'I always knew' - Leeds United captain Liam Cooper tips Whites youngster for the very top

Liam Cooper says Pascal Struijk has 'everything' he needs to become a world class centre-half.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 4th February 2022, 10:56 am

The Leeds United youngster has quickly grown into an important player for Marcelo Bielsa, since an inauspicious introduction to fans at Elland Road.

Struijk followed a December 2019 stoppage-time cameo against Hull City with a six-minute spell to forget at home to Cardiff City four days later.

Bielsa put Struijk on to try and shore up the defence aerially, with a 3-0 lead already cut to a one-goal deficit, but after a shaky four minutes both the substitute and Ben White failed to spot or prevent Robert Glatzel from ghosting in between them to equalise.

Struijk remained part of Bielsa's first team squad but did not feature again until the final three games of the season.

Since then, his recovery has been nothing short of sensational, with last season's 27 Premier League appearances and the 14 he's gained this season despite injury problems proving beyond doubt that the 22-year-old is not just one for the future, but the present.

Bielsa says Struijk has now converted himself into a 'Premier League player' and his versatility makes him 'very necessary' for Leeds.

Cooper has had a front-row seat for Struijk's development, since the free transfer arrived from Ajax in January 2018.

YOUNG DEPUTY - Pascal Struijk is seen as the long-term successor to Liam Cooper at Leeds United but has already established himself as an important first team player. Pic: Getty

"That game against Cardiff, although at the time it won't have felt like it, it was probably the best thing to ever happen to him," the Whites skipper told the YEP.

"Pascal has absolutely everything to be one of the best centre-backs out there, he really has. He's unbelievable on the ball, he's strong, good in the air. I always knew. We all know now. His improvement speaks for itself. He's got his head down, improved physically, his concentration levels are there and he puts everything into training. He's reaping the rewards now and he deserves that."

Cooper believes that with Bielsa's support, Struijk can achieve big things.

"Obviously he's got an incredible coach backing him but he's doing everything on the pitch, training hard, getting his head in the right place and he'll go on to be a top, top centre-half," said Cooper, for whom Struijk has deputised on a number of occasions.

The pair form a solid centre-back unit at the club that includes Spanish and German internationals Diego Llorente and Robin Koch, Under 23s prospects Charlie Cresswell and Leo Hjelde and, when called upon to play out of position, Kalvin Phillips and Luke Ayling.

When they're all fit - Cooper and Phillips are currently working their way back to fitness from hamstring problems - competition for a start is fierce.

"It definitely is [the strongest part of the squad]," Cooper told the YEP.

"It didn't look like that two years ago but that just speaks to the success we've had and the type of player we can bring in. It's only healthy. The lads push each other every single day, there's only two or three places up for grabs in that centre-half spot and we have to put everything on the line and push each other to be the best we can be."