Issue Colin Cooper leaves Bradford City, but won’t be quickly forgotten

As told by Jason Mckeown

Colin Cooper today departed Bradford City having built up a standing most unusual in recent years – he was a popular assistant manager.

For sometime now it has felt like, whoever was the Bantams’ number two, he has been responsible for the much of the continuing failings on the field – despite the absence of any evidence. Wayne Jacobs, Junior Lewis (a coach rather than number two, but high up on the ladder under Peter Taylor nonetheless), Bobby Davidson, Ian Banks, Billy Brown, Malcolm Shotton – all criticised either instead of or alongside their gaffer.

It is a high profile role, undertaken in a very low profile manner. We see them often on the touchline, but no one really knows what they are supposed to be doing.

Cooper arrived at Valley Parade in February shortly after Peter Jackson became interim manager – with Jacobs and Lewis having been placed on gardening leave by the Board the day after Taylor bid farewell. For a while you could hear the standard jibes at games – “how come we can’t defend when Cooper is assistant manager?” – but in the end his decision to head back to Middlesbrough to coach the under 18s is one met with widespread sadness.

Perhaps also some confusion. True, Cooper has strong ties with the North East club which he was born close by to and begun and ended his playing career at. He was also assistant manager under Gareth Southgate as Boro slid out of the Premier League. Yet having placed himself in the shop window when thrust into temporary command of City – performing impressively – going on to coach a youth team appears to be a step down, when managing a Football League club would appear to be an achievable ambition better met by remaining a number two for now.

It is slightly foolish to judge Cooper on two matches as caretaker, but the way he guided the young City team through the difficult period of Jackson’s shock exit and helped bed in new manager Phil Parkinson was highly impressive. In charge against Barnet two weeks ago, a passing, attacking style of play was great to watch and led to the club’s only league win to date. He followed that up by leading City to a JPT cup win on penalties, and there were plenty of people wishing he could be given a longer spell in charge of the team.

It appeared Cooper was happy to take a step back and carry on in the previous role of assistant manager, but this attractive offer from Middlesbrough proved tempting.

Like any assistant coach, the legacy he leaves behind isn’t obvious. But the likes of Nahki Wells declaring Cooper was the best coach he’d ever worked with suggested he was popular with the players. We can also, realistically, attribute the improvement in defensive performances at least partly to his tutelage. Luke Oliver is the main case in point – looking average at best under Taylor and surely on his way out, his performances towards the end of last season and this have been outstanding. It will be interesting to see if the giant defender can maintain his form now Cooper has left.

Who Parkinson turns to now as assistant is unclear. Mark Kinsella performed the role for him at Charlton but is currently manager of Southern League Division One Central side Daventry Town. Preston boss Phil Brown was Parkinson’s first team coach at Hull City and Geraint Williams his assistant at Colchester. Interestingly both Kinsella and Williams were internal appointments rather than being brought in by Parkinson. If he goes down this route again, perhaps Wayne Allison is a contender for a promotion?

Whoever gets the role, it may well prove the case that Cooper’s name is not far off our radar. The best manager in the history of Bradford City could be looked back upon as an ‘if only’ moment, especially if Parkinson fails to be successful. Years of failure at Valley Parade leave us regularly second guessing the worst case scenario; and if the pressure builds on Parkinson you can already here the complaints of “why didn’t Lawn give Cooper chance instead of rushing to appoint Parkinson?”

Perhaps Lawn – who it is rumoured was witness to a less than impressive side of Cooper’s attitude than his glowing reputation would suggest, during Jackson’s final days – was in a position to know much better. That’s the frustration with assistant managers, we never truly know how good or bad they really are – not that it stops many of us from forming an opinion anyway.