In one of the more bizarre schemes to have been hatched by the club’s billionaire owner Clive Palmer, Cooper, who is exactly 17 years and 152 days old, will become the youngest captain of an elite Australian sporting club and one of the youngest skippers seen anywhere in professional sport.
Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg said the decision would provide a positive note in an otherwise forgettable season for the Glitter Strip club, who are last in the A-League by eight points.
”Giving him the armband symbolises some of the positives from this season in that young players have taken a step forward and it’s a nice gesture from Clive Palmer and the club to make him captain for the day,” Bleiberg said. ”Mitch has been developing nicely and has been patiently waiting for his chance.
”No one can deny that we are bringing good young players through here and whatever Mitch goes on to do in his career he will have a nice record and memory of his debut. This record might still stand even when he’s a grandfather.”
Cooper, who was born in Vanuatu and spent his early youth in New Zealand before moving to Queensland, will be joined by another debutant, Jake Barker-Daish, as Gold Coast are expected to field a side with just two players over the age of 23.
”Mitch is an intelligent guy on and off the field and of course he will have a senior player like Kristian Rees nearby on the day, so there’s no pressure on him,” Bleiberg said.
Palmer said the idea came about as a result of wanting ”to promote our young players and give them opportunities”.
After starring in the youth league this season with six goals, Cooper said he was pleased to get his call-up but had no idea he would be made captain. ”When Miron told me I would wear the armband it was the biggest surprise I’ve ever had, but I’m very excited about playing my first A-League game and I’ll just be concentrating on playing football,” he said.
”I want to do the best I can and enjoy the experience. It will be a young team and we all want to do the Gold Coast proud and try to get a good result for the club.”
In Europe, no player under 18 has ever been given the captaincy of a top-flight club. Ray Wilkins is the closest, taking the reigns at second-division Chelsea at 18 and leading them into the first division that year. Gary Gillespie, who went on to play in the great Liverpool sides of the 1980s, captained second-division Scottish club Falkirk at 17 for one game in 1977.
Closer to home, the AFL also broke its own record for the youngest captain of its code last week when Melbourne’s Jack Trengove was made co-captain at just 20 years and 154 days old.
In rugby league, Easts centre David Brown holds the record, having been made Roosters’ captain at just 19 years and 12 days, before going on to captain Australia against New Zealand at 22 years and 117 days, the Kangaroos’ youngest skipper ever