AS a young central defender of some promise, Matthew Bates looked up to Colin Cooper.
They didn’t play much together in the Middlesbrough side; Bates coming through the ranks as Cooper’s playing days were coming to an end.
But the respect was there, with Cooper an elder statesman at the club.
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Now they are reunited at Hartlepool United. Cooper the manager, Bates his first and best summer signing.
“The manager here has trained and worked at the highest level, and those are the standards he wants to impress on us,’’ said Bates.
“I think when we were at Boro, the gaffer was someone we all looked up to. He’s been a coach for me, a team-mate and now my manager.
“He has played at the highest level and he’s a former centre-half, so I can also pick his brains in that sense as well – not just as a coach but as someone who played in my position.
“I can take a lot of advice from him in that sense. I think when we were at Boro you could see he was made out to be a manager.
“And you can see now with his demeanour, how he goes about his work, that he has a big future in management.
“When you look back, as a young player you probably don’t see it at the time, but now I can see how he led the dressing room and how he has gone down the management route.’’
Bates could well be Cooper’s leader on the pitch, with a captain yet to be announced for the coming season that starts at Stevenage on Saturday.
He’s sure to start in the middle of the back four, and should be joined in the side by another Boro defender of the same era in Stuart Parnaby.
The pair are, to date, Pools’ only new signings.
Bates could have joined 12 months ago, as he trained with Pools to keep fit while he was without a club after leaving Bristol City.
He moved to Bradford, where he made 23 injury-free appearances before being released.
“After a conversation with the manager here, I felt straight away it was right to come here,’’ he insisted.
“It didn’t really take much selling to me. I trained here last year for a while, so I knew what I was coming to. I’ve known the gaffer for many many years at Middlesbrough as well, so I know what he’s all about and what type of guy he is.
“We sat down, had a coffee and things were all arranged then.’’
Bates has suffered more than most in his career so far, with an unprecedented five separate cruciate knee ligament injuries during his eight years with Boro.
Whereas one injury of that nature would have been career ending in years gone by, Bates is now stronger than ever for it, both physically and mentally.
“I’ve had no knee injuries over the last couple of years, but it has been a bit stop start for various reasons and now I’m looking forward to getting going and getting a full season under my belt,’’ he insisted.
“Over the years I’ve had knee problems, but I’m fine now – no problems at all and they are probably better now than for a long time.
“Touch wood, it’s all in the past for me.
“Pre-season is an important time for everyone. Until you miss out you don’t realise it. With injuries over the years, I’ve missed a few, but as you get older – and I’m 27 now – you do realise what it’s all about.’’
And no-one should think Teesside-based Bates is taking the easy option by signing for Pools.
“I’ve played a lot of football in my career - I don’t like to look any further than a few months down the line, but I want to play as long as I can and choose to,’’ he said. “I want to go back up the leagues and if that’s with Hartlepool then that would be great.
“I’m not just here to rest on my laurels and stay in League Two I want to get back up there and I think I can do at some point.’’
The Boro connection at Pools is strong, with assistant manager Stephen Pears settled in his new role and ex-Boro team-mate Jon Franks and Parnaby in the ranks.
It’s all helped Bates to adapt to his new surroundings.
He said: “This has probably been the easiest club I’ve been at to settle into. Of course I know the manager and Stephen Pears well, but because I was here last year training I know most of the lads. I’ve played against Marlon Harewood, so it’s been very easy to settle in with a great bunch of lads.
“The season ends and you have two months off, I think you enjoy the first month of rest and then you want to get back into it and join in the craic with the lads. Pre-season is hard, but you can actually enjoy it in the hard sessions, you know you have to do it and put the effort it.
“I am excited about the new season. I came here for the gaffer and I know how the season went here last season – the play-offs were close and I think this division is one where we can do well. Keep clean sheets and score goals, do that and you get the consistency you need to have a chance of going up.’’