Spygate revealed the “anxiety” which drives Marcelo Bielsa to turn over every stone he can find but the choice of Leeds United’s captain was something he left to sort itself out.
The role mattered to Bielsa but only if armband was awarded through a collective decision by his squad and it was quickly established that Liam Cooper - Leeds’ skipper during the 2017-18 season - would retain it last summer. Bielsa called him a “great captain” but said the opinion which mattered more than his was “the point of view of the players."
Cooper has carried a lot of baggage during Bielsa’s tenure, managing the dressing room but also nurturing the club’s relationship with Toby Nye, the young Leeds supporter who died last month. The club raised £200,000 to fund treatment for neuroblastoma and Cooper spoke at the six-year-old’s funeral.
Pontus Jansson, Cooper’s partner in crime at centre-back, described the 27-year-old’s development as both a footballer and a captain as “amazing”.
The pair have been together in the centre of defence for most of the season after Gaetano Berardi - first-choice under Bielsa at the outset - was lost to injury and they are carrying the pressure of a system which demands quick, bold passing from players in their position.
Bielsa admitted recently that United were indebted to their defence for their high standing in the Championship. Concessions at Leeds have risen to around two a game since Christmas but over the first 22 matches the club conceded just 18 times. Cooper in particular has been a focal point, producing the most passes per game in Bielsa’s squad and maintaining a completion rate of 81 per cent. Jansson beside him is up at almost 86 per cent.
Asked how much he thought Cooper had improved, Jansson said: “Amazingly. He’s grown a lot as a captain of this team and as a captain for this club but especially he’s grown as a player.
“He would say the same as me: he feels strong, he feels fit, he’s maybe had one or two injuries but he’s played in almost all of the games during the season. That makes it easy to play football.
“The way we work in training sessions, we know exactly how to play the games when we come to them. We know how the opponent will play and how we’ll play to beat them.”
Cooper missed a month of the term after undergoing knee surgery in December. He pulled up in a 1-0 win at Sheffield United but Rob Price, Leeds’ head of medicine and performance, said Cooper had been the victim of a collision with Stuart Dallas during a victory over Reading earlier that week.
“Everyone thinks Sheffield United is where he broke down but it actually started the game before,” Price said. “Stuart Dallas fell on his knee in a challenge in the box. We nursed him through but it then became obvious at Sheffield United that he couldn’t go on.”