The list of people responsible for guiding Leeds United back to the Premier League after 16 long years away is a lengthy one. But undoubtedly, captain Liam Cooper’s name deserves to be high up on that list.
Cooper has long been a prominent figure at the club, earning the captaincy shortly after arriving at Elland Road. And after several years of service, his fine play was instrumental in leading Leeds back to the top flight of English football.
SBOTOP takes a closer look at Cooper’s fascinating career to date, from his early days at Hull all the way to being the captain of a Premier League side.
Coming up from Hull
Cooper began his professional career with his hometown club, Hull City. He came up through the ranks and eventually made it up to the first team just before his 17th birthday in 2008. He’d then make two Premier League appearances for the Tigers, who unfortunately went down to the Championship that year.
But despite showing some considerable potential, Cooper had a tough time getting consistent playing time for the Tigers. Over the next two years, he’d appear just nine times in total for Hull in the Championship. Loan moves to Huddersfield and Carlisle also didn’t yield many opportunities to get on the field.
In his search for more playing time, Cooper finally decided to depart his hometown team to join League Two side Chesterfield in 2012.
Cooper ended up having quite a successful spell with the Spireites, where he would up playing 80 times over two seasons. He had a breakout year in 2013-14 as he appeared in 41 league matches to help Chesterfield win the Championship and gain promotion to League One. He was also named in the PFA Team of the Year that season.
Leeds’ new leader
Cooper’s fine campaign earned him a big move up to the Championship with Leeds United, who signed him for an undisclosed fee in 2014.
It took Cooper just a matter of months to establish himself as one of the key players in the Leeds side. Then-manager Neil Redfearn described Cooper as a “natural leader,” and named him the club’s new permanent captain after the sale of Stephen Warnock in January.
Cooper would lose the captain’s armband to Sol Bamba the following season, but he was still appointed as the vice-captain and led the side out during Bamba’s injury absence. He would eventually regain the armband in the 2017-18 season.
Cooper held on the captaincy even with the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa to the club in the 2018-19 season, which wasn’t an especially popular choice. His form over the past two seasons had declined and there were doubts as to whether he was fit to wear the armband.
But Cooper soon dispelled those doubts with his fine form under Bielsa. He wasn’t the smooth and sophisticated ball-playing centre-back which Bielsa has been known to prefer. But he nevertheless became instrumental in Bielsa’s Leeds side thanks to his fine defensive instincts as well as his leadership abilities.
With Cooper commanding the Leeds defence and cleaning up at the back, the Whites enjoyed a terrific debut season under Bielsa. Cooper, in particular, had a tremendous season and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year in the Championship.
While Leeds missed out on promotion, Cooper and co. came back stronger the very next year. He and Ben White formed a tremendous central defensive partnership, while defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips had another excellent season.
Thanks in large part to that defensive trio, Leeds let in just 35 goals, the fewest in the Championship. On the strength of their outstanding defensive record, Cooper went on to lift the Championship trophy as he captained the club to their much-awaited return to the Premier League.
Unfortunately, injuries have hampered Cooper’s first season back in the top flight since his Hull days and has only made a few appearances as of this time of writing. His inability to stay on the pitch has prevented him from forming a more cohesive partnership with new centre-back Robin Koch at the heart of that Leeds defence.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Cooper’s absence has factored into Leeds’ early struggles at the back; they’ve already conceded 17 goals from their first 10 games, which is among the worst defensive records in the league. Clearly, that must change for Leeds’ Premier League 2020 results to improve.
Having Cooper in the side on a more consistent basis should be a significant help in that regard. While the Leeds skipper isn’t the calibre of star player who figures to make or break the side’s Premier League 2020 betting odds, his importance is still undeniable.
Cooper has proven this over years of loyal service to the club, and he looks like the right man to lead Leeds in their quest to re-establish themselves as a perennial Premier League side.
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