Why Steve Cooper is a good appointment for Leicester City

The appointment of the former Forest manager as Leicester’s choice to replace Enzo Maresca has been met, at best, with a lukewarm response from Foxes fans. Here, we put the case for Steve Cooper.


Steve Cooper: The best man for the job
Steve Cooper: The best man for the job / James Baylis - AMA/GettyImages

‘An uninspired choice’ was Gary Lineker’s response to the appointment of Claudio Ranieri in 2015. A similar reaction to Steve Cooper's arrival as Maresca’s successor has been apparent since the decision was announced on Thursday morning. Fans have been underwhelmed, if not outright hostile, to the decision. Even my FoL colleague has described it a ‘catastrophically poor decision’. We had been tantalisingly offered the prospect of Graham Potter’s arrival earlier in the week and, in contrast, the much lower profile Welshman seemed a second-best option. There is a popular narrative that Potter rejected Leicester rather than the other way round and this judgment, only partly true as FoL reported, added to the feeling that the board had failed abysmally yet again. 

Despite all the negatives, however, there is, in fact, a strong case for Cooper’s appointment.

In the first place, although he clearly doesn’t have film-star looks or bags of enticing charisma, Cooper is very well-qualified and has been extremely successful in his coaching career to date. Leicester’s hierarchy are, of course, well-aware of this. He secured a UEFA Pro Licence at the age of 27 whilst coaching at Wrexham, one of the youngest ever to achieve that qualification, before moving to Liverpool to become head of the Anfield academy in 2008. From there, he became part of the England set-up coaching the under 17 team to World Cup glory in 2017, his team – containing current England starters Phil Foden and Marc Guehi – beating Spain 5-2 in the final. 

This success persuaded Swansea City to offer Cooper the job of head coach in 2019. He took the Swans from the bottom of the Championship table to two play-offs losing both to Brentford, one in the semi-final and the other at Wembley in the final. He repeated the trick in his next post, this time going one step further by taking Forest to the Premier League for the first time in 23 years after beating Huddersfield in the play-off final. Against all the odds (in particular having to deal with a tyrannical owner intent on erratically flooding the squad with players not asked for or wanted by the manager) he succeeded in keeping them there before leaving in December of the following season with the Forest owner treating him appallingly. A ringing endorsement of Cooper is the fact that his players have always liked and respected him as did the fans of teams he managed. His man-management skills are, it is said, second to none.

An additional factor is that Cooper actually does seem to want the Leicester job, and isn’t going to jump ship at the first available opportunity. This might seem like a poor reason for promoting the appointment but Foxes fans as old as me will remember the numerous managers in the past who have upped sticks, sometimes not even at the end of a season, to further their careers elsewhere leaving the club in a mess. Frank O’Farrell to Manchester United, Brian Little to Villa, Mark McGhee to Wolves and Martin O’Neil to Celtic did just that as, of course, did Maresca. Contrast Cooper with Potter here, the latter giving the impression – rightly or wrongly - that Leicester would never be his preferred choice.

Unlike the other main candidates for the job, Cooper also has experience of both a relegation struggle and getting out of the Championship. One would expect him to stick around if, as many predict, the Foxes do get relegated next season and, unlike Potter and Carlos Corberan, Cooper has got a club up before.

There is also the issue of flexibility. What last season showed was that Maresca had no intention of changing his approach, even, as happened on a number of occasions, his team was struggling. The experience of Burnley last season shows the pitfalls of a manager who refuses to change course despite evidence that his players are unable to compete effectively sticking to a style of play dependent on possession and passing from the back. Cooper is, by contrast, prepared to be more flexible when needs must. At Forest, his promotion-winning team played a high press game with three centre backs and marauding wing backs (remember the FA Cup thrashing of Rodgers’ men?). When this didn’t seem to work in the top-flight, his team became much more defensive depriving opponents space and counter-attacking with pace. The result was that Forest survived. Burnley didn’t.

Some have pointed to the Forest link as a reason for questioning Cooper’s appointment. In answer to that I will just mention two names: Martin O’Neil and Wes Morgan. As is well documented, the former had a sticky start to his Leicester career, the fans turning on him after a difficult start. This, however, was quickly forgotten when the Irishman established the club in the Premier League and won two league cup finals.

And even if none of the above convinces you, remember the position Leicester are in. At the best of times it is difficult for newly promoted clubs to compete in the Premier League and the Foxes also have serious financial constraints to deal with that will prevent much in-coming transfer activity. In these circumstances, being able to attract a well-qualified coach with a strong background in football and successful experience in the Premier League and the Championship is no mean feat. Only time will tell if I am right, of course.