United scholarship programme aimed to give budding footballers a second chance.
Thinking about the future is topical at the moment, at every level of the professional game, because the Football Association’s chairman Greg Dyke has revealed plans to introduce B teams in to the Football League.
Dyke’s suggestions have caused a split up and down the country, with former Middlesbrough defender Danny Mills one of those to have suggested Pools fans would rather watch Manchester United B than Torquay United on a Saturday afternoon at the Vic.
There are likely to be a few out there who agree, but plenty others have already voiced their concerns and Cooper, who can see the benefits of such an idea, is unconvinced himself.
Dyke’s idea, broadly, is with the intention to improve the English game. He wants to see better homegrown players playing at the highest level and a better standard of performance produced by the England national team.
Cooper said; “My feelings are that the top end should be nurturing their young players through League One and Two clubs. They should adopt a nursery club if that is the right phrase, to put young players in to first team football.
“When I said about us being a nursery club for the North-East clubs at the start of the season, I meant it. But it’s a difficult one. We all want England to do well, but English football will not improve on a national level until there is a limit on foreign players, then they have to play English players.
“I understand where Greg Dyke is coming from, creating a new league, like they have with the Under-21s league. This is the next scenario.”
Dyke’s plans draw parallels and resemble the systems in countries such as Germany and Spain, where the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich have second-strong teams playing in a professional league.
Cooper said: “But if you think of why the German, Italian, Spanish leagues have so many of their nationals playing in their league it is because in one way or another that league has been left by TV rights, so they have been forced to play young Germans, Italians, Spaniards.
“They are not at the high end of the money like we have in the Premier League. The day the money turns off in the Premier League, then all of a sudden you might see a rise in English football. The foreign players wouldn’t be there. You’d have English footballers making up the majority of English teams in the Premier League.”
Cooper’s idea is not particularly a new one, but his belief is extremely difficult to implement because of the finances involved nowadays at the highest level of the English game.
“With the loan market you can be successful. We have had three from Middlesbrough, two from Sunderland, one from Manchester United,” said Cooper.
“In some ways we have been a bit of a nursery club in my first season. The concept of giving young players regular first team football is right, how you come to a scenario of another league I don’t know. It speaks volumes that the Premier League will stay the same in Greg Dyke’s plans.
“The opportunities have to be there. It would harm clubs in our league because the loan system could become defunct. The principles are there; young English players improving, is great.
“But the only way they will improve is if they are exposed to the Premier League stage. That will not change because of the hundreds of millions going in to the Premier League clubs. Or they could change the percentages and give clubs lower down the league a bit more. I have been saying that a long time.”
Cooper was speaking at the launch of Hartlepool United’s formation of a new Elite Development Academy.
The brand new and innovative scheme will see 16-18-year-olds given the opportunity to continue with their education at Dyke House Sports & Technology College, whilst also having access to professional football training with the League Two club.
If successful during trials to be held in June, students will be enrolled on A-level or BTEC courses at Dyke House, but will also be a secondary part of Hartlepool’s academy system with a chance to earn a professional deal.
Cooper said: “The disappointment of not getting a scholarship as a footballer at 16 is heartbreaking. They could get a contract with this programme in two years. If they don’t, they should come out with qualifications to help them through life.
“People like Michael Duckworth or Christian Burgess, players who never quite made it first time around, got a second chance. What this programme means is there could be a period over those two years on this programme that young players are given an opportunity at professional level – at 17 and 18. That is fantastic.”