What next for Steve Cooper and Swansea City after play-off final loss?

By Rob PhillipsBBC Sport Wales football correspondent
‘Nothing I could say to make anyone feel any better’

How much of a watershed is Wembley woe for Swansea City?

Missing out on promotion to the Premier League is, of course, hugely disappointing.

But it throws up a host of questions and a lorry load of uncertainty - not least over the future of head coach Steve Cooper.

Just as a prophet is not always recognised in his own land, Cooper appears not be adored by Swansea City fans.

But his talents are clearly recognised around the rest of football and links with other jobs can hardly be ignored.

Wembley heartache cannot mask the establishment of Cooper in his two seasons at the club.

In his first full season at the helm, Cooper inspired a late surge to the play-off semi-finals, notably with his recruitment of youngsters Marc Guehi from Chelsea and Rhian Brewster, then of Liverpool.

This term, he has defied pessimism among many observers at the start of the season, little financial backing from the owners and the extra demands of a packed Covid-wracked campaign, to earn a club record equalling Championship points tally and ultimate disappointment in the play-off final.

He also lost the services of Wales defender Joe Rodon at the heart of the defence as he was sold to Tottenham Hotspur.

Defensively Cooper coped. The failure to sign an out-and-out striker in January - as he had so successfully done with Brewster a year previously - ensured there was insufficient firepower to make a burst for the top two.

Some Swansea fans will insist the football is nothing like as attractive as in the days of Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup. But with the manpower available that was not a surprise and usually Swansea found a way. Until Wembley.

So what next? There are clearly major doubts over the future of highest earner Andre Ayew, whose is out of contract this summer. The Ghana captain has been a real talisman, but his quality is deserving of a higher stage and finances may dictate there is no option.

Wales defender Connor Roberts and captain Matt Grimes have impressed throughout the season - and in Roberts' case, the international stage. Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi looks a cut above the Championship, Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman's future could also be in doubt.

With Swansea losing parachute payments after this season and like every other club having to cope with Covid-19 enforced games behind closed doors virtually all this campaign, offers for Roberts or Grimes could be hard to refuse.

Andre Ayew and Jay Fulton
Andre Ayew (left) is Swansea City's highest earner

Then there is Cooper. He has friends in high places who can influence people. Having started at the Wrexham Academy, he was lured by Liverpool. Leading England under-17s to their World Cup victory in 2017 is a gold star on any CV. Gareth Southgate is a confidante.

The departure of chairman and chief executive Trevor Birch last autumn, appears to have left Cooper cocooned only by his tight-knit coaching team of Mike Marsh, Martyn Margetson and Alan Tate.

Cooper has a year left on his contract and would surely find it difficult to turn down the advances of a Premier League club like Crystal Palace. Even a Championship post with owners more ready to speculate to accumulate and with less manpower changes in the offing, would be enticing.

If Wembley was a swansong for Steve Cooper it is a sad end. And it may be he will only be really appreciated for the job he has done at the Liberty Stadium, when he has gone.