NEALE Cooper has revealed that Gary Liddle would be welcome back at Hartlepool United should he fail to find a new club.
The 25-year-old told SportMail yesterday that he had chosen not to sign a new contract at Victoria Park, instead insisting it was “time for a fresh challenge” after six years with Pools.
Cooper understands Liddle’s reasoning having himself decided to quit Aberdeen in similar fashion in 1986 when he signed for Aston Villa.
SportMail understands that Liddle’s former club Middlesbrough, from where he joined Pools on a free transfer in 2006, are interested in speaking to the player, but Cooper says the door remains open should things not work out elsewhere.
“I really like Gary, he is honestly one of the nicest blokes I’ve worked with,” the Pools boss told SportMail today.
“And I understand why he’s chosen not to sign the contract.
“I made a similar decision when I was a player with Aberdeen and sometimes you just feel you need a new start.
“I can relate to him in that sense.
“But the door is always open for Gary and if things don’t work out then I would welcome him back here with open arms.
“I honestly cannot speak highly enough of the boy and he phoned me to thank me for everything and explain his decision.
“So I wish him all the best and he certainly leaves with no hard feelings whatsoever.”
When available, Liddle started every game under Cooper and the manager made no secret of his desire to see him remain at the Vic.
But the Scot believes he did not see the very best of the midfielder during the second half of the campaign.
“Gary will admit himself that he could have done better, but he was always in the side,” Cooper went on.
“I honestly believe that I did not see the best of Gary.
“I hope that was the case because I really think he is capable of being a very, very good player.”
Liddle made 284 appearances for Pools, scoring 21 times, after joining as a 20-year-old from Boro having come through the youth ranks of his hometown club.
There was speculation that the Riverside club were preparing a bid last summer and it looks like they could be set to renew that interest in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, two potential Pools targets - Steve Howard and Jordan Cook - have been released from Leicester City and Sunderland respectively.
Former Pools striker Howard, 36, will have a host of League One suitors, while forward Cook, 22, is thought to be a target of Carlisle United where he was on loan last season.