Date: 10th September 2019 at 10:00am
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EXCLUSIVE

Noel Whelan has defended Liam Cooper after he was savaged by a section of Scotland fans for his performance in their hammering by Belgium.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the ex-United striker turned pundit insisted that the centre-back has developed into a “brilliant” player over the last 12 months.

Cooper, 28, played the full 90 minutes for Scotland last night as they were trounced 4-0 at Hampden Park by Belgium in a Euro 2020 qualifier.

The Leeds skipper also started the Tartan Army’s 2-1 defeat at home to Russia three days earlier alongside Blackburn Rovers’ loaned-out defender Charlie Mulgrew.

Whelan insisted too much should not be read into Cooper’s performances for Scotland against top-quality international sides as he emphasised how much the defender has improved under Marcelo Bielsa.

“He did okay under other managers, but Bielsa has definitely made him a better player,” Whelan told Football Insider. “Bielsa has educated him how to be a top centre-back in terms of his positioning, decision-making and how to prepare properly.

“You can see the difference over the last year. Liam Cooper used to have a good game and then following it with a bad one. Now, he is consistent and one of the best players in his position in the Championship.

“There are so many areas where Bielsa has improved Cooper and he is now brilliant at what he does – dominating in the air, intercepting, reading the game and playing out from the back. 

“He can still get better, of course. They all can. And I expect that to happen while Bielsa remains the manager.”

Cooper has started five of Leeds’ six Championship matches this season after being named in the EFL team of the 2018-19 campaign.

He has made 165 appearances for United since signing from Chesterfield in 2014.

In other Leeds United news, it can be revealed that Kalvin Phillips has a release clause in his new contract, and what is needed to trigger it.