It’s fair to say that Leeds captain Liam Cooper has been subject to criticism from a small minority of supporters over the past year which has sparked constant debate over his place in the first team. Up until now that is.
Cooper would’ve expected to be starting every game when he signed for the Whites in the summer of 2014, after a pre-season game against Chesterfield saw the Scotsman put in an impressive display against Leeds.
This resulted in a move to Elland Road which has already seen him play under seven coaches in the three years he’s been with the club.
The coaches who were around long enough to be judged upon certainly favoured Cooper as one of their first-choice centre-back’s; Neil Redfearn, mainly a caretaker manager in the season that Cooper was signed in, fielded the 26-year-old almost every game, as did Steve Evans in the second half of the 2015/16 season.
However, Garry Monk’s reign last season saw the defender go from making 41 appearances, to making just 18 under the former Swansea boss.
Monk’s astute defensive additions made sure of that, with Kyle Bartley and the much-adored Pontus Jansson forming a solid defensive partnership in the heart of defence.
Injuries and cup competitions presented Cooper with opportunities, but sadly some of these opportunities saw him receive unnecessary and unfair criticism from fans.
An embarrassing cup defeat to Non-league Sutton United saw Cooper receive a red card and face the aftermath of negative reactions that followed.
There was always going to pressure filling in for Bartley or Jansson last season, as both made big impressions and put in solid performances for the Whites which left Cooper with big shoes to fill.
This is possibly the reason why the new captain was criticised by fans, with a lot of them forgetting that the former Hull City trainee is a solid, dependable and consistent performer.
It would’ve been difficult mentally going from being a regular starter the season before, to a rotational player the season after.
So, it must have been a relief for Cooper when Garry Monk handed in his resignation, making way for Thomas Christiansen to become the eighth coach to mentor the centre-half during his time at Elland Road.
It would’ve been just as reassuring when Swansea City revealed that Kyle Bartley wouldn’t be returning to Leeds, leaving Cooper as one of the only recognisable players in his position before reinforcements were drafted in during the early stages of the summer.
If there was any doubt surrounding Cooper’s defensive capabilities, he has certainly put them to bed quite emphatically during the opening games of the season, and it looks like United’s newest Head Coach has given him a new lease of life and responsibility since being appointed.
Like Kyle Bartley last season, Cooper has gelled well with Pontus Jansson and this relatively new collaboration has seen the Whites concede no goals during their opening three Championship matches together.
Before the season opener at Bolton, Christiansen revealed that the players had decided who they wanted as their captain and having been given the vote of confidence, Cooper now looks like an indispensable part of the team.
His experience as a Leeds player, having made 95 appearances for the club, will prove an invaluable asset going forward as Cooper understands the expectation and level of performance expected of the Whites, and will know how to address and organise his teammates in the important games to come.