Super duper

Liam Cooper called it on

Written by: Rob Conlon
Artwork by: Eamonn Dalton
Two images of Liam Cooper bossing Raul Jimenez about

A Wolves player was already lying on the floor wasting time as Raul Jimenez was waiting to receive a short corner. He was ready to waste even more time to preserve a 1-0 lead. It was not long after the crowd at Elland Road were turning up the volume with a chorus of ‘If you hate Leeds United have a go.’

Liam Cooper wanted to make sure Jimenez got the message. Marching over to the North-East corner, he was yelling at Wolves’ striker, who responded with a, ‘Who, me?’ gesture before beckoning Cooper towards him. Dan James was standing beside Cooper, like a kid watching the grown ups arguing in a pub car park.

Two images of Liam Cooper bossing Raul Jimenez about
Artwork by Eamonn Dalton

When play restarted, Jimenez tried to look cool, flicking the ball over Cooper’s head, only for Leeds to intercept and counter. Now Jimenez was worried, sprinting back towards his own goal, but another Leeds attack came to a frustrating end.

Like a boxer wanting to stand and trade punches with their foe, Leeds were desperate for Wolves to have a go and make the game a contest. Instead the visitors hid behind the protection of Hwang Hee-chan’s flukey opener, spending the rest of the afternoon pretending to be hurt rather than trying to hurt Leeds.

Wolves’ cowardice aside, Cooper was one of the main reasons they were unable to land more punches. They kept giving the ball to their most destructive player, Adama Traore, to run at what was supposed to be a frightened defence. He was met three times by Cooper, matching grit with grace, power-sliding and winning the ball and starting another Leeds attack. On a fourth occasion, Cooper chased Traore all the way back into Wolves’ half, where it was safe to foul him.

Traore’s 75th minute withdrawal coincided with the crowd raising the intensity of the atmosphere, and with it the performances of the Leeds players. Cooper changed his target to Jimenez, who earlier got the better of him in the build up to Wolves’ goal: a gentle nudge allowed the ball to run to Nelson Semedo and past Jack Harrison. Cooper has spoken in the past about how Leeds’ style of play under previous managers forced him to defend too much; he prefers getting the ball at his feet and having fun. As Leeds went full murderball in their pursuit of an equaliser, he had to do both, forming a two man backline with Diego Llorente, winning the ball back whenever Wolves dared to touch it and setting Leeds’ attacking players in motion.

From the Kop, it was impossible not to feel emboldened by Leeds United’s captain’s refusal to give up. Cooper has plenty of detractors, and they’re never far from dismissing him as not good enough, ignoring that whenever Leeds have needed him to improve, he has pushed the outer limits of his talents and proven himself a worthy leader in the end. It’s a task he doesn’t get enough credit for. Wearing the armband at Leeds comes with huge pressure, but he conducts himself as an ambassador for the club with pride and humility. He’s not the perfect defender, but he’s not the clown currently captaining Scum either.

Cooper is not the only leader at Leeds, but the rest are mostly injured, and the others, Stuart Dallas and Mateusz Klich, were busy shouting at each other after putting a Leeds throw-in straight back into touch. In the absence of Kalvin Phillips, Luke Ayling and Patrick Bamford, Leeds’ underdogs stepped up to take responsibility. Not everything Rodrigo and Tyler Roberts tried came off, but they kept trying when so often in the past they have been accused of shrinking. Teenagers Joe Gelhardt and Crysencio Summerville combined to maintain the fearlessness Leeds were meant to have lost when Raphinha went off injured.

Afterwards, Marcelo Bielsa praised Cooper’s “very significant” first half, but he was just as influential in the second. When Rodrigo scored from the penalty spot, Cooper arrived late to the celebrations, uppercutting the air in front of the South Stand. He’d dream of that connecting with Jimenez’s chin, and it showed Leeds’ players heard the message from the fans loud and clear. ⬢

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