Why Mark Cooper is the perfect Swindon boss

Pliable, pragmatic and powerless, Cooper is an ideal head coach for Town’s current structure, says Alex Cooke.

Mark Cooper is the perfect manager for Swindon Town precisely because he has no reputation, no great history and no obvious footballing philosophy. He is a journey-man manager with coaching experience thrust into one of his biggest ever jobs but no cache to call on, and seemingly little ego.

And it seems to be at this moment that is what the hierarchy at Swindon Town want: a technocrat coach not an autocrat manager. They’ve sought a man who won’t challenge, demand expensive changes to the squad or reshape the playing style anew in his image. To evoke the old ghost – they still want the anti Paolo.

Cooper’s middling management career has seen him lead Tamworth, Peterborough, Telford and Kettering, twice. Success has been moderate – including a title with Kettering and a FA Trophy win at tumultuous Darlington – but they were usually tempered by his termination once results turned. As a list of former clubs it may seem less than inspiring but so were the actual post themselves with serious financial problems in at least three of the clubs making his job extremely difficult from the outset. Which partly explains how Cooper has largely remained a middle ground figure, rarely brought into the sharper focus that great success brings nor acid-etched by vitriol.

Mark Cooper is the Boss

But he has shown himself a man who bends with the prevailing wind. Here is a man who Peterborough fans remember as an advocate of long-ball football and long throw-ins; that Tamworth supporters found defensive and negative; and yet, at Swindon, Cooper is leading a side attempting to play a delicate passing game, although at the request of his employers.

Yet Cooper seems to be no idealist, no passing purist – if he is, he doesn’t seem to have shared this heartfelt yearning with any of the local journalists from the North East to the midlands. Even now his defence in defeat seems based less in Total Football’s principles and more in de facto pragmatism. “There’s certainly no right way and no wrong way to play football,” he told the Adver this week. “There are no rules to say how you can and can’t play.”

But to impose such a bold style and an elegant system on a team demands stronger direction than mere pragmatism. It needs a template, a master plan, and a director, directing football. Obviously that could be board member Lee Power or it could be former coach Kevin MacDonald, who oversaw much of the team’s evolution from Paolo Di Canio’s expensive side to the current svelte model. After all Cooper has admitted that he has largely built on much of the work which MacDonald began.

In a way who wields the real power is irrelevant. What matter is how it is used. So long as there is clarity (and accountability) about who picks the team, signs the players or makes the substitutions, it makes no difference who do so – as long as it is done, and done well.

His appointment also fits a wider regional trend. Clubs are undoubtedly moving away from the cult of the manager to a more collectivist approach – even including in England where the old managerial role is increasingly split into multiple posts, such as at Exeter, Crawley, Manchester City and Tottenham.

And yet, this relative lack of reputation, history and footballing philosophy which provides gives Cooper his strength is also his great weakness. Football is full of technocrat coaches with plenty of experience but little ego or powerbase: his old boss was one – and his replacement could well be another relative unknown who is equally pliable, pragmatic and powerless.

6 comments

  • After meeting Mark Cooper at the sponsor’s evening earlier this year he was very appreciative of MacDonald’s decision to take him on as his no.2, particularly as his career was becoming a little stagnant. He had no intentions then on anything other than getting back into League football and to learn from a successful coach who had shown faith in him. A few months later and he couldn’t have wished for a greater turnaround of fortunes.

    I’ll welcome Mark, as I will any Swindon manager, however after Jed McCrory & Co. had been on the search for several weeks only to turn to the man holding the fort, knowing who we missed out on and why would be the key question. Paul Tisdale would’ve required compensation to prize him away from Exeter and I’m certain the Town hierarchy prefer to put their investments into playing staff. So for me the potential suitor was always from an unattached perspective..i.e. Glenn Hoddle or Stuart Pearce. I doubt Glenn would’ve been awarded the freedom to install his footballing vision, while Pearce’s financial expectations – both remuneration and player funds – I suspect beyond the budget.

    Cooper will have a very tough task in winning over Town fans, that despite a significant percentage wanting him as boss in an Adver poll just over a week ago. For a manager with a two year contract, he doesn’t have two years, or even six months to impress. As with any new manager it’s necessary for an urgent consolidation of form to buy time, to experiment and push Town into a strong position. We all greatly lowered our expectations for this season well before Cooper’s appointment and that now shouldn’t change.

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    • Very sensible, Ron. Do you think that Cooper will get that time to develop his method of play or do you think that the crowd won’t have the patience to see this passing style develop and instead demand a quicker return to direct football – which is widely believed to be more ‘effective’?

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      • “FORWARD…FORWARD!!” As they demand in the Arkells Stand; i.e. they want to see it go straight out to the wings and cross it into the forwards.

        Truth is he won’t be given time. Although, lets not forget he reign started the day KMac departed so he hasn’t been thrown into the mix.

        Results against Gillingham and Crewe will be key to settle the doubters. Four points from those games is a must, particularly has we’ve not been dealt a favourable run of fixtures in September.

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  • The way that the current board are wanting to run the club, Mark Cooper seems like a good solution. I like the structure of a director of sport/football to be responsible for the transfers of a club and a manager who is responsible for getting the best out of the available squad. It is a very normal way to run a club all over Europe. I guess the former manager didn’t like this solution and this is the main reason that he left. Not all managers accepts that they cannot buy and sell(give away) plyers as they want.

    As written in the brilliant book “Soccernomics”, a manager seldom stays at a club for more than two seasons and during that time, he tries to get the players he wants and offloads lots of players left by the former manager. The club normally doesn’t make any money from these transfers (to put i mildly). Di Canio’s shopping sprees, verify this theory. A manager’s concern is often his career and not a long term strategy for the club. Looking at Swindon’s history, only two managers have stayed for more than two seasons since 2000; Andy Kind (second period) and Danny Wilson.

    Accoring to http://www.swindon-town-fc.co.uk/ these are the number of transfers since 2000 (excluding loans and players from junior squad):
    00-01: in: 16, out: 15
    01-02; in: 4, out: 9
    02-03: in: 5, out: 13
    03-04: in: 14, out: 12
    04-05: in: 3, out: 13
    05-06: in: 14, out: 14
    06-07: in: 14, out: 16
    07-08: in: 14, out: 13
    08-09: in: 7, out: 14
    09-10: in: 6, out: 12
    10-11: in: 13, out: 15
    11-12: in: 23, out: 15
    12-13: in: 5, out: 15
    13-14: in: 7, out: 1

    This is a huge turnover almost every season even if some of the players out have come through the ranks of the youth system and are (almost) free.
    What stands out are the years 01-05 when Andy King was manager and 08-10 when Danny Wilson was manager going into their second or third year as managers for the same club. The 12-13 season didn’t have too many signings, but as we remember, there was a transfer embargo during the January transfer window.
    Lots of these players signed on free transfer, but we have learned during the last two seaons that the player’s agents get payed and there are very often sign-on-fee for the player himself, which means they are not really for free.

    A sporting director and a manager who accept this way of running can generate a more stable club. I’m not saying it will be a calm season for Swindon (it normally isn’t), but the foundation for it is there. And hopefylly the club will not risk going bankrupt due to excessive shopping.

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  • Pingback: The Sacking of Mark Cooper: Lee Power’s Perfect Fall Guy | The Washbag

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