Analysing Steve Cooper’s Refreshing Approach to Development and Player Recruitment
Throughout his reign at Swansea City, Steve Cooper has been a driving force in revolutionising player recruitment in the Football League. Since being announced as the Jacks’ head coach back in June 2019, Cooper narrowly missed out on taking his side into the Premier League, losing in the 2020 play-off semi-final to Thomas Frank’s Brentford. Despite falling short, Cooper rightfully received credit for his approach both on and off the field. So, here’s why the Welshman’s refreshing style of coaching could spark change throughout English football.
The Welshman’s Roots in Coaching
Upon looking at the direction Cooper wishes to take Swansea in, his current crop of players indicates that he seeks consistency and longevity. Within the current Swansea squad, there are only six players over the age of 26. Moreover, Transfermarkt shows that the Jacks have 15 players aged 23 and under in their first-team setup. In comparison to other sides, the Jacks have a young squad, but that doesn’t mean that quality is compromised.
Interestingly, the 41-year-old’s approach to recruitment places an emphasis on players who aren’t nearing the latter stages of their careers. Not only that, but Cooper is intent on showcasing his coaching credentials as a manager. Combined, these two factors mean that the former Liverpool youth coach must act astutely in the transfer window.
It’s a testament to his ability to improve players that he previously worked with the likes of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and, Trent Alexander-Arnold, all of whom are now Premier League winners with Manchester City (Foden and Sterling) and Liverpool (Alexander-Arnold), respectively. Although Swansea don’t currently possess players of that quality, few could argue that Cooper didn’t improve Bersant Celina, Rhian Brewster, and Joe Rodon, who have all since left the Liberty Stadium to play top-flight football.
An Eye for Talent
Over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing perception that English football revolves around finances. Generally, big-name transfers have grabbed the headlines, but few have paid dividends. Contrary to modern-day beliefs, Cooper has successfully put together a competitive squad at Swansea without breaking the bank.
Thus far, the 41-year-old has spent around £1.5 million on three players during his ongoing tenure at Swansea. The other 28 have either been free agents or loan signings. Despite that, the Jacks have made significant steps forward in their pursuit of returning to the Premier League. As of January 8th, Cooper’s side are 8/1 with football betting to win the Championship in the 2020-21 season. In many ways, promotion would validate the manager’s youth-driven approach.
At the time of writing, the jewel in Cooper’s low-price transfer strategy is Jamal Lowe, whose progression epitomizes Cooper’s managerial approach. Signed from Portsmouth for a reported £800,000 plus add-ons, the winger is currently the most expensive player ever purchased by the 41-year-old. With eight goals in 23 matches, Lowe is enjoying his best goalscoring season in the Championship, with Cooper predominantly deploying him as a central striker. In his professional career, the former Wigan attacker has played centrally just 30 times, scoring nine goals in the position. As such, credit must go to the former England youth coach for reinventing the London-born forward.
Cooper and Swansea Can Be a Catalyst for Change
Although they lack top-flight resources, Premier League sides should take note of Cooper’s work at Swansea. The 41-year-old is showing that progress is possible without having to break the bank. With an emphasis on coaching, the current crop of players at Swansea are undoubtedly learning from one of the best managers what English football has to offer, and Lowe’s improvement reflects that.