King Power Stadium - Leicester City FCKing Power Stadium (Photo: wittayayut)

A week is said to be a long time in politics and if that is true then then it is probably fair to say 90 minutes is a long time in football. Certainly so much can happen in a whole week, be it a player going from hero to zero, a team appearing to be on the up only to come crashing own, or, perhaps more than anything, the never-ending managerial merry-go-round.

Over the past 20 years Chelsea have been just about as active as any club (with the possible exception of Watford) when it comes to changing manager. On the 3rd of June they appointed Leicester boss Enzo Maresca, the Italian replacing Mauricio Pochettino, who had been at the Bridge for just one season.

Maresca had guided the Foxes into the Premier League, albeit with a squad packed with PL-level players and by far the biggest wage bill in the Championship. His departure left a big hole and, keen to avoid further disruption to their plans for 2024/25, the Leicester hierarchy moved swiftly to appoint Steve Cooper. But who is Cooper, and what has been his career path to this point?

Controversial Move Across the East Midlands

To many supporters, Cooper will be most closely linked with Nottingham Forest. The 44-year-old, who was born in Pontypridd, Wales, managed Forest between 2021 and 2023 and that job was his most recent role in football. The rivalry between Leicester and the Reds is hardly at the level of that between Celtic and Rangers, but even so, there are sure to be some Foxes supporters who will be unsure about the move.

On the whole though, we suspect Cooper’s appointment will be seen as broadly positive, even if fans may have yearned for a bigger name. He did well at Forest, managing a win rate of 38.89%, with 42 of the 108 games he took charge of going his way, compared to 27 draws and 39 wins.

He transformed the club, taking over when they were bottom of the second tier and not only guiding them into the play-offs but doing it playing a much more attractive style of football as well. Oh, and they won the play-off final too, which sort of counts as a positive! Cooper didn’t stop there though, and against the odds, he managed to keep the club in the Premier League too.

They finished 16th on their return to the top flight in the 2022/23 campaign, managing to muster 38 points, a decent enough return which saw them four clear of his new club, Leicester, who filled the final relegation place. However, by December 2023, the managerial carousel was whirling and despite Forest being outside the bottom three (albeit in 17th), a run of just one win in 13 games saw Cooper sacked.

Style of Play

Cooper’s style of play should sit well with Leicester fans, both in general and in terms of continuity from the Maresca era. The incoming boss favours a possession-based style of football, with purpose and attacking play at the heart of that. That said, defensively there is a good emphasis on organisation.

Leicester can expect fluidity when it comes to formation, with Cooper having used three at the back at times, but often deploying his teams in a typical 4-2-3-1 formation. The former Forest boss has said that many of his views on football were shaped by Jose Segura, who has worked in several roles with Barcelona, as well as at Liverpool and Greek side Olympiakos, where he won the league and cup. Cooper worked with the Spaniard at Liverpool and so there are links to Barca, as there were with Maresca via his time with City under Pep Guardiola.

Early Coaching Career: From Wrexham to England

Wrexham on Map
Cooper’s first coaching role was at Wrexham

Cooper never really made it as a player, as we shall discuss, but undertook his coaching badges from a young age whilst still playing. At 27 he became one of the youngest people to obtain the UEFA Pro License and when he quit playing he coached Wrexham, moving through the ranks there to become the club’s youth development boss.

He made a similar progression at Liverpool after that, beginning as their U12 coach, then becoming the manager of the academy and coach for the U18 team. Whilst at the Reds he was involved with players such as Raheem Sterling and Trent Alexander-Arnold but in 2013 he took up a minor youth position with the English FA, whilst also teaching (other coaches) for the Welsh FA.

In October 2014 he was made the manager of England’s under-16 side, where he impressed and was then made boss of the under-17s. Here his work with Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and others who would go on to play for the senior England was impressive, and he helped guide a very promising batch of youngsters to the final of the age-group Euros.

They lost on penalties to Spain after a 2-2 draw, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Foden netting in normal time. However, that fabulous side would bounce back to win the World Cup that same year, 2017, gaining revenge by putting Spain to the sword 5-2 in the final. Rhian Brewster scored eight goals in the tournament to win the Golden Boot, with Foden and Sancho getting three each, and Cooper rightly garnering a lot of praise too.

Playing Career and First Senior Club Job

Cooper stuck with England for two more major championships but did not enjoy the same success, although they lost on penalties in the semi final of the 2018 UEFA European U17 Championship.

He then moved into management at club level, signing a three-year deal with Swansea in 2019. He oversaw their best start to a season for 41 years as they topped the Championship. They went on to make the play-offs but were defeated by Brentford at the first hurdle.

12 months on it was deja vu as they once again lost out in the play-offs to Brentford, this time having finished two places higher in fourth and also having made it to the play-off final. Even so, in July 2021 he left “by mutual consent”.

As for Cooper’s playing career, it was very much a low-key affair. Spent entirely in Wales, the defender joined Wrexham in 1998 but never made an appearance for them. He had brief stints at TNS, Rhyl, Bangor City (his total of 57 league games was more than 14 times as many as he made for any other club) and Porthmadog, another team where he did not make an appearance.


By cf378