By Paul Jones
Steve Cooper and Michael Flynn may be in opposite corners in today’s Welsh derby that kicks-off the domestic season but they are united on one thing – the huge potential of Ben Cabango.
The young Swansea City centre-back will not be part of manager Cooper’s squad as they travel to Newport County for their Carabao Cup first round tie.
Instead, 20-year-old Cabango is with Wales preparing for Sunday’s Nations League clash at home to Bulgaria, having made a brief debut appearance in the victory over Finland on Thursday.
Before he moved to the Liberty Stadium, Cardiff-born Cabango spent time in the Newport academy, at a time when Flynn – now County boss – was in charge of the youngsters.
“I’m immensely proud of Ben, he’s a great kid,” said Flynn.
“He has kicked on he looks like a man now. I know he’s doing really well.”
Cabango was sent on for former Swan Daniel James in the final moments in Helsinki as Ryan Giggs’ side, which also featured Connor Roberts, held out for a 1-0 win.
He now hopes to feature again on Sunday as Wales look to make it two from two in League B Group four.
It caps a whirlwind year for Cabango, who made 26 appearances and scored once in his breakthrough campaign under Cooper with the Swans last term.
And the Swans boss feels the international experience will benefit the defender massively when he returns to club duty.
“We’re very proud of Ben being with the national team,” said Cooper. “He is an academy graduate who had his opportunity last season and took it and has now had the recognition this year for his national team.
“When he comes back he will be a better player for the full international experience. We saw his potential as soon as we took him into the first team squad.
“He’s a good learner, he wants to improve every single day and we’re really enjoying watching him develop.”
While both managers can take credit for their roles in the development of Cabango, there will be no such co-operation this afternoon with Flynn’s League Two side eager to spring a surprise against their Championship opponents.
From the Cymru Premier to the Cymru national team in just over a year and eight months, Ben Cabango 😁 pic.twitter.com/qYmIqQ04ds
— Cai 🏴 (@Caibo_) September 3, 2020
“It’s going to be difficult but, as always, I’m sure we will give them a game,” said Flynn.
“It’s a free hit for us, we’re looking to make it as uncomfortable as possible for them.”
Both managers are having to rebuild after departures of key players this summer and Flynn admits he has been an admirer of the way Cooper has managed to cut his cloth at Swansea, despite their financial restraints.
“Steve is a top lad, who I’ve known for a long time,” added Flynn.
“He’s a very good coach and now he’s gone and excelled as a manager.
‘It was just surreal to actually see him and have a chat with him.’ 🤩
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) September 2, 2020
“The job he did last season I thought was exceptional. They had a lot of big players leave, they had to trim costs left right and centre. For them to get to the playoffs was a fantastic achievement.
“I know people get carried away and say they were a Premier League team, they should be aiming for that, but there’s been a big turnaround at that club.”
Flynn admits his team would have struggled to survive through the coronavirus pandemic without the money they’ve received from previous high-profile matches.
The Exiles have faced Premier League sides Manchester City, Leicester City and West Ham as well as Middlesbrough in recent seasons – games which have earned them large sums.
Flynn says without that cash – most of which has come from television and gate revenue – County would be in a far worse position than they are now as they prepare to return to action today.
“Let’s not dress it up – the money from those games has kept the club going,” Flynn said.
“We don’t have a big sugar daddy at this club. I’ve felt like a bit of a wheeler dealer in this transfer window as we have to be so careful.
“There has been a lot of panic and uncertainty on a number of issues including when the league is going to start. Swansea are a very good side, but it’s a free shot for us.”
County have produced their fair share of knock-out football shocks under Flynn and will get the chance to do so again.