NEALE Cooper believes Peter Hartley will one day step up to a higher level – but for now he is the first name on the Pools team-sheet.
Before his return to the club in December, the Scot had been to Victoria Park to watch his old club in action on a couple of occasions.
And it was Hartley who stood out.
The central defender was subsequently a certain starter under Cooper when his reign began at the turn of the year, and he went on to land both the SportMail and Players’ Player of the Season prizes.
He penned a new, long-term deal last summer, but Cooper admits the 24-year-old has the potential to take his career to a higher plain.
“I think the world of Peter, I really do,” the Pools chief told SportMail today.
“He has done exceptionally well and his awards at the end of the season were well deserved.
“He’s still young, 24 is a nice age for a footballer if you’ve established yourself in a side, and who knows what the future could hold for him?”
The Pools-born ace signed for his hometown club following his release from Sunderland three years ago.
He has shed the tag of misfit left-back to emerge as a commanding centre-back, and Cooper admits he has always liked the look of Hartley.
“I came to watch a couple of games last season when I was back in the town and he was the one who stood out,” Cooper went on.
“And when I came in I knew straight away that I’d like him.
“He’s one of the first names on the team-sheet and will be again this season.”
And Cooper says that Hartley’s approach to the game makes him a joy to work with.
“He loves playing for Hartlepool and he’s the type of lad who typifies what it means to be a footballer,” he added.
“He’s a top pro who loves his work.
“He’s got a nice nature and has obviously had a good upbringing.
“To work with boys such as that, and we’re lucky to have a few, is what makes being a manager the joy it can be at times.”