ONE is a fiery South American whose volatile Latin temperament is renowned throughout the world game, the other is a stony Scot who is not exactly prone to outward displays of emotion.  

At first glance, there would appear to be, aside from the fact they are both football managers by profession, few similarities between Marcelo Bielsa of Leeds United and Steve Clarke of Scotland.

Yet, for Liam Cooper, the centre half who plays for his club under Bielsa and for his country under Clarke, the Argentinian and the Ayrshireman have far more in common than is immediately obvious.

He knows from personal experience that Bielsa and Clarke have an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive, that their knowledge of the sport is unrivalled, that they overachieve with the players available to them and that they command complete respect from their charges. 

The disparate duo certainly get noteworthy results; Leeds finished in 10th place in their first season back in the Premier League in 16 years in the 2020/21 campaign while Scotland came through the play-offs to secure their spot at a major tournament for the first time in 23 years. 

The defender, who is in contention for a place in the Scotland side that takes on the Czech Republic in their opening Euro 2020 match at Hampden on Monday, considers himself privileged to be involved with both men. 

The 29-year-old certainly knows he owes both men a debt of gratitude for being on the brink of representing his adopted homeland in their first major tournament finals since France ‘98.  

Asked at the national squad’s training base in the north-east of England if it was a completely different experience working under former Newcastle United, Chelsea and Liverpool assistant Clarke to being coached by ex-Athletic Bilbao, Marseille, Lazio and Lille head coach Bielsa, Cooper said:  “Not really.

“They both have their ideas and ways they want to play. At Leeds we’re very man-for-man. Under Steve we have a formation and tactics that work for us, built up over the last series of games. 

“They’re both demanding managers and bring out the best in you. They leave you to express yourself and it’s been great for me. When you’ve worked with Marcelo you can work with any manager. 

“He is demanding, yeah, 100 per cent. But he has brought the best out in me he has brought the best out in my team mates at Leeds. He has taken my career to places I never thought was possible. I have a lot to thank him for for that.”

He continued: “I have to thank Steve as well for showing a lot of faith in me and bringing me into the squad and letting me show what I can do. 

“He lets us go and express ourselves, but as the same time he has that level of respect which all managers need to have I believe. He has been different class with me and he is different class with the group.

“The group take to him and listen to him and take everything on board that he and his coaching staff are trying to get over to us.” 

If Cooper, who is vying for a place alongside Kieran Tierney with Declan Gallagher, Grant Hanley, Scott McKenna and Jack Hendry in the three man defence that Clarke usually favours, starts for Scotland against the Czechs it will cap the most memorable season of his career.

However, the Kingston-Upon-Hull-born footballer, who qualifies to play for this country through a paternal grandfather who hails from Bo’ness, thinks the national team are capable of great things at Euro 2020 and can, at the very least, secure a place in the knockout rounds.

Helping Leeds to humble far more expensively-assembled sides in the top flight of English football this term, including champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, has clearly given him confidence that Scotland can humble highly fancied rivals and progress.

“We all dream of going to these major tournaments as kids and we are going to go live that dream now along with a great group of staff and all the fans behind us as well,” he said.

“It’s mental being here. The send-off from my old man – he just said ‘go and enjoy yourself, I’m so proud of you’ – was wonderful. This year is one I’ll probably look back on when I’m retired and think ‘what a year that was’. 

“Although there’s been a pandemic I’ve had an unbelievable year. I’m probably the first person to get promoted from the Championship, play in the Premier League and play in the Euros all in a pandemic! I can always take that and tell my grandkids that. 

“It’s an unbelievable achievement and we don’t stop there. We have ambitions. We have a confidence that we can get out the group as well. We will go about our business, we are into tournament mode now and we have got to go and do ourselves proud.”

Cooper spent years on the periphery of the Scotland side after first being called up back in 2016 and only won his first cap against Russia in 2019. But his perseverance has been rewarded. He feels being involved at Euro 2020 makes sitting on the bench and in the stand for so long during international breaks well worth it.

But he is indebted to Clarke and knows the best way to thank him will be with some stand-out displays against the Czech Republic, England and Croatia and whoever the national team come up against thereafter if a place in the last 16 is secured. 

“I was in and out of the squad and I never really got to make my debut,” he said. “I had a good season with Leeds, started to perform well with Leeds. When you are doing well with your club there is always a chance that you will get that international recognition.

“I am grateful the manager has shown that trust in me and kept me in and around squads. I have got to go and make that spot my own now and hopefully I can do that. We have got a great group of lads and the morale is different level, the banter is top of the charts and it is just great to be here. There is a great feeling.

  “Maybe when I was a bit younger I got a bit disheartened by not being part of a team or getting released by a team, but as you grow older and get that experience you realise you have got to do it for yourself.

“You have got to go and put yourself in the manager’s mind and be the best person you can be and the best player you can be. I have always had that determination and that fight in me to prove people wrong. Hopefully I continue to do that.

“I’m just thankful to the manager for showing trust in me and calling me into the squad. I’ve got to go repay that now.”