The call that typified Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Roy Keane advice that sparked a career

Kenny Cooper might not have made a first-team appearance for Manchester United during his three years at Old Trafford but Sir Alex Ferguson had no hesitation in giving him a call when the American reached out. Forward Cooper was highly rated during his time with the Reds having impressed on trial following a successful Dallas Cup in his homeland.

He enjoyed a successful career, playing mainly in the States, and won 10 international caps. The breakthrough never arrived at United but Ferguson didn&apost forget him and when Cooper sought some career guidance for his role at FC Dallas in shaping stars of the future, the legendary boss responded.

“I reached out to him a couple of years ago seeking career guidance and I got a call back maybe a day later and I was blown away that he would take the time to do that,” said Cooper, speaking to the Manchester Evening News from across the Atlantic. “That acknowledgement and encouragement he gave me was so meaningful.

“I am not sure we spent much more than two minutes on the phone but that he took any time on the phone to call and chat was absolutely amazing. Away from soccer, that was him understanding what that could do for me. He would do that for someone and it was so appreciated. He was amazing, he really had such an amazing fatherly presence.”

Cooper arrived in Manchester through a combination of ability and circumstance. Playing in the much-heralded Dallas Cup tournament, he caught the eye of Portuguese giants Benfica when playing against them and was due to travel to Europe for a trial. Former United player, coach and assistant manager Jimmy Ryan, who had played in America with Cooper&aposs dad, was told the news and swooped in to ensure the Reds had first look.

“We ended up going to Man United first and I had an incredible two weeks there,” Cooper recalls. “I was already a fan of the club and it was a dream come true to be at Carrington, train there and be offered a contract after two weeks. I was coming from the States where my club team was training at most twice a week and maybe two weeks before I went to United I was playing in an amateur nine-a-side team!

“The hard part for me was that I was and still am very close to my family, it was very hard to move away from them and I hadn&apost really spent a lot of time away from them. But United is a family club even though it is so big.

“I moved into digs with a host family who were amazing, and took such great care of me and made me feel at home which was really important. When a lot of friends were going to university, I was stepping into United and that was my university experience in a way.”

Players past and present often cite the environment at Old Trafford as being integral to development as anything on the football pitch. Ferguson was at the heart of that and it rubbed off on senior professionals as well. Whether it be Gary Neville warning academy players of putting butter on toast or, in Cooper&aposs case, Roy Keane urging him to keep his eyes and ears open.

“Roy Keane said to me to be a sponge and take the opportunity that was there every day and use the quality of player and people,” said Cooper. “We were around the first team all the time and I just found them to be great people and willing to share and connect.

“It was something I appreciated so much and now, being older, it just set a great example and I still use that now as a former player to know how important it is to be open to sharing with young players. What feels purposeful to me now is to mentor and I was mentored in such a great way at United.

“It was an environment where you could talk to any of those players. You could talk on the field or on the bike in the gym, there were opportunities for that all the time.

“I wasn&apost training with the first team every day, maybe here and there, and someone might come and train with the reserves but on a daily basis you would see the first team in the canteen and the gym. You had opportunities to interact and it was so important and meaningful and it was so connected in that way.

“I was getting exposure to quality on the field and quality off it regards character and professionalism. For me it was my first steps into being a professional, there was no better place for me to be.”

Cooper trained often with the first team and recalls a Manchester Senior Cup final victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford, in which he scored, as a highlight of his time with the Reds. Having moved over to England as a teenager, Cooper had the mentality and maturity to use his time at United to listen and learn. He certainly took Keane&aposs words to heart, believing he and others at the club helped set him on the path to a successful career in the game which is still going now.

“My everyday experience there fed my enthusiasm for training for the rest of my life,” said Cooper, who played more than 200 games in Major League Soccer as well as short spells in England, Germany and Portugal. “It wasn&apost just the games but the daily opportunities there were at training to grow and improve.

“A lot of my training habits through the rest of my career I learned from United. There was a culture to stay after and work on their game and for the rest of my career, I always stayed after and worked on my finishing. It built my foundation to be a professional. I learned values I carried with me throughout my career and my life.”

Cooper had spells on loan away from United at Portuguese side Acadmica Coimbra and then Football League outfit Oldham Athletic. Then a call with too much meaning to be ignored brought an end to his Old Trafford time.

“I was really excited about the opportunity to come back to the States and to play in Dallas, my father played professionally and coached professionally and more or less his entire career was in Dallas,” said Cooper of the decision to return home in 2006.

“At that point I think I was excited to follow in his footsteps, there was a lot of sentiment to me with the club and to play for the club like my father did. I have no regrets, I loved United but when I had the chance to move home and come to the MLS I was really excited about what was happening in the league and in Dallas. The stadium had just opened, it just felt like it was the right thing to do at the right time.”

Cooper would soon be followed by David Beckham and both remain involved to this day with the latter co-owner of Inter Miami and Cooper working as a club ambassador at Dallas. That role allows him to watch training, help mentor players and play an active role in the community. He has seen first-hand the rise and growth of a league thrust further into the limelight by the arrival of Lionel Messi this summer and with a World Cup to look forward to in 2026.

“It is amazing to see where it is at,” said Cooper. “It is a really exciting time for the league and the game in our country. We have the World Cup coming soon and that is exciting.

“The arrival of Messi has taken the league to another level. I went to the MLS Cup a couple of years ago as a fan and I was blown away by the experience. On the field, the stadium in Atlanta, the production, it was amazing.

“The league just continues to get better and better on and off the field, the stadiums are beautiful, the training facilities are amazing and some of the best in the world and the league has a great infrastructure and I think it is a place where a lot of players want to come to and stay.

“A long time ago players maybe wanted to go to Europe but now the experience in MLS is absolutely fantastic and I think the quality on the field is obvious. It is a great place and is only going to get better and better.”

Perhaps it&aposs fitting the last anecdote returns to the thread running through our conversation as to the role United played in Cooper&aposs life.

“The club was so special,” he said. “I remember my dad was in hospital when I was there and the first flowers he got were from the club. Things like that meant a lot.”

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