BRADFORD (Park Avenue) appear to have pulled off a masterstroke, after bringing in Andy Cooper as academy coach mentor.

The 39-year-old had a successful two-year spell with Leeds United, and spent a decade helping grow football in Qatar too, with that leading to the national side becoming shock Asian Cup champions in 2019.

So why has he come to work at a National League North club?

In an exclusive interview with the T&A, Cooper explained: "I'd developed a good relationship with Tom McStravick (Avenue's academy technical director) having worked with him at Leeds.

"I'd seen how he was involved here at Avenue with the academy, and how it had been restructured and reorganised over the last year or so.

"I was actually coming in as a guest coach during the pandemic to support the staff and to help guide the kids on the academy and scholarship programmes.

"It's been good to see the club's progress on that front in the last 12 months, and it's good that I can help out now in a more official role.

"I can bring the experience of being at the likes of Leeds to offer guidance and mentoring to the staff, but also to be there for the players, to help them them progress into the first team at Avenue, or whatever their rightful level is."

Avenue manager Mark Bower is not afraid to give youth a chance, with academy stars Liam Hall and Seb Bolton both on the bench for first-team fixtures this month.

A delighted Cooper said: "It shows that everything is aligned in the right way at the club and that there is that pathway for the young lads to get into the first team.

"It means that we can tailor the programmes as needed for those lads on the scholarship, adapt it if they're going to get a first team chance that week for example.

"It shows how professional and organised the club has become and it's good for our young lads to experience real football in the real world with the first team.

"There's no bells and whistles either, they need to take the opportunity and establish themselves, show they deserved that call-up in the first place, we don't just want them making up the numbers."

And some of Cooper's old proteges at Leeds have taken their opportunities.

He said: "Lots of the boys I worked with in the under-23s at Leeds have had first team chances.

"That includes Leif Davis, who made his debut in December 2018, and Charlie Cresswell, who got his first start against West Ham at the weekend.

"Then there's the likes of Alfie McCalmont, who went on loan to Oldham in League Two last season and did a great job.

"I'm not the reason why that's happened, but it's nice to have played a small part in their development.

"I had two good years there, with two spells coaching the U13s-U16s, with some time at the U23s in the middle of that."

After departing Leeds, Cooper went out to India to help set up a professional football club in RoundGlass Punjab.

That was by no means a disaster, but Cooper confessed it was a project badly hindered by the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

He had a more successful time out in Qatar, spending a decade coaching there from 2007.

Qatar will host the World Cup next year, with many questioning the logic of holding it in a country with severe human rights issues and historically, a lack of footballing heritage.

A debate on the former is for another day, but in terms of whether Qatari football gets overlooked, Cooper said: "I think it does have an unfair reputation.

"The national side are now the reigning Asian Cup champions, which stemmed from all the work done since 2005, when a national academy was set up.

"School development centres were built for age groups from U13s-U19s, where pupils studied and trained every day.

"But we had to be smart, as it's not a big country. I was the U14s national team head coach out there at one point, and I'd maybe only have 300 players to pick from in the country, it was the same across all age groups.

"Avenue have probably got a bigger pool of youngsters to choose from for example.

"A lot of people thought we used players that were naturalised, but we didn't, they were either always Qatari, or had parents or grandparents from the country.

"What we did have were really good facilities and structures in place, so we were able to bring over some of the best youth teams in the world, like Bayern Munich, PSG and Porto, to play against.

"The idea was to get competitive for this home World Cup they've got next year, and they're well on their way, with the U19s winning the Asian Cup in 2014, and then the senior side winning it for the first time in 2019.

"The Aspire Academy (the Qatari national academy's official name) was a great learning ground for someone like me, going out there in my mid-20s, and it offered opportunities for the people within it.

"I got to work at Leeds, while Felix Sanchez worked in the academy for years coaching different age groups and is now the national team's manager, guiding them to that Asian Cup win.

"Then you have Paul Nevin. He was at Aspire for five years, and is now a first team coach at West Ham and works alongside Gareth Southgate with England."

Remarkably, given how young he was when he went out to Qatar, it was not Cooper's first experience of coaching abroad.

Just before joining Aspire, he worked for the Bobby Charlton Soccer & Sports Academy, most famous of course, for discovering a talented young footballer called David Beckham.

Many clubs pour money into their academies now, but when asked whether the Charlton Soccer Schools no longer have the relevance they once did, Cooper said: "I think they still have a role to play in modern football.

"They're a great breeding ground for youngsters wanting to get into grassroots football, or even just being there for something for kids to go to in the school holidays.

"They offer opportunities for coaches to develop too, and I would encourage any coaches to get out on the grass like that when they can.

"Football has allowed me to travel, and working for the Bobby Charlton Academy allowed me to go out to Australia and other countries.

"You'd be coaching all different kids, all with different qualities and backgrounds."

Summing up his career so far, Cooper said: "I had no great background as a player, but all the jobs I've had as a coach have given me a real understanding of the game.

"I've worked with five year olds, who were taking their first steps on to a football pitch, right up to first team players.

"When I was in Qatar at Aspire, I coached (former Real Madrid superstar) Raul's son and worked alongside the man himself, and I worked with (Barcelona icon) Xavi when he came out to play in Qatar too.

"But I'm just as happy working alongside legends like that as I am doing a football roadshow in Carlisle for example.

"Every stage of my career has been different, but each one has been great."