Colin Cooper warns clubs to keep away from Hartlepool United stars

ON THE RUN: Pools are put through their paces
ON THE RUN: Pools are put through their paces

COLIN Cooper has issued a “hands off” warning to any clubs looking to sign his star players this summer.

Hartlepool United striker Luke James and midfielder Brad Walker were among those scouted closely last season by clubs higher up the football ladder.

Another of the club’s former stars Jack Baldwin was also strongly courted before he moved to Peterborough on deadline day in January.

The focus has since shifted onto James, 19, who top scored with 16 goals last season, and 18-year-old Walker, who impressed in his debut season.

At the weekend, Championship side Sheffield Wednesday were the latest to be heavily linked with James.

When asked if it was inevitable, at this time of year, that Pools’ more promising players would be touted for sides up the leagues, such as Sheffield Wednesday, Cooper was adamant.

“It can be as inevitable as it wants but it is not happening.”

Cooper said while it is flattering for players to be linked, the final decision over any transfers is down to him and the club.

Speaking at the club’s base at La Cala Resort, in southern Spain, Cooper told SportMail: “It is lovely for players if they get linked with clubs.

“I have stressed before that it is a real shot in the arm for Hartlepool United that we have people watching us as regularly as they watched us last season. The way we are trying to do things gives the players the tools to play at a higher level.

“But what we want is to keep this squad together and to add to it.

“I have said, very openly and honestly, that it will be me and the club that decides if, and when, players leave.

“With the Jack Baldwin scenario, everyone said it came out of the blue in the transfer window but it didn’t for us because there was an awful lot of interest in Jack.

“While I think it is flattering to be linked with other clubs, the message I would say to some of my younger players who may have that, or their agents, is that they don’t go anywhere unless I decide otherwise.”

Cooper, meanwhile, has been happy with the efforts of his Hartlepool United players in Spain – with the squad doing anything up to three sessions a day.

“I have been very happy so far,” Cooper said.

“We are not blessed with massive finances but the club has been going on the same pre-season to Holland for the last seven years.

“We get very well looked after in Holland but this opportunity in Spain came up, which is actually less expensive than going to Holland.

“So we decided to explore something different and I have been very pleased.

“I know this facility well and when the opportunity came up I just thought it was something we couldn’t miss.

“In terms of pre-season, we are a week earlier than most clubs would want to go away but I am delighted with the facilities and we are being looked after really well.

“The training pitch is very good and it gives me the opportunity to get some of those principles for the season bedded in.

“Both for the players that were already here and also the new lads.”

The former Middlesbrough defender added: “I sound like the school teacher, but after the afternoon session the players are sent to their rooms to stay out of the sun.

“If I allowed them to sit and sunbathe then they wouldn’t have had the energy for the evening session, which was physical and hard.

“They need to rest and stay out of the sunshine as that saps your energy.”