Davie Cooper - 25 years since Rangers & Motherwell great tragically died

Davie Cooper died on this day 25 years ago
Davie Cooper won three league titles at Rangers, along with 10 cup competitions

Ruud Gullit played with and against some of the world's finest footballers in a career that took in spells in Italy, England and his Dutch homeland as well as captaining his country to the 1988 European Championships.

But there was one Scottish player who made it into Gullit's all-time XI along with Paulo Maldini and Diego Maradona - Davie Cooper.

"I don't think he got the recognition that he deserved as a football player," Gullit told BBC Scotland in 2018. "For me, he was an unbelievable football player."

On 23 March it is 25 years since Cooper's life was tragically cut short at the age of 39 after suffering a brain haemorrhage.

Here, BBC Scotland looks back on the career of the Rangers winger who made such an impression on Gullit and so many others who observed his majestic left foot, THAT free-kick against Aberdeen and ensuring a place in Motherwell's history.

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Which Scot makes Ruud Gullit's all-time XI?

Humble beginnings to huge success

"That's the only thing I ever wanted to be," Cooper said of being a footballer in the 1990s video release about his career, Super Cooper.

A native of Hamilton, he made his way in the professional game at Clydebank. Finishing as top scorer in his second full season with the Bankies, there were plenty of suitors but there was only one that interested Cooper and he showed Rangers what he could do by scoring in a 3-3 draw at Ibrox. Soon, he clinched a £100,000 move to his boyhood heroes.

Within a year, he had won the domestic treble - the fourth in Rangers' history - and scored in the Scottish League Cup final against Celtic.

But Cooper's Ibrox career traversed both boom and barren periods. After manager Jock Wallace left at the end of the 1977-78 campaign, Rangers did not win another league title until Graeme Souness' arrival in the mid-80s, though Cooper's stunning individual goal against Celtic in the 1979 Drybrough Cup final against Celtic gave fans the world over a moment to remember.

Reaching the international stage

"He was sensational. I scored in the region of 230 goals and I think the majority came from him," said former Rangers team-mate Derek Johnstone in 2005.

At Rangers, Cooper became a regular in the Scotland side and played at the 1986 World Cup. Indeed, it was his penalty against Wales on the night manager Jock Stein died in 1985 that sealed a 1-1 draw and a play-off place. He added to that in the win over Australia later in the year as Alex Ferguson's side progressed to the Mexico finals.

Davie Cooper scored six international goals in 22 appearances for Scotland
Davie Cooper scored six international goals in 22 appearances for Scotland

Souness' arrival resulted in an upturn in Rangers' fortunes and Cooper was a key factor in the club's 1987 title triumph.

And, later that year, Cooper scored the goal that became his hallmark. The stage was the League Cup final and Rangers were trailing to Aberdeen when they won a free-kick. Cooper took charge, and some, blasting the ball into the net with a fierce strike and Souness' men went on to win the match on penalties after a 3-3 draw.

However, Cooper's game time became more limited as Rangers won the first of their nine successive titles in 1989 and a move to Motherwell ensued.

Man for a famous final

"If you couldn't play with Davie then you couldn't play," once remarked Cooper's former Motherwell team-mate Iain Ferguson.

Then Fir Park manager Tommy McLean knew first hand Cooper's talent. He had played on the opposite wing at Rangers and Cooper's experience proved vital as Well embarked on their 1991 Scottish Cup campaign.

Title-chasing Aberdeen, Falkirk and Greenock Morton had been dispatched by the time Motherwell arrived at Hampden to take on Billy McNeill's Celtic, who had just knocked Rangers out of the tournament.

Celtic were favourites and had lost the previous season's final on penalties against Aberdeen but 'Well had other ideas, clinching a stunning 4-2 win.

Davie Cooper celebrates a famous Scottish Cup final triumph for Motherwell

And Motherwell were not done there. The Steelmen met Dundee United, managed by Tommy's brother Jim McLean, in the final. At the end of a tumultuous 90 minutes, Darren Jackson's late goal for United forced extra-time.

Again, Cooper took charge in a final, sending in a corner for substitute Steve Kirk to head in the extra-time winner and give Well their first major trophy in 39 years.

Two years later, Cooper returned to Clydebank and continued to show what that left foot could do in Scotland's second tier.

He passed on his love of the game to the next generation and in 1995 was coaching young footballers when he lost his life. Clydebank retired his number seven jersey and Ibrox became a shrine of scarves, strips and flowers left by supporters of many clubs. And, in 1999, Cooper was voted as the number 11 in Rangers' all-time XI.

And today, like in Gullit's XI, Cooper would feature in many best ever teams, whether you're a Clydebank fan, a Rangers fan, a Motherwell fan, a Scotland fan or just a football fan.