Why Steve Cooper's appointment could be perfect timing for Swansea

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 14 June 2019, 14:58

After Graham Potter left for Brighton, Swansea City have appointed Steve Cooper to be the club’s new head coach.

The exit of a manager so well liked by supporters, followed by him being replaced by somebody who has only worked in youth football is, on the face of things, not ideal.

Some could be forgiven for wondering whether this is another step back for Swansea, who have declined in recent years due to a perceived off-field divide.

However, we reckon the timing might just work in their favour. Here’s why

Potter’s coaching

Firstly, it is important to recognize the magical work that Potter did last season.

Throughout his time in charge, the club sold, released or loaned out 15 senior players with Premier League nous.

Many of them replaced by young players such as deep-lying playmaker Matt Grimes, part of a relegated League One side with Northampton in 2017-18 who became the team’s Player of the Year.

Wide forward Daniel James, meanwhile, went from being an unwanted Shrewsbury loanee to the subject of a £15M swoop from Manchester United thanks to Potter.

Joe Rodon had only started seven out of a possible 16 games while on loan at Cheltenham in League Two, then excelled under Potter the following season.

In some ways, younger players suit Potter: they have more energy, they are more likely to have been schooled within a playing style that suits his and are more receptive to new ideas.

Potter built one of the most spatially aware teams in the Championship; the combinations of passing and movement were at times delightful to watch.

Last season’s performances

Swansea averaged 1.50 Expected Goals For (xGF) in 2018-19 and 1.21 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio of 55.38% xGR, the sixth best in the Championship.

They averaged 1.41 goals per game and 1.35 against, finishing tenth; in other words, performances were better than results.

This shows that the aspects of Swansea’s game that Potter had some control over – co-ordination of passing and movement to create a high-volume of chances and deny them for the opposition – was excellent.

They were, at times, let down by a lack of proven quality in key areas, but it is easier to solve that problem than it is to fix a more systematic issue within performances.

Potter and his coaching team’s work has given Swansea a base; one or two tweaks to improve the team’s end product could have a transformative effect.

To do that, though, they will need to improve the recruitment.

Improving the structure

It seems churlish to question anything Potter did last season, such was the brilliance of his coaching ability.

The indications are that the former Birmingham full-back wanted to work with a smaller backroom team and get a clear feel for the players the club recruits – understandable in many ways.

As the modern game evolves, however, clubs are getting an advantage by having a coaching team and a recruitment team who communicate with one another whilst sharing contacts and ideas, but fundamentally work to separate briefs.

That setup allows those clubs to assess a wider pool of potential signings, thus increasing their chances of identifying the best players they can realistically attract and find value in the market.

While Potter was in charge, the club did not recruit particularly well.

Of the six newbies who featured last term, attacking midfielder Bersant Celina and centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers were arguably the only two players who positively improved the side.

Yan Dhanda scored moments after coming off the bench at Sheffield United on the opening day but managed just 39 minutes after September.

Barrie McKay only showed talent in rare flashes, full-back Declan John featured only 10 times in the league while forward Joel Asoro has struggled with injury but hardly thrilled when fit.

Although this is partly down to the level of investment, Norwich showed that clubs can find young players at good value who can make an instant impact – if the recruitment setup is strong.

The fact Potter was named ‘manager’ and Cooper has been named ‘head coach’ is a subtle clue as to the club’s change of direction to improve that aspect of their work.

Cooper’s co-operation

Cooper’s background is as a youth coach: he had inspired England Under-17s to World Cup success in 2017 and is regarded as one of the brightest coaches in the game.

Naturally, working with a slightly older profile of player will bring different challenges, but there is evidence to suggest that a lot of the skills are transferrable.

We are seeing evidence that players in the modern era do not respond particularly well to old-school managers who are overly strict or aggressive.

Somebody who has worked successfully with teenagers is likely to be able to connect with other people on a human level and have a clear grasp of what makes young players tick, which could be an advantage for Swansea.

Plus, Cooper will have knowledge of the best, undiscovered talents that he can share with football advisor Leon Britton, chairman Trevor Burch and the new head of recruitment, as well as contacts to help the club do loan deals.

If he is successful, that could encourage more Championship clubs to gamble on successful youth coaches for senior head coach roles.

Cooper is a risk for Swansea – but he is also a potential trend-setter.

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