Scotland's secret agent pushes Leeds starlet to ditch England - 'I’m still trying to tap him up'

Gray has burst on to the scene at Elland Road and Cooper hopes he can be persuaded to follow in father’s footsteps

Liam Cooper admits it could be difficult to prise Leeds United’s Archie Gray from England’s grasp despite Scotland’s current upward trajectory.

The 17-year-old Gray is the son of a Scotland internationalist, Andy, while his grandfather, Frank, earned 32 Scotland caps, many of them while at Leeds. Eddie, his great-uncle, earned 12 caps for Scotland and is a legend at Leeds. But Gray junior, who was born in Durham, has been pulling on the England jersey at various youth levels and is currently captain of the Under-18 side. Cooper believes all hope is not yet lost with Scotland enjoying better fortunes having qualified for back-to-back European Championships for the first time.

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The Leeds defender is qualified to have an opinion since he trains and plays with the precocious talent at the Elland Road club. They both started Saturday’s 2-1 win over Plymouth as Leeds maintained their promotion push back into the Premier League. Gray, who can play at full-back as well as midfield, is reported to be a £40 million target for Liverpool next summer.

Archie Gray of Leeds United is currently in the England youth set-up.Archie Gray of Leeds United is currently in the England youth set-up.
Archie Gray of Leeds United is currently in the England youth set-up.

“I’m still trying to tap him up, don’t worry about that!” said Cooper. “No, I’ve been a bit of a secret agent. He knows I’ll always be there. He’s such a young boy and his family are steeped in Scottish and Leeds history. There is definitely a bit of sentiment there but he’s flying at the minute with England. He’s captain of the Under-18s, which is a bit of a stinker for us. But I’ll keep nipping away and hopefully I can break him down.”

Asked if manager Steve Clarke has recruited him to keep tabs on Gray, Cooper, who was born in Hull and qualifies for Scotland through a grandfather, replied that he hadn’t. “No, not really,” he said. “Me and (Scotland assistant) John Carver and the boys have a bit of craic. They know how it is. It’s tough. Especially when the boy is playing so well and is captain of England at the minute. But you never know.”

Cooper has his own international ambitions to focus on. After enjoying a taste of Euro 2021 three summers ago he is desperate to be included in next summer’s squad. He has featured intermittently in recent times but stands a good chance of playing in the upcoming double header against Georgia and Norway after injuries to John Souttar and Kieran Tierney.

Cooper has won 17 caps since his debut against Russia in 2019. At 32, he knows next year could be his final opportunity to appear in a major finals. “Right now, my body is telling me no (it's not the final chance) – I still feel fit and strong,” he said. “But I won’t beat around the bush, that’s certainly in the back of my head so I’ve got to do everything I can to get myself in the squad. I’ll be looking to do that.

Scotland's Andy Gray (right) in action in 1980 against Portugal.Scotland's Andy Gray (right) in action in 1980 against Portugal.
Scotland's Andy Gray (right) in action in 1980 against Portugal.

“There’s competition there,” he added. “We’ve got a few injuries at the moment so that gives other lads an opportunity to prove themselves and prove they’re ready for the Euros. We’ve only got one more camp in between then. So it’s about putting your stall forward and performing to the best of your ability if you get the chance.”