#25 The Fall Guy; Swindon’s Art Howe


oor old Mark Cooper.  With a one year contract and one of the lowest managerial salaries in the Football League, Lee Power never rated him very highly.  The Swindon fans were always lukewarm.  The players never said anything positive about his coaching/managerial capabilities in stark contrast to First Team Coach, Luke Williams.  Luke Williams has been frequently described as “exceptional” and “innovative” who players are desperate to play under and coveted by Premiership teams; Cooper was described as ….. well no one said anything about Cooper.  The lack of praise, given Swindon’s superb 2014/15 campaign, was odd.

Dismissed after a dismal run culminating in an utterly abject Swindon performance away to Millwall, Cooper has been labelled by some as “the fall guy”.  In many ways the description is spot on.  Cooper’s remit at Swindon was very limited with little say on player recruitment, coaching drills or style of football.  Clearly, Swindon’s problems this season cannot be attributed solely to the incompetence of one individual with arguably the narrowest scope of responsibilities in the Football League. Surely it is unrealistic to expect his dismissal to result in a volte face in Swindon’s playing fortunes?

Yet Power, injury problems aside, believes, without explicitly saying so, that Swindon’s current problems, can be attributed in large part to Cooper.  Power believes that Swindon’s squad once fully fit ought to be mounting a play-off challenge.  He has said that Swindon’s back-to-front passing style - ‘playing through the thirds’ (the current in vogue football phrase) - which took two years to hone and refine, has been marginalised and suppressed over the past two months; the implication being that Cooper sought to rein in the possession based style with a more pragmatic approach, resulting in ineffectual performances that neither impressed in a technical, passing sense nor improved matters defensively. In effect, Cooper was not buying into Power’s and Williams’s playing philosophy.  He had ‘gone rogue’; a bit like Art Howe, coach of the Oakland A’s, in the film Moneyball refusing to select Scott Hatteberg, thereby rebelling against the radical ‘Moneyball’ philosophy of his superior, Billy Beane*.

Cooper never seemed, to me anyway, a fervent believer of possession based football.  Not helped by his uncharismatic, spiky, guarded media persona, he never spoke with any great zeal about it, other than it wore down the opposition, which the principle lower league advocates - Dean Smith, Sean O’Driscoll and Paul Cook - tend to do.  In fact, I felt that Cooper had no strong playing preference and was a more of a pragmatist (as demonstrated by his previous managerial spells) prone to tinkering without a clear vision.  By the end of his tenure he seemed to resent ‘the Swindon way’; saddled with a group of players unsuited to any other playing style.  His relationship with Williams was seemingly broken.

After Cooper’s dismissal I had thought that Luke Williams would assume Cooper’s responsibilities.  Appointing Williams would be logical as there would not be a risk that his day-to-day coaching regimen would not be carried out on match days by another who did not wholeheartedly agree with his playing philosophy.  Yet Williams is seemingly not a candidate.  For all one knows Williams does not want to assume additional managerial responsibilities?  Perhaps Power wants all of Williams’s focus to be on training?  Maybe, perhaps maybe, Power does not want Williams to be the fall guy?

*My friend, Mike, must take the credit for this comparison.

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