'I have to pinch myself' - Leeds United captain Liam Cooper looks ahead to historic Euros bow with Scotland
When Scotland make history this afternoon there will be a little splash of Yorkshire grit among the ranks.
The Tartan Army will kick a ball in anger at a major international finals for the first time in 23 years at Hampden Park as they begin their long-awaited Euro 2020 campaign.
Steve Clarke’s men have enjoyed a joyous build-up to the Group D game with the Czech Republic, an occasion set up by the right palm of David Marshall’s hand thanks to a stunning penalty save last November.
Scotland, though, are not just at the delayed competition to make up the numbers. It will be down to business in Glasgow when the first whistle sounds.
Leeds United captain Liam Cooper has enjoyed a memorable 12 months, winning promotion to the Premier League with his boyhood club last summer before heading to the Euros.
“It’s lovely to be here,” said the Whites captain.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. Not so much nerves, but I’m sure they will come when we realise what we’re about to go and do.
“We can go make history – we look forward to that and the fact we can go and make a nation proud.
“I have to pinch myself at times. What a group of lads we’ve got, living all these moments together. We’ve got plenty more to come. We’re looking forward to getting going.”
Scotland will also face the auld enemy, England, at Wembley and Croatia at home during the group stages.
“It’s been raw emotion and that’s how football can make you feel,” continued Cooper.
“The chemistry and team morale is as high as I have ever seen. We all dream of going to these major tournaments as kids and we are going to live that dream.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement and we won’t stop there. We have ambitions. We have confidence that we can get out of the group as well.”
Cooper was born and raised in Hull but is very much a member of the Tartan Army.
Becoming a top-flight player and being remembered as the captain that led Leeds back to the promised land has been ticked off so the Euros are next on the list.
“It’s mental,” he said with a smile.
“The send-off from my old man – he just said ‘go and enjoy yourself, I’m so proud of you’. This year is one I’ll probably look back on when I’m retired and think ‘what a year that was’.
“Although there’s been a pandemic I’ve had an unbelievable year. I’m probably the first person to get promoted from the Championship, play in the Premier League and play in the Euros all in a pandemic! I can always take that and tell my grandkids that.”
At club level, Cooper is used to the demands of Marcelo Bielsa but he has been high in his praise for the man at the helm who carries Scotland’s hopes on his shoulders.
“There’s not really much difference. They both have their ideas and ways they want to play,” he said of Bielsa and Clarke’s managerial styles.
“At Leeds, we’re very man-for-man. Under Steve, we have a formation and tactics that work for us, built up over the last series of games. They’re both demanding managers and bring out the best in you.
“They leave you to express yourself and it’s been great for me. When you’ve worked with Marcelo you can work with any manager. He is demanding, yeah, 100 per cent. But he has brought the best out in me and my team-mates at Leeds.
“He has taken my career to places I never thought was possible. I have a lot to thank him for.
“I have to thank Steve as well for showing a lot of faith in me and bringing me into the squad and letting me show what I can do.
“He lets us go and express ourselves, but at the same time he has that level of respect which all managers need to have I believe. He has been different class with me and he is different class with the group.”