'Long may it continue' - Leeds United captain Liam Cooper on proving people wrong, his lifetime hero and 'leaders' at elite Whites
WHITES skipper Liam Cooper is finally living his childhood dreams as a professional footballer – and now wants to help Leeds United’s own youngsters achieve theirs.
Cooper’s dream came true in the summer of last year when the 29-year-old defender captained the club that he supported as a boy to promotion to the Premier League in the ultimate style as Championship champions.
Yet success came on the back of overcoming tough times and hurt earlier in his career as the centre-back says he was eventually “unwanted” by first club Hull City and stepped down to League Two to join Chesterfield in November 2012.
Just under two years later, Cooper signed for the club that he supported as a youngster and sealed the move back to Championship football when joining Leeds for £650,000.
Even so, the years that followed were far from plain sailing with Cooper featuring under 10 different managers since he has been at Elland Road.
Present-day boss, Marcelo Bielsa, proved not only the man to take Leeds United back into the Premier League but also, says Cooper, the coach to elevate his game to new levels.
But captaining Leeds in the top flight is something the Whites skipper will never take for granted and Cooper now hopes that he and United’s other ‘natural leaders’ can provide a helping hand to the stars of tomorrow.
Speaking in a video on Leeds United's official Twitter page, Cooper said on life as Whites captain in the Premier League: "I have to pinch myself, not just for me, for my family as well. It’s unbelievable.
“Obviously I grew up being a Leeds United fan and those dreams are distant when you are a young boy and you are coming through.
"You never think you will get to captain your club and go back to the Premier League and do what we have done is unbelievable.
“It’s a dream come true and one I am enjoying so much.
“I take a lot of pride in it and long may it continue.”
Reflecting on providing a helping hand for youngsters - and United’s several ‘leaders’ from within, Cooper reasoned: “Everybody is different.
“I just try and judge people how I would want to be judged.
“I’m the type of character who can take a bit of a rollicking and needs a kick up the backside sometimes.
“But not everybody is like that. Somebody needs an arm around them and a chat, you do this well and do that well. Some people deal with things in different ways. But we are very fortunate at Leeds.
“We have got a lot of leaders among the group, obviously your Luke Ayling, your Stuart Dallas, your Pablo – they are just a few off the top of my head.
“They are great characters to have around the place and characters that any of the lads, even the young boys, can go to and speak to and have a word with.
“I just want to be a focal point for young players coming through, if they need a chat or they need a bit of advice, we are always there, the door is always open just to create a good environment for people to learn and people to improve.”
For Cooper, by his own admission, captaining any side in the Premier League, let alone the team he supports, looked a long way off after the defender departed Hull for League-Two side Chesterfield in November 2012.
Cooper admitted: “When you are in League Two and you have to drop down the leagues, those dreams are so far away, the Premier League is so far away.
“I wasn’t wanted at Hull. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when someone doesn’t want you but you can let it get you down or you can go and prove people wrong, and I’d like to think I have done that over the years.”
Throughout it all, one man in particular has helped Cooper through. And the Whites captain said: “My hero has been my old man, all through my life.
“He was the first person I kicked a ball with and he still comes to watch all the time now – obviously pre-Covid.
“But he has always been my hero, he always will be and he has always pushed me, no matter what.
“We have had some rows in cars back in the amateur days and he always wanted me to be the best version of myself, and I have managed to do that up to now but a lot of credit has to go to my old boy.”
And so too to Whites head coach Bielsa – and for more than just developing United’s skipper as a player.
“He’s taken my game to a completely different level, not just as a football player but as a human being as well,” said Cooper.
“I can only thank him for that. I’d like to think he knows how much me and the rest of the team appreciate what he does for us and long may that relationship continue because he has changed everything about this club and how it is.
“We are an elite club now and we are starting to create an elite mentality and that’s the way it has got to be.”
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Thank you Laura Collins