Steve Cooper: making of a World Cup winner with Liverpool in his sights | Nottingham Forest

When England were pitted against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup, it was time for Steve Cooper to show Gareth Southgate his homework. Cooper, who had led England to the under-17 equivalent of the competition the previous year, was tasked by the Football Association with studying the South American side throughout the tournament and flew to Russia to present his findings to Southgate, the staff and the technical director, Dan Ashworth, in the buildup to the last-16 match in Moscow.

“Dan always used to challenge the coaches: ‘If you were the England manager, how would you set up? What would you do? ‘”Says the England goalkeeping coach, Martyn Margetson, who later worked with Cooper at Swansea. “The tactical detail was incredible. He gave us a full insight into what Colombia were, really. You were looking at Steve and thinking: ‘Yeah, you know your stuff.’ It is a daunting task but Coops did an amazing job. ” England ended up winning on penalties.

Now Cooper’s focus is on Nottingham Forest and facing Liverpool, where he spent five years coaching in the academy, in Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final. His work di lui with England’s under-17s, including with Phil Foden, Conor Gallagher and Jadon Sancho, enhanced an already blossoming reputation. Cooper arrived at the FA from Liverpool, where he became academy manager and coached Raheem Sterling and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Since taking charge at Forest in September, Djed Spence, 21, Brennan Johnson, 20, and James Garner, 21, have thrived.

“Over a long period, Steve will have worked with some of the best young players in the country,” says Ian Foster, the England Under-19s head coach who, with Mike Marsh, assisted Cooper at the Under-17 World Cup. ” In terms of his recruitment at Swansea, he had worked with [Marc] Guéhi, Gallagher, [Rhian] Brewster [with England]. The players know him, they trust him, they like his ideas di lui and they know what sort of coach and person he is. He knows how to handle young players. He’s got tons of experience. “

Steve Cooper (right) and an England squad including Emile Smith Rowe, Marc Guéhi and Phil Foden celebrate winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2017. Photograph: Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

For Cooper, it all started at Wrexham when his manager, Brian Flynn, encouraged the full-back to pursue coaching and he became the club’s head of youth development. In the early days he juggled taking the under-18s at Wrexham with playing part-time for Rhyl, Bangor and The New Saints. By the age of 27, he had his Uefa pro license, the highest coaching qualification available. Liverpool liked what they saw and appointed Cooper as a youth coach. Frank McParland, then the academy director, promoted Cooper from under-16s to under-18s coach. Cooper worked closely with the technical manager at Liverpool’s academy, Pep Segura, adopting the former Barcelona coach’s philosophy.

Cooper’s passion radiated to his players. “He is the most dedicated manager I’ve come across, in terms of his appetite, his eagerness, his energy, his buzz,” says Jordan Lussey, who Cooper named under-18s captain at Liverpool. “We got to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals [in 2013] and played Chelsea over two legs. I’d be out locally around Ormskirk on an evening and get a phone call off him saying: ‘What do you think about this? I’ve got this idea. ‘ Or: ‘Come into the office tomorrow, I need to show you something.’ You would sit down, the two of us at a computer, and he would show you what he wants from you in a game, what their weaknesses are and that is another reason he has had great success. Any situation that was put in our way, you knew your job. “

Steve Cooper during Liverpool's FA Youth Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield in 2013.
Steve Cooper during Liverpool’s FA Youth Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Anfield in 2013. Photograph: Paul Thomas / The FA / Getty Images

Cooper, born in Pontypridd, 12 miles north of Cardiff, is meticulous – on and off the grass. “There is not a stone that Steve leaves unturned,” says Margetson. “Even the smallest detail is important to him. He is across everything. The dressing room, how it is set up and how meeting rooms are set up, etcetera. One of the things he did around the training ground was make it feel more like Swansea City. He put images of the players all around the training ground and images of the supporters cheering on the team. He was proud to manage Swansea and he knew what it meant to the people. and he often referred to that in meetings and he did a lot of brilliant motivational [pre-match] videos for the players, showing them the history of the club. “

Ryan Yates (left) is embraced by teammates after putting Nottingham Forest ahead during Wednesday's win over QPR.
Ryan Yates (left) is embraced by teammates after putting Nottingham Forest ahead during Wednesday’s win over QPR. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

The 42-year-old, whose father, Keith, was a referee, is an unassuming character and although a deep thinker and level-headed, he can be firm when required. “If he needs to give you the hairdryer treatment, he will,” says Lussey, now with Curzon Ashton. “If he needs to give you praise, he will. That’s where he gets that mutual respect from top to bottom. He’s not your best mate where you can just mess about or not put in the work. He will pull you up properly and let you know what he thinks. “

Swansea’s hierarchy were wowed by Cooper during his interview and, after guiding the club to successive play-off finishes on a modest budget, unsurprisingly there was Premier League interest last summer and he held talks with Crystal Palace. Forest identified Cooper as their first-choice target after sacking Chris Hughton when bottom of the Championship. They have risen to eighth, Wednesday’s 3-1 home win over QPR continuing form that looks capable of securing a play-off place. Since his appointment of him six months ago they have lost only four times.

A Nottingham Forest fan with a Steve Cooper cutout.
A Nottingham Forest fan with a Steve Cooper cutout. Photograph: Nick Potts / PA

“He is very much a family man, but he lives and breathes football,” Margetson says. “If he’s not thinking about Forest, he’ll be watching games somewhere. You can’t just rock up and land in the Championship – you have to earn your stripes and study the game and there is no doubt that Coops has done. “

When Forest kick off against Liverpool at the City Ground, Foster will be watching on television at St George’s Park, cup of tea in hand. “I am immensely proud of him,” Foster says. “I think when you’ve not had a wonderful playing career it’s harder to establish yourself as a coach. He’s had to do it the hard way and he is reaping the rewards of that. He has been a shining light for coaches at the FA and beyond. He will play it down but I’m sure he’s itching to pit his wits against one of the best coaches in the game. “

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