Bradford City: Callum Cooke happy to take the lead at Valley Parade

DEREK ADAMS’S decision to place the captain’s armband on Callum Cooke’s kit – without telling him – ahead of Bradford City’s midweek game at Sunderland displayed canny man-management that his hero Sir Alex Ferguson would have approved of.

Bradford City's Callum Cooke. Picture Bruce Rollinson

For Peterlee-born Cooke, Sunderland were his team growing up. He was a former season-ticket holder and his affiliation to the Wearsiders is such that he cheekily once got one of his Black Cats heroes in Julio Arca to sign a Sunderland top that he was wearing underneath a Middlesbrough tracksuit while once doing ball-boy duties at Boro – who he signed for as a youngster.

On paper, Tuesday’s Papa John’s Trophy final group game at the Stadium of Light was the proverbial ‘dead rubber’ for already-eliminated City.

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But Adams, who does not allow anything to pass him by, clearly recognised that it was a special game for the north-easterner.

Bradford City manager Derek Adams.

On the substitute’s bench for City’s previous two matches, Cooke was handed not just a start, but the captaincy as a further psychological booster on home terrain.

It showcased a manager smartly looking after his player at a timely moment, with Cooke probably conscious of the need to now provide some payback to Adams in the weeks ahead.

If he needed any further reminding of that, his father would no doubt tell him in any case.

Cooke said: “I don’t know if he (Adams) knew I was a Sunderland supporter or whatever. I didn’t know anything about it and walked into the changing room and the armband is on my kit.

“I know the role and responsibility; I have captained my country at youth level and also done it at youth-team level for Middlesbrough and growing up. It’s a little bit more responsibility and I really enjoyed it and the occasion.”

A gratifying night at the Stadium of Light saw City draw 1-1 and win a penalty shoot-out, It was an occasion that the Cooke family will recall with fondness in years to come, although there is no way whatsoever that the midfielder will bask in its glow.

He wouldn’t be allowed to in any case.

The serious business begins again at in-form Port Vale tomorrow and there is work to do for Cooke and co, with the 24-year-old challenging himself and his team-mates to lay down a marker with some key League Two games coming up in the weeks ahead.

Cooke, a former England Under-17s captain, added: “I am self-driven, but it comes down from my parents; my dad especially.

“He’s my biggest critic and never happy – even if I have had a good game if I am honest. But it is good and keeps me on my toes.

“My dad grew up playing basketball and he was quite sporty and with me and my brother (Liam) – who plays for Whitby Town and also came through Middlesbrough – he is always critical of the pair of us as he knows how good we can be and wants our talent to get recognised higher up.

“If I don’t have the best of games, I go on the run for a few days as I know I am in for it when I go home!

“I am always panicking going home thinking: ‘What is he going to say to me now.’ But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’d rather my family expect the world off me as they have seen how good I can be.

“And if I fall below those standards, I would expect them to tell me, which they do anyway. To have the support of parents and family is critical to me.”

Given the grounding Cook has had, it should come as not too much of a surprise that he is fairly candid when it comes to the subject of his own form so far this season which he fully accepts to have been up and down thus far.

He believes that there are reasons for it – namely due to adapting to a new deeper-lying position in midfield – but neither is he using it as an excuse. He clearly expects better.

On the season so far from a personal perspective, Cooke commented: “It is a bit hit and miss. I keep saying I want to be involved in more goals and I have had my chances.

“The more frustrating thing is when I look back, I could be four or five goals up. I have just got to keep believing in myself and getting in the right areas and hopefully, the goals will come.

“Compared to last season, I am being asked to play a little bit deeper and have not as much as a free role as such and have to be more compact with the team.

“It is something I have had to adapt and buy into and I still think I am. Once I get that side sorted off the ball, I will have to just concentrate on the ball.

“I am not daft and see statistics all over. Some people would say I have had a good start, but for me personally, I wouldn’t agree as I have only got three assists and one goal so far, which I am not really happy with myself.

“Me being honest and critical with myself as that’s the type of player I am, I want to be getting 10 goals and 10 assists. The only worry would be if I am not getting the chances and into areas to get opportunities.”