Steve Cooper: Swansea City boss on his rebuilding project so far

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Steve Cooper: Head coach wants lasting Swansea City memories

Swansea City found themselves in a familiar situation in May: without a manager.

Relegated from the Premier League 12 months earlier and having endured a season of severe cost-cutting in the Championship, they were looking for their eighth permanent boss in five years when Graham Potter left to join Brighton.

The Swans turned to Steve Cooper, England's Under-17 World Cup-winning head coach.

Some might have considered it a gamble to hand Cooper his first job in senior football at a club in the midst of a major rebuilding process, a club which had lost its way as it lost its top-flight status.

But the Welshman did not consider himself a risky choice.

"Club football is more constant but, although I came from international football, I worked for 13 years in a club - Wrexham and Liverpool - before that, albeit with the academy groups," he tells BBC Sport Wales.

"I said from the start I knew what I was stepping into and I wouldn't until I felt I was absolutely ready.

"I knew the club was in a different place to where it was perceived to have been in the Premier League, with a change of ownership, a change of chairman, and a lot of the club has changed behind the scenes.

"There haven't been any massive surprises. Obviously you feel some of the experiences first-hand and you have to deal with that, whether that's the highs of winning or the lows of getting beaten.

"I'd like to think I've taken it in my stride and dealt with it as balanced as possible and I feel in a much better place for having six months at it."

The end of a year is an opportunity to reflect and, after Saturday's match at Luton, Swansea will have reached the halfway point of their season.

Cooper has packed a lot into his first six months, named the Championship's manager of the month for August as the Swans scaled the top of the table and then having to endure fans' occasional ire as the team tumbled down to the middle reaches of the division after a winless run of six games.

"I can't believe we're halfway through the season already," the 40-year-old says.

"It's been really enjoyable - there have been some good bits and there have been some moments where we could have done better, there's no doubt about that.

"We're 10th in the league, a few points off third or wherever, so I'm not going to sit here and say we're absolutely made up with the position we're sitting in because I can't say on one hand we want to be as competitive as we can and want to win games, and then say we're satisfied with where we are in the league, even though it is only a few points from what would look like a nice position at the halfway stage.

"I also think it's dangerous to look too far ahead. We know we can win every game we play and that's certainly the intention but we also know we've got young players, so many parts of the club we're rebuilding."

Steve Cooper
While playing in the Welsh Premier League, Steve Cooper was coaching at Wrexham in his 20s

Long and painful rebuild

Swansea's overhaul has been a long and often painful process.

Several first-team players have left since their relegation from the Premier League, while the club's owners remain unpopular among supporters.

Potter earned praise - and a job in the top flight - after guiding Swansea to 10th place in the Championship last season with a young side aiming to rekindle the club's once-famous attractive playing style, all with a tight budget.

The same constraints apply for Cooper.

"We don't have the finances, it's not a secret. We're not going to be like some of our counterparts in January, spending to improve," he says.

"We're not going to do that - we're going to be successful through our way. Our way of growing what we have, being unique in the way we want to play and behave in terms of our values on and off the pitch.

"And hopefully after time, that will stand us in good stead to get back to where we want to be.

"How long will it take? I don't know. But what I do know is that we're absolutely committed to getting back to that and we won't change from the plan in terms of style of play and how we prepare for games.

"We don't want anything to fall back on in terms of a Plan B or a safety net because if you have a Plan B it means you doubt what you're doing, and we don't. We've just got to make sure we're at our best with it."

Swansea are only one point adrift of the play-off places, and the congested nature of the Championship means that only seven points separate Fulham in third and Hull City in 14th.

Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper guided England to victory in the Under-17 World Cup in 2017.

It is a notoriously unpredictable division. No wonder, then, that Cooper is unwilling to reveal whether or not he has set his side a target of winning promotion or finishing in the top six.

"We're not going to put any objectives on the season in terms of league position," he says.

"But what I do know is that we really believe in what we're doing, really believe in it. With that, you can be really successful.

"What success looks like, whether it's play-offs, promotion or a certain league position, only time will tell."

Swansea have enjoyed some success already this season, most notably a late winner at Leeds and a derby victory over Cardiff City - a "really important" result, Cooper says.

"I'm also proud when I speak to fans in the city, even when they've got something to say I might not want to hear, which has not been too much to be honest," he adds.

"If there is any criticism, it's always done with a good heart and the right intention. But I love hearing what this club means to people.

"That makes me feel proud because I'm part of that and I have a big responsibility for it.

"That gives me just as much pride as the derby win and some of the wins and seeing young players make their debuts. They're good moments and the motivation is to create more of them."

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