Toulon trip brings fond memories for coach Colin Cooper

Monday 23 May 2016
Colin Cooper
This week’s Toulon Tournament has brought back fond memories for England Under-21s coach Colin Cooper.

The former Middlesbrough, Millwall and Nottingham Forest defender was part of an England squad to play in the annual tournament back in 1988, when the Three Lions finished as runners-up to hosts France.

With the tournament now in its 44th year, Cooper is back in Provence as part of Gareth Southgate’s staff and admits there’s been a certain familiarity about proceedings so far, with England’s training base at the Bon Recontre Stadium being the very same venue where Dave Sexton’s squad worked.

And Wednesday’s match with Paraguay is being staged at the same ground in Six Fours where Cooper and his team-mates beat the USSR 28 years ago, thanks to a goal from Tottenham Hotspur youngster Vinny Samways.

England Under-21s coach Colin Cooper shares a joke with Kasey Palmer and Jack Stephens in training

England Under-21s coach Colin Cooper shares a joke with Kasey Palmer and Jack Stephens in training

"It provokes some nice memories, I have to say," revealed Cooper. 

"Even though we lost to France in the Final that year and I ended up in hospital getting stitches on my ankle, it was still a great experience for a lad of 21 at the time.

"That year we had the likes of Nigel Martyn in goal, Gazza, David Platt, David Rocastle and Michael Thomas in the team, so we had a really good squad.

"Dave Sexton was in charge and he was a great coach, a great man, and he had a very good group of young players with many of them going on to have successful careers.

“We had a few group games, then a semi-final and the final and we just got pipped by France.

"The tournament was a different format back then, but we played at a couple of stadiums which were very similar to the ones we’re playing at this time."

Cooper, who went on to win two senior caps for England, joined The FA as part of Southgate’s staff last month so this has been his first trip with the squad and working alongside the players.

And he admits it’s been an enjoyable experience so far, as the Three Lions prepare for a busy week with three games in the space of five days after last Thursday’s opening win against Portugal.

See Cooper coaching the U21s through a coaching session in Toulon

"It’s been great, having only been in the job for a short period of time, the opportunity to get to a tournament or a camp was something I was very keen to do," he said.

"Luckily, with everything that’s going on this summer, Gareth and the rest of the staff thought Toulon would be a good introduction to the organisation and I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

"I’ve enjoyed working with the lads, the staff and everybody that is here and we hope we’re here for another week."

Cooper needed no introduction to the players either, with the 49-year-old admitting to having tried to sign a number of them during his time as manager of Hartlepool United or preparing to face them when he was an academy coach with Middlesbrough.

"I’ve been watching so many of these lads in various guises over the last few years, through coaching and management," he revealed.

"When I was coaching at Middlesbrough, I’d played against an awful lot of them at U18s and U21s level and when I was manager at Hartlepool, I tried to sign an awful lot of them on loan.

"At that time they would have been about 17 or 18 and what I was looking for as a manager of a League Two club was for young players with energy, enthusiasm and technical ability who could handle the ball and play football.

"That was what I tried to bring to Hartlepool and that’s why some of the players are here today, and I’ve said to them that I tried to sign them on loan so I recognise that the ability these lads have.

"When I watch the senior team play and then when I watch these lads, there is a definite connection and I think these lads should be able to relay that, with the enthusiasm and the technical ability that players have in this country these days."

By Nicholas Veevers in Toulon, France