COOPER DANCES TO SAMBA BEAT
Swindon boss puts on style
AFTER Massimo Luongo rounded off a 19-pass move to score Swindon’s winner against Stevenage recently, the ‘oles’ rang around the County Ground and the local paper’s match report welcomed readers to the ‘Cooper-cabana!’
It’s fair to say it is not the style of headline Mark Cooper has been able to look forward to since starting his managerial career nine years ago.
“The Peterborough and Kettering fans would have loved seeing that – it’s a kick in the teeth for all the people who hoof-balled me off,” laughs the 44-year-old, who was this week handed the County Ground job on a twoyear contract.
As someone who watched his sides regularly, I should emphasise that those opinions weren’t always fair.
Cooper himself says that “you’ve got to develop a style with the players you’ve got”, and the part-timers at an unfashionable Conference club like Tamworth had success getting the ball into the final third before finesse entered the fray.
Cooper had Kettering top of the Premier when Posh, then in the Championship, came calling in November 2010.
But after 88 days of interference from the London Road hierarchy, he had to return to Non-League and now-defunct Darlington to enhance a reputation for results, if not refinement, with a 2011 FA Trophy final win at Wembley.
Sacked that October and unemployed for over 15 months, Cooper waited until last January to return at AFC Telford, before new Swindon boss Kevin MacDonald invited him to be his assistant on March 1.
“Kevin took me in and I got left holding the fort as caretaker when he went and now I’ve got a crack at it,” said Cooper.
“It’s amazing how it happens. I had some low times waiting for the phone to ring, but you’ve just got to keep believing and something will turn up.”
MacDonald’s shock resignation on July 12 left Cooper primed to be the man charged by chairman Jed McCrory with continuing to reduce Paolo Di Canio’s whopping wage bill, while remodelling the oftendirect playing style.
“It’s a totally different way of doing it, because under the previous regime it was about buying the best players and taking the gamble out of it because if it didn’t work, they’d just get rid of them,” says Cooper.
“We’ve developed a style of play with younger players, like the lads on loan from Tottenham – Ryan Mason, Alex Pritchard, Grant Hall and Luongo – as well as Jack Barthram and Nathan Byrne, who we took from Spurs after they were released this summer.
“Then there’s Yaser Kasim, who couldn’t get a game in the Conference at Luton last year on loan from Brighton, but he’s another ex-Tottenham scholar who can only play in a certain way. They are all technically very good footballers who are not massive, so we’ve had to develop something to get the best out of them. If we start whacking it into corners, it’s going to be a waste for them.”
Director of football operations Lee Power – whose friendship with White Hart Lane technical co-ordinator Tim Sherwood is behind the Spurs influx – has emphasised that the Robins’ transfer policy will be one in, one out as the wage bill continues to be trimmed to around £3m.
Cooper says:“The budget has been cut right down but it’s worked out for me, because if it was still lots of money, I wouldn’t have got the job.
“I believe I’m a better manager for the experience I had at Peterborough, and I’m really looking forward to this.
“We’ve played some good football, like at Peterborough on the opening day when we lost 1-0. You’ve got to score goals though, and that’s where we are struggling a bit at the minute.”
The arrival of former Newcastle United bad-boy Nile Ranger could help with that, ahead of Tuesday’s trip to QPR in the Carling Cup.
“It’s probably last-chance saloon for him,” said Cooper, “but I’ve found a nice lad and a good player who, once we get him fit, will be an asset.”
NEW LOOK: Mark Cooper is unzipping the Swindon talent