper has next to no experience of working with senior players.

“It’s the obvious question to ask about me and I wanted to make sure that, when I had my meetings with Trevor, it wasn’t the elephant in the room. It could be, easily,” Cooper said. “Whenever a manager or head coach is appointed there are always questions and the obvious one with me is that it’s my first senior job. But I wouldn’t put myself in this position if I wasn’t ready. The first person I asked if I was ready to work at senior level was myself.

“The experiences I’ve had up to now have all been ones with managerial responsibilities. At the World Cup in India I had 25 members of staff reporting to me. If you don’t get that right or show good leadership or self-worth, then it can quickly fail. I’ve been working towards that for a long time. Twelve months or so ago I was about 96% there. Now I’m 100% ready. Yes, I’ve still got to go and do it but I’m fully equipped to do so.”

Aged 39, Cooper is a bold appointment on Swansea’s part and it will be fascinating to see how their decision to steer clear of the usual names on the circuit – something the Welsh club have also done in the past – works out. There is already talk outside Swansea that success or failure for Cooper may determine how easily doors open for other youth coaches. “I’m aware that it could be beneficial to future appointments but, if I think about that too much, then I’m not thinking about today and the job in hand,” Cooper said.

Steve Cooper shakes hands after his first press conference as Swansea City manager.
Steve Cooper shakes hands after his first press conference as Swansea City manager. Photograph: Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Cooper’s playing philosophy, which is heavily influenced by the time he spent working at Liverpool under Pep Segura, who is now back at Barcelona as the club’s general manager, was a key factor in Swansea’s decision. Over the course of three interviews Cooper convinced Birch, Leon Britton, who is the football adviser to Swansea’s board of directors, and Alan Curtis, the club president, that his playing principles were totally aligned to those of the club.

“Football people like myself, and fans, have admired the recent history, the journey to the Premier League, the players that have been in the teams – everyone has looked with admiration,” Cooper said. “So I know what that identity stands for, and that’s what I believe in too, so it’s a good match, a perfect fit. I’ve watched every game since Christmas and lots before it. The team is in a really good place, willing to run and be brave on the ball. I’m a football coach, I want to grow the players and the identity.”

Twitter: follow us at @guardian_sport

Facebook: like our football and sport pages

Instagram: our favourite photos, films and stories

YouTube: subscribe to our football and sport channels

Although Cooper’s long-term goal is to try to get Swansea back in the Premier League by the end of his three-year contract, his immediate focus is on continuing the rebuilding job that Graham Potter started before departing for Brighton last month. It is a task that he is relishing but one made all the more difficult by the fact that Swansea have five senior players – Jordan Ayew, André Ayew, Borja Bastón, Tom Carroll and Jefferson Montero – whom they are desperate to offload to reduce the wage bill and fill a £15m financial hole.

With that in mind, it was not surprising to hear Cooper talking about the need to be “creative” when it comes to deals this summer and how he also hopes to utilise the loan market to strengthen a squad that is light after four experienced players were released at the end of last season and Daniel James was sold to Manchester United for £15m.

The reputation that Cooper built as coach during his time working for the Football Association, and the contacts that he made with leading Premier League clubs, could prove to be invaluable in that respect. “It’s already started,” said Cooper, when asked about trying to bring players in. “And that process has been both ways, which has been quite rewarding really. Obviously I’ll be approaching certain clubs about certain players but there’s already been some mentions of players who would like to work together again.”

While Cooper went on to say that he had spoken to Gareth Southgate before accepting the Swansea job, and that he was grateful for the England manager’s “kind words and good advice”, it was tempting to wonder what the conversation was like when he called his father to tell him the news. Keith, who had a distinguished career as a top-flight referee, is a Cardiff City supporter. “He’s banned,” said Cooper, laughing, before adding: “The family are very proud and I’m doing it for them as much as everybody else. There’s only one team they’ll be wanting to win.”