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Bleiberg hands rookie the captaincy

Wednesday, 15 February 2012 2:31 PM
 

Bleiberg hands rookie the captaincy

He isn't even old enough to drive a car or buy a beer - but on Friday night, Gold Coast United debutant Mitch Cooper will become the youngest captain in A-League history.

In an announcement straight out of left field, the bottom-placed club will be led out onto AAMI Park for their match against Melbourne Heart by Cooper, who will be making his first top-flight appearance at just 17 years and 152 days old.

To say that Cooper, who represented the Joeys in last year's FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, was taken aback by the prospect of wearing the captain's armband on debut is an understatement.

"It's the biggest shock I've had in my life," the likable youngster said on Wednesday morning.

"I thought it was a joke, really. But it's legit. If I told my mates, they'd laugh."

"I have no experience in the A-League and I've been looking forward to making my debut for a long time... but wearing the armband is a massive shock."

The idea to hand the Vanuatu-born starlet the captaincy for the match as a 'symbolic gesture' came from billionaire backer Clive Palmer.

"Our owner likes to think a bit outside of the box and I think he's come up with a great idea which I endorse," coach Miron Bleiberg said.

"He said if we are playing with such a young team this weekend - and that's what Gold Coast United is all about, to give career paths to young players - we might as well let one of them be captain for the weekend."

United are likely to field only two players over the age of 23 on Friday - Maceo Rigters (28) and Kristian Rees (32) - with up to 14 senior members unavailable for a number of reasons, mainly injury.

With usual skipper Michael Thwaite suspended and midfield marshall Jonas Salley having exited after his short-term contract expired, Bleiberg has nowhere else to turn but the club's two-time National Youth League championship squad.

Bleiberg said the move was purely for ceremonial purposes, with Rees, Rigters and the more senior players of United's young side likely to steer the ship on-field.

"Mitch will remember this when he will be a grandfather," he said.

"He will toss the coin. Then he will ask Kristian Rees which way to go, and then Kristian will tell him what to do (in the game)."

"He will do the ceremony, it will take one minute and then the game is normal."

Cooper has been earmarked as a future star at Gold Coast, a club which has already had success in blooding young talent with Ben Halloran and James Brown, but he said he's not feeling the pressure.

"On Friday, we'll have a young as team going out there," he said.

"I'm going to go out there with a smile on my face and really appreciate that I'm out there with Gold Coast United, playing with my mates."

AIS graduate and attacking midfielder Jake Barker-Daish, who is only a couple of months older than Cooper, will also make his debut for United this weekend.

And already, Barker-Daish is trying to stay on the right side of his new boss.

"I've asked him if he wants me to do anything, clean his car or whatever," he laughed.

"Just as well we have to fly there or else we'd be struggling for a lift to the stadium."

 
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