Onwards and Forward
You could have forgiven Swansea City fans for wallowing in their sorrow after Graham Potter’s departure to Brighton & Hove Albion was announced. After several years of chopping and changing managers resulted in their relegation from the Premier League in 2018, it seemed as though Potter was the steady, forward-thinking boss Swansea needed to rebuild. While some supporters may have been fearing the worst after his departure, Steve Cooper has taken on the mantle with considerable aplomb, with Swansea sitting pretty in the automatic promotion positions at the time of writing. Cooper was something of an unknown quantity when he came in, having coached exclusively at youth level throughout his career up until that point.
If appointing Graham Potter had been a risk the previous summer, hiring Cooper was even more of a gamble, though his record at youth level is a fine one. He was Liverpool’s academy manager between 2008 and 2013, overseeing the development of players such as Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn. That was followed by a spell in the England youth setup, where Cooper coached the England U16 and U17 sides, guiding the young Three Lions to the semi- finals of the 2018 European U17 Championship.
Those achievements were enough to convince the Swansea hierarchy that he was worth the risk, and that decision has paid dividends thus far. Cooper fits the modern Swansea tradition in many ways, a coach who values attractive football without sacrificing organisation and stability. He is very much in the same mould as Graham Potter, a young British coach who has built his career on hard work and dedication. These are the kinds of figures football supporters wish to see at their clubs. Losing Potter after just a year in charge at the South Wales outfit might have been a bitter pill to swallow, but Cooper has been able to slot in seamlessly and continue the good work Potter started, while instigating many improvements of his own. He is a coach of principles, and values his philosophy and good practices above mere results on the pitch. It’s a brave approach in the results-driven world that is modern football, but if a coach can implement his ideas effectively, as Cooper has at Swansea already, that ultimately leads to greater progress for the club as a whole.
Winning at Leeds the highlight so far
A win away to Leeds United has been the highlight of Cooper’s reign so far, and is proof that Swansea have the ability to challenge the promotion favourites. While the latest Championship odds now place the Swans as one of the tips to go up, there is an awfully long way to go in the marathon that is the Championship season. But with striker Borja Bastón finally seeming to have found his feet in English football after being sent out on loan in the last two seasons, perhaps the Liberty Stadium faithful have some cause for optimism. With Bastón supported by the likes of Andre Ayew and a revitalised Wayne Routledge, Swansea have an experienced attack that will cause many Championship defences problems. A good start in the Championship does not always signify that promotion is on the cards. So often it is the teams who flourish in the latter half of the season that make the grade for automatic promotion or a spot in the play-offs. To maintain a consistently high level of performance over a taxing 46-match campaign takes some doing, and that is the challenge facing Cooper and Swansea in the weeks and months ahead. That is where Cooper’s credentials as a club manager will really be tested. While a good start leaves everyone smiling for now, there will inevitably come a period where Swansea begin to struggle, where results don’t quite go their way.
We will learn a lot about this Swansea side when that happens, but if Cooper can instil the kind of mentality needed to overcome such difficulties, then who’s to say the team can’t make that bid for promotion back to the Premier League. Swansea’s latter couple of years in the Premier League represented dark days on the South Wales coast, with managers coming in and going out like the Swansea Bay tides. But with Cooper now in charge, building upon the foundation laid by Potter last season, there is a chance that sunnier times lie ahead. The Championship is a tough school, and Cooper may find that out before very long, but for now Swansea supporters can content themselves with the fact they have a squad and a manager pulling in the same direction, towards re-establishing the club at the highest level.