In our weekly Scout feature, Daniel Roberts takes a detailed look at a new emerging talent from world football. In today’s edition he profiles the latest Reading academy prospect making a name for himself, Jake Cooper.
The latest youngster to come through the impressive Reading academy, Jake Cooper joins Michael Hector and Jordan Obita, among others, in giving the London side a youthful look.
The 6ft 7in central defender was born just 11 miles from the Madejski Stadium in Bracknell. After impressing the Royals’ scouts while in school, he was offered a place in the club’s academy at the age of 14 and hasn’t looked back since.
Progressing through the youth groups, Cooper’s impressive form in both the Under-18 and U21 teams saw him sign his first professional contract in 2013 and make his career league debut at the start of the 2015-16 season, coming off the bench to play nine minutes in his side’s 1-0 victory against Ipswich.
In the remainder of the season, he would go on to make a further 14 appearances, scoring twice, both coming in the November win against eventual play-off final winners Norwich City. In an exciting breakthrough season, his stats made for good reading with 13 interceptions, five blocks and 63% of his heading duals won.
In the summer, Cooper had aspirations of establishing himself as a permanent fixture on the team sheet, however, he would suffer a setback with injury. Once he returned to fitness, with Anton Ferdinand, Paul McShane and fellow Academy graduate Michael Hector ahead of him in the pecking order, he was faced with the challenge of leapfrogging the trio to earn first-team football.
The start of 2016 saw a change of fortunes for the 21-year-old as he made 12 straight league and cup starts for the Royals, only to miss their last game against Brighton after receiving a red card in their FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Crystal Palace. In his 14 league appearances, he has so far shown large statistical improvements, making 27 interceptions, eight blocks and winning a 73% of heading duals, a 10 per cent more than last season’s average.
Lauded for his height, Cooper is just as important at the back as he is for set-pieces at the opposite end of the pitch. His large frame means he is extremely effective in the air, offering his side a potent target to aim for. Although the norm would lead you to believe his height would hinder his mobility, the intelligent defender has the burst of pace to make him effective in the modern-day, speed-orientated footballing world.
His greatest attribute, however, is his high work rate and fantastic attitude towards the game. If a player was ever to highlight the dedication needed to succeed in this sport, Cooper would be a fine example to youngsters aspiring to follow in his footsteps.
Royals boss Brian McDermott recently highlighted his attitude, declaring that his rise isn’t by luck. “It’s not an accident,” said McDermott. “This boy is in the gym at half eight every morning, he eats the right food, he does the right things; his mentality is very, very strong.”
Internationally, Cooper has made three appearances for England at youth levels, representing both the Under-18s and 19s, making his debut for the latter in their 1-0 defeat to Belgium.
View Cooper’s first and second professional league goals against Norwich City.
What the experts say
Reading goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi: “He has been fantastic all season and I am very confident he will be a massive player for this football club.”
Chief Executive Nigel Howe: “Jake is another fine example of a talented young player who has come through our Academy system to admirably represent our first team. He is an excellent role model which all the young Academy players at this club should to look to emulate.”
Director of Football Nick Hammond: “His attitude is good and he is a player who is full of potential and, if he continues to apply himself in the right way and sustains his work ethic, he could become a very good centre-back.”
Former Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici: “He’s a monster of a player.”
Where does the future lie?
For the time being, Cooper will hope to keep his place in the first team alongside Paul McShane and improve with regular game time. With praise coming from numerous channels, it’s also important that he keeps his head down and continues to strive on with his development.
Discussing the large of plaudits received recently and since his arrival onto the first team picture, Cooper said: “I want to make the fans and club proud. I do hear about what people are writing and saying about me, but I don’t really want to think about it too much.
“I always feel I can do better and that I have a lot of room for improvement. I think I still have a long way to go in my game.”
However, when there is praise and impressive performances coming from a top talent in the second tier of English football, it’s inevitable that interest from the Premier League will arise.
Much like Michael Hector, another Reading academy star who signed for Chelsea in the summer, top-flight clubs, including Stoke City and West Ham, have been credited with an interest in taking the defender away from the Madejski.
Although McDermott squashed the rumours, he noted that “obviously the better he plays there will be more and more interest from the Premier League – that’s what happens.”
It is unlikely will we see Cooper in top tier of English football next season, but with his high work rate and dedication, it surely won’t be long until he makes the move up.