It’s the last thing Swansea City fans want to be reading right now.
Their young, well-respected manager who has done superb work in difficult circumstances is being linked with a Premier League job.
National newspaper reports have mentioned Steve Cooper as a possible contender to replace Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace at the end of the current season.
Hodgson, who at 73 is the oldest manager in the top flight, is out of contract come the summer and the assumption is the Eagles will go in a different – and younger – direction.
If it sounds all too familiar, you’re not wrong. Graham Potter, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez were all lured away from SA1 for bigger projects at clubs with deeper pockets.
Each and every exit hurt supporters but the club have always recruited managers well.
When Potter left for Brighton, the three-man team of Leon Britton, Trevor Birch and Alan Curtis were blown away by Cooper’s interview. A relative unknown at senior level at the time, his background of working with youngsters dovetailed perfectly with Swansea’s ethos and focus on academy players.
He quickly made his mark in SA1, guiding the club on to an unlikely play-off semi-final in his first year at this level and recruiting some of the finest young talent in the land on loan.
With Rhian Brewster, Conor Gallagher and Ben Wilmot gone and a global pandemic biting hard, you would be forgiven to think Swansea would struggle to replicate such achievements.
But not only have they done that, they have moved to another level again this term.
Cooper has guided Swansea to third in the Championship with more than half the campaign gone, and should they win their games in hand, they will sit top of the pile – above top-flight regulars Norwich City and newly-crowned model club Brentford.
The fact that Premier League clubs such as Palace are making eyes at Cooper should come as no surprise. It is understandable given his success in SA1 on a shoestring budget against a challenging backdrop of coronavirus and the need to balance the books.
But with that comprehension comes the uncomfortable truth.
If Swansea don’t achieve promotion this summer – whether that be automatically or via the play-offs – Cooper will be on more than just Palace’s shortlist of potential managers.
His personal and professional profile make him an attractive proposition, with more established sides no doubt looking at his record in the transfer market, his enviable contacts book and his ability to make good players even better.
There is no denying Swansea have talent in their squad but Cooper’s managerial philosophy and his man-management skills have taken the club to a new level.
Contract talks are in the pipeline.
“Sure. I think that’s right,” said Swansea’s co-owner Jason Levien said earlier this month when asked about the possibility of Cooper receiving a contract extension.
“I think we have a lot of faith in Steve Cooper, a lot of belief in what he has done and a lot of appreciation for it.
“We are living in the here and now. We have 20 matches left in our league season and each one of them is going to be as tough as the next. That’s really where our focus is at the moment.”
Again, an understandable statement but sorting Cooper’s extension should be a real priority – if only to provide Swansea with insurance should the 41-year-old be lured away to Selhurst Park or somewhere else this summer.
Palace are an established Premier League club with a good squad and owners who are prepared to pay £20million for individual players. Cooper is an ambitious man – who wouldn’t be tempted by that? The Eagles’ hierarchy also want to lower the average age of the squad and focus on youth – something Cooper is more than adept at.
His own mantra – one he instils into his players – is one game at a time. He still has a job to do here and you know he will do so to the utmost of his ability until the final match of the 2020-21 campaign.
What comes after remains to be seen but Swansea should be braced for a barrage of phone calls should they miss out on the Premier League golden ticket come May.