It may be a controversial call to make, but Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa must surely consider moving on from Liam Cooper, starting with today’s Premier League final day clash against West Brom.
The captain has been an ever-present for Bielsa’s side this season in the Premier League when he’s been available, making 24 appearances.
However, in recent weeks and months, the Whites have had a glimpse of a future without the skipper holding down the defence and, to their credit, they have done quite well without him. Indeed, in the 13 games for which he hasn’t taken to the field, they’ve won five times, drawn four and lost just four.
Their memorable win over Manchester City last month came after the Scotland international was sent off at the Etihad Stadium, his team-mates digging out a 2-1 victory in his absence.
While the £25,000-a-week defender, who will turn 30 this summer, is hardly close to joining the retirement home, Leeds have the perfect blend of quality and youth in their centre-back options. The likes of Robin Koch, Diego Llorente and Pascal Struijk, not to mention Leif Davis and Charlie Cresswell from the academy, are all very much players who have their best years ahead of them.
Struijk in particular has grown exponentially this season, with the £6.3m-rated powerhouse becoming a massive presence at the back and earning huge praise from former Leeds striker Noel Whelan, who said: “I thought he was phenomenal at the back. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this kid. He went through a stage of playing in Kalvin’s role but that was the wrong choice by Bielsa for me. He is a centre-half all day long. You can see him growing in that position.
Those sentiments were echoed by another ex-Whites player in Dominic Matteo, who added: “He reads the game a lot better than he’s credited for. He’ll get even better too. Struijk is one to look out for.
“There’s plenty of work to be done but, with the size of him, his physicality, his passing, he’s got it all and can step into midfield. He looks very calm on the ball, players who are a bit erratic are not for me but he looks comfortable in possession.”
With Leeds being linked with a move for another centre-back this summer in the form of Sampdoria’s Omar Colley, it just goes to show that Bielsa is keen on rejuvenating the back-line.
Today’s clash against West Brom offers the Argentine the perfect chance to embrace the future without Cooper in the starting line-up.